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H.O.P.E. proposes feral cat program in New Haven

NEW HAVEN – Feral cats could be a thing of the past in New Haven in 10 years, or at the very least the population could be substantially reduced – humanely, a spay-neuter organization proposing a new plan says.

New Haven City Council members and Mayor Terry McDonald gave their endorsement Tuesday to officials of the Humane Organization to Prevent Euthanasia, or H.O.P.E. for Animals, to expand the trap-neuter-return program throughout the city.

New Haven will be the first area in northeast Indiana to test the program, said Madeleine Laird, H.O.P.E. executive director.

The local program is being modeled after IndyFeral, a feral cat program in Indianapolis that has reduced the number of feral cats from 27,488 in 2002 to 3,299 in 2012, Laird said.

Trap-neuter-return involves identifying feral cat areas, setting traps and transporting the cats to a shelter where they are examined, vaccinated, ear-tipped for identification and sterilized by a veterinarian. Caretakers then return the cats to their outdoor homes.

Caretakers then provide food, shelter and on-going health monitoring and adoption resources for friendly colony cats.

This system works, said Jessica Elliott, H.O.P.E.'s community cat coordinator, because H.O.P.E. volunteers are changing the environment.

"A female cat has an average of 400 kittens in her lifetime," Elliott said.

When the "kitten factor" is eliminated, all that are left are the adult cats that live an average of about two to four years, she said.

Cats self-regulate their own population to a specific area and don't travel far, so once an area is free of feral cats, it usually stays that way, Elliott said.

Animal experts estimate there is one free-roaming cat for every 15 people, which means New Haven has about 1,000 feral cats, she said.

"You probably don't see them, but they are there. They are wild and tend to be nocturnal," Elliott said.

The goal of the program is to reduce the euthanasia of animals and to save tax dollars, she said.

The city spends money to transport cats and also pays Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control to euthanize the animals, McDonald said.

In spite of the catch and kill program – in place since 1882 – the feral cat population has not decreased, but has only increased," Elliott said.

The group has already had some success in New Haven with an area on Green Street, Elliott said. An area with 13 cats produced 21 kittens last year, which were all adopted, and the adult cats were all sterilized. There have been no new kittens to date, she said.

Because it has no quantifiable results and the feral population of Allen County is too high, the organization does not qualify for grants that would help them in taking on larger areas.

"We hope to use New Haven to gather those results and get those grants so that we can someday do the same kind of program in Fort Wayne, Laird said.

"We are operating on a shoestring in New Haven," she said.

Although H.O.P.E. was established in 2008 as a low cost spay-neuter and wellness clinic for animals, this is the first year for the feral cat trap-neuter-return program, Laird said.

McDonald said he was excited because the program offered an alternative to euthanizing animals, something he said he hates to see.

"This seems like a good idea and it's working in Indianapolis," he said.