CEDAR CITY — Two women wearing cat ears waited in the front row until late Wednesday evening at the Cedar City Council meeting.
Each headband sported one tipped ear in support of a proposed return-to-field community cat program that advocates say could reduce the number of felines entering shelters and the overall community cat population.
Shelter manager Brittany McCabe and her predecessors have done a “remarkable job” achieving the Cedar City Animal Adoption Center’s no-kill status, Cedar City Police Chief Darin Adams said.
“Unfortunately, there’s been times … as you have seen where there’s a month or two where we fall out of that,” he said. “Because we’re euthanizing more cats than really we should be because there are a lot of cats that come into that shelter – many that are feral and unadoptable.”
The “only option,” Adams said, is to approve an ordinance to create a community cat program. He invited Arlyn Bradshaw, a senior adviser in the Best Friends Animal Society’s office of the CEO, to the podium to explain the program.
Cats are at “significantly higher risk” of being euthanized in Utah animal shelters and across the country, Bradshaw said. In Cedar City, 4% of cats who entered a shelter were returned to their owners, compared with 59% of dogs.
“So the majority of dogs actually go back to a home if they get impounded in the shelter,” he said. “Very few cats ever leave the shelter to go back to a home.”
In Cedar City, 549 cats and 407 dogs entered a shelter in 2021, Bradshaw said.
“So many more cats are just coming into the shelter,” he said. “And so we are looking at a different approach.”
According to Utah’s Community Cat Act statute, a community cat is a feral or free-roaming cat without visible identification or a microchip and has been sterilized, vaccinated and ear-tipped. Community cats are exempt from licensing requirements and feeding bans and are eligible for release from an animal shelter before the mandatory five-day holding period ends.
“So the city doesn’t have to pay for those cats to sit there for five days, they can immediately go back out of the shelter,” Bradshaw said.
The community cat program is a “humane, non-lethal alternative to trap-and-kill methods” that have been traditionally used to manage free-roaming cats, Bradshaw said. Healthy or easily treatable felines are trapped, taken to a shelter or veterinary clinic for sterilization and vaccination, ear-tipped for future identification and released where they were found.
Ear-tipping is when a portion of a cat’s ear is surgically removed, typically while they are already under anesthesia for another surgery, such as a spay or neuter, according to this article by the Best Friends Animal Society. This method leaves the ear squared off, rather than pointed, at the top.
Best Friends Animal Society promotes community cat programs because trap-and-kill methods create a phenomenon of cats over-breeding to compensate for a sporadic reduction in the colony’s population, Bradshaw said.
“So you end up with more cats,” he said.
Additionally, in consistently high-intake areas, something is sustaining the cat population, such as a food source. So, Bradshaw said, it is important to identify why they are there and “break the cycle” with sterilization.
Community cat programs reduce the burden of shelter staff by reducing the number of cats taken in and the length of stay for those that are, Bradshaw said. Community volunteers can help bypass the shelter altogether by taking feral or free-roaming felines to the clinic for sterilization and ear-tipping. The practice also reduces unwanted litters.
“The whole goal of this program is to reduce the number of free roaming cats – not to just let them take over the city,” he said.
Spaying and neutering cats also prevent some unwanted nuisance behaviors, like fighting, yowling and spraying. Additionally, animals within the program are also vaccinated, which limits the spread of diseases within the colony, Bradshaw said.
The program can strengthen the community by “bridging gaps” between those who like cats, those who don’t, and animal control who would work together to trap and sterilize cats.
Animal control is “about nuisance abatement,” Bradshaw said. And some citizens do not like cats. To address their concerns, Best Friends staff trains shelter staff and animal control officers on “deterrence.”
Individuals who dislike the community cats would be given options to keep the animals off their property, like Scat Mats in gardens or motion-activated sprinklers in yards. Best Friends staff would also canvas neighborhoods to explain the program and offer resources, Bradshaw said.
The Utah legislature passed the Community Cat Act in 2013, Bradshaw said. That year, 52% of all cats that entered shelters died. As of 2021, 87% left shelters alive.
Salt Lake County began a community cat program in 2010 and at that time, they were taking in 16,000 cats per year, 63% of which were euthanized, Bradshaw said. In 2021, the county’s cat intake was 3,302.
“So you can see the efficacy there within Utah,” he said.
Best Friends Animal Society provided a proposal for a pilot program to the Cedar City Police Department and the Cedar City Animal Adoption Center, Bradshaw said.
Best Friends would provide 100% of the funds required to run the pilot program for “roughly three years,” for up to 200 cats annually. They would pay for all spay and neuter surgeries, vaccinations and additional equipment needed for the program, such as traps, Bradshaw said.
The organization would provide staff and training for shelter and animal control employees and mentorships for volunteers to implement the program, Bradshaw said. Trapping assistance would be provided to Cedar City residents to allow them to bypass the shelter.
Additionally, Best Friends has a partnership with the Southern Utah Animal Hospital and provides them with a variety of community supports, like spay and neuter surgeries for adoptable pets, Bradshaw said.
Councilmember Tyler Melling said that when considering the cultural shifts within Cedar City’s community, he thinks the program is “far better” than the current method.
Councilmember Terri Hartley said the proposal was “perfect timing” as McCabe was already helping her to solve a “cat problem” in her neighborhood.
Adams said he would draft an ordinance. Melling told Cedar City News in a text message that the issue would likely return to the council in the next two months for consideration.
For more information about community cats, visit the Best Friends Animal Society’s website here. View the entire discussion on the Cedar City Council YouTube channel here.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.
Alysha Lundgren joined the St. George News team in 2022. She began her career as a freelancer, writing resource articles for families of children with disabilities. She’s also covered topics such as astronomy, recreation and nature. Originally from Nevada, Alysha fell in love with Utah quickly after moving to Cedar City. In her free time, she enjoys wandering and photographing Utah’s gorgeous landscapes or hunkering down in a blanket to play video games or read a good book.