Stray cats neutered for new owners

Jackson McMurray and Mary Park

Ellensburg, much like most cities in the United States, has a problem with stray pets. 

Domesticated homeless animals, cats especially, are very often unhealthy in the wild, and they reproduce quickly if they are not spayed and neutered. 

Nancy Hoffman, an independent volunteer, is one of the many people working to do something about it. She dedicates her time to trapping stray cats in town and transporting them to clinics where they are neutered and vaccinated.

Meghan Rochelle

“I get off work at 5 p.m., and I come home and I do cat stuff, and at about 7 p.m. I get to sit down,” Hoffman said.

According to Hoffman, a female cat can come into heat as young as 3 months old and can have as many as three litters a year, each producing up to six kittens. One unsupervised and unneutered cat can produce as many as 18 new unsupervised and unneutered cats annually, each of which can start having their own litters after three months.

People reach out to Hoffman when they encounter a stray cat, and Hoffman will trap it and take it to a neutering clinic free of charge, but she will only do so if the people calling the cat in are willing to take the cat in after it has been processed.

“Trap, neuter, return,” as Hoffman describes, is a process of capturing stray cats, spaying and neutering them, vaccinating them, marking their ear to show that they have been vaccinated and neutered, and returning them to their environments, or in Hoffman’s case, to their new home with a person.

Hoffman makes a pilgrimage with a van full of 20 stray cats every month to the Feral Cat Project in Lynnwood, Washington, an organization that has, according to their website, neutered and vaccinated more than 6,000 cats in 2019 alone. The Feral Cat Project charges to neuter pet cats, but will do strays for free.

It’s not a perfect system though, according to Hoffman. Her monthly appointments at The Feral Cat Center are booked solid for the rest of the year.

“All of the people who have been contacting me and other rescue volunteers in the county are having problems getting these trap-neuter-return cats altered, because you just can’t hold on to them forever.”

Hoffman, along with some other volunteers, have booked the entire Lynnwood clinic for Nov. 18, hoping to collaborate and get 40-50 homeless cats neutered in one day.

“We are specifically going to be trapping cats for that clinic,” Hoffman said. “Tomorrow we’re getting together to figure out how many traps we have, how many holding cages we have, where we need to trap, how many volunteers we have to do the trapping. We need to fill those spots, because otherwise I’ve taken them away from other rescues who could use them.”

According to Hoffman, the only true solution is to neuter your pets. 

“Here in the Kittitas Valley the income level is such that people can’t afford to spend $150 to neuter their [pets] … so they just don’t do it.” Hoffman said. 

Hoffman advises that if you find yourself with a litter of kittens on your hands, rather than giving them away to friends or family, who may or may not opt to have them spayed and neutered, offer them to a no-kill shelter instead. There, they will be neutered and vaccinated as part of their processing.

“Here in our community everybody can say ‘well, I can always find them a good home,’” Hoffman said, putting “good home” in air quotes. “But just because you find them a good home doesn’t mean they’re gonna get spayed and neutered.”

Ellensburg Animal Shelter manager Paula Hake said although the shelter is not directly involved with Hoffman and the Feral Cat Project, they do take in stray cats. 

Hake said if a stray cat isn’t spayed or neutered, it is taken to contracted local veterinarians and new owners can pick up their newly licensed and neutered cats for a fee.

“If you just see a cat in the street, it may live in the area and it may not be a stray … knock on all doors in the neighborhood before you decide it needs to be taken to a local veterinarian to check for a microchip,” Hake said. “Also call us, we have a lost and found list so if someone’s missing a cat, they might have called us that [it’s missing].”