Catch and release program stabilizing feral cat population


February 4, 2019

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Peter Federspiel of the Havre Animal Shelter takes a look at Norman the cat before releasing her behind the Super 8 Hotel Friday, in Havre. Someone in the area named the cat Norman before the animal shelter determined she was a girl.

After loading up his work truck with full pet carriers Friday morning, Havre Animal Control Officer Peter Federspiel took a quick ride down Second Street to release half a dozen cats behind the Super 8 Hotel west of downtown Havre.

The six spayed or neutered felines given their freedom in the Super 8 parking lot are a drop in the bucket compared to the nearly 400 that have been sterilized since the Havre Animal Shelter began their initiative to curb the ever-growing population of feral cats in Havre.

After Kitty Keepers, a local cat shelter, closed in April 2015, the population of feral cats in Havre has boomed to the point of being problematic, Federspiel said.

"There's a cat problem now," he said, "and it's something that needs to be dealt with."

Havre Animal Shelter has been attempting to address the issue since the summer, when they held a spay and neuter clinic at the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line June 30 to July 1.

Starting in October, Federspiel has been going around town, identifying and trapping groups of feral cats, then having them spayed or neutered at either Eastside Animal Hospital or Bear Paw Veterinary Services. Once all cats from a given area have been collected, and after about five days of recovery at the shelter, the cats are returned to their original locations.

The idea of the shelter's project isn't to kill off the population, but rather to prevent it from growing, Federspiel said.

"The big part of this is that we don't see any new kittens," he said. "That's the most important sign" that the program is effective in quelling population growth.

The biggest indicator that the cat population in Havre has gotten out of control, Federspiel said, is the fact that cats at the Havre Animal Shelter only have a 68 percent survival rate versus a 97 percent survival rate for dogs. With too many cats in town, many of the ones that end up at the shelter never find a home.

By getting the population under control again, Federspiel said, he hopes to reach "the magic number" of 90 percent survival for cats, which would designate Havre Animal Shelter a "no kill shelter."

"I was hoping to get (to 90 percent) this year, but I'm not sure," he said, expressing doubt that the adoption rate of cats will flip so quickly in 2019. "I'm hopeful in the future that's where we'll be though. Our goal is to not euthanize."

As the project continues to progress, Federspiel said he will focus on one - maybe two - areas at a time. With only so much space to store cats, some areas will be harder to address.

Federspiel said he soon plans to begin trapping in the neighborhood surrounding Gary & Leo's Fresh Foods, but he estimates up to 120 cats live in that area, which will make for a difficult task.

Federspiel said the success of this project leans both on residents getting their own pets fixed as well as the funding he receives from Friends of the Havre Animal Shelter, which is a recently established non-profit organization that supports the shelter's work.

He said that once the over-populated areas are taken care of, the work of capturing and fixing cats will just become routine maintenance.

"We are going to keep going as long as funds are available," he said.

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Peter Federspiel releases a cat as part of a spay and neuter project being conducted by the Havre Animal Shelter Friday, February 1, 2019 at in Havre, Mont. The goal of the project is to control the cat population in Havre.


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