Local volunteers dedicated to helping some of Culpeper County’s most vulnerable felines seek support in creating an environment where populations will decrease naturally.
“The TNR program is number one to control and manage that cat population, to make it a safe and healthy and manageable population,” said Culpeper Humane Society Board President Patty Werick. “It won’t grow any bigger.”
Under Werick’s direction, the Society ignited its work in decreasing feral cat populations in Culpeper County by instituting the trap, neuter and release (TNR) mission when she became president about four years ago.
After getting trapped, feral cats are neutered and vaccinated. While under anesthesia, cats are ear-tipped - where a small portion of one of a cat’s ears is removed - to show they have undergone TNR. After recovering from surgery, cats are released back into their colony.
Rehoming feral cats, Werick said, can be incredibly difficult as they have spent most of their lives living outside and away from humans.
Kittens, however, are easier to transition into domestic life, she continued.
Colonies of fertile feral cats have long troubled both urban and rural communities through the spreading of diseases like rabies and exploding populations by lack of spaying and neutering.
According to Werick, getting cats spayed or neutered - especially ones that roam freely - can be a very expensive venture for the average household.
“If you have a whole colony or a whole barn full of them, (some people say,) just let them go, but there's several problems inherently with just letting a colony burst open,” Werick said.
Without spaying, female cats can have as many as five litters per year, producing about 20 kittens per year.
Coupled with the large number of kittens, another common issue amongst colonies is inbreeding, creating kittens born with birth defects.
“You start to see these cats being born without limbs,” Werick said. “Their eyes will start to cross. They’re all born with upper respiratory infections, all goopy-eyed. They have a lot of internal congenital organ dysfunction.”
“Each of those litters with the ones that survive and half of them are females, they go on (and reproduce),” she said. “You can see how that quadruples year after year after year.”
On Feb. 17, members of the Virginia House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Subcommittee voted 5 to 3 to table a bill that would confirm TNR for feral cats is legal within the Commonwealth. The action, which means no further action will be taken this year, was made despite the Senate approving the bill a week prior.
In late 2019, the Society unveiled the TNR Alliance in partnership with Culpeper Felines & Friends, CAT (Cat Action Team), For the Cats' Sake and MAD Cats (Madison Community Cats).
Each of the groups is responsible for trapping, and paying half of spaying and neutering expenses. The Society also coordinates, transports and arranges an overnight staging area for cats.
The Society does not have a facility and will not remove colonies from properties. However, it will provide food for property owners to leave out for the colony.
For safety reasons, volunteers do not publicize the locations of colonies because they don't want the public to think of them as drop-off points for unwanted pets.
With the winter months coming, the Society is searching for large and extra large hard-sided coolers to create insulated cat shelters for the colonies.
If interested, drop off coolers at 425 Azalea St., Culpeper by Oct. 23.
Some of the group’s other initiatives include low cost spay/neuter, free pet food for seniors, veterans, disabled and low income families, free spay/neuter for free pet food participants, free spay/neuter for pit bulls and pit bull mixes and providing fencing/outdoor housing for dogs on chains.
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