An effort is under way to dramatically and humanely reduce the stray cat population in Stanislaus County.
A community meeting on the new Community Cat Program will be held Thursday evening in Modesto.
The three-year program aims to achieve by the end of 2020 the spaying/neutering of at least 10,500 so-called community cats, reduction of cat euthanasia rates by 75 percent and reduction of cat intake at the county animal shelter by at least 10 percent.
The nonprofit Best Friends Animal Society, which operates more large-scale trap-neuter-return programs than any other organization in the country, is partnering with the county on the grant-funded program, said Stanislaus Animal Services Agency Executive Director Annette Patton.
The CCP will operate out of the county's Thomas W. Mayfield Regional Animal Services Facility on Cornucopia Way. Liz Finch, director of the Animal Society's Best Friends Network, is in Modesto to hire a cat trapper and community cat coordinator and to lead Thursday's meeting.
Stanislaus Animal Services already has a TNR program, Patton said, but the partnership with Best Friends will greatly increase it. "They will trap the cats beginning in the highly populated areas identified by the highest numbers entering the shelter by ZIP code," she said. Cats will be taken to local veterinarians participating in the program.
This CCP could not happen without the support of local vets, Patton said. The call for assistance went out months ago, and seven veterinary hospitals have agreed to perform 3,500 surgeries every year for three years. They will be reimbursed by Best Friends at a fixed dollar amount, Patton said.
"The additional surgeries to be performed in the next three years as part of the program could not be accommodated by the shelter," Patton said. "This was the largest hurdle we had to overcome to be considered for the grant. The shelter on average performs 2,000 cat surgeries a year."
TNR entails trapping, neutering, vaccinating and returning the community cats to their original outdoor locations, according to Best Friends.
"TNR also ensures the cats' health and welfare," says a news release from Best Friends. "Once these cats are sterilized and vaccinated, they can live healthy, happy lives in their communities, where caring residents look out for them. Sterilization and vaccination provide a public health benefit to the community, too, and are a vast improvement over the failed trap-and-kill approach that’s been used for generations."
Best Friends says it will provide county staff with training and supplies and work with animal control officers and residents to "facilitate smooth operation of the program."
Asked if residents should have any concern that pet cats allowed outdoors could be trapped, Patton said that if a cat is found to be spayed or neutered, it immediately will be released to the area it came from.
Finch added, "If they're really friendly, chances are we'll probably be checking for the microchip while they're in the trap, so we know, 'Oh, this cat's already owned and fixed, so let's just release him.'"
Program staff also will announce their presence in a neighborhood when possible, she said. "We canvass the neighborhoods and try to put door hangers up and talk with the community so we know who the people are who are caring for these cats."
Thursday's meeting is at 6 p.m. , Feb. 8, at Harvest Hall, 3800 Cornucopia Way, Modesto 95358.
Deke Farrow; 209-578-2327