Comet, a five and a half year old cat who arrived at the Junction City Animal Shelter in late December, rolls around on the floor of the shelter's free-roaming cat room. The shelter, in conjunction with the City of Junction City, has started a trap, neuter, release program to help control the community's feral cat population.

The Junction City Animal Shelter will officially start its trap, neuter, release (TNR) program for feral cats in February.

According to Vanessa Gray, the shelter manager, the program was approved by the city commission last year and aims to reduce the feral cat population in Junction City by humanely trapping feral cats, having them fixed and vaccinated and then re-releasing them back into their colonies. The program will be free of cost through a partnership with Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

“They’re going to add another day of surgeries for us solely for TNR, so that way it doesn’t take away from our animals here getting fixed,” she said.

Once fixed, feral cats will have their ears notched and be released back into their colonies.

The hope is that this will humanely reduce the number of feral kittens that can end up overflowing the shelter and needing a home.

Staff members have sometimes been injured while attempting to handle feral cats and according to Gray, the program will alleviate this problem.

“This is going to help alleviate the issues that we see in the shelter with overcrowding, disease, etc. and just the risk of them being in the shelter and staff having to hold onto them and care for them,” Gray said. “It can create issues with them getting scratched up, with them getting bitten and we don’t want that with our staff. Essentially, TNR cats are considered wild animals. So we want to care for them the best that we can.”

As part of this program, the shelter will have designated, volunteer caretakers around the community who will keep an eye on the feral cat population in their neighborhood.

These caretakers will watch for feral cats in their communities, looking for signs of injury or illness and providing donated food and shelter to the cats, with help from the Junction City Pet Pantry. If a caretaker finds a sick or injured stray cat, the shelter will attend to it by providing whatever medical care the animal needs.

“We don’t want them to suffer on the street,” Gray said. “This way we have more eyes on the road besides the (Animal Control Officer). She can’t be everywhere at once. So we have more eyes on the road.”

The shelter is currently seeking volunteer caretakers in Junction City, particularly in the vicinity of Grant Avenue. Caretakers will be asked to sign a contract with the shelter and fill out a volunteer waiver form.

Grant Avenue is where the program will begin. The plan with the TNR program is to focus on one neighborhood at a time.

“There’s probably 10-plus in Junction City that we need to hit,” Gray said. “It’s going to be a long-term type thing, but you will see results. There’s so many other cities that do this already and they see results. It’s just going to be a great thing. It’s just — patience is going to be the key for this."

According to Gray, feral cats have been a persistent problem in the community.

“A lot of people see them as a nuisance, which I can understand,” she said. “But with them being fixed, it cuts down on a lot of those nuisance traits that you do see."

Gray asks that people consider having their free-roaming pet cats microchipped and fixed in light of this program.

“We want to make sure they have them microchipped and obviously fixed,” she said. “When a cat comes in, we’re going to scan it first. If it’s got a chip then what we’ll do is obviously contact the owners if we’ve got owners available and then we’ll make sure to get that cat back home. But if it’s not chipped or anything, it will be fixed.”

Gray said she doesn’t know if the program will have immediate visible results. She believes it will take time for people to notice the decrease in the feral cat population — maybe a year or more.

"I think people will see the positive side of it,” she said. “It just may take a year or so, just because it takes that long to get the full effect."

But she believes it is a solution that provides the best for all interested parties — including the cats.

“We’re really excited that this is going to be happening,” Gray said. “It’s very exciting that it’s going to be happening essentially for free with volunteers, surgeries free — everything — and we’re creating a better environment for our cats in Junction City as well as lowering the population and helping the shelter altogether. So it’s a win-win-win situation."

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