HERMITAGE — Despite unseasonably low temperatures Monday morning, cars lined the Tails of Hope spay and neuter clinic’s parking lot as volunteers hurriedly unloaded covered cages of stray and feral cats.

As occasional “meows” punctuated the activities, volunteers carried cages indoors, and clinic staff spoke with the drivers to collect information, including the kind of cats they brought and where they came from.

The efficient interaction between volunteer cat couriers and drivers had one mission: To neuter and spay stray and feral cats at Tails of Hope, which performed 76 spay and neuter procedures that day.

Tammy Novakovich of Sharon, one of the drivers, said she placed four traps in the Sharon area and came up with two cats. It wasn’t her first cat rodeo — she had volunteered for two previous trap-and-release events with the group “Greenville TNR.” Novakovich said stray and feral cats are a problem she encounters daily.

“I’ve seen stray cats in our neighborhood, and I’ve had cats being born on my property,” Novakovich said.

Tails of Hope, a nonprofit agency located in the Thomas M. O’Brien Animal Care Center at 2450 Hoezle Road in Hermitage, offers spaying and neutering services for free and reduced costs to pet owners.

The organization devoted Monday specifically toward the clinic’s Trap-Neuter-Return, or TNR program, aimed at reducing the number of stray and feral cats in the area, Executive Director Soraya Hejazi said.

According to the North Shore Animal League of America, one un-spayed female and a mate cat can have up to 12 kittens — and subsequent generations can increase the population exponentially to 2,072,514 kittens in eight years. Neutering and spaying just one male and one female cat conceivably can prevent more than two million births.

Monday’s TNR event may have prevented the births of more than 150 million cats over eight years.

Fellow trapper Donna Campbell, of Transfer, and the founder of Greenville TNR, said the group trapped about 70 cats last year. The workload already seemed to pick up this year, as Campbell said her group brought more than 30 cats Monday to Tails of Hope.

She said the group traps cats throughout Mercer County.

Usually it takes about four weeks for the cats to get acclimated to a human visiting and feeding them. Campbell said that helps with the trapping process.

Once the cats are spayed or neutered, she said it’s important that the cats be returned to their previous locations, where they know how to find food and shelter.

Campbell has worked with other clinics, but she said Tails of Hope was a good source and encouraged pet owners to spay and neuter their animals to help control the animal overpopulation problem.

“People let their un-altered cats roam the neighborhood,” Campbell said. “That is just irresponsible.”

Trapper Leah Davis of New Galilee, Beaver County, arrived at the clinic with four cats. Though she lives in a more rural area, Davis said she’s noticed about a dozen cats living in a horse barn on her property.

“There were always a couple cats, but this year the number seems to have really gone up,” Davis said.

Inside the clinic, things settled into a rhythm as cats were anesthetized and prepared for surgery, along with other shots and preventative treatments for ailments such as rabies, ticks and fleas, Hejazi said.

After the procedure, Tails of Hope clipped the tip of each cat’s ear to signify that they’ve been spayed or neutered.

Nineteen volunteers were on hand for the program, with surgery by three doctors — Dr. Nicole Grable, the clinic’s regular vet, along with doctors Katie Sharp and Karen Phillips, who were brought in to help with the workload, Hejazi said.

The volunteer staff included several students from Lawrence County Career and Technical Center, which offers a three-year veterinary assistant program. Since February, the class has brought seniors every other Friday to Tails of Hope to provide real-world experience, instructor Ariel Yanak said.

Upon graduation, the students can either enter the work force as veterinary assistants or continue their education to become veterinary technicians and, eventually, veterinarians, Yanak said.

“Some students get into this environment and they realize that, ‘No, this isn’t what I want to do,’” she said. “Other students find that they love it.”

Among those students making their first trip to Tails of Hope were two juniors, Dianna Troutman and Kaitlyn Bober.

Bober said she may enter a similar field like biology, but enjoyed getting an opportunity to work alongside the professionals at Tails of Hope while she was still a student, and was considering becoming a veterinary assistant.

“There’s a lot of people out there who have pets, and they need someone to help take care of them,” Bober said.

Fellow student Troutman said she enjoyed the fast-paced setting, and that first-hand experience only reaffirmed her desire to work in the veterinary field.

“This is what I want to do. This is where I want to be,” Troutman said, shortly before hurrying off to help with one of the cats.

Drop-offs for the program were handled from 7 to 8:30 a.m. Trappers were contacted throughout the day to pick up the cats after surgery and return them to their original territories.

The information collected from trappers included the location where each cat was caught, which Hejazi said could help to determine where the problem areas are and to track the local cat populations.

Hejazi said the 76 spayed and neutered cats included 27 males and 49 females. The cats represented 19 colonies from across Sharon, Hermitage, Greenville, Jamestown, West Middlesex, Jackson Center, Grove City and New Castle.

Tails of Hope's Trap-Neuter-Return program was funded by a grant from the Glenn and Jean Harnett of Greenville and the Turner family, in memory of Dr. Jennifer L. Turner. Turner's sister, Michelle Mueller, was a volunteer at the event, Hejazi said.

The event would not have been possible without the funding from those sponsors, Hejazi said.

According to information from Tails of Hope, there are about 70 million feral cats across the United States, of which only 2% are spayed or neutered.

The benefits of spaying and neutering pets, aside from population control, can include longer and healthier lives, less likelihood of getting lost, and less aggressiveness.

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

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