Grant Helps Humane Society Control County’s Stray Animals

Neutering Program Keeps Shelters From Overcrowding

Posted: January 7, 2014

Veterinary technician Sarah Shantz prepares the last cat of the day for surgery on Monday at the Shenandoah Valley Spay and Neuter Clinic in Harrisonburg. The clinic fixes stray or feral animals, mostly cats, in a catch-and-release program to help control stray populations. (Photos by Jason Lenhart / DN-R)
The Shenandoah Valley Spay and Neuter Clinic’s operations coordinator Dan Chavez covers up some feral cats that were recently brought to the clinic on Monday.


A spay-and-neuter approach to feral cats in Shenandoah County has continued to decrease the population during the past several years, and a new grant will help do even more to solve the problem.

The Humane Society of Shenandoah County has received a $4,500 grant from the Best Friends Animal Society and PetSmart Charities for its trap, neuter and return program. The method saves stray animals — mostly cats — from being euthanized in animal shelters while also helping to reduce the number of animals born homeless.

“What this serves to do is it stabilizes the population,” said Melissa Miller-Piselli, president and spay and neuter coordinator for the Shenandoah County Humane Society. “It helps to prevent future litters and let the colony die out slowly over time.”

The Humane Society of Shenandoah County has been trapping cats, getting them fixed and vaccinated for rabies and returning them to where they were caught since 2005. The organization also gets phone calls from homeowners seeking help with reducing large stray populations on and around their property.

Since then, the area has seen dramatic reductions in the number of stray cats. The number of stray cats taken in by the Shenandoah County Animal Shelter has gone down from about 1,400 per year to between 400 and 500, Miller-Piselli said. The shelter has also euthanized far fewer animals, dropping its rate from about 78 percent to about half.

 “We’re still not there, but we’re making progress,” Miller-Piselli said. “I can also see a reduction in the amount of phone calls I’m receiving from people that need assistance.”

The $4,500 grant will cover the cost of spaying or neutering about 100 animals, most of which will be cats.

The all-volunteer Humane Society traps strays using food as bait and brings them to the Shenandoah Valley Spay and Neuter Clinic in Harrisonburg. After the operation, the animals receive notches in their left ears so volunteers will know they’ve been fixed if they’ve been caught for a second time.

The clinic doesn’t trap any cats itself but accepts animals from throughout the Valley. Last year, it fixed about 1,175 stray cats, said Executive Director Cate Mansfield.

Trap, neuter and return is becoming increasingly common across the country, she said. The clinic has animal traps that it rents to people for free, so residents who notice the same strays in their yards can trap them and bring them in for surgery.

“It’s a humane alternative to controlling the population of feral cats,” Mansfield said.

The Humane Society doesn’t stop at feral cats: It also works to spay and neuter pit bulls for free, and tries to help pet owners who can’t afford to pay for the procedures.

“We recognized that that population entered our shelter the most and was not coming out alive,” Miller-Piselli said. “We’ve been working to spay and neuter as many pit bulls as we can, so we offer that service for free.”

The Spay and Neuter Clinic charges $50 to spay female cats, $40 to neuter male cats and $75 to perform either operation on a dog.

Contact Kassondra Cloos at 574-6290 or

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