The director of Cook County’s Department of Animal and Rabies Control reported Tuesday that the County’s Managed Care of Feral Cats Program has effectively reduced the population of feral cats in the most humane manner and assured their protection against rabies.
Dr. Donna Alexander reviewed the success of the program during an open public forum hosted by the Legislation and Intergovernmental Relations Committee of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Also voicing strong support for the Trap-Neuter-Return program were Dr. Stan Gehrt of the Max McGraw Foundation, Rochelle Michalek, executive director of PAWS Chicago and Dave deFuniak, executive director of Tree House Humane Society.
Under the privately funded program, feral cat colonies are managed by PAWS Chicago, Tree House Humane Society and five other area humane societies. Since 2007, sponsors have spayed, neutered and vaccinated approximately 12,000 cats. The program would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars if it were funded by the county, according to deFuniak.
“Counties across the nation have been using our program as a template for legislative control of managed feral colonies,” Dr. Alexander said. “Research studies have shown that TNR programs are the most humane and effective way of controlling feral cat populations.”
Prior to the County’s Managed Care of Feral Cats Act of 2007, several municipalities were capturing and euthanizing 500 cats per year at a cost of $245 per cat.
“Municipalities were spending $122,500 per year and not reducing the feral cat population,” Dr. Alexander said. “The program has prevented the birth of 336,000 more feral cats and saved municipalities $612,500.”
The TNR program includes humanely trapping the cats, bringing them to a vet clinic for spaying or neutering, and providing rabies vaccinations and micro-chipping. Cats are then returned to their colonies. The program has resulted in gradually diminishing feral-neighborhood cat colonies. There also are fewer complaints about behaviors associated with unsterilized cats, such as fighting and roaming, and fewer rodents in a neighborhood. In addition, a vaccinated, sterilized colony of feral-neighborhood cats poses no rabies threat to humans and will deter other feral cats from moving into the area.
Among the groups attending Tuesday’s forum were the Audubon Society, the Wild Life Conservation Society, Alley Cat Allies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Chicago Veterinary Association, the American Veterinary Association, and numerous area humane societies.
According to PAWS Chicago, a feral-neighborhood cat is an under-socialized, domestic cat that has been born outside or has lived outside long enough to distrust humans and is not a candidate for an adoption program. These cats can live long and healthy lives outdoors but need support from dedicated caregivers to keep them healthy and their population under control.