York County's SPCA spays thousands of cats each year to curb population

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

The free-roaming cat population in the county isn’t bad, but the York County SPCA director knows the county can do better.  

The county hasn’t seen a meaningful decline in the free-roaming cat population’s growth rate since tracking started in 2013, said Director Steven Martinez.

“It’s not bad in York County,” Martinez said, "and the reason it’s not bad is because we have a high volume, low-cost spay-neuter clinic.” 

Martinez said the SPCA has one of the most productive clinics in the state, with a veterinarian and seven supporting technicians. It takes the veterinarian three to five seconds to neuter a cat and under five minutes to spay a cat.  

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“She did 9,400 spay-neuter surgeries in a single year,” he said, adding that about 50 to 60 surgeries were conducted daily. 

Half of those surgeries were for free-roaming cats, and half of those free-roaming cats were female.  

In addition to the surgeries, the staff also vaccinates the cats against diseases such as rabies, which can be deadly to humans.

“They did about 3,200 free-roaming cats last year,” Martinez said.  

On average, he said, a free-roaming cat in the county will live 12 to 15 years and have 1.75 litters per year. If the cat delivers about about four kittens per litter, the cat would have 90 to 120 kittens in her lifetime.  

“Imagine what our community would look like if that clinic didn’t exist,” he said. “And the answer would be we’d be overwhelmed with cats.” 

Which did happen back in the 1800s, Martinez said. Dogs and cats jumped in front of horses, which scared the horses and caused people to fall out of carriages. Rabies was also a fear. The health issues prompted the creation of animal pounds. 

Martinez said the main complaint today is cats that are defecating in a yard or scratching up a Jeep. 

The SPCA is working on the nuisance aspect, disease prevention and saving lives, he said. 

From left, lead vet wing technician Amber Schmitz secures Isosceles Triangle, a 2-year-old male domestic shorthair while Dr. Natalie Weeks scans the cat for a microchip at York County SPCA Brougher Companion Animal Shelter in Manchester Township, Thursday, June 23, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

To help, residents can participate in the Trap Neuter and Return Program, or TNR, which helps save the greatest number of feline lives.  

“The reason why is because you’re preventing 90 to 100 kittens from ever being born,” Martinez said, adding that kittens born in the wild have only a 25% chance of survival.  

Residents can rent one of the shelter's humane traps for a $60 deposit. The SPCA will teach the resident how to set and bait the trap. SPCA staffers are currently making a video that explains the process of trapping a cat, which they will post online. 

Martinez said that to trap a cat, the resident will have to figure out where the cats are and set the traps in that area with the stinkiest food possible. A blanket should be draped on top of the trap. The resident then sets the trap and waits.

The cat may not be caught on the first night, but whenever it is, the resident can pick up the trap and bring the animal to the SPCA to be spayed or neutered.  

Martinez said the SPCA will allow one walk-in per day from Monday through Thursday, and no appointment is needed. The cat will be released back to the resident on the same day. Martinez said usually the cat can be released later in the day, or, if it's still groggy, the next morning. If there are medical concerns, the staff will advise. 

It costs $20 for the surgeries and vaccines, which is one of the lowest rates. 

Lead Vet Wing Technician Amber Schmitz holds Kangaroo, a 5-month-old female brown tabby, at York County SPCA Brougher Companion Animal Shelter in Manchester Township, Thursday, June 23, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Martinez explained that regular neutering at veterinarian offices can cost hundreds of dollars for a cat owner. The SPCA price for an owned cat is $85, but what isn’t paid financially is paid in time. He said it could take a few months to get in.  

The $20 for free-roaming cats helps defray the cost for the SPCA. Such cats jump to the front of the surgery line because it is a public service. 

Those who want to help out more can participate in the Spay it Forward Fund, which allows donors to help someone who wants to do the right thing but can’t afford to cover the $20 cost.

The resident can also work something out with the shelter if they can’t afford the $60 deposit for the trap. They only need to communicate with the shelter by going to YCSPCA.org. Martinez said email is the easiest way to contact the organization.

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Another program is the Targeted TNR, in which the SPCA staff will target known colonies of 10 or more cats. The staff will go in and proactively TNR the colonies. That program costs $25 per cat.  

Another way to save the cat population is to foster kittens. Martinez said kittens under 3 pounds are hard to save because they can’t receive vaccinations. Their immune system is compromised because of how young they are, so if a kitten that small is brought into a shelter, it cannot fend off the diseases and bacteria typically found in shelters as easily as older cats.  

Rather than bringing the kitten into the shelter, the SPCA wants to put the kitten into a foster home. Martinez said expanding the feline foster program, specifically for kittens, has been a top priority for the last year. The kittens are only put into the program if their mother is no longer with them. If the mother is still alive and nursing, it is recommended to leave them alone. 

A free-roaming female cat nurses her kittens in the back yard of a home in the Fayfield neighborhood of Springettsbury Township, Monday, June 13, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

— Reach Meredith Willse at mwillse@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.

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