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Shelter Profiles: Fewer Kittens, Lower Animal Control Costs

San Jose Animal Care and Services in California implemented TNR in 2010 and reduced cat and kitten intake by 25% within the first three years of the program. Read more »

Feral Freedom in Jacksonville, Florida

Jacksonville is home to a very successful TNR program that started in 2008. Close to 20,000 community cats have been spayed/neutered, vaccinated, eartipped, and returned to their homes. Read more »

Stage One: Take Simple Steps to Save More Cats

  1. Adopt a Feral Cat Protection Policy

    The best thing you can do right now to save cats’ lives is to adopt a Feral Cat Protection Policy. A Feral Cat Protection Policy explains that your shelter will no longer impound unsocialized community cats.

    A Feral Cat Protection Policy (FCPP) can be as simple as:

    As of [Date], [Name of shelter] no longer impounds healthy feral cats brought to the shelter and no longer traps healthy feral cats for impoundment. Feral cats are not socialized to people and are therefore not adoptable. Instead of impoundment, [Name of shelter] now promotes Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) for feral cats. Through TNR, feral cats are humanely trapped, vaccinated and spayed/neutered by a veterinarian, eartipped for identification, and returned to their outdoor home.

    Once you’ve written and decided on a Feral Cat Protection Policy, you’ll want to announce this new approach to your community so that residents understand how it works and why your shelter has this new policy. Alley Cat Allies recommends posting your policy on your shelter’s website, on a bulletin board in the shelter, and on other communications materials. You can also send out a press release announcing this policy change.

    Instead of impounding community cats, you can re-route them to TNR programs where they are neutered, vaccinated, eartipped for identification, and returned to their outdoor home. Although it may not be obvious, community cats are actually not homeless. Community cats are domestic animals, but just like the squirrels, chipmunks, and sparrows we see every day, their home is outdoors. TNR is humane, and it effectively stabilizes outdoor cat colonies. We will explain TNR and how to implement it below.

  2. Stop Trapping Community Cats for Impoundment

    Make sure that your staff knows to never trap community cats. If your shelter is associated with your city’s animal control, be sure that all animal control officers are aware that they should no longer trap community cats, unless they are trapping them as part of a humane Trap-Neuter-Return program. Explain your new Feral Cat Protection Policy and why it is the best approach to feral cats.

  3. Stop Loaning Traps for Trap and Removal

    As part of your new Feral Cat Refusal Policy, end the practice of loaning out traps for trap and removal of community cats. If you loan traps out to community members, ensure that they are using the traps as part of a humane Trap-Neuter-Return program, and explain why your shelter no longer accepts community cats.

  4. Recognize Eartipping of Community Cats

    An eartip means the cat has been spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and is part of a community cat colony. Eartipping is an effective and universally accepted method to identify a spayed/neutered and vaccinated feral cat. It is the removal of the distal one-quarter of a cat’s left ear, which is approximately 3/8 inch, or 1 cm, in an adult and proportionally smaller in a kitten.

    Make sure your staff knows to never trap eartipped cats. If they are mistakenly picked up, return them immediately to their original location.

  5. Support Trap-Neuter-Return for Community Cats

    Shelter protocol for community cats can focus on TNR. Those cats can be spayed/neutered, vaccinated, eartipped for identification, and then returned to their outdoor home. Maintaining excellent records, detailing the location the cats originally came from, will make it easier to return the cats—and track your program’s success. If your facility cannot start a program right away, consider partnering with local community cat groups that can help with referrals in the interim and work on making small steps toward the larger goal.

    Read more about why TNR is the best approach for community cats and how to implement it in your community.

  6. Make Connections

    Reaching out to your community can help ensure that community members understand your shelter’s new approach to community cats—and are willing to get involved to make sure it’s successful.

    • Build partnerships with other animal protection organizations in your area, including private rescues, breed-specific rescues, TNR groups, and other shelters. Also, reach out to the veterinary community to find clinics willing to spay/neuter community cats (you may even be able to negotiate a lower rate for community cats). You can include a list of these partner animal organizations on your website and in your shelter, and work together with these groups with the goal of saving more animals’ lives.
    • Provide resources for community members who are working to protect animals. This can include educational resources, meeting space for TNR and rescue groups, a low-cost spay/neuter clinic, and a trap loan program for individuals and groups conducting TNR.
    • Launch a help line. Have a dedicated phone number or email address, or both, for answering the public’s questions about caring for outdoor cats and TNR, and any other questions they may have. Work with local groups to triage calls to meet the needs of the caller. Nevada Humane Society instituted an Animal Help Desk at the shelter to provide free advice and assistance to the public about everything from TNR for feral cats to alternatives to surrendering a pet.
    • Ask people questions to better understand their issues so that you can provide solutions that are best for the person and for animals. For example, you may learn that they want to surrender their cat because of a behavioral issue that you can easily help them with or that all they need is humane deterrents or repellents to keep community cats from entering their garden.
    • When people call about community cats, connect them with your own or community resources that can help them help the cats, and make sure they are familiar with TNR. You can let them know about Alley Cat Allies’ Feral Friends Network, a network used to connect local groups and individuals practicing TNR with people in their area looking for help.


  7. Educate, Educate, Educate

    Educate the public—and your own staff—about outdoor cats.

    • Educate the public about your programs and other local resources for stray and community cats such as low-cost or subsidized spay and neuter clinics and TNR programs. Provide information about community cats at the front desk of your shelter and at all adoption events—even dog events! Consider using our brochures, posters, and other educational tools on community cats and TNR.
    • When you make the transition and stop impounding community cats, make sure community members understand why you are making this change and that it will actually help protect the cats and will help save the lives of other animals. Host a public information and TNR workshop to introduce the new approach and drum up volunteer support. You can get all you need to start your workshop here: Alley Cat Allies’ guide to hosting TNR workshops.
    • When needed, let community members know about humane deterrents to keep cats away from places they are not welcome. Learn more about how to deter cats from areas where they are not wanted. Go to our marketplace to purchase brochures to distribute to callers, visitors in your facility, and in neighborhoods where officers are working.
    • Become an educational resource center for your community. Transform your website, bulletin boards, and events into educational opportunities.
    • Train shelter employees to better understand the public’s and the cats’ needs, and provide tools and counseling to address common issues.
  8. Spay/Neuter All Animals Before They Leave Your Facility

    Spay/neuter all animals before they leave your facility for adoption, or are transferred to another facility or private rescue group, or when they go to your shelter’s foster homes if they’re old enough. This reduces the number of kittens born each year and sends a message to the public that you are socially responsible and care about the lives of animals. Voucher and other post-adoption spay/neuter programs alone are not effective enough: they have a low rate of compliance and they require resources to maintain.

    This includes spaying/neutering kittens before adoption or foster. Early-age spay/neuter (kittens are sterilized at eight weeks, or as soon as they weigh two pounds) before adoption is a safe and successful way to ensure that 100% of animals leaving your facility are sterilized. Learn more about early-age spay and neuter.

    Early-age spay/neuter and spay/neuter before adoption practices are a good investment: implementing these programs means you can stop spending resources on follow-up to sterilization compliance, paperwork, and caring for the “oops” litters from adopted cats.

  9. Institute Programs that Reduce Owner Surrender

    Provide community members with more options than bringing their companion animal to your facility. Some services you can offer include: website and in-shelter bulletin board posting services, a list of pet-friendly apartment buildings, tips and ideas about getting a companion animal adopted successfully, and invitations to join adoption events. To improve animal retention, consider implementing programs such as low-cost medical services and behavior training. You can also start a pet food bank for people who are not able to afford pet food.

 NEXT: Stage Two: Make Additional Changes to Help Even More Cats