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Operation CatSnip Strives to Reduce Homeless Cat Population


Since opening the doors to the only open-intake facility in the county, over 6,800 homeless cats have landed at Blount County Animal Center (BCAC). Approximately 1,400 cats arrive at the shelter every year, as many as 25 a day during peak season. Cats find themselves at the shelter for many reasons: some are strays, some surrendered, and others are feral.

The spaying and neutering of shelter populations, adoption events, foster homes, and transport to northern rescues, all contribute to improved placement rates of shelter cats. However, despite BCAC’s efforts, cat populations continue to explode every spring and summer.

The spike of surrendered cats and kittens in warmer months overwhelms the shelter’s capacity, compromises the health of existing feline residents, and completely surpasses the number of adopters. Many kittens arrive ill, which risks exposing the population to contagions, and the large influx of cats acts as a stressor, which leads to stress-related upper-respiratory illnesses. Quarantine procedures strive to aid in saving those cats who are compromised; however, many animals ultimately succumb to illness despite treatment.

Shelter staff and supporters seek a solution to this problem and commit to resolving the Blount County cat population epidemic, one cat at a time. In late 2015, Diane D. Martin, President of the Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation, and Charlie Rafford, BCAC Director, decided to try something different to break the breeding cycle.  Martin applied for a grant through Radio Systems Corporation, to fund a free spay and neuter clinic for Blount County cats. Upon receiving the grant, The CatSnip Project was born, and free monthly clinics were scheduled.

It may take several years to see measurable results from The CatSnip Project, but doing nothing was not an option for these animal advocates. Kristin Baksa, the Rescue Coordinator and Cattery Manager for BCAC, said, “Spaying and neutering pets saves lives. Pet overpopulation is a real problem. About half of all dogs and cats entering shelters across the country are euthanized. If you spay and neuter your pet, [then] fewer animals will be euthanized. It isn’t rocket science.”

Since the first CatSnip clinic in February, more than 120 cats have been spayed or neutered. Rabies shots and the feline distemper vaccine are also provided free of charge.

Martin said, “I’ve been surprised at the percentage of cats that come in that have never visited a vet and have not been inoculated.  This program not only helps reduce future cat populations, but also improves the health of the cat, the safety of the family, and makes the cat a better pet. “

Considering these free services, one would expect an incredible turnout; however, nearly 20% of those who sign up for the clinic do not attend. This incredible program is provided thanks to grant funding, donations, the labor of BCAC’s dedicated veterinarian, Dr. Michelle Williams, and staff of devoted volunteers.

The next two CatSnip clinics are August 6 and August 20.  Blount County residents can make an appointment by calling (865) 980-6244. Space is limited to 25 cats per clinic, but a waitlist exists for additional cats. If you make an appointment, but are unable to attend, please contact the shelter to reschedule so another cat can take advantage of this opportunity.

If you would like to support the continued efforts of BCAC and SMACF, consider donating, volunteering, adopting, and of course, spaying and neutering. A fun way to support the shelter will be to attend the Dog Days of Summer fundraiser, at the Casual Pint-Maryville, on August 20. Interested donors can also visit to find out more and give, or send checks made payable to “SMACF” to: PO Box 1099, Alcoa, TN, 37701.