No one knows how many stray and feral cats are roaming York County, but there's no doubt it's a huge problem, Melissa Smith said.
Smith, executive director of the York County SPCA, said concerns about feral cat colonies and numerous stray cats in southern York County have led the York County commissioners to create a $60,000 spay/neuter contingency fund.
"We are just thrilled our county commissioners recognized this problem and want to help with it," she said. "It's a huge blessing for the residents and cats of York County."
President Commissioner Steve Chronister said it was a unanimous decision.
"It's important, I think, just for quality of life," he said. "In some areas it's quite out of control. We decided we were going to ... hopefully help alleviate this
Transport service: The York County SPCA is using the money to fund a spay/neuter transport service for southern York County, according to Smith. Staffers will go out to properties, trap stray and feral cats and transport them to the Emigsville shelter for free.
The cats will be neutered or spayed, given rabies shots and an "ear tip," then released where they were trapped from, she said.
Snipping off the tip of a feral cat's ear identifies it in the future as having already been fixed.
It's a program the SPCA had in the past but had to end because of lack of funding, she said.
Cats in southern York County whose owners can't afford to have them fixed are also eligible for free spay/neuter, Smith said. SPCA staff members can pick up those cats as well, she said.
"Any cats that can possibly reproduce are the target," she said. "This is a means to an end to reduce euthanasia ... which is one of the biggest goals we have."
Weekly goal: The hope is to trap and fix 25 cats weekly, which is not as easy as it sounds, Smith said.
"There are a lot of cats that are trap-savvy and difficult to catch," she said.
The effort began Tuesday morning, when shelter staffers brought in 31 cats, all trapped at a feral cat colony in the Glen Rock area.
Vaccinating these cats against rabies is just as important as making sure they can't breed, according to Smith.
She said the state Department of Agriculture has determined that since 2008, Pennsylvania has led the country in most reported cases of rabid domestic animals. Most of those animals have been cats, Smith said.
Dangerous world: "I understand that people may enjoy their cats being outside, and the cats may want to be outside, but we in our profession know how problematic that can be for so many reasons," she said. Outside cats can be hit by vehicles, shot, poisoned and abused, and are at greater risk of contracting serious diseases, she said.
"If cats are kept inside, a lot of those issues are eliminated," Smith said.
Plus, outside cats that aren't fixed will breed. The SPCA has already received mother cats with newborn kittens this spring, perhaps due to the mild winter, she said.
"It seems like it happens earlier every year," Smith said of kitten season. "It's a huge problem."
Other programs: The SPCA's low-cost spay/neuter program for all York County residents remains in effect, as does its SOS (Save Our Strays) program, Smith said.
"We want to make sure we spay or neuter every cat we possibly can," she said.
For more information, visit www.ycspca.org or call the York County SPCA at 764-6109, ext. 125.
-- Reach Elizabeth Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org, 505-5429 or twitter.com/ydcrimetime.