Tarentum group tries to keep up with feline population

Veterinarian Dr. Becky Morrow displays a cat oxygen mask in the operating room of the Homeless Cat Management Team clinic in Tarentum on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012.
Veterinarian Dr. Becky Morrow displays a cat oxygen mask in the operating room of the Homeless Cat Management Team clinic in Tarentum on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012.
Photo by Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
| Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012, 12:57 a.m.

TARENTUM — Cat crusaders around the Alle-Kiski Valley have something to purr about on Allegheny Avenue.

The Homeless Cat Management Team, a non-profit group dedicated to spaying and neutering feral and stray cats, finally has a home of its own.

On July 29, the group opened a clinic in a basement suite at 207 Allegheny Ave. where it will operate spay and neuter clinics every three weeks in an effort to control the cat population.

“We're trying to get ahead of the breeding,” said Dr. Becky Morrow, a veterinarian who is HCMT president and medical director. “Cats can have up to three litters a year, with six or seven kittens per litter. I've seen litters with as many as eight.

“We hope the new clinic will help us do more trap, neuter and return,” she said. “We did 90 cats at the last clinic.

“A lot of rescue groups work with us, which is nice because they trap them.”

The new facility includes a holding room where cats are kept in the traps in which they were captured until surgery. There is an operating room with two operating tables and anesthesia equipment.

The cats are given a shot to relax them and then anesthetized with gas for the surgery.

Morrow said the spay procedure for female cats takes about five minutes and the neuter procedure for male cats is about a minute. The cats are also given rabies shots and other care.

“They come in in the morning and we release them in the afternoon,” Morrow said.

Stray or “rescue” cats are tame animals socialized with humans but are homeless. They are taken off the streets and often put up for adoption after being spayed or neutered.

Feral cats are those that were born and bred in the wild or on the streets. They usually live in colonies.

Feral cats are released to where they were found after the surgery. While they are anesthetized, Morrow said the tip of a feral cats' left ear is clipped to show they have undergone the procedure.

The cats are kept overnight by the caregivers who trapped them to make sure they are all right before being returned to the colonies.

The caregivers are people who love the animals and regularly provide food to the colonies.

“It's amazing how quickly they recover,” Morrow said. “They are resilient little creatures.”

Morrow said cats have to weigh 2 pounds or more in order to have the procedure.

“People think these (feral) cats are unhealthy, but that is far from the truth,” she said. “The vast majority are healthy.”

In the 13 years the Homeless Cat Management Team has existed, it has sterilized and vaccinated more than 13,000 cats using facilities at animal shelters.

Morrow said the new facility will hold free clinics that are exclusively for feral cats and low-cost clinics for stray and rescue cats. The low-cost clinics charge $50 for spaying and $35 for neutering, with that money going to support the facility and the free clinics.

Morrow said there are usually two or three veterinarians working during the free clinics and all of them donate their time.

A biology and physiology professor at Duquesne University, Morrow also has some of her pre-med and pre-veterinary students as volunteers at the clinic.

“This complements what we teach in the classroom,” she said.

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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