Feral cats that might otherwise face a death sentence, are getting another chance at life through a prison work program.
Susan Paul, president of the Carson Tahoe Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, estimates more than 8,000 feral cats live on their own in Carson City, and that those brought in to Animal Services face euthanasia because they simply are not adoptable.
The "Trap, Neuter, Release" program isn't always the best way to go in a community, Paul said, because "people don't necessarily want these cats brought back into their neighborhoods."
But an alternative program kicked off about eight weeks ago is meeting with success in Carson City - a partnership between Northern Nevada Correctional Center and the CTSPCA.
The prison, facing infestations of mice, squirrels and pigeons, has enlisted the help of feral cats to cut down on the chance of disease transmission.
"It's mainly for rodent control," Paul said. "They told me the earth literally moves at night."
Adam Watson, assistant warden in charge of programs for NNCC, called the new program "quite a success."
"There has been a noted reduction in the populations of pigeons, squirrels and mice since the cats were brought in," Watson said.
"We put some domestic - not tame - cats in the warehouse, and we have not lost one 50-pound sack of rice or flour since," he said.
"This has had a noted impact on pest control. There are plenty of places for the cats to hide and we have feeding stations for them. The only alternative for them was putting them to sleep, so they're doing their job and we're providing them with shelter."
Paul said Carson City Animal Services holds feral cats for her for three or four days after neutering.
"We test for AIDS and leukemia, spay and neuter them, then vaccinate, plus give them a dose of antibiotics before we move them. You want them to go into a healthy new environment," she said.
Gail Radtke, Carson City Animal Services Manager, said the program benefits the shelter, as well.
"Carson City Animal Services is so appreciative of Susan Paul ... for her love and effort to save the lives of the feral cat population in Carson City," Radtke said. "Members of this community have also expressed their gratitude of this program, knowing that these cats have a second chance at life."
Paul said there are 10 houses and five feeding stations set up inside the prison to accommodate more than 25 cats, and she goes out regularly to take food and check on them.
They are named only Inmate 1, Inmate 2, etc., she said.
"We worried at first about what the inmates might do, but it's pretty hard to catch a feral cat, and I invite anyone to try to pick one up," she said. "We started slow by moving five out there, and they did alright, so we added more."
She said that some cats have tried to climb the fence which is topped by razor wire, but there have been no casualties.
Although one cat got caught in the razor wire, the maintenance folks are good about getting them down using welding gloves, she said.
"Most run like hell when you turn them loose, and we have lost a couple of cats that escaped somehow. We also have a backup plan in place to take them to the vet if one of them gets hurt, but their alternative to this program is death, so this program comes at an opportune time, and this is a godsend for these cats," she said.
"This is helping the pigeons to move away and find new nesting spots, and the squirrels are moving too, so the prison is benefiting," Paul said.
Another big plus, she said, is that it costs the state nothing for rodent control, since the cats are doing their jobs effectively.