By Rachel Christian
Summer is synonymous with kittens at Osceola County Animal Services, where volunteers say they can see up to 50 kittens brought in every week during peak season.
Director of Animal Services Kim Staton said numbers seem to be down,
but the effort to control the feral cat population remains a priority.
“We’re seeing more participation and success with our fostering program,” she said. “But it doesn’t always feel that way on busy days.”
Earlier this year, the county received a major grant to help combat the problem.
The grant, awarded by a nonprofit organization called Best Friends Animal Society, is worth $330,000 to $500,000 over the next three years.
The money isn’t a “blank check,” but instead, provides the shelter with resources like a van to transport cats to spay-neuter clinics and two full-time Best Friends staff members, all at no cost to the county or residents.
Since April, Best Friends employees have trapped more than 200 feral cats in several Osceola County subdivisions.
Feral cats can be a nuisance to homeowners, who often call Animal Services to complain about felines rummaging through garbage cans, fighting each other outside and using their backyards as litter boxes, Staton said.
The goal of the grant-funded program is to implement what’s known as a trap neuter release (TNR) program across the county. Workers set out traps each night in certain neighborhoods, then transport the captured feral cats to the Animal Services office in St. Cloud.
The next day, the adult cats are vaccinated, spayed or neutered and marked with an ear tip. The felines are then returned to the communities they came from to live out their days.
TNR programs have sprouted up across the country as a humane alternative to frequent euthanasia, Staton said.
“Cats that have been spayed aren’t meowing through the night because they’re in heat, and the males aren’t getting into loud fights over territory or females,” Staton said. “A lot of the complaints people have about feral cats go away after they’ve been fixed.”
Aptly named employee Kat Kennedy said she and her co-worker, Laura Jordan, estimate they have captured and released over 200 cats in the first two months of the TNR program.
The number may seem small compared to the number of kittens brought to the shelter during peak season. But Kennedy said the number adds up quickly, considering a single female cat can produce up to 40 kittens a year.
That equals roughly 8,000 cats that won’t be added to the feral cat population in Osceola County, thanks to the Best Friends grant program.
Kennedy and Staton said the goal is to spay and neuter 2,500 cats a year.
The Best Friends program also aims to spread information and awareness about the TNR program to county residents, and encourage them to help out in the effort.
Residents can lend a hand by setting and trapping feral cats on their property.
Interested residents can call the Osceola County Community Cat Program at 407-608-2764 or email them at OsceolaCats@bestFriends.org to learn more about obtaining