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Changing their world one by one

By humanely limiting the growth of feral cat colonies, better care could be provided to stray cat populations and less pressure would be put on shelters and clinics. Submitted photo

By Melanie Rossi

GREEN BAY – Using Trap Neuter Vaccinate Return (TNVR) services, Cats Anonymous, Inc., works to improve the lives of feral cats living in northeastern Wisconsin.

The organization began in 2005 in response to community concerns for the wellbeing of local stray cats.

By humanely limiting the growth of feral cat colonies, better care could be provided to stray cat populations and less pressure would be put on shelters and clinics, preventing increases in the use of euthanasia.

The goal of Cats Anonymous is to care for America’s favorite pets, but unlike the improved solutions that have arisen to help care for dogs, the approach to helping cats has been historically different.

“The overpopulation problem affected both of them (dogs and cats), but the solutions were very different,” Lisa Kay Sperbeck, volunteer board president of Cats Anonymous said.

Solutions to help with the overpopulation of stray dogs could take place through in-home neutering processes and fighting unethical breeders, both of which have been, according to Sperbeck, “wildly successful.”

“But when we look at cats,” she said, “it’s been wildly different. We estimate that half the cat population in this country is unowned, so preaching to owners that don’t exist doesn’t do much.

“Cats have never been historically obtained as pets from breeders anywhere near the rate that dogs are. So, if we were going to improve their lives and take the pressures off of shelters and all of these cats being taken away and euthanized, we had to look at this very different source of kittens, and that’s where TNVR comes in.”

Trap Neuter Vaccinate Return services aim to vaccinate cats against rabies as well as curb the negative effects of overpopulation using spay neutering.

Sperbeck explained that Cats Anonymous is “a high volume, high quality spay neuter service” that first starts with whoever is caring for a colony registering with the organization.

“We’re very focused on making sure that we’re not just doing one cat here or one cat there. We want to know how many cats are in this colony and we want to get that colony as close to 100% fixed as possible. We figure out how many there are and educate the property owners on how the process is going to go.”

The organization next gives the property owners the traps and explains how to use them in the safest way possible for the cats.

Then, when going through the organization’s surgical program, the cats also receive vaccinations “to help the cats be healthier, as well as protect the community,” Sperbeck said.

After neutering the cats and administering vaccines, the organization stays with the colony caretaker and helps to monitor the cat colony to ensure that the population stops growing.

Cats Anonymous has been doing this work for 18 years in 13 different Northeastern counties, and their work has had a noted impact.

“When we look at the statistics of where people are obtaining their pet cats, it’s very steadily becoming more fully vetted, socialized cats and kittens that they are getting from shelters and rescues instead of just picking up strays…  Those trends have definitely changed,” Sperbeck added.

For Cats Anonymous, the main goal isn’t to act as a cat adoption agency; by letting the rescues and shelters focus on finding the cats new homes, Cats Anonymous can fully devote their time to decreasing the overpopulation of stray cats so they can receive better care.

“There are so many good shelters and rescues in this area if people want to adopt a socialized cat. That’s where we really direct people,” Sperbeck said. “When we first started, we tried to pull kittens out of colonies and put them in foster care so people could adopt them, but that very quickly became overwhelming — it was a drain on resources.”

The organization quickly realized that many stray cats are past the stage at which it is possible for them to be socialized and domesticated, but that doesn’t mean they can’t live healthy lives.

“Most of the cats that we are dealing with are beyond the pet stage…  When you miss that, they don’t necessarily want to be pets,” Sperbeck added. “The cats that we work with are healthy, they’re muscular, bright-eyed. They’re living really great lives…  But if you want to pick them up, they’re not having any of it.”

For Sperbeck, one common parable aptly exemplifies the work Cats Anonymous aims to accomplish.

In the parable, Sperbeck said, people are walking down the riverbank when they see a baby floating in a basket down the river.

“They start pulling the baby out, but then more babies start coming in, and all of a sudden somebody leaves the group and starts walking away. Everyone who’s trying to save these babies in the river is like, ‘What are you doing? There are babies to be saved!’ ‘Well, I’m going upstream to see who the heck is throwing the babies in the river!’”

Sperback added, “It’s good we have both. We have people who are fixing the issues for the individuals, the cats who are without a home today and trying to find them good homes. And we’re upstream trying to prevent more cats who don’t have a home from being born in the first place.”

With their spay neutering and vaccination services, in addition to partnering with local vets, Cats Anonymous works upstream, helping the future generations of stray cats one colony at a time.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/CatsAnonymous or call (920) 321-1967.

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