By John Ramos

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY (KPIX 5) – The Bay Area is experiencing a population explosion of feral cats, and experts say efforts to spay or neuter the animals has become more difficult due to the pandemic.

Feral cats can be found anywhere: creek beds, alongside freeways, even behind supermarkets. It doesn’t really help to remove them from an area because that just creates a vacuum and more will move in.

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What really works is a process called TNR, or “Trap, Neuter and Return.” Groups including Community Concern for Cats in Contra Costa County send out volunteers to temporarily capture the felines so they can be spayed or neutered. They do it because, left alone, their breeding can grow exponentially.

“So, you have a couple of cats that you leave unfixed. And in three or four years, there can be hundreds,” said volunteer Renee Emerson.

Gemma Boyd, the group’s president, said there is a problem.

“The vets on the outside, you know, regular practices, have stopped doing this for rescue groups,” Boyd explained to KPIX 5. “They used to do a small percentage of their business for rescues to help with the cause. And they had to stop doing it because their businesses exploded.”

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The sharp rise in pet ownership during the pandemic increased the demand for vet care. Dr. Kate Hurley at UC Davis’ Koret Shelter Medicine Program said it’s happening when there is a shortage of veterinary technicians.

“COVID added to a system that was already very stressed,” she said, “and then, as a few people started burning out–like, ‘I can’t do this anymore’. For the people who are left, the workload gets more and more intense. And so, it’s easy to see how a vicious cycle gets going.”

Volunteer feral cat trappers, including Monty Mantovan, now must wait to collect animals until he knows the neuter clinic has an opening.

“I try to trap it when I have an appointment, so I can bring the cat in.  And it doesn’t always work out because you don’t get the cat that night–you have an appointment for Wednesday, and you don’t get the cat on Wednesday night. It doesn’t show up for some reason or other,” Mantovan said.

Hurley said she would like to see the veterinary establishment create a new class of technicians that would be trained and authorized to only perform spay and neutering surgeries.

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Cat rescuers say, right now, the only immediate help is for people to get their own pets neutered so they’re not adding to the feral population and the misery and deprivation of having to live in the wild.