Volunteers will soon fan out across the Hamptons to trap colonies of feral felines under "Operation Cat," a spay and neuter program being run jointly by the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons and the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation.
After the cats are treated, vaccinated and examined, they will be returned to where they were picked up -- the woods, behind stores or near homes where residents leave food out for them. The trapping is set to happen on March 17.
The size of the feline hunt depends on the weather and how many volunteers join the work, which the Fund's "Operation Cat" coordinator Rita Del Rey said has helped reduce the cat population across the East End.
She said cats do not come out in the rain, making trapping efforts inefficient in inclement weather.
"Over the years, there has definitely been a decline in the number of kittens we get at our shelter," Del Rey said. "If you see a reduction in the kitten population every year, you know that Operation Cat is really working."
ARF has budgeted $50,000 for the program this year. The Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation, which used a $135,000 grant to buy its mobile clinic and equip it, has run spay and neuter programs for feral cats not only in Southampton, but also in Southold, Center Moriches and Mastic Beach.
Linda Goldsmith, a spokeswoman for the foundation, said long-term care and spaying programs cut down on cat populations in a humane way.
"I've been trapping for 25 years," she said. "It really works. We had over 150 cats in one area near a restaurant and now we're down to four."
The volunteers will take the cats either to the ARF shelter on Daniels Hole Road in Wainscott or to the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation's mobile clinic at 102 Old Riverhead Rd. in Hampton Bays.
A similar trapping took place last month in Southold, which used the Southampton shelter's mobile medical van to spay and neuter the cats that were caught.
There are an estimated 1,000 feral cat colonies in Suffolk County, and a network of volunteer caretakers provides food, water and shelter for them, according to ARF. Since "Operation Cat" began in 1997, more than 15,000 feral animals from Westhampton Beach to Montauk and from Riverhead to Orient have been trapped and sterilized by local veterinarians.
Interested volunteers can contact Del Rey at 631-537-0400 ext. 210, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.