Sutter County shelter may give up on stray, feral cats
Sutter County officials are thinking about giving up on stray and feral cats because too many of them are dying in the county's animal shelter.
Kate Hurley, director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at U.C. Davis, told directors of the Sutter Animal Services Authority this week that abandoning efforts to rescue and corral stray cats could save money, cut down on cat deaths and keep more cats with their owners.
She told the Appeal-Democrat on Wednesday she's never seen a shelter with a higher number of cats who died because of poor shelter conditions.
"It's hurting cats, and it's leading to a lot of death for cats," Hurley said. "Is that a good use of our funds?"
She recommended directors of the authority — a joint effort between Yuba City, Sutter County and Live Oak — adopt a program to trap, spay or neuter cats and then release them. If that's too costly, she suggested then look at leaving cats alone and rerouting the staff and space used to trap and house them.
Under the proposal, shelter workers would let domestic cats find their way home and treat feral cats like vermin — think raccoons and skunks — by leaving them alone unless they're sick, injured or a threat.
Cat owners don't look in shelters for their pets and only a fraction get adopted. About 15 percent of the shelter's cats get adopted and less than 2 percent are reunited with their owner, said Megan Greve, principal analyst with the Sutter County Administrator's Office.
"Owners of cats very rarely come looking for their cats at the shelter," she added.
That's in stark contrast with dogs, whose owners know when their pet has escaped. Cat owners, on the other hand, figure Fluffy's just roaming around the neighborhood and will return in a few days.
And they do return, Hurley said. More than half of lost cats eventually find their way back home, she said. Snatching and impounding them in a shelter only interrupts that process.
Animal control workers don't patrol for feral cats. They catch them only if a resident brings them in or has already trapped them. Ten to 15 percent of the feral cat population flowed through Sutter County's shelter last year, a far cry from what's needed to reign in the population, which Hurley estimates at about 16,000.
"We're not controlling it," she said. "They're continuing to reproduce and expand their population."
Shelter workers impounded 22 percent more cats and euthanized 76 percent more than they did five years ago, according to the data from veterinarian Richard Bachman, who inspected the shelter in October and released a report in November.
The increase suggests failure, and the need to try something else, Hurley said. "If it was a successful program, it would be much more worth investing in."
If directors throw in the towel on stray and feral cats, they could save money. By housing only injured cats, they could shrink the number of animals in the shelter by about 40 percent, according to data provided by Hurley and Bachman.
Hurley on Monday told directors they needed to add more kennels if they want to properly deal with the number of dogs housed in the shelter over the last few years.
But if the number of cats housed at the shelter were to be dramatically reduced, the design of the current shelter plan could suffice.
State law forces counties to patrol for loose dogs, but not cats. In fact, the law doesn't require animal control services to do anything for cats, Hurley said.
"California counties aren't obligated to have any response to cats," she continued.
"If it's not legally required, mandatory to house cats, why are we doing that in the first place?" Yuba City Councilman John Miller asked.
Even though it's not required by law, Sutter County residents expect animal control workers to pick up strays, said Cheryl Bohannan, Sutter County's supervising animal control officer.
"You're going to have a large public discussion," Bohannan said.
Either way, directors need to figure out if they're going to house cats or not before it builds a multimillion dollar facility, Miller said.
"We have to set the policy first," he said, "before we actually figure out what we need."
CONTACT reporter Jonathan Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4780. Find him on Facebook at /ADjedwards or on Twitter at @ADjedwards.