KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Knoxville city leaders are considering a new spay and release program for community cats.

Under the plan, the city would capture feral or roaming cats, fix and vaccinate them, notch their ears, and then release them back where they were caught. This would help control the feral cat population and stop the needless killing and crowding of shelters.

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The cats would be considered "community cats" and would be be exempt from at-large, abandonment and licensing ordinances.

Young-Williams Animal Center (YWAC) has taken in nearly 9,000 cats in the last three years. Only four percent were reclaimed by their owners.

"Their reproduction is so significant that there is never going to be enough homes for these animals. so we've got to proactively look at ways to decrease the population, and it's through spay and neuter in our communities," says Janet Testerman, CEO of YWAC.

According to the proposal before city council Tuesday night, "cats are 7-10 times more likely to be reunited with their owners if sterilized and returned to the area where they were found as opposed to being admitted to a shelter for a stray hold period."

Knoxville is the largest city in Tennessee that does not have a program like this.

City council voted to approve the measure Dec. 18 meeting on its first reading. It will still need a second vote at a later meeting to create the program.

Students at the University of Tennessee worked Tuesday afternoon to craft houses for feral cats. The tubs were elevated with polystyrene foam and insulated with straw to give cats a warm place to rest.