Cats Pix for Animal Shelter Story.

The City of Pocatello has implemented a trap-and-release program for stray cats in the area, which officials hope will be a step in the direction of switching to a no-kill animal shelter.

POCATELLO — The City Council has approved a program to round up feral cats to be spayed or neutered and released, seeking to alleviate the local stray cat problem.

Animal Services Director Josh Heinz said city leaders also hope the policy will help pave the way to eventually transition the city’s animal shelter to a no-kill facility.

The city will be hiring a full-time community cat coordinator to lead the trial program, which will cost a little more than $100,000 in the first year, with a goal of spaying or neutering 300 feral cats during that time. A national nonprofit animal welfare organization, Best Friends Animal Society, has awarded the city a $50,000 grant to set up the program.

The organization’s funds will offset costs of surgeries, which a few private veterinary clinics in the area have agreed to perform at a discounted rate.

The council approved the program during a Thursday night meeting in which members attended remotely by teleconference. Council meetings are being streamed live on the city’s website, at streaming.pocatello.us, with phone comments accepted from residents during public hearings.

Heinz said council members discussed concerns about adding a new expense at a time when the economy is hurting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they ultimately decided the potential benefits are worth the investment. The theory behind such treat-and-release programs is that a geographic area can only support so many stray cats, and reproduction is slowed by spaying or neutering many of them, as sterile cats are left to fill a space in the feral population.

Limiting interbreeding keeps both cat populations and diseases such as feline AIDS under control, Heinz said. Heinz said Idaho Falls has had a treat-and-release program in place for a few years, and it’s proven to be highly effective.

“It’s not an overnight thing. It’s a progressive thing,” Heinz said, adding the city eventually hopes to move toward a no-kill shelter and reducing the population of strays is a necessity for that to happen.

Heinz said a Best Friends Animal Society official from Boise has traveled to Pocatello to present to the council about the concept. The city is currently working out a memorandum of understanding with the organization, and Heinz hopes to post the new position, which will be full time and have full benefits, before the month’s end.

The community cat coordinator will be tasked with surveying neighborhoods with feral cat problems and educating residents about the importance of treating and releasing feral cats. The new employee will also be expected to capture cats, transport them to a local veterinarian for surgery and release them. Cats will also be vaccinated and have an ear notched for identification.

Best Friends Animal Society will train the new employee, and trapping will commence as soon as possible.

Heinz said the city has stopped taking in new animals amid the COVID-19 crisis but anticipates an influx of strays once the shelter reopens.

The city will determine whether or not to continue the funding for subsequent years based on the results of the first year of trapping and releasing, he said.