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By Mike Saucier
Feral cats of Phoenix, beware. Bob Snow and his network are coming for you.
What started as trapping a few wayward cats in Snow’s backyard has turned into a serious all-out cat-herding operation. A network of like-minded residents intent on decimating the population of feral cats has helped turn the tide, which means fewer and fewer cats every year will be forced to meet their fates by way of euthanization.
Snow, an 82-year-old Chandler resident, is no cat vigilante. But he is vigilant when it comes to trapping cats and helping others do so. Snow has brought thousands – yes thousands – of cats to the Arizona Animal Welfare League over the last several years, spending approximately $20,000 of his own money every year doing this work. He diligently tracks his trapping work in a spiral-bound notebook.
“I started 13 years ago trapping some cats in my backyard,” Snow told Frontdoors in an interview at Arizona Animal Welfare League. “Then I got to know some other people who needed to have cats trapped and things just mushroomed into helping other people and getting involved with spay-and-neuter organizations.”
“Every cat person in Phoenix knows who I am,” he said. He started out humbly enough by loaning a trap to a friend who had cats in his backyard. “So I helped him,” Snow said. “I don’t know what happened but I just kept on going for some reason.”
One turned into thousands. For a guy who has brought that many cats to be spayed or neutered over the years, Snow only has three of his own, “and they’re all old” he said.
Feral cats can be a menace to a community, lurking behind restaurants, shopping centers and around trailer parks. In 2013, 30,000 cats were brought into Maricopa County shelters, said Michael Morefield, communications and marketing manager for Arizona Animal Welfare League.
One female cat, if her litters are never spayed or neutered, can produce a population on par with Houston, Texas.
“Working with groups, we’ve been able to lower the euthanasia rate in Maricopa County by almost 80 percent in the last five years because we’re working together,” Morefield said. Snow and his volunteers have helped bring that number down because of their work in trapping colonies of kittens and getting them spayed or neutered.
Finding feral cats can be challenging. It’s literally herding cats, which, as the saying implies, is hard work.
“You don’t see the cats because they don’t come out during day,” Snow said. “Cats come out at night. Nobody ever sees the cats unless you drive in back of shopping centers or restaurants. If you drive around trailer parks at night you’re going to see a lot of cats. There are thousands and thousands of cats out there. The program is to try to get them spay/neutered so they don’t multiply.”
Snow said there are hundreds of colonies around Phoenix where cats have been spayed or neutered, which means there will be fewer and fewer of them every year, mostly due to the coordinated work of the residents, volunteers, hotlines, the Arizona Animal Welfare League and others.
When a litter of kittens is discovered, Snow and his network of retirees and other volunteers trap them and place them into a foster home to socialize them.
“There are a number of great people who foster kittens all around the year, one litter at a time,” he said. “They’re retired and enjoy doing this service to the community.”
Then, when the kittens are eight weeks old, volunteers bring them to the Arizona Animal Welfare League, which spays or neuters them before putting them up for adoption.
Morefield said. “We take in 1,300 kittens a year for our foster program and we’re always looking for foster homes or fostering in place. So a lot of people who find these kittens think that we have all these foster homes where we can immediately put them in and take care of them but a lot of times it’s finding the resources like Bob who can foster the kittens,” he said, or, Snow can find someone who can.
Snow said: “When I started looking at the problem with cats, and I wanted something to do, retired, I wanted to do something for the community. So I looked at this as a big problem for Phoenix and for people who have a colony of cats in their backyard, which may be five today but next year it could be 50, and it will be.”
In being able to finds foster homes for the kittens he traps or helps trap, Snow allows the Arizona Animal Welfare League to centralize its resources and focus on medical part of the equation: spaying and neutering. Snow’s role is crucial, Morefield said, because he’s the one on the frontlines in the community, getting the word out and showing residents how to humanely deal with the kittens. His efforts “make a huge difference because we only have so many resources,” Morefield said.