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Future Five: Shelter Partners to Save Cats’ Lives

Alley Cat Allies’ Future Five program is helping five animal shelters adopt and expand humane programs that will save cats’ lives. Learn More »

Transforming Shelters to Save More Cats: Shelter Profiles

Lives Saved in Albuquerque

The Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department implemented a large-scale Trap-Neuter-Return program in early 2012. The city started covering the cost of spay and neuter surgeries for community cats brought to clinics. The city’s program includes a TNR trap loan program, resources and advice for community cat caregivers, mapping of hundreds of community cat colonies, and a partnership with local activists to scrutinize cat intake records to identify any cats who might have come from a known colony. This community-oriented program works wonders for cats. Within the first year of conducting TNR, 59% fewer cats were killed in the shelter than in the previous 12 months.

“At the time, the city was killing several thousand street cats each year but there was no evidence it was a successful method of controlling the street-cat population,” said department employee Jim Ludwick in an article in PETroglyphs. “It was adding to crowding in our catteries, at a time when crowding was a major contributing factor in the suffering and death of domestic, adoptable housecats at the shelters.”

Best Friends Animal Society helped form and support this unique partnership in Albuquerque to make TNR possible. PetSmart Charities awarded Best Friends Animal Society a $700,000 grant to support the initiative.

Chico, California: A Tremendous Shift

Chico Animal Services in Chico, California, has made a huge change in its approach to cats. It stopped accepting all healthy cats—whether they are unsocialized or socialized—on February 1, 2013. “Obviously, bringing them here is not in their best interest,” said Tracy Mohr, the manager of Chico Animal Services, in a Chico Enterprise-Record story. “If they are more likely to go home or more likely to get adopted out there, we don't have any business bringing them to the shelter.”

The shelter now encourages community members to conduct TNR and helps residents locate traps. They refer any owner-surrendered cats to a private shelter where they are more likely to be adopted.

“There has been a tremendous shift among the welfare community on how to handle cats…What works great for dogs does not work for cats,” Mohr says. “Ending the intake of healthy [community] cats will significantly free up resources and energy and allow the shelter to focus on cats that really need the help.”

San Jose, California: Fewer Kittens, Lower Animal Control Costs

San Jose Animal Care and Services in California ditched the trap and remove method in favor of TNR in 2010. Director John Cicirelli’s says his department is focusing on “reducing the number of cats being born in the community, which will reduce the number of cats in the shelter and the number of [calls] we must respond to.”

Cicirelli’s department spays and neuters all healthy feral cats who are brought to the shelter and then returns them to their neighborhoods. They educate the residents in these neighborhoods about feral cats and how they can get involved with efforts to help them. As a result of the program, Cicirelli and his team have reduced cat and kitten shelter intake by 25% over the last three years1.

Feral Freedom in Jacksonville, Florida

Jacksonville is home to the very successful Feral Freedom program, a program of First Coast No More Homeless Pets. Feral Freedom is a public-private partnership promoting TNR that started in 2008.

When community cats are brought into Jacksonville’s shelter, they are sterilized and returned to their outdoor homes. The program is funded entirely by private donations and animal advocacy organizations. Close to 20,000 community cats have been sterilized, vaccinated, and eartipped through the Feral Freedom program since 2008.

Data confirms the success of this partnership. Jacksonville Animal Control and Protective Services estimates that Feral Freedom has saved the city well over one million dollars in just over four years. In the program’s first year, negative outcomes for adult cats decreased nearly 60%2.

Since the shelter stopped taking in community cats, adoption rates of socialized cats has increased dramatically, according to Scott Trebatoski, Chief of Animal Control and Protective Services in Jacksonville. Since 2007, the number of adoptable cats who are either adopted or transferred to a rescue organization has increased 322%. That’s right—322%!

“This is one of the most positive and unexpected benefits of TNR,” says Trebatoski.

Manatee County, Florida: More Transparency = More Adoptions

Manatee County Animal Service in Florida wanted to increase the number of animals adopted—and decrease the number of negative outcomes—in its shelter. The shelter started listing on its website the date when a particular animal may be killed, as well as charts detailing the number of animals impounded and whether they ended up being adopted, returned to owners, transferred, or killed. Manatee County is now seen as a state model for shelter transparency.

In April 2013, the Florida legislature passed a bill that requires all state animal pounds and shelters to release monthly reports about how many animals they take in and what happens to them. The bill was based on Manatee County’s practices and success.

“When they start doing it [referring to the Florida bill], they’ll see that their numbers of live release rate are going to increase, their save rates are going to increase because they’re going to have that awareness out in the public,” said Tammy Bentley, a Manatee County shelter employee, in a story on ABC affiliate WWSB.

Chicago: A Model City for Cats

In Chicago, a coalition of animal shelters and rescue groups works together toward the mutual goal of humanely stabilizing community cat populations. Since the program began in 2008, more than 17,500 community cats have been sterilized through Trap-Neuter-Return in Cook County, which includes Chicago, and the effort has been financed by private groups. The coalition collaborates to offer spay/neuter and other veterinary services, public education, trap lending, hands-on trapping help, transportation services, recovery space, food, and assistance with rehoming cats. The results of this proactive approach have been impressive. One of Chicago’s TNR groups, Tree House Humane Society, started targeted TNR projects in 2011 in two zip codes. The number of community cats brought to animal control from those areas already has been reduced by 30-40%. The original population of the colonies has shrunk by 23% through adoptions, and the community has become much more involved in caring for the cats.

[1] Holtz, E. Trap-Neuter-Return Ordinances and Policies in the United States: The Future of Animal Control. Alley Cat Allies. 2013.

[2] Trebatoski, S., DuCharme, R. Thinking Outside the Shelter: What’s New in Feral & Community Cat Programs. First Coast No More Homeless Pets, Inc. 2009.