For Pets’ Sake Humane Society, a nonprofit in Cortez, has increased its efforts to spay and neuter feral cats in Montezuma and Dolores counties after a sharp increase in the number of reported ferals since 2019.
The nonprofit is raising funds to spay and neuter a colony of cats in Dove Creek that has produced ill kittens.
In 2022, For Pets’ Sake trapped one cat and seven kittens from the diseased colony, but at least 15 still need to be spayed or neutered. Many of the sick kittens that evaded capture later died.
The cat and all the kittens captured had serious upper respiratory infections, which is an indicator of the herpes virus, and three kittens had ruptured eyes that required removal. The adult cat, named Harrison, will have health issues that will need care the rest of his life.
The COVID-19 pandemic might have exacerbated the problem, said Marian Rohman, feral cat project coordinator at For Pets’ Sake.
“The number of cats we are finding at our feral cat colonies as abandoned and already fixed has been going up steadily since COVID began,” Rohman said. “I believe it is partially due to people taking on kittens during the early part of COVID and then abandoning them when their lives returned to normal, and partially due to the increased cost of feeding and getting medical care for those kittens who are now cats.”
In 2019, For Pets’ Sake captured two stray cats that were already fixed, indicating they had been abandoned by their owners, but that number greatly increased during and after the pandemic.
In 2020, six abandoned cats were rescued, eight cats in 2021 and 20 in 2022. The demand for Pets’ Sake’s trap, neuter and release program is so high that it has a lengthy waiting list.
According to 2021 data from Pet Animal Care and Facilities Act, the problem of feral cats that are breeding uncontrollably has become an epidemic.
In the Colorado Springs and Denver areas, more than 900 cats were euthanized in 2021 alone. The city of Cortez Animal Shelter has the most cat euthanizations in the Western Slope, with 83 adults and 101 juveniles euthanized that same year, though their number of euthanizations has decreased steadily since 2019.
Cortez Shelter Supervisor Jennifer Crouse said she believes the community’s response to the feral cat problem could be a big reason issues with cats have eased, as well as the shelter’s program to get as many cats adopted as possible.
“We have a wonderful transport program where we transfer adoptable pets to the Front Range to help with those numbers as well as we do not euthanize for space,” Crouse said.
The shelter with the second-most cat euthanizations in the Western Slope is Mesa County Animal Services in Grand Junction, which euthanized 47 adults and 6 juveniles 2021.
While disease and other factors are also responsible, feral cats still make up a large population of animals that are deemed unadoptable and consequently euthanized.
But lacking sufficient funds or foster homes, For Pets’ Sake can’t help all the cats.
“We rescue as many young kittens and tame adults as we can from the feral colonies we work with, but it is all dependent on availability in our few foster homes. Last year, we were able to rescue 141 kittens and three cats. There were many more in need, but we don't have enough foster home volunteers … lack of money is stalling our efforts,” she added.
For Pets’ Sake has created a GoFundMe account to raise money. While it has one grant from the Friends of the Aspen Animal Shelter to spay 100 feral female cats, it is not enough to cover the number of feral and stray cats that need help.
For Pets’ Sake hopes to raise about $2,000 to catch and fix all the cats in the colony along with providing for their medical needs. The average spay/neuter, rabies shot and medical attention cost for cats is around $110, but because of this colony’s health needs, For Pets’ Sake is estimating the cost will be about $130 per cat.
“We’re hoping $1,950 will cover the costs to finish fixing this colony. Any extra money raised will go to help the other needy outdoor cats in Southwest Colorado,” the GoFundMe page said.
For Pets’ Sake has worked in Montezuma and Dolores counties for 39 years. Its feral cat program has been around for 14 of those years to help curb the feral cat population through a spay and neuter initiative called trap, neuter and release.
In total, the nonprofit said it has spayed or neutered more than 5,500 cats that have been returned to their colonies, and in 2022, more cats than in preceding years.
When a TNR system is utilized, wild cats are caught by groups of volunteers and the cats are fixed, treated for any medical issues, vaccinated and released back to their colony. In certain cases, kittens or adults that can be socialized and tamed are put into one of the organization’s five foster homes until they can be transported to a no-kill shelter to be adopted in another part of the state.
“We've also rescued, oh my goodness, I don't know, I think about 1,000 cats and kittens from the colonies that haven't gone back that we've taken into our foster program or found other homes for,” Rohman said.
TNR programs utilize grants that create longer and more sustainable programs. One such program in Duval County offers up to six free spay and neuters per household.
Community members can lease out cat traps, trap feral cats that live in their area and transport them to be spayed or neutered. The cats are fixed, vaccinated to curb the spread of disease and given an ear tip to show they have been fixed.
Programs like this allow colonies of feral cats to be free of disease and breeding, as one female cat could have 100 or more kittens in her lifetime.
Captured kittens are often socialized, domesticated and put up for adoption at no-kill shelters.
The adult cat from the Dove Creek colony, whom the shelter named Harrison, will have health issues for the rest of his life.
Rohman, who is Harrison’s foster mom, said, “He is the most loving, friendly, bouncy kid. He's just decided he's going to make up for those last three years (when he was sick and in the wild).”
“Harrison and every one of the kittens are super-sweet,” For Pets’ Sake said. “We are so relieved that we were able to rescue them and find them new homes, but we don’t want any more kittens born into this colony.”
To donate to For Pets’ Sake Humane Society’s GoFundMe, please visit: https://gf.me/v/c/9wh/help-us-prevent-more-blind-feral-kittens.