The effort to care for community cats now has a powerful new tool to help reduce cat overpopulation and improve the lives of the tens of millions of unowned cats in the United States.
Dr. Julie Levy, director of the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville, Fla. founded Operation Catnip in 1998. Since then, the successful trap-neuter-return (TNR) operation has cared for more than 45,000 felines, establishing a successful and replicable program that can now be shared across the nation.
Through a grant from PetSmart Charities, Levy’s training program and educational materials will be made available to veterinarians, vet students and vet techs to set up their own regular, high-volume, local spay and neuter clinics.
By following Levy’s proven best practices and turnkey processes for high-volume clinics, local volunteers, veterinarians and other partners can help cut down on the number of community cats and ensure better care for them. According to their web site, recent Operation Catnip clinics have cared for up to 180 cats at one event.
“Our vision is to train an army of veterinarians to spay and neuter America’s community cats,” said Levy. “This approach, along with vaccination, will allow us to reduce cat population, control infectious diseases, and improve the lives of the cats.”
While veterinarians perform spay neuter operations in their own practices, these high-volume clinics involve up to 75 volunteers at each event and require extensive set up and coordination with the community. Levy’s program and materials outlines the entire effort down to the detail, making establishing a volunteer clinic efficient and effective.
The on site process begins when community cat caretakers or other concerned citizens bring in cats that they’ve trapped.
Each cat passes through a series of 16 clinic stations where a team of dozens of dedicated volunteers, including veterinarians, students, technicians, and cat lovers operate MASH-style.
One experienced volunteer is serves as the captain for each station. Each captain manages their own station, facilitates the flow of cats through the clinic, acts as a mentor for less experienced volunteers, and oversees set up, break down and clean up of their station.
The Operation Catnip volunteer veterinarians, vet students and vet techs sedate the cats, spay or neuter the cats, vaccinate them and treat them for fleas or other parasites. They give the cats the customary identifying “ear tips” where they clip a small piece of the tip of the cat’s ear to signify to others that the cat has already been neutered. Once the cats have had time to recover, the cats are released back into the areas in which they were found.
Those who have worked under Levy in the past have found the experience gained through her program to be not only beneficial to their own communities, but inspiring, as well.
Dr. Amy Karls, a veterinarian in Massachusetts who is involved with four local community cat organizations, applied knowledge she’d gleaned from her time with Levy to her own practice.
“I was able to bring everything I learned back to our local rescue and TNR groups,” she said. “It was truly wonderful to see so many people united for the common goal of improving the lives of the homeless cat population.”
Thanks to the PetSmart Charities grant, others like Karl can now implement Levy’s practices, creating their own trap-neuter-return clinics and helping cats across the country.