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Written by Janet Goodman, BT Contributor   
June 2018

Volunteers use Trap-Neuter-Return in feral cat colonies

A Pix_PetTalk_6-18black feral cat in Sans Souci pops out from the bushes when he sees a white Infiniti drive up and park across the street. He meows as Connie Muñoz climbs out and walks up to him on the sidewalk.

“Hi, Junior,” she croons, and he responds with more meows. A Surfside real estate agent, Muñoz is also a responsible community cat feeder.

In 2012, Miami-Dade County started giving feral cats a chance at survival. Rather than euthanizing thousands of cats brought into the county’s shelter, which had limited space and adoption opportunities, the Animal Services department implemented a county commission-approved program already in place across the country. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) treats and sterilizes free-roaming cats and allows them to be returned to their neighborhoods and released.

In the TNR program’s first year, the county neutered, vaccinated, and released 3138 feral cats that were brought to the shelter. The Humane Society of Greater Miami also promotes TNR and regularly sterilizes free-roaming cats. The Cat Network teams with local vets to provide low-cost spays and neuters.

Miami-Dade Animal Services’ TNR program offers free spays and neuters for free-roaming cats that residents trap and bring to the Doral shelter. After surgeries, rabies shots, and ear-tipping procedures (the left ear is slightly cropped for easy identification of a sterilized cat), cats can be delivered back to the trapping location or picked up by residents who set them free in the cats’ neighborhood.

Operation Paw is a non-profit organization of volunteers with the mission to help the “homeless” cat population. It offers free sessions to teach trapping, grooming, and treating health concerns of cats. The organization works with a network of feeders who facilitate TNR in locations of cat colonies, with the goal of sterilizing all street cats in their care. Friendly and adoptable cats within these colonies are often selected for fostering and eventual forever homes.

Feeders are key to the success of TNR programs. These volunteers go out into neighborhoods where cat colonies live and tend to their daily needs by feeding, applying flea topicals, and identifying cats with health issues. Feeding makes trapping easier. Their efforts eliminate new litters of kittens in these colonies.

According to Operation Paw, managing colonies with organized, regular feeding and a TNR program keeps cats close to feeding stations and reduces roaming, spraying, and fighting behaviors.

Deborah Pachano is a volunteer with Operation Paw and a dedicated trapper, fosterer, rescuer, and feeder of cat colonies. She tells the BT that she feeds 26 cats in her Little Haiti backyard. All have been TNR-ed. Some had lived in other areas but couldn’t be returned to their original locations.

Last year Pachano created Miami Dade Feeders Network, a Facebook page to support and communicate with the hundreds of cat feeders in the county. “The feeders here have no food bank or city help,” she says. “Cat food donations are very few and far between -- not so with dog rescue.” The Pet Project receives tons of pet food for rescue groups, and two to three times a year it distributes cat food among colony feeders. In between these donations, feeders handle expenses themselves.

One Miami Dade Feeders Network volunteer is a 70-year old who has come out of retirement to clean houses and raise money to buy food for the 100 cats she feeds daily. Another feeder cares for 180 cats in 28 locations, and has them TNR-ed. It costs her $600 a month.

Maria is a feeder in the North Beach area of Miami Beach along Collins Avenue. For the last eight and a half years, she’s been feeding a colony of 65 cats and has had them TNR-ed.

Operation Paw also identifies and helps educate feeder-breeders -- people who feed but don’t TNR. “Many of these people are elderly and don’t have Internet, so they aren’t aware of the resources that are now available,” says Pachano.

Not everyone is pro TNR. Nature groups worry about native bird populations being reduced by cat colonies. In unsafe situations, PETA prefers euthanasia for feral cats over life on the streets. Pachano says feeders are often falsely blamed for cat overpopulation.

A north Miami-Dade professional has opened her home over the years to dozens of community cats, where she built a cattery. With two part-time vet techs to help manage their needs, she’s had more than 50 cats sterilized. Why does she do it? “Because no one else in the neighborhood has,” she replies. “I’ve seen them run over by cars, so I brought them inside to safety.” She also doesn’t wish to draw attention to herself and the cats. She tries to adopt out and is stressed from the responsibility of so many, which is typical of these selfless volunteers.

Please donate at www.operationpaw.com.

 

Goodman is a dog trainer and principal of Good Dog Bad Dog: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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