The group that runs the Regional Animal Shelter in Independence will launch a program this weekend to get a better handle on the area’s large population of loose cats.

The Great Plains chapter of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says last year the shelter took in 2,000 cats – 45 percent of which were 4 months old or younger.

The group’s president and CEO, Courtney Thomas, says in 23 years in this field she’s never seen anything like that.

“Our goal is to get in front of the issue, not be reactive,” she said.

So on Sunday, Great Plains will start Operation Furballs, a spay-and-neuter clinic at the shelter, which is on Missouri 78 east of the Blue River campus of Metropolitan Community Colleges.

It’s for residents of Independence and unincorporated Jackson County. Call 816-783-5123 for an appointment. It’s $25 for cats with owners, and $10 for feral or free-roaming cats. There’s a volume discount for more than five cats.

Great Plains plans to have the event twice a month, and Thomas said the goal is 100 cats per Sunday.

Thomas also said the group is trying to raise awareness about the cat population and the effectiveness of spay-and-neuter programs.

“We want the community to know that right in their backyard is a resource available to them” at the shelter, she said.

The shelter also is looking for creative ways to raise its visibility and get more animals seen by the public and perhaps adopted. It’s starting a cats-in-the-workplace program. The idea is to have local businesses take in a cat from the shelter.

“They would just kind of freely roam around the workplace,” Thomas said, with the idea that a customer or employee might see it and want to adopt it, or that the business might eventually adopt the animal itself. Great Plains is looking for its first partner on that idea.