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Ceres still #1 in unwanted cats
orange cat
Cats like this one are not in popular demand and many are euthanized. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Ceres has far too many loose cats but unwanted cat populations are on the decline thanks to the new Trap/Neuter/Release program in place locally. That's one of the highlights of a report made last week to the Ceres City Council by Annette Patton, the executive director of the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency.

The agency is not a county department but a Joint Powers Authority involving Modesto, Ceres, Hughson, Waterford, Patterson and the unincorporated areas of the county.

Patton explained that her staff does not go out into the community to trap cats but does take them from residents.

"The city of Ceres is one of our biggest cat populations coming in by zip code so there are plenty of cats here in the city of Ceres that are not spayed or neutered," said Patton.

The Thomas Mayfield Regional Animal Services Center located in west Ceres spays or neuters cats brought in, tips their ears and returns them to their original neighborhood by the Stanislaus Humane Society.

The center gives out a CatStop device to help homeowners keep cats out of yards and flower beds. It repels cats by emitting a sonar signal only heard by cats.

The spay/neuter program has a $30,000 budget line which allowed 2,000 cats to be sterilized. Grants have helped to offset the impact to the agency. If the agency is successful in snagging a $100,000 grant, she said the center will "be proactively out there getting all the cats in Ceres and boundaries close by and proactively spaying and neutering those cats."

For over 20 years the shelter has seen a high intake of unwanted cats. In a normal year the center has received about 7,000 unwanted cats, typically from breeding season that extends from May through September. About 6,660 were euthanized. Most of the remainder which were not adopted out were put back into the community to run loose.

"I can't give them away," said Patton of cats.

With the T-N-R program in place, those numbers are decreasing. The euthanasia rate has dropped to about 5,200, which she says is "still very high."

Between 2013-14 and 2014-15 there was an 11 percent decrease in cat intake at the center, from 8,022 to 7,129; and a 52 percent decrease in euthanasia cases from 5,249 to 3,686.

"We reduced cat intake by 11 percent in one year. That doesn't sound like a really high number but that was our focus and when I shared this with U.C. Davis - those are the experts that we work with - they were impressed that we could actually reduce it by that amount the first year because it usually takes a couple of years."

The center still provides vaccination clinics but not in the parks. Patton said the clinics drew too many numbers and drew staff away from the shelter on Saturday, its busiest day. The clinic vaccinated 2,651 dogs in 2010-11 and 5,282 dogs in 2013-14. Last year 5,055 dogs and 262 cats were vaccinated. The center holds vaccination clinics every day of the business week and one Saturday a month with reduced waiting for the owner.

Patton noted that the center has seen a steady increase in the amount of dog licenses. Last year the center issued 27,421 dog licenses. The fee system is geared to encourage spaying and neutering of dogs - $12 for spayed or neutered and $150 for unaltered dogs.

She also noted that the center has an automated administrative citation system in place. In the past, if the center sent a dog license renewal letter and it was ignored, nothing would happen to the dog owner. However, failure to answer will result in a citation that can be taken care of within 30 days like a fix-it ticket. If that is ignored, a fine is issued.

The center has future plans to offer a $50 coupon for low-income residents to get their pet spayed or neutered. Another program will offer delivery of dogs to be adopted out through out of the area rescue groups. Cat City will be a chance for the public to visit and play with cats in the hopes that some will be adopted out.

Volunteers at the center contributed 7,000 hours per year.

The center sent 4,225 animals to registered rescue groups and adopted out 2,186 animals.

Ceres resident and then council candidate Gene Yeakley asked why the center returns cats to their original neighborhood after being spayed or neutered. He said many loose cats are causing problems for homeowners by defecating and urinating in flower beds. Patton replied that the center does so because it doesn't want to euthanize the cats and reminded Yeakley that the public can come in for a free CatStop device. Cats are only returned if they are altered, healthy, not surrendered and over four pounds. She said the center does put down cats that are "causing some serious problems."