Harrington resident Danny Tartt was tired of having stray cats hang around his property. In late 2012, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Harrington resident Danny Tartt was tired of having stray cats hang around his property. In late 2012, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

He asked the city of Harrington what measures they had in place to deal with stray cats and they didn’t really have an answer for him, Tartt said.

He presented the city with the idea − with support from Kent County SPCA and the Humane Society of the United States − of starting a trap, neuter and return program. The city, which had been fielding plenty of cat related complaints, was quick to jump on board and helped to create ordinances to allow for the program.

From there, partner organizations stepped in to help the program grow. Alley Cat Allies, a national advocacy organization for cats, provided training materials and helped with community outreach. The Delaware SPCA helped design the program and helped write a grant to get funding for the program from Petsmart Charities. The charity provided enough funds to trap and neuter 600 cats. Forgotten Cats, a Greenville-based organization, provided help with trapping, transportation and veterinary services.

As a result of Tartt’s idea and the work of the community partners, Alley Cat Allies awarded Harrington with the Architects of Change for Cats award On Wednesday. 

“This exclusive award is reserved for those communities that go above and beyond in protecting their community cats,” said Liz Holtz, staff attorney for Alley Cat Allies. “[Alley Cat Allies] found over 350 local governments that support trap, neuter and return. Harrington is a true leader among these 350 governments. They’ve created a model program.”

In order to trap the cats, members of the cat crew place humane traps at businesses, homes and other areas that are known to be home to large groups of feral cats. Cat crew members catch strays by baiting humane traps with cat food in the morning. In the evening they return to check the traps. If a cat has been caught in a trap they are taken back to a facility to spend the night and are spayed or neutered and vaccinated in the morning, before being released back where they came from.

When the trap, neuter and return program began in 2012, an estimated 600 stray cats roamed Harrington, according to City Manager Terry Tieman.

As of today, 380 of those cats have been trapped, neutered or spayed, vaccinated and released back to where they were found, said Hetti Brown, Delaware director of the Humane Society of the United States. 

One of the reasons that the program is such a success is because it nips the stray cat problem in the bud.

“It’s the reproduction that’s the problem,” Tartt said. “At the rate the cats can have kittens and the quantity of kittens they can have with each gestation, their reproduction is exponential. The key to controlling the stray cat population is to control reproduction.”

So far reports are showing that feral cat colonies are decreasing in numbers overall and one of the city’s largest cat colonies is reporting no new kittens.

Typically colonies have a caretaker, a person or group of people that feeds them regularly. The cat crew has worked with caretakers to help trap felines.

“If you have a colony caretaker who has been feeding a group of cats, the best case scenario is placing the traps close to where they were feeding them,” Tartt said.

If locations such as a businesses don’t have someone who has been feeding the cats regularly, but they still have a stray cat problem traps can be placed where the animals are entering and exiting the property. Placing traps near dumpsters is another good way to trap cats, Tartt said.

The program was such a success that it has been expanded to encompass areas just beyond Harrington’s city limits, said Tieman.

“Cats don’t know boundaries,” she said. “As we realized outside cat colonies were feeding our issues we expanded just outside the city limits.”

The UPS Customer Center and the Delaware State Fairgrounds are two facilities from outside the city limits that have now been included in the program.

“It was a win-win for everybody. It was a win for the residents, it was a win for the city and it’s definitely a win for the cats,” Tieman said.