A PIONEERING programme to ensure the protection of feral cat colonies in Madrid will be run by the council's health and environmental departments, involving sterilising, chipping and feeding.
Continuing from the 'Zero Abandonment' programme launched just over a year ago, which campaigns against animals being dumped on the street – a criminal offence which can lead to prison – the scheme will be run with the help of veterinary faculties at the Complutense and Alfonso X El Sabio universities, the Municipal Police, the regional government, Madrid Veterinary College, the Guardia Civil's environmental wing SEPRONA, and the Federation of Animal Shelters, FAPAM.
A series of meetings due to conclude at the end of this month has already decided that a team will be responsible for capturing feral cats, fitting them with microchips, sterilising them and humanely 'marking' them by cutting off the point of one ear under anaesthetic so that they can be easily identified afterwards.
They will then be re-released into their original habitat, or new ones will be created in areas safer for the animals – away from heavy traffic – and where they will not cause a nuisance to local residents.
Neighbours of the cat colonies will be involved in meetings, and a dedicated person – probably a volunteer from an animal shelter – will be appointed as 'guardian' of the cat pack, keeping a check on who they are, ensuring they are kept healthy and fed.
Feeding will be with dry biscuits only to ensure the area remains clean, cutting down on the proliferation of flies, ants and maggots which wet food attracts, especially in summer.
The 'guardian' will also make sure the cats have some kind of shelter from the elements if they need it.
In preparation, the city council is drawing up a register of existing colonies and sounding out their human neighbours to find out whether they are bothered about having a group of feral cats living nearby – if they do not mind, the cats will be left in the habitats they are used to, but if residents complain, the cats will be moved en masse to another area.
Costs will be picked up through sponsorship by cat-food manufacturers, and feline healthcare and sterilising will be partly funded by the health authority's Animal Protection Centre (CPA), or carried out by veterinary students or by vets who have offered themselves as volunteers.
Nobody involved in caring for the colonies will be expected to spend any of their own money – unless they want to, says health service coordinator Ana Pérez.