Nonprofit uses humane way to reduce local feral population
By Elayne Smith
Special to The Tuscaloosa News
Published: Sunday, April 12, 2015 at 10:00 p.m.Last Modified: Sunday, April 12, 2015 at 10:46 p.m.
University of Alabama students Cole Parkey, a senior from Fort Worth, Texas, and Mallory Kennedy, a junior from Hazel Green, read a display about the Trap-Neuter-Return program. Students from Central High School, the University of Alabama and Davis-Emerson Middle School set up booths to promote awareness of the Tuscaloosa Spay Neuter Incentive Program, which was started to address the problem of high numbers of feral cats in the Tuscaloosa area.
Erin Nelson | The Tuscaloosa News
Members of a nonprofit Tuscaloosa group believe they have a solution to a persistent problem: stray cats.
The Tuscaloosa Spay and Neuter Initiative Program, known as TSNIP, sought a more humane and lasting alternative to having feral cats captured by local animal control officers and then euthanized.
Lucy Roberts, a local veterinarian who helped found TSNIP in 2013, said the group aims to control the feral cat population in Tuscaloosa County with a program that involves trapping the cats, spaying or neutering them and then releasing them.
“It’s better for the city, and it’s better for the cats,” Roberts said. “Cats who have been fixed aren’t as big of a problem.”
She said that euthanasia will kill a cat colony, but that will leave resources and room for another cat colony to take over. By conducting the trap-spay or neuter-release method, she said cats are less aggressive, less destructive and won’t reproduce. Instead, the sterilized cats use up the resources in an area, preventing a future colony from taking over.
Roberts estimates that at least 6,000 stray cats live in Tuscaloosa. During the past year and a half, TSNIP says it has trapped and fixed 443 cats. Local veterinarians have complied with TSNIP and given discounted rates for surgeries.
Roberts said she believes that, in the long run, the trap-spay or neuter-release program will prove to be better than euthanizing cats.
“It’s a very effective way to take care of stray cats,” Roberts said. “It’s cost-effective and it’s humane.”
TSNIP issues traps to volunteers so they can either canvas neighborhoods or answer phone calls that detail a cat colony’s location. Volunteers bait the cats with food, then a spring-triggered trap catches the felines. The following morning, the cats are brought to a veterinarian to be fixed, and a piece of their ear is cut to mark that they’ve been sterilized. After the surgery, the cats are released where they were found.
Bill Gootjes and Robin McCarthy have been volunteers for TSNIP since August and canvas neighborhoods together. He said he averages about five cats a week and has trapped 152 cats since starting.
“That’s just one person,” Gootjes said. “Imagine what others can do.”
McCarthy and Gootjes go out once a week to lay traps. Typically, it’s a three-day process from setting the trap, getting the cat, taking it to the veterinarian and releasing it. In order to work more efficiently, they work with another couple, splitting the work and allowing them to go out twice a week.
McCarthy said volunteering for TSNIP has been a rewarding experience. She said people have been helpful in letting them lay traps and welcoming their efforts.
“We hope this is the beginning of a no-kill city,” McCarthy said. “It’s not only rewarding because we know we’re saving the lives of cats … but we’ve also been able to meet people we would have never met otherwise.”
TSNIP has also paired with Davis-Emerson Middle School and Central High School to get the youth involved in civic outreach. A total of 25 students are involved in various projects to raise awareness for the organization and the animals’ plight.
“We believe a partnership is the only way to succeed,” said Jeff Parker, TSNIP’s education outreach director and a psychology professor at the University of Alabama.
On April 10, students from Central High School lined the entrance to the Ferguson Center at UA for the annual “Leave Us Memories, Not Your Pets” event.
The event featured posters, colorful papier-mache cats and Dawn, a dog from the Tuscaloosa Metro Animal Shelter.
Parker organized the event, which he said is designed to educate college students about the responsibilities of adopting a pet and the negative side effects of abandoning them.
Parker said a large portion of stray cats in Tuscaloosa come from college students who adopt a pet but then realize they can’t keep the commitment.
Twelve high school students stood by booths citing different risks animals succumb to when they are abandoned and how TSNIP’s efforts are shaping the community. According to the students’ research, an estimated 16 cats and dogs each day are euthanized in Tuscaloosa shelters, so less than 10 percent of animals in a shelter are adopted, while 90 percent of the animals don’t leave the shelter alive.
“It hurt me, and I was kind of sad to know they were putting down cats,” said Shaundasia Pinkston, a senior from Central High School who volunteered at the April 10 event. “People should care, because it will stop cats from being killed.”
Kristian Simmons, a senior at Central High School who also volunteered at the “Leave Us Your Memories, Not Your Pets” event, said she’s an animal lover and became passionate about TSNIP’s efforts after hearing how it helps the animals. She said that through volunteering with TSNIP, she’s learned how to talk to people and educate them on such an important topic.
“I feel like a lot of other people are animal lovers, and they should understand what hardships animals go through,” Simmons said. “What if that cat was part of your family?”
Some UA students who work with TSNIP teach the youth and help organize projects. Kayla Oglesby is a senior majoring in psychology who teaches the group at Davis-Emerson Middle School. She said at first the students didn’t seem interested in TSNIP until she explained the program and how they could help. Suddenly they lit up, she said, and those who sat in the back who were seemingly the least interested started talking first and raising their hands with ideas.
“There’s so much the youth can do as part of the community, and we’re not using them,” Oglesby said. “They’re more a teacher to you than you could ever be to them. I’ve seen why it’s important to get involved through their eyes.”
Both school groups are divided into smaller groups that focus on a specific project. Oglesby’s students are working on a presentation to give at their school’s assembly. Others are working on a video, art projects like the papier-mache cats and other presentations.
“Our main focus is giving back to the community in the best way we can,” Oglesby said. “There’s no telling what these kids can accomplish.”
The Tuscaloosa Spay & Neuter Incentive Program, a 501(c)(3), not-for-profit organization, was founded in the spring of 2013 with the mission of reducing the unwanted pet population in Tuscaloosa County through a variety of programs.