The Fix Is In 

Feral cats get "fixed" for free; Memphis City Council member proposes mandatory spay/neuter ordinance for pit bulls.

Patrick Siano never set out to be a cat trapper, but the Shelby County sheriff's deputy has managed to trap four cats in the past month.

After catching the cats in specially designed cages, Siano takes the felines to Mid-South Spay & Neuter Services to have them fixed. Then he releases them back into the wild.

"We had a bunch of strays in my neighborhood. One stray led to eight, and I wanted to keep the population from growing to 20 or 25," said Siano, after dropping off a gray striped tabby at the clinic on a recent Thursday morning.

Overpopulation of domesticated animals is a problem for Memphis and Shelby County. The animal shelter, which has been plagued with problems, puts down more than 10,000 animals each year.

Lucky for Siano, it's "Feral February" at Mid-South Spay & Neuter Services, an annual event that promises free spay and neuter services for feral cats throughout the month or until the grant money funding the program runs out. During other times of the year, the clinic charges $25 for ferals and $35 to $40 for domestic cats.

"The pet overpopulation problem is everyone's problem," said Ginger Lord, director of Mid-South Spay & Neuter Services. "It's not their fault they're here. Some human has left an unsprayed cat outside, and two cats can become 40 cats."

In its second year, the center's Feral February program brings in an average of one to four feral cats each day. A cat is considered feral based on how receptive the animal is to human contact.

"If you can pick it up and love on it, it's domesticated even if it's a stray that lives outside," Lord said. "You cannot handle a feral cat physically. You have to catch them in a trap."

The clinic has a handful of regular trappers who bring in ferals throughout the year. They rent large wire cages from the clinic. Regular trapper Alice Zalon places cat food inside the trap. When a cat enters the cage to eat the food, a release closes the cage and traps the cat inside.

"Some cats are trap-smart. They can take a couple of weeks to catch. I don't always succeed," Zalon said.

Last year, Memphis City Council members Janice Fullilove and Kemp Conrad proposed a city ordinance that would require pet owners to have dogs and cats spayed and neutered.

The ordinance was delayed indefinitely last year. Now council member Shea Flinn is proposing a similar ordinance for owners of pit bulls, a move that has angered some people.

"A spay and neuter ordinance should be across-the-board," said pit-bull owner Nancy McGovern. "Even if someone has a Chihuahua, they should have to get it spayed or neutered."

Flinn agrees that spay and neuter legislation should apply to all pets, but after the last general spay and neuter ordinance failed to gain wide support, he decided to try a different method.

"If you walk through the shelter, you have to be blind, deaf, and dumb not to notice the huge number of pit bulls there," Flinn said. "If we want to move the needle on this problem and we can't get a general ordinance, then let's attack where the largest percentage of the problem is."

A final vote on the ordinance is schedule for March 23rd.

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