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Sutter shelter to stop taking feral cats
* Number of cats admitted to shelter greatly exceeds the number that can be cared for and adopted.
* Sutter County has relatively low median household income and high unemployment (fewer individual and community resources)
* No major private animal welfare organization (such as Sutter Buttes Canine Rescue in Butte County)
Problems with past approaches at Sutter County Animal Shelter:
* Only 1 reclaimed cat for every 76 cats admitted to Sutter County Animal Shelter. Resulting cost estimate spent per-reclaimed cat: $2,000.
* Cats missing from households are 13 times more likely to return home on their own than by way of animal control officers/animal shelter.
n Only 7 percent of missing cats that are recovered were reunited via call or visit to shelter.
Edited from presentation by Kate Hurley, director, U.C. Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program.
Read report: Phased approach to feline intake
Taking in healthy feral cats and picking up nuisance ones might seem like the humane thing to do at a municipal animal shelter.
But Kate Hurley, director of the U.C. Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, believes that doing so has failed both cats and taxpayers.
On Monday, following a presentation by Hurley, who has been contracted to help assess management and operations at the Sutter County Animal Shelter, the Sutter Animal Services Board of Directors voted 5-0 to do away with those practices.
Beginning Sept. 1, the animal control officers will stop picking up healthy cats and stop accepting feral ones brought to the shelter on Second Street in Yuba City.
"What we're doing now is not working," Hurley said of the disparity between the number of cats taken in at the shelter and the number of those that make it out alive to be reunited with an owner or adopted by a new one.
And the failure, she said, has not been limited to the local shelter.
"Most cats that enter a (municipal) shelter end up dead," Hurley said. "It's an area where you're having less success (than with dogs), and you don't have to do it."
The state does not require that municipal shelters take in healthy feral cats or pick up strays. But any animal accepted by such a shelter must, by state law, be given adequate care according to state standards.
Only 1.3 percent of stray cats admitted to the Sutter County facility are reclaimed by an owner during the state mandated three-day holding period prior to euthanasia.
By contrast, 28 percent of stray dogs admitted are reunited with owners during the three-day holding period.
"There is no free-roaming, free-breeding dog population like there is for cats," Hurley said, referring to feral cat colonies that are especially prolific during the spring and summer months.
Too many of the cats the Sutter County shelter is taking in, she said, "do not have an owner anywhere."
"We're not impacting enough of the (feral) population," Hurley said. "I think it makes sense to leave feral cats where they are."
Furthermore, she said, "It's cheaper."
Board member Diane Hodges, Live Oak's mayor, and board Chairman Jim Whiteaker, also a Sutter County supervisor, expressed skepticism about the changes Hurley proposed.
Whiteaker said that irresponsible pet owners will continue to dump their animals on his property. After the proposed changes are implemented, he said, he will be left to deal with such situations, and will have no good solution.
"This is what's going to happen, I can tell you right now," Whiteaker said.
Stray cats that are accustomed to human contact, Hurley said, could be among the cases allowed to be admitted to the shelter. But only if they are brought in by appointment.
Spending time and money to have animal control officers trap and retrieve such animals would not be a wise use of resources, she said.
"I don't like leaving (feral) cats because they are a nuisance," Hodges said.
Hurley argued that because money isn't available to mitigate the number of feral cats roaming at large, and because such cats don't fare well in captivity, taking them in — where they will likely be stressed and ultimately euthanized — isn't the best solution.
"We're just dog-paddling like crazy just to continue this thing that isn't working," she said.
Board member John Miller, Yuba City's mayor, said he agreed with the basic pragmatism behind Hurley's recommendations.
"There is no real perfect program out there," he said. "We have limited resources and an abundance of cats."
The plan proposed by Hurley would have several phased-in components that would revolve around development of a new shelter, expected to be built over the next 18 months.
"If we found it's the wrong path, it can be changed at a later date," Miller said.
Shelter management already is implementing new policies regarding cat intake.
In recent months, the high birth rate of stray and feral cats has led officials to limit intake, and ask that those who wish to drop off cats hold them for an additional day or two until space can be made through foster care volunteers, a network of shelters, and in some cases, euthanasia.
Interim Shelter Manager Bob Clary said community response to the change, thus far, has been favorable.
"They seem to understand what we're trying to do," he said.
The shelter still has cats up for adoption.
It will still take cats in by appointment if they are highly adoptable and will still take in strays that are sick or injured, but those will likely be euthanized due to overcrowding.
CONTACT Nancy Pasternack at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4781. Find her on Facebook at /ADnpasternack or on Twitter at @ADnpasternack.