The cat’s meow

By Posted on Aug 12 2015 | By

Fauquier ferals feel the love of committed caregivers

The natural beauty of Fauquier County is legendary. The landscape encompasses rolling farmland, deep forests, and mountain views; all graced with streams and rivers of uncommon beauty.

But within this pastoral setting a silent population of some 20,000 feral cats freely roams the countryside; roams, survives and multiplies.

A “feral” is a domestic cat who has largely reverted to some of form of wildness. Often it is multi-generations removed from hearth and home.

Young feral kittens can be socialized and re-introduced to domestic life more so than an adult. But for the most part, feral colonies keep their distance from man and resist domesticity.

Feral catsSo how do they survive? Being natural hunters help. But there is also a group of compassionate men and women who are drawn to caring for and controlling the population of these silent, peaceful beauties.

The Fauquier SPCA is central to addressing the needs of feral cats in the county. The private shelter contracts with the county and receives funds in the form of grants to care primarily for dogs and cats. But all animals in need come under its watch.

One most often thinks of the SPCA when it recues livestock from deplorable conditions. Saving a starving, ribs-exposed horse is a sad and graphic reminder of the care the society provides helpless creatures.

But they also play a pivotal role in caring for feral cats in concert with help from citizens committed to their well-being.

“We started our trap, neuter and return program back in 2008,” said Caroline Folker, manager, community relations with the Fauquier SPCA. “People were bringing in a large number of cats in to be euthanized. They might have started out trying to feed five or six cats but by the following year had a population of 50 or 60.”

In the last six years, the clinic has spayed or neutered over 2,600 cats. While the number may seem modest given the estimated county-wide population, the reproduction rate of the animals means tens of thousand of ferals have not been bred as a result.

Folker underscores the effort is entirely run on donations and grants and not funded out of the general shelter budget. Why? Some people in the community are not in favor of doing it. “They think we’re helping the ferals stay out there rather than being euthanized. They don’t want them on their property,” Folker said.

But the program respects the wild state of the cats. It provides food, shelter and an opportunity for them to live their lives on their own, responding to their unique natures.

Some people may not be aware that both the feral population and disease are controlled through the humane effort of the society and its caregivers.

Once cats are sterilized they are given rabies vaccinations and parasite prevention. The caregivers commit to feeding and providing housing for the ferals upon their return to the wild. Since the colonies can’t reproduce, over time the population declines naturally.

The program is not targeted to all citizens in Fauquier County. “We are not trying to make people keep and care for cats that they don’t want,” Folker said. The society learned early on if people were persuaded to trap and go through the neutering process at some point many lost interest in the effort.

“We are trying to reach those people who are already committed. We’re not trying to persuade anybody. The caregivers will continue to look after their cats whether we help them or not, and they will never euthanize them,” Folker said.

                                            Trap, Neuter, Return 

                               Volunteers anchor feral cat program

SPCAIf you choose to have a family cat spayed or neutered by the Fauquier SPCA, it’s going to cost $50 for a male and $65 for a female. A fair price given the average cost by a veterinarian is in the $200 to $300 range.

But sign up for the feral spay/neuter service and that cost drops dramatically; $5.75 and $15.75, respectively. But there are a few caveats.

First, caregivers must to commit to feeding and providing shelter for any feral that is sterilized and returned to the wild. And the waiting time for the procedure ranges from a few weeks to three months, depending on the number cats in queue.

Nonetheless, it is an impressive cost savings for caregivers. And the benefits are multifold for their furry charges.

Typically the SPCA will wait until a substantial numbers of ferals have been identified for treatment. Then a clinic is held at its Casanova shelter.

“If we get 50 cats needing sterilizing, we’ll hold a daylong clinic,” said Judy Hagerman, a coordinator who volunteers in arranging the sessions. Some clinics have treated over 100 ferals in a day.

“I get a list of the caregivers and take it from there. We set a clinic date, arrange for volunteer vets and interview the caregivers prior to the procedure. We have 100 traps available and instruct them on their use,” Hagerman said.

Dr. Pat Denny, owner of Pender Veterinary Clinic in Fairfax, provides his services for free four or more times a year. “I enjoy doing it. I think it’s a good cause. People trap and bring in the cats. It’s all orchestrated by very good people. I’m just a small cog in the wheel.”

Well perhaps. But the sterilizations would not take place unless Dr. Denny and many other volunteer vets provided their surgical skills at no cost.

Denny reinforces the value of the program by saying, “It’s healthier for the animals. There’s not as much fighting within the colonies. And it’s better and safer for other wildlife” such as birds and small game.

It’s also been proven that fertile cats will not enter a “fixed” colony. This reduces both fighting and disease. And over time natural attrition reduces the size of the colonies.

For more information on the Trap, Neuter and Return program call the Fauquier SPCA at 540.788.9000. Or, visit


Published in the summer 2015 edition of inFauquier magazine.

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