Solutions for Community Cats. Creating Public-Private Partnerships Is Key.
A required area of focus to reach a 90+% shelter save rate is to reduce the number of cats entering the shelter. In most communities, at least half of the shelter intake is made up of cats and, on average, less than 30% leave alive, while most community cats are typically euthanized. A community cat is defined as one that is living outside (full or part time), of good body weight, appears healthy, and may be friendly or feral. These cats are surviving, even thriving, with a caretaker and/or have a regular food source. Diverting the high-risk community cat population at intake to sterilization/vaccination/ear tip programs and releasing them back to their original neighborhoods creates a dramatic and immediate decrease to shelter intake.
There are many reasons the public should support such measures. Once community cats are sterilized, they will not exhibit nuisance sexual behaviors such as yowling and spraying, thus complaints will decrease. With a lower cat population, the risk to wildlife also lessens along with public safety concerns. And lastly, keeping community cats and their subsequent litters out of public animal shelters will save tax payers money and improve the likelihood that other shelter cats will be adopted.
Decreasing overall cat intake also leads to less crowding, an opportunity for more humane cat housing, less stress for staff and cats, and cost savings. We also now know that lost cats are more likely to find their way home from the street than from a shelter, so sterilizing them before their return will serve to decrease the number of new litters born while saving the life of the adult.
A recent 2 year study conducted by Dr. Julie Levy (a Target Zero advisor) at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine confirms that sterilizing community cats in a region of historically high animal-control impoundments leads to a steep decline in the number of cats that are admitted to and euthanized at the local shelter. And the National Animal Control Association, a long time critic of free roaming cats, updated their Guideline Recommendations in 2008 to state, ‘NACA recognizes that in some circumstances, alternative management programs, including Trap Neuter Vaccinate & Release (TNVR) programs may be effective, and recommends that each agency assess the individual need with their community and respond accordingly. NACA advocates for effective public education related to cats, active spaying & neutering initiatives for cats and responsible ownership for all cats.
A 2007 Harris survey for Alley Cat Allies found that 81 percent of people surveyed believe that community cats should be allowed to live out their lives roaming free. Those same studies also found that public health departments, together with animal control agencies, are seeking innovative and cost-effective long-term solutions that respond to the public’s increasing desire to see community cats treated with humane, nonlethal methods.
The premiere example of a successful public-private partnership is in Jacksonville, Florida called Feral Freedom. Between 2009 and 2013, the intake of community cats at Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services decreased from 5,173 to 2,357 a 54% decrease that translated into a decrease in shelter deaths. Complaints regarding nuisance cat calls also decreased when cats no longer exhibited mating behaviors such as yowling and spraying. The Jacksonville program remains a national model inspiring other communities to collaborate on behalf of community cats.
San Jose, California is another city where, between 2009 and 2012, cat intake decreased by 26% and kitten intake by 25%. effectiveness of this program.
Resources abound to help cat advocates get started with traditional Trap-Neuter-Return programs (Save Lives with Feral Freedom, Best Friends; Key Scientific Studies on Trap-Neuter-Return, Alley Cat Allies; Living With Neighborhood Cats, Koret Shelter Medicine Program, UC Davis Veterinary Medicine).
Feline advocates must work together in order to sterilize the most community cats in the field via Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), however, the community cats entering the shelter are at the highest risk of euthanasia and that program must take priority. Funding for surgery is typically the limiting factor since feeders often care for a colony of cats as opposed to an individual. There are a plethora of resources available to help communities take action.
Community cat programs and management has been a historically controversial topic but opinions about how we handle these cats is changing within animal welfare (Are We Herding or Hurting Cats?) and more communities are embracing shelter diversion and trap-neuter-vaccinate and return programs.
Public and Shelter Policies lay the foundation for successful programs that decrease intake and increase the number of animals saved.