Would you be willing to spend $15 a cat to help reduce a feral cat problem in your neighborhood?

Officials in Emmaus, Lehigh Co., have a low-cost solution for anyone concerned about feral cats in the borough.

The Sanctuary at Haafsville in Upper Macungie Township is in at least the second year of an agreement with Emmaus that allows borough residents to participate in a “trap, neuter and return” program that costs only $15 per cat.

“We are one of the few municipalities that have a contract with the Sanctuary at Haafsville,” said council president Lee Ann Gilbert.

“They will spay or neuter a cat and charge a borough resident $15 for that service.”

Borough officials explained the program Monday night, in response to cat issues raised last month by resident Sherry Meck. She asked council for help to deal with about 20 feral cats roaming her neighborhood, saying their numbers had doubled in one year.

Meck complained about cats damaging gardens and other property, howling and fighting in the middle of the night and defecating and urinating in people’s yards.

Residents who want to trap cats will be provided with a trap and shown how to use it. Once a cat is captured, the organization will spay or neuter it, but residents are responsible to return the cats to their outdoor environment.

Borough manager Shane Pepe said some people don’t like the idea of again setting cats loose on their property after they capture them. He said the sanctuary also sells deterrents for people who don’t want cats on their property, ranging from a scarecrow water sprinkler to an ultrasonic device.

Gilbert said residents become caregivers of cats they capture “for a day or so.”
During their brief captivity, the cats are given complete medical exams at the sanctuary and vaccinated for rabies and worms. “We were told most of them that come in have no illnesses, no diseases, no fleas, no ticks, no nothing,” said Gilbert.

Female cats are tattooed so sanctuary personnel know they have been spayed if they are recaptured.

Council member Wesley Barrett said he was impressed by the program, saying they’re doing for $15 what other places charge $130 to $180.

The sanctuary program was explained at Monday’s council meeting, although Gilbert said it first was presented at council’s public safety committee meeting last Friday afternoon, which about 30 people attended.

Spokesmen for the sanctuary told borough officials it has spayed or neutered 28,000 cats in the Lehigh Valley since 2008.

In a memo to borough council, Pepe reported the sanctuary “is very effective” and the stray cat population in Emmaus already “has greatly declined.”

The borough also pays to have cats neutered or spayed by the sanctuary. Pepe said Emmaus already has surpassed its allotted 2013 budget for stray cats. Gilbert said that’s because Richard Hontz, the borough’s animal control officer, has trapped so many cats this year.

“We have been working to eliminate the problem throughout the borough,” she said.

Borough officials could not say how many stray cats were trapped, neutered and then returned to where they were found in Emmaus, but Pepe said $1,150 has been spent so far in 2013, mostly for cats. That could mean as many as 76 cats have been captured and spayed or neutered just this year in the borough.

Borough residents can learn more about participating in the program by calling Sanctuary at Haafsville at 866-820-2510 or 484-788-8062.

Gilbert said a refundable deposit is required when traps are given out with instructions.

Rsident Ellen Dashe told council any attempt to prohibit people from feeding stray cats would not stop the felines from reproducing. She said hungry cats will just rip open garbage bags and do more wailing, as they fight over food.

Dashe said most cats roaming in Emmaus are not the offspring of generations of feral cats that can’t be touched by humans, but only abandoned strays. She said it would be impossible to track down the people who abandon cats in the borough.

“The borough already has the program,” said Dashe, who works at Weis Market in Emmaus. “The problem is most residents I talk to don’t even know about the program.”

She said most people can’t afford to spend $160 to get a stray cat fixed at a local animal hospital. She said one female cat can produce up to four litters of kittens a year.

Gilbert said the November borough newsletter will include a detailed summary of what residents can do about cats, written by Police Chief David Faust. The information also will be posted on the borough’s Web site.