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Kitty Roundup: TNR on Chincoteague

Mass trapping curbs numbers, improves health for island's cats

July 14, 2012

Chincoteague, off the Virginia coast, is a small island with just 9.1 square miles of land and a human population slightly under 3,000. The place is most famous for its feral neighbors - no, not cats, but wild ponies who live on nearby Assateague Island and swim the shallow channel to Chincoteague once a year on Pony Penning Day. Chincoteague does have feral cats too, and when their population reached an estimated 600 it triggered a different sort of feral roundup: a large-scale Trap-Neuter-Return effort aimed at stabilizing the cats' numbers on the island.

The mass trapping, which took place the first week in May, was organized by Dr. Jeff Newman, a veterinarian from Caring Hands Animal Hospital in Arlington. Dr. Newman assembled 25 doctors, vet techs and support staff from five Caring Hands Hospitals; the team was joined on Chincoteague by another 25 local trappers and caretakers. In one weekend, May 5 - 6, the volunteer mini-army safely fixed 202 cats - every kitty came through surgery with flying colors! - and by the end of the project roughly a third of the current estimated feral population had been spayed and neutered.

Cats were trapped at about 40 locations across the island with colony sites identified by local caretakers like Kelly Jewett (who has steadily fixed 5 - 10 cats per month for the past 15 years). Other vital stats for the project:

  • Held at the height of kitten season, fully 90% of the TNR'd females were pregnant. 
  • 10 friendly adults were pulled from colonies and adopted to permanent homes.
  • 3 litters of kittens were placed with foster "parents" for socializing, then adopted.
  • In addition to being spayed/neutered, the cats received thorough exams and de-worming plus additional care as indicated. 

Beyond the hard work of the volunteer teams, an overall climate of cooperation helped make the project a success. The Town Council and Chincoteague's Public Works Director understood the benefits of TNR for the community at large and offered their support.  Dr. Samir Hafez, a local veterinarian, generously made his clinic and equipment available for all 202 surgeries.

Dr. Newman is now planning a  second large-scale trapping on Chincoteague, slated to take place this fall. Last year, working with Best Friends Animal Society Dr. Newman participated in a similar project, TNRing more than 400 ferals on Tangier Island, 18 miles off the Virginia coastline. Tangier, with a human population of only 525, had a significant feral problem. One year later that population is now stable and the cats' health has greatly improved.

Neighborhood Cats was pleased to support TNR on Chincoteague with our donation of box traps, dividers and a Neighborhood Cats Drop Trap. We will continue to work with this exceptional team, to help ensure the island's ferals (like Maddox and Gaga, right, two of the kittens placed in adoptive homes) get the help they need. Stand by for updates!