Spring — whether or not the weather cooperates — brings baby animals. The span from February until June is called "kitten season" because, while female cats can birth litters year round, more litters tend to be born in the spring and early summer. During kitten season, people might notice more pregnant cats or mother cats with kittens in toe roaming around the community or sheltering wherever they can.
This time of year highlights a growing concern. Winnemucca and the surrounding vicinity has struggled with an increasing number of feral cats over the years. Feral cats have little to no interaction with humans. Cats in general are territorial, tending to stay in the same area, and groups of feral cats are called colonies.
The animal control shelter in Winnemucca does not have facilities to house stray, feral or abandoned cats, so while stray dogs are removed from the streets, cats remain at large. Pregnant and nursing cats can make their home under a house or anywhere secluded and out of the elements.
Concerned groups over the years have tried to find humane ways to reduce feral cat populations. Winnemucca Animal Rescue has been trying to raise funding to start a trap, neuter and release (TNR) program to address the feral cat issue. Removing the cats entirely would only leave the area open for another reproducing colony to move in. Neutering and returning adult feral cats to their colonies will, with time, reduce the number of cats while preventing other colonies from taking over.
Concerned volunteers have paid out of pocket to have some feral and stray cats neutered, but the procedure is expensive. The city and county offer vouchers for neutering strays and ferals to help reduce costs,
With vouchers, male cats cost $40 to neuter and $75 for female cats. These vouchers are available at Winnemucca Police Department and Humboldt County Sheriff's Office. Proof of rabies vaccine from a veterinarian is required. Rabies vaccine shots generally cost $20.
Volunteers have also opened up their homes to foster kittens until they are able to be adopted or sent to other shelters. Fostering gets kittens accustomed to humans and raises their chances of being adopted. Currently 70 cats and kittens are fostered in the homes of seven volunteers.
But feline foster homes in the area are already stretched to their limit, and Winnemucca Animal Rescue has had to turn down requests for rescue help lately due to lack of resources.
The volunteer-run Winnemucca Animal Rescue has approached the Humboldt County Commission and Winnemucca City Council during two joint meetings since late summer 2017 requesting assistance. While both governing bodies acknowledged the need for intervention, both groups also expressed concern about the sustainability of the TNR program. County commissioners also questioned if feral colonies affected the county as a whole as opposed to Winnemucca in particular. In rural areas, for instance, feral cats help keep the rodent population down.
Winnemucca Animal Rescue is currently looking for a suitable building, as well as funding through grants and other resources. However, most grants require that the program has a building, which means the TNR program remains in a holding pattern.
Anyone interested in fostering mama cats and kittens can call Winnemucca Animal Rescue at (775) 391-5733.