* Donate: Cover the cost of a spay/neuter operation
* Sponsor: Pay for the care of a feral cat
* Adopt: Offer your barn or garage for cat relocation
* Volunteer: Attend weekly meetings at Mark's Dog House, 3443 Keith St. NW, Cleveland
* Learn more: Call Catnippers at 423-464-6074; like Cleveland for a No Kill City on Facebook or call 423-646-6070
A grass-roots movement in Bradley County, Tenn., is starting two programs aimed at keeping feral cats out of the pound.
The group, Cleveland for a No Kill City, aims to help move animals out of the Cleveland Animal Shelter faster -- so that eventually the shelter won't need to kill animals because of overcrowding.
The new programs, a barn-relocation program and a trap-neuter-return program called Catnippers, target feral cats in two ways, volunteer Beth Foster said. The barn-relocation program removes cats from the shelter and relocates them on farms. But Catnippers aims to keep feral cats out of the shelter in the first place.
"We're hoping people will start calling Catnippers instead of animal control if they have feral cats hanging around their homes and businesses," Foster said. "We will trap the cats, spay and neuter the cats, eartip them and return them."
Catnippers ensures feral cats can't reproduce, Foster said, but doesn't try to tame the animals.
"They're not going to be tamed, and they will never be happy living in someone's home, sleeping in their bed and being a pet," she said.
Instead, property owners agree to provide food and water for the cats, and the animals are able to live on their own -- with less hassle for property owners. Spayed and neutered cats are healthier and less likely to fight, Foster said.
Catnippers received a $500 anonymous donation to buy traps and start the program, which should be up and running the next week, Foster said.
The barn-relocation program, on the other hand, already is working to move feral cats in the shelter to appropriate homes.
"Feral cats and unsocialized cats don't even go on to the adoption floor," Foster said. "They go into a back room at animal control, they are held for the legally required amount of time, and they are killed."
Gene Smith, director of the Cleveland Animal Shelter, said the barn-relocation program has cut the number of feral cats that the shelter puts down in half.
"When they weren't around rescuing and helping find homes, a larger percentage had to be put to sleep," he said. "Not that we liked it, we just didn't have the capability of doing what they are doing."