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A stray cat looks on while walking through a parking lot on Sharon’s West Hill.

SHARON — The average female kitten can give birth to two to six kittens at a time and can be ready for another litter in four to six weeks — which means cats that haven’t been spayed or neutered can add up quickly.

These community cats are often found living in abandoned properties, where the cats can find shelter and food nearby, said Alicia Stoner, board member and foster and adoption coordinator with the Animal Protection League of Western Pennsylvania.

Since demolishing these abandoned properties can unveil a colony of community cats, the APL will be partnering with the city of Sharon on its first major trap-neuter-release program — “Operation Street Wise Feline.”

“The city has been showing us where to go, what houses are demolished, and where the cat population is,” APL Vice President Stacey Squatrito said. “They’ve been out there with us, and they know where the cats are.”

The program, made possible through funds provided by the Glenn and Jean Harnett Private Charitable Foundation, will begin on Aug. 28. The APL will set out traps throughout select areas of Sharon.

To get the cats spayed and neutered, the APL is working with the group TNR of Warren from Warren, Ohio, which will set aside up to 40 surgical spots for the APL’s cats. The Tails of Hope Spay and Neuter Clinic in Hermitage may also be able to set aside a few spots, depending on how many cats the APL traps, said Josh Fette, APL board president and co-owner of Fette Veterinary Clinic in Hermitage.

The APL will begin setting traps a few days in advance, and APL officials will reach out to the community ahead of time to let them know to keep their pets indoors and to avoid feeding the community cats for the following few days, Stoner said.

After the cats have been trapped, spayed and neutered, Stoner said those cats will be returned to their original colonies. This way another group of cats won’t be able to take the vacated space, known as the “vacuum effect,” and the community cats can continue to provide some benefits to the community, such as repelling rodents and feral cats.

Having previously volunteered with two animal rescues in Ohio, Stoner handles the trapping, neutering and releasing of community cats for the APL. Since she joined the board this spring, Stoner said the APL has done some preliminary trapping in the south side and West Hill areas of Sharon and caught 18 cats so far.

The effort started when a concerned resident from the West Hill area called about a nearby house that may be demolished with a mother cat and two kittens inside. Stoner worked with Sharon Code Enforcement Officer Geno Rossi to canvass the area to set traps, and was able to meet some of the local residents about the community cat issue, including who was feeding the cats.

Getting to know the community at a grass-roots level will be very important in successfully combating the issue of community and feral cats, Stoner said.

“As we got to know the residents and tell them about our role in the neighborhood, many were helpful and thankful, and they let me set traps on their property and would call when a trap was occupied,” Stoner said. “It’s been a really awesome way that this has evolved.”

Aside from the positive working relationship with Sharon employees Rossi and David Tomko, director of zoning, code and public works, Fette said representatives from the APL would make a full presentation of Operation Streetwise Feline at Sharon City Council’s next meeting on Aug. 4, where council can ask questions and pass a resolution to approve the operation.

Following this first phase of Operation Streetwise Feline, Fette said APL officials are planning a second phase on Sept. 13. This second phase could focus on a different part of Sharon, and Tails of Hope Spay and Neuter Clinic in Hermitage could potentially service any cats that are successfully trapped.

“It’s something that we hope to get going until we can get ahead of the problem,” Fette said.

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Like David L. Dye on Facebook or email him at ddye@sharonherald.com.

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