Free-roaming cat initiative successful, but misunderstood
Recently a citizen from Summerville shared concerns in a letter to the editor about a free-roaming cat he found in the city of Charleston. First, we want to thank the citizen for providing a home for the cat.
But there were several comments in the letter that contribute to myths and misconceptions about cats, specifically free-roaming cats.
Charleston County, including the city of Charleston, has one of the most successful free-roaming cat initiatives in the world. This effort was launched in 2010 by Charleston Animal Society and other animal organizations comprising Humane Net, a coalition of Lowcountry animal organizations.
The purpose was to reduce the population of free-roaming cats because the past strategy of trapping and euthanizing simply was not working, as the population continued to increase each year.
After approximately 18 months of implementation and widespread community support, the growing population of stray animals began to decline for the first time.
Since 2009, the baseline year for the initiative, a 15 percent decrease in the number of feline kittens and neonates was realized through 2012.
Charleston County is one of only a handful of communities nationwide that is effectively managing down the population of free-roaming cats. Communities from across the nation and overseas, including France and Australia, have reached out to us about our success in decreasing the intake of cats.
The Free-Roaming Cat Initiative is a sterilization intervention and is not intended to treat other issues that might exist, unless they are life-threatening. If a free-roaming cat is in stable health and is sustaining itself by finding food and shelter, it is sterilized, vaccinated, ear-tipped and microchipped, then returned the next day to the neighborhood where it was trapped. It will not be able to reproduce, so the population of a colony, if the cat belongs to one, eventually declines.
Prior to this strategy, many citizens were feeding community cats but were not willing to trap them or have them trapped for fear that the cats would be euthanized. So cat populations were exploding.
In Charleston County, there are between 24,344 and 60,860 of these cats. There are between 12,652 and 31,630 in Berkeley County and between 9,530 and 23,824 in Dorchester County. The challenge is daunting, but we are solving the cat overpopulation problem using this strategic, humane, science-based method.
One myth about free-roaming and/or feral cats is that they are “wild or crazy.” This is not the case. In fact, there are several colonies of free-roaming cats on the Animal Society campus, comprised of cats displaying a variety of behaviors. Some of these cats have become familiar with humans and approach us with ease.
Ear-tipping is a standard identification of free-roaming cats so that they are easily recognizable from a distance.
When we spay or neuter a free-roaming cat, we keep it overnight prior to releasing it to ensure it is in stable health.
Free-roaming cats are fine outdoors. Our local temperatures, including heat, are not going to adversely affect them. Our efforts to reduce the population of free-roaming cats in Charleston County are working and provide an effective model for other communities, and the model saves taxpayer dollars.
Our community leaders, elected officials, animal organizations, animal control agencies and citizens have worked hard at addressing the issue of free-roaming cats in an effective way based on research and best practices.
We’re grateful for the hundreds of foster volunteers who nurture the neonatal and juvenile kittens, along with other special needs animals, until they are ready for homes.
In addition, we are especially grateful for citizens, such as the writer last week, who offer a home for animals.
Indeed, this is a very special community and Charleston Animal Society is a very special organization.
Joe Elmore, CAWA, CFRE, PHR
Chief Executive Officer
Charleston Animal Society
Lucy Fuller, D.V.M.
Director of Public Health
and Spay/Neuter Initiatives
Charleston Animal Society