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Thursday, June 13, 2024

'Operation Catnip' raises awareness of pet overpopulation

About 60 volunteers showed up Sunday morning to spay, neuter and vaccinate roughly 200 stray and wild cats from Alachua County.

The program, dubbed Operation Catnip, was held in honor of World Rabies Day, which occurred on Saturday.

John Friary, a veterinarian with Operation Catnip, said while rabies is a big concern for the program, there are more than 35,000 stray and wild cats in Alachua County.

"We're making people aware of what a big problem pet overpopulation is," Friary said.

Each cat that passes through Operation Catnip has three-eighths of its left ear taken off as a universal symbol that the cat has been sterilized.

CJ Bahakti, 26, a Gainesville resident, brought in four cats that were living under his porch. He said he felt obligated to take care of the mother and her three kittens.

"I've got no money. I don't consider them my pets," he said. "But you know, they're part of the family."

The volunteers, veterinarians and pre-vet students worked in an assembly line checking cats in, providing anesthesia, giving shots and performing sterilizations.

After the cats made their rounds and began to wake up, they were placed in wire cages under heat lamps to be monitored for any side effects from surgery or anesthesia.

The program has a few members who return consistently to help Friary and his crew.

Pat Baum, 75, lives about 40 miles outside of Gainesville. She always shows up once a month to help out by cleaning scalpels or checking in cats.

"If I didn't like it, I wouldn't keep coming," Baum said.

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Friary said his volunteers are some of the kindest people he knows.

"If they care that much about cats, unless they are freaks, they care that much about people," he said.

Operation Catnip is a trap, neuter and return program. Each person who brought a cat in for services released the cat where it was found.

Animal services used to capture all stray and wild cats and euthanize them. But the remaining cats would always repopulate.

Friary said the group's strategy is better than the former policy for pet overpopulation in the county.

Operation Catnip's strategy is less expensive and more humane, he said.

"I can get 80 people a month to do this," he said.

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