By Chelsea Sullivan and Duffy Zimmerman
Four-hundred feral cats will be sterilized for free during March and April at the Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton thanks to a $25,000 grant to address cat overpopulation issues in the area.
Funding for this program, provided by the Alexander and Elisabeth Lewyt Wholly Charitable Trust, will cover necessary costs associated with the procedure. The foundation was formed in December 2012 when Elisabeth Lewyt passed away.
An activist focused on saving animals from euthanasia, Lewyt left the fortune from her husband’s various inventions to support organizations and programs for the general betterment of all animals.
“It’s a big help when we have the grants. A lot of people can’t afford to have cats spayed or neutered,” Kimberly Reilly, the manager of Kent’s spay and neuter clinic, said. Reilly noted that without this funding to cover the full price of the procedure, the typical 50-dollar cost per cat can be prohibitive. “It adds up when you have a lot of them.”
The feral cat population on Long Island has grown steadily since, mostly because of unspayed and unneutered pets. The Suffolk County Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has urged people to take precautions, such as keeping their pets inside or neutering the males.
“Unfortunately there are people out there who have cats as pets that they let out at night and they meet other cats and reproduce. Other people feed the feral cats and all of a sudden there are 50 on their property that they are responsible for since the cats don’t know how to hunt anymore,” Roy Gross, Chief Executive Director for the SPCA, said.
Although there have not been any confirmed cases of rabid cats in Suffolk County, Gross says that feral cats spread disease to domesticated cats, bringing it into peoples’ homes.
Domestic cats that roam around their community, most of which are unowned, are the single largest human-caused threat to wildlife, according to a study from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.
Although overpopulation presents a threat to creatures lower in the food chain on the national level, bird breeder and hobbyist Armando Torres claims this is not the biggest issue on Long Island.
“The great threat to Long Island birds population is the humans,” said Torres. “Birds need space and forestation in order to reproduce in large amounts. The wild cat always existed.”
Most animal shelters will not take cats, especially feral ones. If they’re adults, the odds of them being adopted are 20 percent lower, according to a study of online adoption agencies.
Kent Animal Shelter uses a trap, neuter, release, or TNR method. This strategy involves capturing feral cats, sterilizing them, and then administering vaccines before returning the animals to where they were found. TNR is believed to be the most affordable and most method of stabilizing cat populations, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
“The service has only been announced for two days and already every feral spot is full,” Jessie Barry, the receptionist for the spay and neuter clinic at the animal shelter. “We do surgery on about 8 female and 5 male cats every day (around 50 a week), which is more than double what we did before the grant.”