Animal services

What to do with feral cats: Joint Animal Services launches community cat program in Thurston County

NOTNot sure what to do with the feral cats in your neighborhood? Maybe you fed them but are just exhausted. Maybe it started with one, but now there are six and it’s too many. Joint Animal Services has adopted a Community Cat Program throughout Thurston County that meets all your needs and saves the lives of feral cats.

Neutral Trap Back

The Joint Animal Services Community Cat Program is a new take on the successful Trap Neuter Return program, aimed at reducing feral cat populations and maintaining healthy colonies. Photo courtesy: Joint Animal Services

Trap Neuter Return (TNR) programs have been around for decades in other places, says Sarah, executive director of Joint Animal Services. “This is a new take on the Trap Neuter Return program that has been around for so long,” she adds. “And it was rebranded years ago as a community cat program because what they found was that the community really cares about these animals.”

Before the TNR programs, there weren’t many options for feral cats. Most were trapped and euthanized, which Sarah says doesn’t really solve the problem. “It doesn’t work because everything works in a vacuum,” she says. “And so more cats – different cats – would come in to replace them because there is a food source. And, you’re kind of breaking that trust with the community as well. They don’t want to see these cats killed. They want to help them, but they don’t know how. It’s really about offering resources to the community to help out so that everyone is happy in the end.

With a community cat program, cats are trapped, neutered or neutered so they don’t continue to swell the population, vaccinated, and then released back into their neighborhood. One of the cat’s ears is angled so people can quickly tell it’s a community cat that’s already been modded.

Because TNR programs have been around for a while, there are numbers to prove that it works. “There’s a lot of studies that have been done, so it’s scientifically proven to work,” Sarah shares. “Reducing the population and then keeping the smallest colony healthy keeps other cats out of their territory. And because they’re neutered and neutered, it also reduces all those problematic behaviors that people complain about, like howling and sprays.

What to do with a feral cat in Thurston County

Did you know that a group of cats is a cloud? If you have a wild animal and don’t know how to help it, call Joint Animal Services! Photo courtesy: Joint Animal Services

Do you have a feral cat or two hanging around your neighborhood? If so, you can call Joint Animal Services at 360.352.2510 and they will walk you through the steps. The first is to make sure that the cat is really wild and that we don’t take care of it. If it’s a feral cat, you can use a live trap to catch it – Joint Animal Services has traps for rent – then bring the cat to them.

From there, the chat will be rated. Is he friendly and perhaps a good candidate for foster adoption? Is he semi-tame and suitable for working in the Barn Cat program? If you do not answer any of these questions, the cat will become a community cat and will be modified, vaccinated and provided with an ear tip. You will then be called to retrieve the cat in order to release it into your neighborhood.

All this costs you nothing! Joint Animal Services received an $18,000 grant from Best Friends Animal Society, another nonprofit animal rescue organization, to start and fund the Community Cat Program. This money currently covers the cost of modifications, vaccines and ear tipping.

Joint Animal Services also offers programs that can help you if you need food or other supplies to care for your community cats.

Community cat program requests code change

Part of the program’s mission is to change the municipal codes of Lacey, Tumwater, Olympia, and Thurston County as a whole, to reflect these new cat sitters. Called Community Cat Caregivers, Sarah says the language needs to be changed to reflect that these people are not actually the owners of the cats. “Currently, if you feed or house a cat for 14 days, you become the owner of that cat,” says Sarah. This means that you would be responsible for the cat and could be held liable for anything that cat does, such as damaging a neighbor’s property or being a noise nuisance. You would also have to pay to allow this chat every year.

Feral Tabby cat at Joint Animal Services on a pink blanket
Joint Animal Services wants to ensure Community Cat Caregivers are properly recognized in legal frameworks, making it easier for community members to do the right thing for community cats. Photo courtesy: Joint Animal Services

Joint Animal Services proposed to Lacey, Tumwater, Olympia and Thurston County that the verbiage in the codes be changed, to reflect the difference between a pet owner and a Community Cat Caregiver. The new definitions would be:

Community chat means any free-roaming cat that may be kept by one or more residents in the region, known or unknown. Community cats with slant ears have been neutered and vaccinated against rabies at least once. Community cats are not considered pets.

Community Cat Groomer means a person who provides care to a community cat in the form of food, water, shelter and veterinary care, without being considered the owner, guardian, host, owner or guardian of a community chat.

Additionally, they ask to clarify the verbiage in the licensing and registration requirement to specifically say “pet” and not just “dog or cat.”

You can help by contacting your local council members and the Thurston County Board of Commissioners and showing your support for the code change.

Businesses and individuals can also make monetary and in-kind donations such as food or supplies to the Community Cat Program. Volunteers are always welcome at the shelter. “One of our volunteer positions is being a transport driver,” shares Sarah, “to help transport cats for surgery. As our program grows, we will open more volunteer positions to help with our community cat program. So in the future, there may be volunteer positions that help with trapping, help talk with neighborhoods, and work with communities to find out what their needs are.

For more information, visit the Joint Animal Services website.

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