DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A South Florida town has begun a new program aimed at curbing the spread of a growing feral cat population.

The city of Delray Beach recently earmarked $25,000 to neuter and vaccinate cats that freely roam the area. Officials estimate there are between 7,000 and 10,000 feral cats in the city.

Heidi Nielsen, the director of information and outreach for Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League, told the SunSentinel that female cats can bear up to three litters a year.

Left unchecked, she said those numbers can surge exponentially and pose a health risk to residents through diseases such as rabies. They are also a predatory threat to birds.

“It doesn’t take long for a small cat population to become a very large cat population,” Neilsen said.

The Delray Beach program uses animal experts to capture stray cats and transport them to a veterinarian. After being given anesthesia, the cats will be neutered or spayed, given a rabies vaccine, and have a microchip implanted.

The whole process takes roughly an hour and the cat is returned to its original territory. The program is scheduled to begin in November.

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