Saving Feral Cats: TNR is the Answer

National Feral Cat Day RGJ FP Ad 10-15-14 Final LGOnce again the scientifically-proven, efficacy-based feral cat management strategy, known as T-N-R-M (trap, neuter, return, and monitor) is under attack in our community. A proposed zoning change would disallow free roaming cat colonies in an area within our community. A presentation was made, with no opposing views presented or invited, that cast T-N-R-M as a program in which feral cat colonies are artificially created, are dangerous to the community and threaten public health—all widely discredited assertions long made by “catch and kill” advocates and confounded by scientific study. This information flies in the face of the piles and piles of research done on the topic by institutions ranging for the University of California-Davis, Stanford’s School of Public Health, University of Florida, Cornell University—the list goes on and on. There’s another perspective also—it’s shared and supported by every national animal welfare organization, hundreds upon hundreds of Cities and Counties throughout the nation, data collected on the topic, academic peer-reviewed research and the facts right here in Washoe County, Reno and Sparks.

Let’s be clear, the proposed zoning change will not eliminate, mitigate, abate, reduce, remove or end free roaming cats. There is no mechanism in which any agency will “round-up” these cats. Second, free roaming cats (pets) are not illegal in Washoe County so this proposal would put pet cats that live both indoors and outdoors at risk. All this proposal would achieve is ending the management of these populations. Quite simply, the problem would just be ignored. These cats would no longer be spay and neutered, vaccinated, monitored and treated for medical conditions.  Since T-N-R-M began in this community, complaints related to cats have decreased, just like the cat population. This zoning change is a solution in search of a problem.

This attempt is also a clear cut case of seizing defeat from the jaws of victory. T-N-R-M works.  It’s as simple as that. This is a fact, it is not in dispute. During an 11-year study of TNR at the University of Florida, the number of cats on campus declined by 66%, with no new kittens being born after the first four years of operation. In Washoe County, right here at home, cat intake has been reduced by just shy of 40% since 2005. Community shelters took in around 6,800 cats in 2005 to just over 3,900 in 2014. That’s not a typo—it worked. Not for nothing, T-N-R-M is also cheaper. T-N-R-M is entirely privately subsidized by nonprofits like Nevada Humane Society. “Catch and kill” or any other approach will not work (again as proven by research) and will be done at the expense of taxpayers. In Jacksonville, FL, Jacksonville Animal Control and Protective Services estimates the city’s TNR program has saved the city more than one million dollars in just over four years.

Finally, I think it is important to note what this wrong-minded change will reap. It WILL NOT reduce cat populations. The cats will no longer be altered, thus the rampant reproduction that this community endured prior to T-N-R-M will return. The cat population will exponentially increase. Ultimately, the intake of cats will increase to the point that taxpayers will once again be forced to fund the unnecessary euthanasia of cats. Washoe County, one of America’s first no-kill communities, will fall off of this lofty perch and return to the list of ordinary places. Communities where strategies and programs that are proven to save lives are ignored and animal are euthanized instead. The voluminous grant money that flows to Northern Nevada, over 1.5 million in 2014, will wither away. This is money that flows directly back into the community; over $212,000.00 alone was allocated to zip code 89431 in Sparks for free and reduced spay and neuter for owned animals in the community. This will vanish.

If this change passes, we will look success and humaneness directly in the eye, turn away and turn the clock back 20 years to when we killed thousands upon thousands of cats every year all the while the cat population increased. This is not my opinion, these are facts.

Over the course of the next month, you will hear loud voices proclaiming dubious “facts.” The truth is, some people don’t like cats, some people don’t like free roaming cats, some people don’t like T-N-R-M, and as hard as it is to believe, some people don’t like me. Yet, whichever camp you fall into, cat lover or cat avoider—there is ONLY ONE way to reduce feral cat populations and that is T-N-R-M. This is a fact and it is not in dispute. That’s not my opinion that is what research and years of trial has proven.

Nevada Humane Society wants to ensure you are given the facts. You will hear nonsense ranging from rabies fear-mongering (there has not been a case of confirmed cat to human rabies transmission in the U.S. since 1972; again not my opinion; but according to the CDC) to down-right misinformation. Visit to find factual, science-based information about free roaming cats and T-N-R-M. All information is work cited and linked to academic research. Not propaganda but fact.

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Declawing Cats: Why We Shouldn’t Do This

When I was young, it was not uncommon to have your cat declawed at the time of spaying or neutering. Our vet recommended it and we thought nothing of it as it was just something that you did to prevent the furniture from looking like a Q-tip. Today, declawing cats is a hotly debated and emotionally charged issue as we know more about the physiology and psychological well-being of cats than we did 30 years ago. Scratching is a normal feline behavior. Cats need their claws for self-defense, stretching their bodies and even scent marking.

The veterinary community too has recognized that declawing should not be the first choice. The American Veterinary Medical Association states that the declawing of cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when clawing presents an above-normal health risk for its owner. In a position statement, The American Animal Hospital Association states that they are opposed to the declawing of domestic cats unless all other attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively.

As someone with a few cats, I can say that my furniture is intact and not clawed. I have a variety of textures available for my cats to scratch, none of which are upholstery. I have cardboard scratchers, wood, carpeted, wood and sisal posts. The posts are all high enough to allow the cat to fully stretch. In the past I have used Sticky Paws, a two-sided tape placed on an edge of a couch that the cats wanted to scratch. Using a squirt bottle with plain water also proves to be an effective deterrent to the kitty who feels compelled to claw the couch. After a few squirts, just picking up the bottle results in kitty skittering away. Lastly, nail caps can be an option prior to making the irreversible decision to declaw.

I have worked in animal shelters for 15 years and can say that the cats that are severely behaviorally and physiologically damaged are generally declawed. Data shows us that cats declawed after adoption are significantly more likely to be returned for behavior reasons than their clawed counterparts. Many cannot be housed in regular cat cages, as the confinement seems to be too much for them. Many are biters, likely because the choice was made to remove one of their primary defense mechanisms.

As I said, this is an issue about which there is a lot of debate and passion, but a veterinarian said one thing to me that was by far the most powerful in my decision never to declaw my cats: “We would never consider declawing our dogs.”

Denise Stevens is the director of operations for the Nevada Humane Society.

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