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Operation CatSnip: Easing cat overpopulation in Carroll County

For centuries cats have been a valuable asset to farms by providing poison-free rodent control, and serving as companions to livestock and farmers. However, cats are a prolific species, and kittens as young as 4 months old are capable of producing litters. A healthy female can produce up to three litters in a single year consisting of three to five kittens per litter. As she and her descendants continue to breed, a farm's feline population could reach 420,000 in seven years, according to the Great Plains SPCA in Kansas.

Cat populations are also increased by people dumping unwanted cats and kittens at farms, mistakenly thinking that these cats will easily survive and be welcomed by the farmers (who usually accept them). Wandering feral cats might join existing barn cat colonies to find mates and obtain easy meals provided by farmers. Feral cats might be carriers of serious communicable diseases that can quickly spread and wipe out cat colonies. Feral cats are also a major source for rabies, which is always fatal if other animals are not inoculated. When asked if he knew how many farm cats are in Carroll County, Charles Brown, executive director of the Humane Society of Carroll County, said, "It is impossible to provide an exact number, but it is likely to be in the thousands."

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Because of the large number of cats, expenses involved and difficulty capturing feral cats, most farm cats are rarely seen by veterinarians. Donna Babylon and Joanna Spencer were involved with the Animal Task Force of Carroll County. Through their research they became very aware of the plight that farmers experienced with unwanted litters of kittens. Many farmers were taking kittens to the Humane Society and most were euthanized because their numbers were much higher than the adoption demand. From the information Babylon and Spencer acquired, they approached the Humane Society of Carroll County with a proposal for a spay/neuter program to target only farm cats and would not cost anything to farmers. The Humane Society board agreed to fund of this unique program. Protocols and procedures were developed and Operation CatSnip was launched in 2015. The word soon spread through Carroll County farming community and by the end of 2015, 500 cats were altered.

To publicize Operation CatSnip, Babylon and Spencer created an informative video that can be viewed on the Humane Society's website and on YouTube. All of the money funded for the program by the Humane Society covers the spay/neuter surgeries, rabies vaccinations and payment to the participating veterinarian. All other expenses are absorbed by a loyal team of volunteers and supporters.

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To qualify for the program the farm needs to be a working farm in Carroll County and the farmer must make a living from farming. Operation CatSnip focuses on farms with 10 or more farm cats (though allowances for less cats are possible). Interested farmers should call the Humane Society at 410-848-4810 to provide information that will be forwarded to Babylon and Spencer, who will contact the farmer by phone to screen the request. This will be followed by an on-site visit to the farm during which procedures are explained in detail and a plan of action is formulated.

Farmers are expected to agree to the terms stipulated by this program, including:

•Continuing to spay and neuter additional cats in the future.

•Cooperating with the trapping process by setting up and baiting the traps. Because cats know the person who feeds them, it is better for the farmers to set the traps. To have 100 percent success with the trapping procedure, the Operation CatSnip volunteers do not want to disrupt the cats' feeding routine.

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•Not feeding the cats for a day so that the cats will be very hungry. The traps will be baited with tuna and the volunteers will instruct the farmer on how to set the traps. The volunteers will conceal themselves and wait as the cats enter the traps. After the traps go off, the volunteers cover the traps to keep the cats calm and carry them to a holding area away from the feeding location.

When the quota of cats scheduled for trapping has been reached, volunteers transport the cats to the veterinarian, where they are spayed/neutered, inoculated for rabies and "ear tipped" (identification method used for altered cats). When ready for discharge, the volunteers pick up the cats from the vet, return them to the farm and release them. "Tru-Catch Traps TNR" (trap, neuter, release) are used, and they do not harm the cats and are unlike the traps utilized for trapping wildlife.

Beef farmer Jerry Russell shared his impressions from his experience with Operation CatSnip: "The CatSnip program was, for the most part, just what the providers said it would be. The providers were courteous and caring, and went beyond what the program outlined. A number of the cats became friendlier towards humans and there was notably less aggressive interaction between each other. I was very pleased with the results and would strongly recommend that the program continue."

What you can do to help:

•Spay and neuter all pet cats.

•Adopt barn cats from the Humane Society.

•Donate supplies such as canned tuna, canned cat food, bleach, laundry detergent, vinegar, puppy pads, fleece blankets and heavyweight plastic shower curtains. When delivering supplies, please notify the Humane Society staff that the items are for Operation CatSnip.

•Send monetary donations ear-marked for Operation CatSnip and made payable to HSCC. Donations can be mailed or delivered to: Humane Society of Carroll County, 2517 Littlestown Pike, Westminster, MD 21158.

For more information, email operationcatsnip@yahoo.com.

Iris Katz serves as a member of the board of directors and as an educational facilitator for the Humane Society of Carroll County. Her column appears on the third Sunday of the month.

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