They live on our streets, in fields and barns, behind shopping centers and in our neighborhoods. They eat on back porches and in city parks, fed by dedicated cat lovers. They’re the felines now called “community cats,” and while many of them are feral, some are strays or abandoned former pets who have adapted to life outdoors.
Some estimates suggest there are as many unowned as owned felines in the U.S., most of them unvaccinated and never spayed or neutered. Left free to reproduce, they’ll create the next generation of community cats, and the next, and the next.
Operation Catnip aims to change that, says founder Dr. Julie Levy, director of the shelter medicine program at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. The trap-neuter-return (TNR) organization has been running free high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter clinics for community cats in Gainesville, Florida, since 1998. In 2014 alone, they helped 2,693 cats and prevented the births of an estimated 6,142 kittens just in the first year following surgery.
Now, thanks to a grant from PetSmart Charities, they’re throwing open their operational model and training program to veterinarians, veterinary students and veterinary technicians from all over the country.
“Our vision is to train an army of veterinarians to spay and neuter America’s community cats,” said Levy. “This approach, along with vaccination, will allow us to reduce cat population, control infectious diseases and improve the lives of the cats.”