A Trap, Neuter, Return program intended to reduce the number of feral cats in Kilgore is progressing well but needs more volunteers.

The program involves monitoring feral cat colonies in the city and colony caretakers who keep track of the felines. A group called the Wildcatters sends volunteers throughout the city to trap cats from the colonies and then take the animals to local veterinarians to be spayed or neutered.

Teresa White, Wildcatters organizer, discussed progress milestones the Wildcatters have made so far in 2019.

“The council made the changes in January,” White said, referring to the city council’s passage of Ordinance No. 1728 on Jan. 8. The ordinance amended the city’s animal control policy to include TNR, rather than euthanizing feral cats.

White said an agreement was made between the Wildcatters and Kilgore Veterinary Associates to provide spaying and neutering services in March and, in April, she met with KVA vet techs to hash out the details of the agreement. The city of Kilgore pays for the cost of the vet services.

White and other Wildcatters coordinate with city officials, including Director of Special Services B.J. Owen and Animal Control Officer Bobby Jumper, to identify and monitor feral cat colonies.

Animal control and Wildcatter volunteers place the traps and check them to see if any feral cats have been caught. The cats are then taken to a vet to be fixed.

“To date we have 17 verified colonies. Animal control goes out and makes sure it really is a colony,” White said, adding Jumper handles the task of identifying colonies, as the TNR program only works with feral cats and not domestic cats.

“(Jumper) contacts me. There are many more colonies in the city of Kilgore that we haven’t got to yet. 32 cats and kittens have been altered. 26 were cats and 6 were kittens,” White said, adding two cats caught by the group were adopted by a woman who took them to the vet at her own expense.

Two cats caught so far had to be euthanized by a veterinarian due to medical issues.

In April, the Wildcatters released the first group of cats caught and spayed in the program, a group of 11.

In August, the group made a billing agreement with Animal Protection League in Longview for spaying and neutering services. KVA has a policy in which they will not spay or neuter any animal less than six months old but cats can begin having kittens at only four months old. The agreement with APL in Longview helps the Wildcatters spay and neuter more cats to prevent the growth of feral colonies.

White said the Wildcatters had been posting about their progress on their Facebook page and the community has been engaging with the posts.

“Just in the last week, we went up. The Facebook stats were all over a 100 percent increase from the week before. Actually, there’s a lot of people in Kilgore that follow the page,” she said, adding Mayor Ronnie Spradlin was among the page’s followers.

“A lot of followers are members of other pet communities -- the Henderson Pets Alliance, two or three people at Longview Animal Care Center, Gatos Amigos. It’s kind of like a network. Everybody tries to help everybody else.”

Outreach and community engagement is important for the Wildcatters because the group hopes to attract more volunteers to help with the TNR program, which involves a lot of work.

“On paper we have 17 volunteers,” White said. “To be a volunteer you have to agree to be a caretaker, you can’t be forced to do anything else. Our (TNR) team consists of six of those volunteers plus myself.”

Because not all volunteers can work on tasks like trapping, monitoring and transporting cats to vet clinics, the group could use additional members.

“We only have six team members to go out and do that. They all work full-time hours (in addition to volunteering).”

Part of the reason the TNR program is so time-consuming is because it can take three days to get a cat from trapping to vet care and then post-care monitoring.

A captured feral cat must spend the night for pre-operation holding and then be taken to a vet clinic. The cat must then be picked back up from the clinic and monitored in a climate-controlled environment because anesthesia can cause cats to lose the ability to self-regulate their body temperature. The cats are also not allowed to have anything to eat or drink the night following their surgery and can then be released the next morning.

The Wildcatters would be happy to find volunteers who can monitor cats or transport them to or from clinics.

“We need people to fill those other roles,” White said. “It’s not just trapping. A lot of people don’t realize it’s a three-day process not counting the scheduling. They don’t have to actually do the trapping. They can drive the cats to the vet to pick them up and if they have a garden room or something on their house that’s air conditioned and heated they can recover them. They don’t come out of the trap, it’s just to monitor them.”

Volunteers can get orientation and capture training from experienced Wildcatters and can work with a trainer until they feel comfortable with the TNR process. Also, volunteers are never asked to go alone for trapping. For this job, Wildcatters always go in groups of at least three.

The Wildcatters will be having their first official fundraiser at Atwoods Ranch & Home Supply October 5. The fundraiser is important, White said, because the group is still too new to be recognized as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and many large animal welfare groups only donate to official non-profits.

While the city pays for the cost of vet services, the group relies on donations to pay for gas and supplies for trapping.

“We need a place where we can go and get out in public and generate more interest and attract more volunteers,” White said of the fundraiser, which will offer hot dogs, drinks and plenty of homemade food.

White invited those interested in the group to attend a meeting to learn more. Their next meeting will be held at city hall on September 9. Facebook users can follow the group’s updates and posts at www.Facebook.com/WildcattersTNR and use the Facebook Messenger link on that page to contact White. Those interested can also send an email to wildcatterstnr@gmail.com or call Animal Control Officer Jumper at 903-988-4120 who can get them in touch with White.

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