ARLINGTON — Arlington is considering a more humane strategy to controlling its feral cat population.Currently, the city euthanizes nearly all of the thousands of feral cats that are trapped and brought into the animal shelter. But under a new proposal set to be voted on by Arlington City Council in August, the city would allow nonprofit animal rescue groups to sterilize and vaccinate trapped feral cats and then release them back into their neighborhoods with the promise of long-term care.Arlington has seen a 15 percent increase in the number of feral, stray or unwanted cats brought into the shelter over the past two years, said Mike Bass, Code Compliance Services assistant director. About 5,680 cats were surrendered last year, up from 4,451 the year before, and only about 40 percent of them found new homes.“We are going to see a continue growth of the problem,” Bass said. “The procreation is happening on a very fast pace, and it is very difficult to control.”Last week, an Arlington City Council committee recommended approval of a Trap, Neuter and Return policy, which has been pushed during the past year by advocacy groups such as the Arlington Feral Cat Coalition, Alley Cat Allies and Friends of Arlington Animal Services.“We have trapping and killing [feral cats] for decades, and it hasn’t made any difference,” said Kathy Beeler, founder of the Arlington Feral Cat Coalition. “What we are doing is not helping the problem, and it’s time to try something else.”Free rodent controlBeeler said returning feral cats to their neighborhoods after they have been spayed or neutered and vaccinated for rabies has benefits. The cats would have one of their ears “tipped,” or clipped off at the top, to help visually identify which ones have already been sterilized.“Number one, there is free rodent control,” Beeler said. “The cats that will be in their neighborhood won’t be reproducing, so they won’t have cats having kittens in their bushes and them having to deal with that.”Sterilization also addresses some of the feral cats’ nuisance behaviors, such as spraying and fighting.Other cities have endorsed trap, neuter and release strategies to control the cat population.Jacksonville, Fla., for example, saw a 31 percent decrease in cats being brought to the shelter between 2007 and 2010, which meant 13,000 cats avoided euthanasia, according to information provided to Arlington City Council. Salt Lake City, Utah, launched its program in 2008 and reported a nearly 22 percent reduction in shelter cat intake from 2009 to 2010.The Fort Worth City Council approved ordinance changes that allow groups to trap, neuter and release feral cats, a practice not previously allowed. Volunteers who care for the cats are required to register with the city and be able to provide information to the city about the animals’ veterinary records and care.No-kill shelterBass said allowing volunteer groups to care for the feral cats will save the city money. It currently costs Arlington between $170 to $225 in manpower and other expenses to trap and euthanize each feral cat, he told City Council committee members. Beeler said groups like hers will use donations and grant funds to pay for expenses, which would cost between $45 and $90 per cat. Volunteers also provide food for the cats.The groups’ goal is for Arlington to one day have a no-kill animal shelter, said Beeler, also a member of Friends of Arlington Animal Services.“That is not going to happen with feral cats there. One hundred percent of feral cats die in the shelter,” she said.
Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock