BEND, Ore. - The Bend Spay and Neuter Project works to control Central Oregon's feral cat population in a safe and humane way.
By the time the cats are four to five months old, they are set on being wild.
Once a colony of community cats is reported, volunteers spring into action. Bend Spay and Neuter Project Volunteer Elaine Gilbert said this is not the cat's fault.
"This is our fault," Gilbert said recently. "As humans, we don't do the right thing by fixing our pets, and people say, 'Well, it's not my cat.' And I say, 'Well, it's nobody's cat, and that's the sad thing.'"
The project averages about 1,000 feral cats per year. The clinic has a strict policy of trap, neuter, return, or TNR. The cats are quickly treated at the clinic for free, but must go back to where they were found. Volunteers believe this is a community problem and people should always fix their cats.
The cats are caught in trip-plate cages that are then covered to keep the cats calm. The kittens will have a chance to be adopted, but the cats will be returned.
Gilbert calls it the vacuum effect.
"If you remove all those cats from your property and they go elsewhere, you are going to keep getting new cats that are not fixed, kittens being born on your property, and you've got a revolving door of cats coming," Gilbert said.
Executive Director Megan Gram said after a certain age, there are limited chances they'll ever become adoptable.
"By reducing the population and stabilizing the population, eventually they're going to decline and they're going to go away, "Gram said. "Since there is no place for these cats to go, the most humane thing is to fix them and put them back where they came from."
Established in 2004, the clinic helps both tame and feral cats and dogs. They've reached almost 50,000 total surgeries in 13 years.
Gram said they've seen feral cat populations decline in Central Oregon, but it still remains a big problem.
"I think we all want fewer outdoor cats, because they are detrimental to our environment, and they can be detrimental to the wildlife," Gram said. "People don't usually want them in their yards, and they can be considered a nuisance. We want to make sure the cats are safe and that they have someone taking care of them if they are outdoors."
Two local residents, Neil and Kathy, enjoy the feral cats in their backyard and want them returned once they're fixed. They said the cats are like their extended family, and they're cute to watch.
"Usually, we work with people like this couple," said Bend Spay and Neuter Project volunteer Suzie Meeker. "They feed the cats, they love watching the cats, and they're attached to them, but they know they cannot pet them."
The group said its approach to the problem ensures fewer cats are born into the wild. Gram said by catching the animals, kittens find new homes and adults don't die of painful diseases.
The Bend Spay and Neuter Project has partnered with the Humane Society of Central Oregon in Bend and BrightSide Animal Center to form the Central Oregon Cat Alliance. If you do have a feral cat problem, call the Bend Spay and Neuter Project at 541-617-1010.