Community cats program benefits cats and veterinary students

October 21, 2018 GMT

BULLHEAD CITY — The partnership between a local animal care organization and Midwestern University has benefited nearly 800 cats in the community.

“The bulk of the figure in such a short amount of time is due to Midwestern University,” said Rebecca Seefeld, We Care for Animals, Inc. president. “With trap-neuter-release events being held in Bullhead City we can achieve a higher goal and target rate. The fact that it is at no cost to caregivers and with the end result being no new litters in their colony, it has been a success.”

Community cats are not just feral cats but also cats that have been lost or abandoned by their owners.

TNR programs offer a humane way to reduce, over time, the numbers of community cats, Seefeld said. The animals are humanely trapped, taken to a veterinarian for a health check, vaccinations, wound care and to be spayed or neutered prior to being returned to their outdoor home.

“Simply ‘trap and kill’ is not only inhumane, it is not effective,” Seefeld said. “If you miss a breeding pair you will have the same amount of kittens the same time the following year. Trapping and sterilizing stops the breeding process all together, caregivers report happier and healthier colonies with no new surprises.”

We Care for Animals held a TNR event this weekend, which was fully booked. Additional TNR events are scheduled for Dec. 15-16, Jan. 19-20 and Feb 16-17.

“We do need caregivers to call 928-362-2733 to book, as TNR events are by appointment only,” Seefeld said. For more information go to www.wecareforanimalsaz.org or the organization’s Facebook page.

The partnership with Midwestern University College of Veterinary Medicine began in 2017 when Seefeld saw the college offered mobile units for underserved areas and the students performed mostly low-cost spay and neuter clinics for owned animals.

“In talking with Rebecca, we basically dialed down to what the community needed the most — help for community cats,” said Nellie Goetz, Midwestern University clinical assistant professor, shelter medicine.

One of the issues with community cats is that they can reproduce year-round in Arizona and they can begin reproducing as young as 4 months, Goetz said.

“The TNR events make it very straightforward in terms of us being able to measure impact (of the program),” Goetz said. “We can measure impact through the shelter statistics in terms of the numbers of cats coming in, the number of cats they have that they are able to not euthanize because they’re able to put them back out in the community where they belong and where they come from.”

Bullhead City Animal Care and Welfare sees up to 10 cats every day, said Jodie Albee, ACW shelter support. Feral cats can’t be adopted out as pets as they are not human friendly, and sterilization helps reduce their population. Young and people-friendly community cats may be adopted.

With its mobile surgical unit, the university is able to offer first- through third-year veterinary students the opportunity to participate, with supervision, in surgeries and other care.

“It’s wonderful for them,” Goetz said. “They’re doing things that gets them a lot of experience but doesn’t minimize the level of care that the cats get. We try to get them involved with educating the clients — and that’s really helpful for them to help figure out how to be a veterinarian and it helps round out their overall veterinary experience.”

The work in Bullhead City also gives students the opportunity alongside the TNR program to conduct a veterinary medical study of scrotal hematoma in male cats.

“It’s basically a surgical complication and we don’t know the extent of that complication,” Goetz said. “I can involve the students in everything from the literature review to study design to data collection, data analysis and the final actual writing of the paper — it’s a whole experience for them just within this one setting.”

The study will take about a year to complete, Goetz said. The mobile surgical unit is scheduled to be in Bullhead City roughly every four to six weeks through 2019.

“Rebecca does a phenomenal job,” Goetz said. “One of the reasons we go so often is not only the need of that particular community, but also just her level of commitment to that community, her level of organization and the way that the community welcomes us with open arms has really made it fun for us.”

The City of Bullhead City donates the event space, Seefeld said. Animal Care and Welfare helps with transporting the cats. Aquarius Resort Casino provides rooms and meals for the veterinarians and students from Midwestern University.

“We do a lot in the local community, seniors and kids and everything, but we have a passion for animals too and are able to help where we can there,” said Sean Hammond, Aquarius Casino Resort general manager. “When it comes to the TNR or the low-cost spay and neuter, I’d like everyone to help where they can — It’s definitely a community problem but I think we found a community solution.”

Seefeld agreed.

“This is definitely not a one-man show. We all have to pull together for a common mission,” she said.