Atwater group aims to sterilize feral cats

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atwater cats (KFSN)

The City of Atwater has found a new way to deal with an abundance of feral cats in the community.
An alley in downtown Atwater was once covered in feral cats that left a stinky mess and caused a flea problem for nearby businesses. " It was really bad. Upwards of 30 cats in and around the building, in and around the downtown the area. Gardens being used as cat boxes, and we know what that smells like," said Eric Lee, downtown building owner.

But now the cats are much harder to find. Lee says it's because of the city's trap, neuter, release program that started in March. "Since the program has started I've noticed a definite decrease in the number of feral cats in and around the building here. I've also seen a large decrease in the number of sick or injured cats that we were seeing."

Volunteers formed the Atwater Community Cat Network after officials proposed a controversial ban on feeding feral cats last fall. The city was spending about $20-thousand a year to take them to animal control, but officials agreed to instead give the group $20 to $40 per cat to have them spayed or neutered and vaccinated. The program is the first of its kind for Merced County.

"There's 5 volunteers and we go around and trap in the high targeted areas that the Atwater Police Department is getting complaints," said Lori Chavez, Community Cat Network volunteer.

About 120 cats have now had procedures since the program started. Dozens have been taken to an animal hospital in Turlock, and nearly 70 were sterilized for free through a special offered at Valley Animal Center in Fresno during the month of April.

Some critics have questioned whether the cats were being released too soon after their operations, but the volunteers say they always follow vet recommendations and have the cats' best interest at heart.
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