Cedar City Council approves ‘lifesaving’ ordinance to implement a community cat program – St George News

CEDAR CITY — The Cedar City Council unanimously approved a community cat program in partnership with Best Friends Animal Society that advocates say is a more humane, cost-effective method of reducing stray cat populations over time.

Two community cats seen during a mass spay and neuter event, Richfield, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society, Cedar City News

A community cat is a feral or free-roaming cat that does not have visible identification or a microchip and was sterilized, vaccinated and ear-tipped, as Cedar City News reported in September.

These cats are exempt from licensing requirements and feeding bans and do not need to be held at an animal shelter for the mandatory five-day hold period unless it requires veterinary care.

As part of the program, free-roaming cats will be “humanely trapped, medically evaluated, spayed or neutered, vaccinated and ear tipped under anesthesia for identification” and then returned to their original location to “live out their lives, unable to have kittens and maintained by community caregivers,” according to a news release sent to Cedar City News via email.

“(Community cat programs) offer a humane, cost-effective method of reducing stray cat populations over time, creating a healthier community for cats and people alike,” the release states.

Last month, Arlyn Bradshaw, the senior advisor for community relations at Best Friends Animal Society, presenting the idea to the council and has since been working with the Cedar City Animal Adoption Center and Cedar City Police Chief Darin Adams on getting the program approved.

A feral cat, date and location unspecified | Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society, Cedar City News

At the Oct. 19 council meeting, Councilmember Ron Riddle said he reviewed studies evaluating community cat programs, and many found such programs are a “good idea” if 75% of the free-roaming cat population can be caught and sterilized, which is “extremely hard.”

A center staff member Loralynn Williams said the program would reduce the overall number of feral cats.

While the center works to be a no-kill shelter, their cat intake has tripled since 2020, which led to an increase in euthanasia as the animals are unadoptable, Williams said.

“Best Friends has been a great partnership because they’ve come in and saved our bucket several times in order for us not to have to euthanize animals to make room for more coming in,” she said.

When members of cat colonies are killed, it triggers the “vacuum effect,” where female cats go into heat more often and have more litters to overcompensate for the loss, Williams said. When feral cats are sterilized and returned, it reduces the chance of them overbreeding.

Members of the community have been borrowing the center’s traps and taking in captured feral cats, but Williams said there is only so much room to house them.

A feral cat perched on a wall, Cedar City, Utah, Nov. 4, 2022 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, Cedar City News

Best Friends Animal Society agreed to fund the program for the first three years, but Councilmember Phillips asked how much it would cost to continue it.

Williams said the first few years are critical, which is why Best Friends is covering those costs. Councilmember Tyler Melling said that the costs of continuing the program, once implemented, will potentially be less than maintaining the current situation.

At the action meeting on Oct. 26, Bradshaw said that ongoing costs are largely for sterilizing and vaccinating the cats, which is partially offset by shelters not having to house the animals for the full holding period.

“It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what that would be, but most shelters find that it’s either negligible or a minor increase,” he said.

Additionally, the city could be “aggressive” in seeking out spay-neuter grants to cover some of the cost, Bradshaw said.

Kittens at the Cedar City Animal Adoption Center, Cedar City, Utah, Oct. 25, 2022 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, Cedar City News

“And I will say — from the Best Friend’s perspective — while we propose this as a three-year pilot project, we wouldn’t want to just abandon the city if it was going well, and we could talk through a transitional period,” he said.

The program could encourage locals to be involved as many “like their community cats — they keep the mice away,” Cedar City Animal Adoption Center manager Brittany McCabe said in an interview with Cedar City News.

However, some residents also have legitimate concerns about the feral population, such as males marking their territory, she added.

The program will also lower the number of kittens local shelters take in over time. McCabe said many of the kittens they care for come from feral or semi-wild populations.

“I like kittens but when we have 90, it’s really tough,” she said.

Additionally, the program is expected to reduce disease spread in feral cats, McCabe said. While the cats are sedated, they are vaccinated for rabies and other infectious diseases.

Caring for community cats

A feral cat named Spooky in Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Nanci Mavilia, Cedar City News

Cedar City resident Nanci Mavilia cares for multiple free-roaming cat colonies. Her efforts are funded out-of-pocket and with support from the center. Additionally, Her daughter donated her birthday money to help the animals.

She is working to officially open a nonprofit rescue called Stray Cats and Street Dogs, which is dedicated to Spooky, one of the feral felines she feeds.

“They’re not vermin,” she said. “They’re souls.”

As temperatures drop, Mavilia is working to ensure the free-roaming cats she cares for can find respite from harsh winter conditions.

She cut a hole in a plastic storage container and plans to fill it with straw — as blankets become wet and freeze- and cover it with a tarp to create a makeshift shelter but may need permission from business owners to put it out.

“(I) keep them warm and keep them fed because they deserve to eat,” she said.

When asked about the trap and release program for community cats, Mavilia said in some cases, the cats need to be relocated to safer locations. Some make their home in pallets or search for food in dumpsters where they are at risk of injury and death caused by forklifts and large vehicles.

A feral cat in Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Nanci Mavilia, Cedar City News

The center is considering locations for a potential cat colony so the animals can be relocated, as McCabe said, adding that the idea still needs to be discussed.

Mavilia said her goal is to save as many free-roaming cats as she can.

“My love is with the feral population — the homeless population,” she said.

Details of how the program will work can be found in the city ordinances in “Chapter 11: Animal Control,” Section 11-IV-7.

To view the initial discussion that took place in September on Cedar City Council’s website, click here.

To watch Williams advocate for the program on Oct. 19, click here. Council members can be seen taking a final vote on Oct. 26 here.

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