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October 22, 2014

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Groups work to mitigate Henderson’s feral cat problems

In the wake of Clark County passing legislation allowing people to legally trap, neuter and return feral cats to the wild, similar efforts are not yet being mounted in Henderson.

Spay our Strays Director Shirley Braverman said the group, which pushed for the new Clark County ordinance, is first focusing on implementing policies related to that change.

"We've got to get the database up," she said. "We have 800 or 900 names to put in to register the colonies."

Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin said the measure legalized caring for feral cat colonies. Heaven Can Wait Founder Harold Vosko said colonies will no longer be targeted by animal control if a caretaker has sterilized and vaccinated them.

"Caretakers can feed them, but they've got to get them sterilized," Vosko said. "A lot of people thought if you went to get them neutered they'd be turned into animal control. Now people don't have to hide under a rock."

Braverman said the group is working quickly to spay and neuter about 350 cats, numbers that have surged in the wake of ordinance-generated publicity. At the end of next year, the group will report by ZIP code to Clark County Animal Control a list of all the colonies, a description of each cat and when each animal received vaccines. Neutered and spayed cats will be identified by a clip on the ear.

"It will be fairly easy to expand and have other people tap into it once we get it up and running," Braverman said. "There's no reason to kill these cats when we've already spent money fixing and vaccinating them."

Managed colonies of spayed and vaccinated feral cats reduce the stray cat and rodent populations, because the cats protect their territory and no longer reproduce, and they feed on rodents, Save Our Strays says on its Web site.

Braverman estimated there are roughly 100 colonies in Henderson, one of them near the Henderson Saddle Association. She said that association officials welcome the colonies, which rid the area of rats.

"We're going to be moving some more colonies there," Braverman said. "Horses like cats. My grandfather's barn cat slept on the back of a horse."

Henderson Police spokesman Keith Paul said 2,300 cats have been impounded by the city this year. Of those, 250 were euthanized.

"They are like every other animal," he said. "Their temperament is tested to see if they can be adopted out. If they can't be adopted out, they are euthanized."

Feral cats remain a large problem in Clark County with an estimated population of 200,000, Vosko said.

"That's a lot of irresponsible pet owners," he said. "That's the thing we need to address."

Paul said Henderson typically receives roughly 1,000 complaints a year about feral cats at-large. But he said Henderson has no law to stop a cat from being spayed or neutered and released.

"The county ordinance came up at the urging of an outside group," Paul said. "They may still do that here."

But Vosko does not see the effort being replicated in Henderson yet.

"Feral cats is a very controversial problem all over the U.S.," he said.

He noted some groups express concerns about cats eating wildlife such as birds and spreading disease through urine and excrement.

"A lot of entities are not willing to gamble with that right away," Vosko said. "I think other cities will wait to see if it works or not."

Clark County is just the 39th jurisdiction to embrace a policy that favors sterilization over euthanasia, he said.

Vosko called Henderson a pet-friendly place that actively works with groups like Heaven Can Wait. Heaven Can Wait performs free feral cat clinics every month at Sunrise Veterinary Clinic, during which cats are vaccinated, spayed or neutered. The cats' ears are also snipped so they can be identified.

The sessions typically draw more than 200 cats. Vosko said more than 12,000 have been spayed or neutered since the program began.

"People that are feeding and trapping them can bring them in to get them fixed for free," Vosko said.

Dave Clark can be reached at 990-2677 or [email protected].

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