Feral Spay Sunday Frequently Asked Questions
Feral cats are domestic felines who lurk on the border between true domestication and living in the wild. You've probably seen them skittering away from the barn door or diving into a dumpster behind a restaurant.
Many feral cats began their lives as someone's pet. After becoming lost or abandoned, the cat soon learned to fend for herself and fear humans. Other feral cats are the offspring of these stray pet cats. Many feral cats are born, raised, and die without any direct contact with human beings.
Why Worry about the Feral Cat Population?
Some people make the argument that feral cats are little more than nuisance wildlife and should be left alone in the way that raccoons should be left alone.
The reality is that feral cat colonies tend to live in closer contact with humans and human companion animals than do true wild animals. Many people who care for a feral cat colony, also feed socialized pet cats alongside them. The potential for the transmission of disease between domestic and feral populations is very real. There is also a concern about the spread of diseases such as rabies between feral cats and humans or livestock.
The best argument for controlling the feral cat population is that many animal-loving people rescue the litters of kittens born to feral cats and bring them to animal shelters. Animals shelters in the Pioneer Valley and elsewhere are overwhelmed with the number of kittens born to people's pet cats. Add to that the number of kittens born to feral cats (sometimes as many as 2 or 3 litters of kittens each year!), and Pioneer Valley animal shelters are flooded each spring and summer with nearly 10,000 unwanted cats and kittens-far more than we will ever find homes for.
Litters of feral kittens, who do not come to the animal shelter to be neutered and placed into a permanent home, will continue to breed and add to the population of cats. Many local farmers and business people report trying to find homes for dozens of kittens every spring in order not to be overrun!
What about Extermination?
Sadly, extermination of feral cat colonies has been the standard means of controlling their population for many years---to no avail. Rounding up and killing all of the cats around a food source is not only inhumane, it is ineffective.
Whenever a food source such as a dumpster or a dairy barn is available, other cats will move into the territory in a short amount of time, re-establishing the exterminated colony.
Using a technique called "Trap-Neuter-Return" at a colony site maintains a healthy, stable population of cats around a food source, preventing unneutered cats from coming in and reproducing.
What is Trap-Neuter-Return?
Trap-Neuter-Return, or "TNR", is a humane and effective way to maintain stable, vaccinated colonies of cats. Rather than capturing cats for extermination, trappers roundup cats to be vaccinated, eartipped, neutered, and returned to their original colony site.
TNR programs have effectively controlled populations of wild cats from coast to coast and around the world. Feral Spay Sunday is a TNR program designed to help the cats of Western Massachusetts.
What is Feral Spay Sunday?
Feral Spay Sunday is the most aggressive spay/neuter program for cats in the Pioneer Valley.
This program provides FREE spay/neuter and vaccination for feral and barn cats.
At one clinic every month, an all-volunteer staff neuters 50 or more wild cats at a donated animal hospital.
Which Cats Qualify for Feral Spay Sunday?
Feral Spay Sunday helps cats who do not live as a part of a human family. Cats who are friendly strays and who could easily be placed into a new home are not feral. These cats should be neutered and placed for adoption through one of the many local animal shelters and rescue programs.
Those wild cats or colonies of barn cats who would never otherwise receive veterinary care are the cats targeted by Feral Spay Sunday.
All cats who pass through the Feral Spay Sunday program must also have a regular caretaker (feeder) who agrees to work with the program. A "Caretaker Release" form must be presented to the clinic admission staff.
Cats who do not have a regular feeder or who risk rounding up for extermination are not eligible for Feral Spay Sunday.
Who Runs Feral Spay Sunday?
The Feral Spay Sunday program is a project of the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society in cooperation with volunteer veterinarians, the Homeless Cat Project, Catspills Mountain Rescue, the Pioneer Valley Humane Society, and the Second Chance Animal Shelter.
Each clinic is staffed by 30 or more volunteers who do everything from complete paperwork to clean cages. Volunteer technicians assist volunteer veterinarians in surgery and provide post-operative care to each cat.
Where are Feral Spay Sunday Clinics Held?
Each month, a different veterinarian donates the use of his or her hospital for a clinic. The clinics are held on Sundays when most animal hospitals are closed for business. We are especially appreciative of the support given us in our first year by the following animal hospitals: Northampton Veterinary Clinic, Sunderland Animal Hospital, Valley Veterinary Hospital, Family Veterinary Center, and the Second Chance Animal Shelter.
When are Feral Spay Sunday Clinics Held?
Once a month, on a Sunday. Of course, we need to work around holidays and
the schedules of the participating veterinarians.Please call our Leverett shelter at 413-548-9898 for information about
upcoming clinic dates and locations.
Can I Just Show Up at a Clinic with My Cats?
You need to have reservations for a clinic. Because our supplies are based on the expected number of cats, cats without reservations will be turned away (with an appointment for a later clinic).
How Do I Make a Clinic Reservation?
Contact the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society at 413-548-9898.
What If I Don't Think I Can Catch the Cats?
Never fear! We have humane traps that we will lend you at no charge. We will show you how to bait and use the traps and provide you with written instructions.
If you are disabled or overwhelmed with the prospect of trying to trap cats, we have volunteers with trapping experience who would be happy to help you round up and transport the cats.
How Do the Clinics Work?
On the morning of the clinic, all of the trappers show up with their cats in traps covered with sheets (one cat per trap, please). All cats must come in wire mesh traps or transport cages (no airline carriers or boxes, please). This rule is for the safety of our clinic staff as well as the safety of the cat.
Once all the cats are safely in the clinic, volunteers mark each trap with two identification tags-one for the trap and one for the cat.
The traps remain covered with sheets at all times. Feral cats are frightened of people and most have never been indoors. Sheets make them feel safer.
The anesthesia team uses a fork device to hold the cat into a corner of her trap. A quick injection of anesthesia through the wall of the trap reduces the amount of stress for the cat.
No one ever touches a cat who is not completely anesthetized. This prevents bites and scratches that could jeopardize the health of a volunteer. Not handling the cats also reduces the stress on a cat who may have never been touched by a human being.
Once the cat is asleep in her cage, the anesthesia volunteers remove her, place a tag around her hind leg, lay her in a clean towel and hand her over to the transport volunteer.
The transport volunteer weighs the cats and administers a small amount of lubricant to her eyes to keep them moist while she sleeps. Once the cat's weight is recorded on her tag, the transport volunteer carries the cat to the surgery prep station.
In surgery prep, technical volunteers prepare each cat for surgery. They shave and scrub the belly of female cats. They also "eartip" each cat.
Eartipping is a permanent form of identification for wild cats. It marks each cat as a graduate of a TNR program. Technicians measure 1/4" on the ear and then clip the end of the ear off. The edge of the ear is cauterized to reduce bleeding. Cats with eartips can easily be identified by trappers as cats who should not be recaptured for surgery.
Once the cat is prepared for surgery, a transport volunteer takes her to a veterinarian. As many as 5 veterinarians perform surgery at once. Four will work on spay surgeries while one concentrates on neutering males. Technicians assist the veterinarians at all times, providing them with fresh gloves, suture, and instruments.
Once the cat has finished her surgery, a transport volunteer carries her to the post-op station.
In post-op, trained veterinary technicians administer vaccinations (rabies and distemper), antibiotics, and treatment for fleas or earmites.
Once finished, the post-op staff calls for the trap that matches the number on the cat's leg tag. A volunteer fetches the cleaned and labeled trap. The post-op staff places the sleeping cat on her towel in the trap and closes the door.
Volunteers at the recovery station will keep a close eye on each cat as she recovers from anesthesia. Once the cats begin to wake up, they are once again covered with their sheet to make them feel safe.
By now it is the afternoon already. Caretakers and trappers will begin to arrive to take their charges home. Each person is provided with a handout explaining what to do as the cat recovers.
The cats will recover overnight in their traps and be released the following day. Cats who have experienced surgical complications (usually related to pregnancy) may need to be held for a few days longer for recovery.
Why Release Cats So Soon Following Surgery?
We recommend the release of feral cats as soon after surgery as possible, usually the following day. This is because most feral cats are terrified of human beings and have never been indoors or in a cage. The amount of stress they are under in captivity would only be prolonged by continuing to confine them.
If the cat has fully recovered from anesthesia and did not suffer surgical complications, releasing her back into her colony site is the most humane solution. She is less likely to suffer stress-related illnesses or tear open her incision in frustration as she tries to escape.
For cats who are more comfortable with human contact, it may be fine to extend the post-surgical confinement.
How Can I Volunteer for a Feral Spay Sunday Clinic?
Our clinic coordinator, Karina King, is in charge of rounding up volunteers for clinics. She can be reached by calling the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society at 413-548-9898 or emailing email@example.com.
Do I Need Any Particular Skills to Volunteer?
We certainly do need veterinarians and veterinary technicians to help at each clinic. But we also need plenty of laypeople as well. Volunteers without technical skills assist as transporters, trap-cleaners, and recovery attendants. They also help with admissions, cleanup, and paperwork.
Can Children Volunteer?
Due to the risks associated with working around frightened and potentially dangerous animals, no one under the age of 18 is permitted to work at a Feral Spay Sunday clinic.
Can I Visit a Feral Spay Sunday Clinic?
If you would like to see a clinic in operation, contact Leslie Harris at the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society (413-548-9898 x2 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you would like to learn how to operate your own free clinics, if you are a member of the press, or if you are a veterinarian considering volunteering at a future clinic, we welcome your visit!
What if I Can't Afford to Have All the Cats in My Colony Neutered?
Remember: Feral Spay Sunday clinics are free!
Of course, this doesn't mean that the clinics don't cost anything to run. It costs us approximately $20.00 per cat at each clinic. Our clinics are run entirely on contributions.
If you can't afford to pay for your entire colony, make a donation in any amount. You can also donate supplies like towels, sheets and newspapers.
How Do I Donate to the Feral Spay Sunday Program?
You can donate to the Feral Spay Sunday Program online by clicking here. Just be sure to earmark the donation for the Feral Spay Sunday program in the "comments" field.
You could also make your check payable to the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society and mail it in to us at 163 Montague Road, Leverett, MA 01054. Again, be sure to earmark your gift for this program.
If you are bringing cats to a clinic, you can hand your contribution to an admissions volunteer.
All contributions are tax-deductible.
How Can I Find More Information About Caring for Feral Cats?
Visit the excellent websites of Alley Cat Allies and Neighborhood Cats. These sites not only have more information about trap-neuter-release, but also information about providing ongoing care for your feral cats - including winter care, and providing food & shelter. If you are not in our area, you can also use these sites to find TNR groups near you