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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