Feral cats are a big problem in Fallon County.
There are just too many of them.
According to Brittany Bertsch, the best solution to the overpopulation problem may be to trap, spay and neuter, then send them out for adoption - if possible.
The Baker resident has created a non-profit that is focused on providing spay and neutering with a local veterinarian.
“We actually started re-homing kittens last year,” Bertsch explained. “We were live trapping kittens, taming them and finding them homes.” It took her until February to raise the funds to set up as an official non-profit in the state of Montana. She is still working on the Spay-Neuter Impact Program being recognized federally as a non-profit. The bylaws of the non-profit specifies that the program is for Fallon County, Bertsch added.
“There are so many (feral cats) in the area. I saw a need for it in the area. I worked at a vet clinic in the Bozeman area for a while. That helped spark my love for animals.”
“No matter where you go, there are wild cats everywhere here. The cats get ran over, starve or succumb to disease. I feel it is important to help those who cannot help themselves.”
She is also hoping that people will keep the pets, especially cats, inside as much as possible to help cut down on the chance of the pets getting pregnant and having litters.
“I started out with the feral population, there was just such a need there.” she said.
Eventually, Bertsch said she would like to set up a program which would be able offer low-cost spay and neutering services in the Fallon County area.
Bertsch has spent almost all her life in Baker. “I went away to Bozeman for about eight years. I came back and I am working here (in Baker). I have been in this community for a long time and so has my family.”
The goal of the program at present is to decrease the disease that can be spread by feral cats and they can be transferred to humans, she explained. “Through this program, we will be giving them the rabies vaccine to help because a child could be bit by a feral cat. If it has been through our program, it would have the vaccine. The vaccines don’t last forever, but at least it is some protection and will help our communities be safer,” Bertsch explained.
Normally, a trapped cat would take several days to go through the process, depending on the vet clinic’s schedule.
“Usually, if it is brought in in the morning, they will have it spayed or neutered by the evening for me to pick up after work. Then, if it is a female, I keep it in a cage for a minimum of three days to allow for healing because the surgery is more invasive. The males, it depends on if they are returned to an area or go to a farm. I usually keep them a day. The reason for that is when they go under anesthesia and come out, their bodies can not regulate their temperature appropriately. So I need to wait for them to be completely recovered from the anesthesia before I release them,” she said. “It doesn’t take much for them to go into shock.”
The feral cats are usually returned to the area where they were trapped. If I don’t have a farm looking for feral cats …. so far I have been able to relocate them all.”
The reason to replace the cats into an area is that when you remove a colony of cats a new colony of cats would move in or there would be a problem with the mouse population there.
She has people who have volunteered to help her trap the feral cats. “I work all day so I can’t be out checking traps. Those who are working from home, gives them more of an opportunity to help me.”
At the same time, the changes COVID-19 has brought to Fallon County have had a dramatic effect. “When I try to do fundraising. It has been a hindrance because a lot of people have been affected negatively in our community. Whether it is losing jobs, cutting hours or losing revenue … obviously it negatively affects their ability to donate.”
“The mission of the Spay-Neuter Impact Program (SNIP for short) is to trap, spay/neuter and release (TNR) feral cats in an effort to decrease the excess populations of abandoned, unwanted and feral cats. Vaccinate animals to help decrease the risk of spreading contagious diseases. Help improve the lives of abandoned, unwanted and injured animals,” Bertsch explained in her mission statement.
“However, the long-term scope is a bit broader once we are a bit more established and registered as a 501c3. The idea down the road is to also to be able to help individuals who can’t afford to spay/neuter their pets as well as help with other medical bills as we can. But we are not at the juncture just yet,” she explained.
“At this point in time we have spayed/neutered 18 cats and removed 90+ kittens from the streets of Baker and Plevna. The adult cats who have been altered are easily identifiable because the tip of one of their ears have been removed. This is to help an individual identify that they have been through the program. At this time, I am personally paying for each cat to get a Rabies vaccine. As time goes on and more funds are raised, I want this to be covered by the program as well as other vaccines that help prevent the spread of disease to other pets and people in Fallon County,” she added.
“I have so many wonderful people from the Fallon County community that help foster, trap, donate supplies, money and more. Sheena Veazey, Kim Saggio and Brenda Hoeger are a few who are essential to the progress. Recently I also received a generous donation from LaCinda Huether and the Grasslands Federal Credit Union in the amount of $800. This money will help provide many more spays and neuters as well as acquire more live traps to be more effective,” according to Bertsch.
She also praised the assistance of people with the local veterinarian office. “One of the most integral parts of this program is the help of Fallon County Veterinary Service (Nathan, Liam, Don, Marvel and Kalli). They provide these services at a discounted price that allows me to stretch a dollar further and impact more of the feral cat population. They also help us get the kittens, who often have health issues (such as upper respiratory infections, intestinal parasites and ring worm), back in good shape and ready to be adopted,” she said.
According to Bertsch, people can make donations directly to the Fallon County Veterinary Service and they will put them on SNIP’s account if they would like. Bertsch also has a Go Fund Me page (gf.me/u/vvb4dk).