How do Community Cats Fit into the Community?

by Diane Blankenburg

This past week I had the honor of visiting Dr. Kate Hurley, the Director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the UC Davis Center for Companion Animal Health. Dr. Hurlev has been studying animal sheltering for years in an effort to improve the quality of life for shelter animals and ultimately increase the number of lives saved.

Recently, Dr. Hurley has been focusing on cats since they are losing their lives in shelters at a much higher rate than dogs. Historically, shelters have been admitting significantly more cats than they are adopting out, resulting in millions of deaths. Her conclusions, based on research, indicate that there are more humane and effective (both in cost and results) alternatives to the methods of the past. Her recommendations have proven to eliminate shelter crowding and the euthanasia of healthy cats in communities that have implemented them.

The two main strategies are Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), where cats are humanely trapped, vaccinated, neutered and healthy ones returned to their community home, and secondly, scheduled, managed admission of cats into shelters. Both are lifesaving programs that meet the needs of pets, wildlife and people in our communities. With Dr. Hurley as our guide, we visited two animal service shelters in northern California (Sutter and Yolo Counties) where the first strategy is currently implemented, resulting in dramatic and positive results.

In the last several months and as part of my consulting work, I have been visiting multiple animal services shelters around the country that are beginning to implement one or both of these strategies. Baltimore, Albuquerque, San Antonio, and Atlanta have community cats programs founded on TNR methodology. Others have made it their policy to no longer accept un-owned or free-roaming cats. Again, the positive impact on lives saved is tremendous.

Washoe County already has its own community cats program that has been working in cooperation with animal services for many years and was pioneered by a local non-profit group aptly named Community Cats. The program was founded by locals Dr. Diana Lucree and Denise Stevens in 2000 and provides free spay/neuter services for feral cats. In ten years, over 15,000 feral cats have been fixed, leading to a 75% reduction in the number of feral cats entering local animal shelters. In 2000, Reno Animal Services euthanized more than 1800 feral cats—all that entered the shelter. Ten years later, only about 450 entered the municipal facility and most were saved. The program was even endorsed by the City of Reno in 2006 and has been recognized by the Washoe County Board of Commissioners for several years with county proclamations.

Washoe County has once again been a trailblazer for animals—ahead of its time and leading the way in lifesaving programs.

Events that Help Animals

Safe Trick-or-Treating at Nevada Humane Society on Halloween, October 31, 4:00 to 7:00 pm. Plenty of treats for children who come in costume. Hot chocolate and apple cider, spooky music and staff and canine friends in costumes. Event is FREE. Call 775-856-2000 for more information.

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Does Your Dog or Cat Talk Too Much?

by Bonney Brown

The wild relatives of our pet dogs and cats—wolves and wild cats—are relatively quiet.  Adults of both species tend to communicate with each other through a combination of body language and scents. They leave scent markers for the next passer-by through urine or by rubbing their body against a surface. Their sensitive noses tell them know who was there and how long ago. We humans fail to notice their subtle body language and our sense of smell is abysmal compared to a dog or a cat.

According to veterinary behaviorist, Dr.  Sophia Yin, some dogs and cats have figured out that the best way to get our attention is by making noise.  Since most of us have a hard time ignoring barking or meowing, it’s a very effective strategy!

Perhaps you have a vocal dog or cat in your life and would like a quieter, more peaceful existence? Behavior experts will tell you that you get more of what you reward. So, if you want your pet to stop barking or meowing, ignore the noise and reward quiet behavior instead.

How would that work? Well, if your dog barks non-stop to get your attention or a treat, you will need to turn away from your pet or withhold the desired treat until the barking stops. When your dog has been quiet for 5 to 10 seconds toss him a little treat or give him some of that sought-after attention. As long as the dog stays quiet, nice things keep happening. Should the barking start up again, you need to withdraw treats and attention and wait it out. You can increase the time in between treats so that you get longer periods of quiet for the same reward.

Old habits die hard for all of us, so you will need to be very consistent with your dog. You want to plant the idea in your pet’s mind that sitting quietly is a great way to get rewards. Cats can be trained to sit quietly too, first for treats or canned food and then for petting.

It’s humbling to learn that sometimes we  have inadvertently encouraged the very behaviors in our pets that annoy us. The simple concept that you get more of what you reward can help us get things back on track!

Events that Help Animals

9 Lives for $9 at Nevada Humane Society. Through 10/23, adopt an adult cat and enjoy all 9 of their lives for only $9! Adult dogs are $50. All are spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped. Shelter located at 2825 Longley Lane, Reno. Open 11:00 am to 6:30 pm daily and 10:00 am to 6:30 pm Saturdays.

Pets as Soul Mates

by Diane Blankenburg

Last month, the Reno Gazette-Journal featured a question in the Faith section of its Sunday edition: Do animals have heavenly souls? I found the question very intriguing and the range of answers even more intriguing—answers that came from local representatives of major religious groups, as well as from a UNR professor of philosophy and religion.

Some believed that animals did not have souls, others that they did and would be right beside their fellow humans in the afterlife, and the Buddhist’s belief was that life itself is soul—life that includes all living beings. This dialogue really made me ponder my own beliefs and understanding of a more basic question: What is a soul? One theory says it is “the principle of life, feeling, thought, and action in humans, regarded as a distinct entity separate from the body. . . the spiritual part of humans as distinct from the physical part.”

I have fondly referred to Lady, my dear black lab who passed away three years ago, as my soul mate—the literal definition of soul mate being a person with whom one has a strong affinity. But for me, the term represents a connection with another being (animal or human) that goes far deeper than the superficial, physical connection that comes from spending time and sharing activities together. It is a bond that transcends time and space—a feeling like it has always existed, always will exist, and its very existence makes me complete.

Animals certainly experience “life, feelings, thoughts, and actions.” So if one believes in human souls, it doesn’t seem like a huge leap to the conclusion that animals have souls. Our community’s religious leaders did not necessarily agree on the specific answer to the question posed but there was a common theme among them—one that made it clear that animals hold a special place amidst humanity. One leader stated that they are sacred and should be respected while another said that “humans will be accountable for their treatment of animals in the world.”

Soul or no soul, I do believe we are stewards of the animals on earth and am dedicated to a career of helping our society live up to that responsibility. And whether souls are real or not, I know that the deep connection I have with my pets is very soulful. The bond is fulfilling, rewarding, and ever so real—no matter what it is called.

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