Stray cats get care from vet students

Tomy Hillers and Cyan James

Suzanna Brown hopes that someday there won’t be a need for her organization.

Brown is a co-founder of the Feral Cat Alliance, a group that provides medical treatment for stray cats in the area. Members of the group volunteer to feed stray cats, and once a month, cats new to the area are taken to be vaccinated, tested and spayed or neutered.

Beth Sulner, co-founder of the Feral Cat Alliance, which formed in January, said the goal of the program is to reduce the pet overpopulation in shelters and in the surrounding environment.

“We’re hoping that eventually we won’t have any work,” said Brown, junior in veterinary medicine. “We hope to quell the problem, but we aren’t going to stop the problem any -time soon.”

When a new cat joins the colony, caretakers trap the cats and bring them to the ISU veterinary clinic, said Sulner, junior in veterinary medicine. The 25 to 30 volunteers meet once a month at the junior surgery lab in the veterinary school.

“We have caretakers who monitor the different colonies of feral cats in the area,” she said. “These caretakers feed and water the animals, all the while watching for new strays that have joined the colony.”

The group anesthetizes the cat, then marks its left ear and plants a microchip on it so it is recognized as a spayed or neutered member of a managed colony.

“We vaccinate them for rabies and distemper, de-worm [and] test them for feline leukemia virus [and] feline immunodeficiency virus,” Sulner said.

Afterward, cats are taken into surgery to be spayed or neutered. Cats are kept overnight so their health can be monitored, and they are released the following morning.

Typically, the group treats seven to 10 animals per month. On one occasion, however, 18 cats were treated in one day, Sulner said.

“One of the biggest misconceptions is that most people think shooting the cat is the answer. But when they shoot the cats this creates an open space within the group that will be filled by another stray cat,” she said.

“When we can take them in, vaccinate, spay and neuter them, then we can put the cats back into their colony, but they won’t be able to breed, and the quality of the colony will increase.”

Several of the students in the group help during these procedures, but only third- and fourth-year students actually operate on the cats.

Sulner and Brown worked for about nine months to lay the groundwork for the program, modeling it after similar ones at schools such as Texas A&M and the University of Florida. The group is endorsed by Alley Cat Allies, the largest feral cat organization in the country, and the Humane Society of the United States.

“Feral cats are a problem for both cat-lovers and people who don’t like cats,” said Michael Loenser, adviser to the group. “There is a lot of enthusiasm for the program and it’s a good opportunity to do something for the community and for students’ skills.”

In the future, Sulner would like to see the program work with local animal shelters, or become an elective course. Brown said she would like to see the program added to the schedule of classes as an elective. Once Brown and Sulner graduate, the program will continue under other students’ leadership.

“The program is something that’s way overdue,” said Kimberly Seidl, junior in veterinary medicine. “As a result, animals will have better lives, and I hope it continues.”