We were excited to learn about many of the new, enterprising endeavors the Columbia Humane Society is pursuing to reduce stray and feral cat populations.

Last week, the Spotlight focused a feature story and advertiser-supported announcement on the spring “kitten storm” that occurs twice yearly, resulting in a population explosion of kittens. Many of those kittens end up at the Columbia Humane Society.

Too many people continue to own cats that have not been spayed or neutered. It is not uncommon to hear or read about free kitten giveaways when those female cats give birth to a litter of kittens.

On the surface, it’s an attractive offer.

On one hand, the owner of the unwanted kittens is able to get rid of them. Kittens are an expense and each litter can include anywhere from one to half a dozen kittens, if not more. Over time, such expenses can detract from other purchases or drag a household economy into the red. Free is just the right price to unload a nuisance.

On the other side, there is a seemingly inexhaustible supply of people in the market for kittens. They’re cute, sure, and make great companions. Why bother spending $110 on a two-week old kitten at the Columbia Humane Society when somebody down the street is giving them away for free?

Why, indeed?

There are hidden costs attached to those free kittens, costs that are shouldered by the larger community. Negligent pet owners contribute to the stray and feral cat population by not following through with their receipt of the kitten and having it spayed or neutered. That, in turn, results in feral and stray cats in our neighborhoods, poses threats to other pets and perpetuates the occurrence of cat population explosions. It’s a vicious cycle.

The $110 spent on a kitten at the Columbia Humane Society ensures it has been spayed or neutered, has received all of its vaccines, has been microchipped and has been tested for feline leukemia. It’s a negligible expense for would-be cat owners that demonstrates responsibility and a value commitment — both financial and emotional — to the new family pet.

The Columbia Humane Society is additionally taking steps to help control the already-present cat problem, which reached a boiling point in downtown St. Helens a few years ago, as local merchants were pitted against each other over the fate of the omnipresent stray and feral cats. One of those is the consideration to start a spay and neuter clinic open to the public that would allow low-income pet owners to take responsible steps to reduce unwanted cat populations.

A second possibility is that the clinic could spay and neuter cats that have been trapped, allowing for the cat to be returned back to its territory. It’s a tactic, called trap-neuter-return, or TNR, that is widely hailed as the most humane and economically sustainable option for controlling feral cat populations.

Dean Cox, the Columbia Humane Society’s executive director, says he and his agency already have the bulk of the equipment needed to perform spay and neuter operations. What he needs, he says, are veterinarians to participate and help champion that cause.

One option is to solicit the involvement of the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon, a nonprofit agency composed of volunteers, including veterinarians, who travel into various communities in a mobile clinic to perform spay and neuter operations on trapped stray and feral cats.

We would like to add our voice to the chorus at the Columbia Humane Society in encouraging the participation of local veterinarians in the effort to curb feral cat populations. It’s a worthwhile cause that improves the community and demonstrates a humane commitment to animal care.

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