Sep. 13—In the first four months of a program meant to help manage the city's growing stray and feral cat population, organizers say they have worked with almost 90 cats and have plans to continue as needed.
The program, known as the trap-neuter-return program, or TNR for short, is a partnership between the city, volunteers and nonprofit organization Camp Companion.
The initiative identifies areas in the community where there are colonies of cats or kittens and then humanely traps the cats so the animals can then be taken to veterinarians to be vaccinated and spayed or neutered. After the procedure, the cats are typically returned back to the neighborhoods they originated from in one to two days.
Dee Amberg, an active volunteer for the Freeborn County Humane Society who is also a volunteer cat trapper through Camp Companion, said so far the initiative has brought in 48 female cats and 41 male cats.
Amberg said because she had trapped in Albert Lea before, she had an inkling where many of the cat colonies would be, and Public Safety Director J.D. Carlson was also monitoring where the cats were throughout town. Once word got out into the public about the program, they started getting more phone calls from the public to help them know more as well.
They have estimated there to be between 150 and 175 cats in total, she said.
She said trapping went well in the spring, though summer was more challenging because unaltered males tend to wander, she said. In the fall, they'll start to come back home to roost. Female cats, on the other hand, tend to roam only if their food or shelter is taken away.
Amberg said volunteers will stop for the year once a lot of snow is on the ground, and will otherwise keep trapping as long as there are people who have a place where they can keep some cats warm for a while after their procedures are done.
The cats that have been trapped thus far have been from all over town, ranging from groups of five or six cats to as many as 20 or 30.
She encouraged people to continue to call Camp Companion at 507-951-7801 if they notice groups of cats in their neighborhoods. Information is also available on the organization's website at campcompanion.org. She also asked that people be patient with them, as they will try to get to the cats as soon as possible.
Amberg said they always make contact ahead of time with the people who may be feeding cats to keep them aware of what is happening and to make sure they have permission from the landowner to trap on their property.
For the most part, people have been grateful for the service.
Some people may not realize but if someone is feeding cats and providing them shelter but not taking care of spaying or neutering the cats, the situation can quickly spiral out of control, she said. The expense keeps increasing and people often just get overwhelmed.
Right now the initiative is funded by the city and Camp Companion, and she estimated that after a few years of the program, costs will go down as there will be fewer and fewer cats that will need to be brought in.
"People may call in about one or two — but not 20," she said.
Carlson said as a result of the TNR partnership, the city has received fewer concerns reported to the Albert Lea Police Department regarding feral cat colonies.
The city will continue an annual maintenance program moving forward.
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