More than 1,500 people have “liked” UF Squirrels on Facebook since the page was created just over two years ago. However, the squirrels aren’t the only fury creatures that roam the University of Florida campus and surrounding areas. Feral cats are also frequently spotted in Gainesville and there is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing their well-being.
Operation Catnip’s (OC) mission is to reduce the population of un-owned cats by providing a free spay/neuter service for community members of Alachua County. It is a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program, which is considered a more humane alternative to euthanasia, said program coordinator Erin Mack.
Mack said every cat that is sterilized by OC is nipped. This means that the tip of the cat’s left ear has been cropped off and the cats are welcome to come back to the program for vaccine boosters for the rest of their lives.
The organization is affiliated with UF and is entirely run by veterinarian, student and community member volunteers.
Radha Krueger became involved with OC in 2011 after deciding that the feral cat population in her neighborhood was “getting out of hand.”
“I started trapping and nipping any unfixed and ownerless cats that came into my yard about two and a half years ago; and slowly started helping out with OC directly about one and a half years ago because I saw the impact it had on my own corner of the world,” Krueger said.
Krueger said that she believes a TNR approach is the best way to deal with the feral cat population. She compared the alternative method, euthanasia, to the actions of the Nazis.
“If you set aside the cruelty aspect of mass euthanasia, the logistics of trying to solve the problem by eradicating the population is impossible,” Krueger said. “The concept of the cat vacuum is a very real thing. Cats migrate to an area they have shelter, a food supply and space to live without being harassed by other cats. You might eradicate your own area, but cats will eventually migrate in to fill up your space again.”
She said a smarter option is to bring the cats in to be sterilized so that “you’re filling up available cat space with a population that isn’t breeding, fighting and spreading diseases.”
OC has spayed or neutered more than 40,000 stray and feral cats in Alachua County since it was founded in 1998, but volunteer Matthew Parker believes there is much more left to accomplish.
“This is a program that has achieved amazing results, all thanks to dedicated volunteers who share a love of cats and a desire to make their community a better place,” Parker said. “We’d love to see even more involvement from students and everyone in the community.”
The Oct. 12 clinic is full, but community members who would like to spay or neuter feral cats in their area have other options if they want to have the surgeries done before the next clinic on Nov. 9.
“We can refer them to Operation PetSnip if they want to get the surgeries done sooner,” Mack said. “They do need to contact us first before calling PetSnip so we can give them a referral. Otherwise, PetSnip charges $50 for the appointment.”
To contact Operation Catnip about bringing in cats for sterilization or for volunteer opportunities call (352) 380-0940 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.