By Kathe Malouf
Special to the Sun
There is little doubt that Barbara Andrade and the organization that she started 3 years ago has put a dent in Kern Valley’s feral cat population.
And when Andrade leaves the Kern River Valley later this month for her new home in New Hampshire, she will do so knowing that the work she started will continue, thanks to the volunteers of Kern River Valley’s Snip and Tip feral cat program.
Kern River Valley Snip and Tip started in September 2015 as a spin-off of the Friends of Kern County Animal Shelter Foundation. At that time, the program consisted of a handful of volunteers equipped with 10 cat traps. Their mission was to reduce the number of feral cats in the Kern River Valley.
During the past 3 years, the mission remains the same, but their numbers have grown. The program currently has approximately 25 volunteers and 40 cat traps, all of which are used and distributed in advance of a spay and neuter clinic.
Even more impressive is the number of feral cats that have been trapped and neutered during that time.
“We have neutered 1,030 feral cats, and I am very proud of that,” Andrade said.
Kern Valley Snip and Tip is a Trap, Neuter and Release program, meaning that once the feral cats have been neutered, they are returned to the neighborhood where they were trapped.
The program demands a lot of coordination and planning from Andrade and the volunteers in preparation of a neuter clinic. Volunteers have a relatively short window of opportunity to distribute and set the traps in hopes of catching feral cats.
It hasn’t been easy for Andrade. When she wasn’t organizing feral cat collections for upcoming clinics, she was at home caring for her ill husband. Following her husband’s death in August, Andrade said she decided to move back to New Hampshire and be with family.
Andrade has lived in the Kern Valley for the past 16 years, and said leaving will be difficult. “It will be hard to leave the feral cat program as well as my friends and neighbors who were so helpful to me when my husband passed away,” Andrade said.
The work of the program will continue thanks to two of the program’s volunteers, Pat Leake and Teri Fay, who have stepped up to take over the reins of the program upon Andrade’s departure.
“The volunteers and the residents we service all want the program to continue, and I want it to continue,” Andrade said. “We are headed in the direction to continue Snip and Tip.”
Andrade’s final meeting with her volunteers was held October 26 where plans were laid out for the next spay and neuter clinic that will be held this month. She said she will be on her way to New Hampshire when the clinic is held.
While Andrade has been packing up her home in preparation of her cross-country move, she said she continues to think of ways to improve the program, saying that she would have liked to secure a large building that could be used to house cats that are available for adoption.
Andrade said she would also like to see a foster home program established in the Kern Valley for cats.
“We need to get foster homes going. If we can get the kittens early enough, get them into foster homes, then get them their shots and have them neutered, they can become great house cats,” she said.
Ironically, Andrade said finding a residential community in the area where she is moving hasn’t been easy for her and her dog because many active adult communities have a weight limit for dogs.
Andrade was not about to leave her 50-pound dog behind, so it has taken her a little longer to find an adult community that will allow her to move in with her pets.
“I made an offer on a house that includes me and my dog,” Andrade said.
While feral cats can be found in every community around the Kern River Valley, some of the highest concentrations have been found in the valley’s trailer parks.
“We have gone into trailer parks or even homes where there are 40 or more cats. The person has no money to feed the cats but they love their cats, so they just keep multiplying,” she said.
Like any program, funding is a critical component needed to keep it going. Andrade has been successful in securing grant money that totaled $14,000 this year. Along with grants, other funding sources include the Kern Humane Society, Friends of the Kern County Animal Shelters Foundation and local donations. The money raised is used for supplies, and the neuter clinics. Sadly, Andrade said they will be low on funds after the next clinic.
Reflecting on the past 3 years, Andrade said she is pleased and surprised by the program’s success.
“I am surprised that we have done so much in terms of the number of feral cats we have trapped and neutered. But we still have so many left,” Andrade said. “This was all so new to me when we started. I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned a lot, and I think we have made a dent in the feral cat population.”
For information about the Snip and Tip program, residents can call 760-417-2000.