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Published on February 26th, 2013 | by Tia McDonald

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Feral Cats Become a Rising Issue

As of January 2013, there’s an estimated 70 million feral cats in the United States. Putting a stop to the over-population crisis is complex, and many experts have opposing views on how to stop the growing numbers. In an effort to stop this issue, citizens are encouraged to participate in Operation Catnip, most recently held at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013.

Dr. Julie Levy, director at Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida, founded this nonprofit organization in 1998 to stop the number of feral feline reproduction, helping reduce the overcrowding issue in animal shelters and euthanizing of cats.

“Operation Catnip plays a key role in reducing euthanasia of cats in our community,” Levy said. “Since we started our proactive program to prevent the births of more kittens, the euthanasia rate has dropped from thousands a year to just a few hundred.”

About 100 volunteer veterinarians, vet technicians and other trained helpers operate the clinics and are capable of sterilizing 200 cats in just hours. On selected dates, people are encouraged to trap the feral cat and bring it to the clinic. The organization will crop the left ear of a cat to show its been sterilized and vaccinated. The capturer then releases the cat back to the wild.

“We have spayed and neutered more than 37,000 cats from Alachua County; half the cats are females, which are expected to have about six kittens a year for several years,” Levy said. “That means that we’ve prevented about 111,000 kittens from reproducing and an untold number of kittens born to kittens.”

Eric Phares, a 23-year-old graduate student in the Wild Life Ecology Conservation Program at UF, thinks the best way to help our ecosystem is by removing the cats.

“They are predators to where we live,” Phares said. “Florida Wild Life Commission states in black and white that it is illegal to release any nonnative species in Florida without a permit.”

A common misconception is that it’s OK to feed and keep feral cats around because they kill the snakes or spiders, but it’s not OK, Phares said. They are spreading disease and affecting our wildlife because it’s in their nature to exterminate creatures smaller than they are, even if they’re not hungry. On average cats kill more than 3.7 billion birds and over 15 billion small mammals in the U.S. each year. According to the Humane Society of the United States, these numbers are expected to increase rapidly.

“All you need to do is trap feral cats, call the Alachua County Animal Services, which will pick them up for free,” Phares said. “We need to remove the problem, not release it.”

For more information on Operation Catnip, contact Dr. Julie Levy at 352-392-2226 or Eric Phares at 407-319-8085.

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Tia McDonald



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