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Find more information by visiting the City of Spartanburg Animal Service's website:
Spartanburg Animal Services–Spartanburg, South Carolina
Spartanburg, S.C., is a small city in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The city has a high unemployment rate, in part because of the collapse of the textile industry upon which the city was built. Spartanburg Animal Services is an agency that enforces the city’s animal control ordinances. Several years ago, the agency decided to overhaul its policing policies and emphasize education over enforcement. Spartanburg Animal Services launched a number of innovative programs including “A Free Ride Home” for first-time stray dogs. One of the most successful new ventures is a city-run Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program for community cats.
After conducting extensive research, Spartanburg Animal Services formally launched Trap-Neuter-Return in January 2013. Unlike some other TNR efforts that are spearheaded by volunteers or nonprofit shelters, Spartanburg’s program is organized and run by the city’s animal control officers. It is funded by a grant with the goal of spaying/neutering and vaccinating 750 free-roaming cats in the community by the end of 2013, and they are on track to meet this goal.
Spartanburg’s TNR program is still relatively new. But it has already resulted in significant positive changes for the community. The program has brought the community together to support community cats and the work of Spartanburg Animal Services. As of October 2013, more than 600 cats have been sterilized and returned. Meanwhile, the kill rate of cats picked up by animal control has dropped to essentially zero.
- Zero kill rate. Since launching TNR, Spartanburg Animal Services has stopped trapping healthy, free-roaming cats and turning them over to the local shelter to be killed. The head of Spartanburg Animal Services, Major Steve Lamb, says that except for five very sick kittens who had to be euthanized, all community cats the animal control officers have picked up since January 2013 have been neutered, vaccinated, and returned back to their colony locations.
- Relationship building. Prior to the inception of its TNR program, Spartanburg Animal Services had “a very hostile relationship” with the community—and with feral cat colony caregivers in particular—according to Major Lamb. This was due in part to the agency’s long history of killing feral cats. Now, Spartanburg Animal Services works closely with citizens and has established a community advisory team. The result is a supportive environment that helps make the TNR program a success.
- Education through social media. When Spartanburg Animal Services launched its TNR program, it also launched a Facebook page to interact with citizens and educate them about TNR and other humane programs. “We just wanted to put the truth out there. People needed to understand what we were doing,” says Major Lamb. They’ve been amazed by the overwhelmingly positive response—not just locally, but worldwide. Major Lamb says it’s hard to keep up with all the calls and emails, some from groups as far away as the Netherlands and Australia, applauding their work and seeking more information about setting up similar TNR programs. Spartanburg Animal Services’ Facebook page has more than 10,000 likes.
When Major Lamb took over Spartanburg Animal Services in 2009, the division’s primary focus was enforcement. Animal control officers spent most of their time issuing citations to pet owners and catching stray dogs and cats. Most of the cats were taken to a local shelter and killed. In 2012, for instance, 78% of the 624 cats and kittens brought to the shelter by Spartanburg Animal Services were killed. Major Lamb, a veteran police officer with a background in investigations, wanted to overhaul the agency and make it more of a community partner. So when a retired school teacher suggested he consider a citywide TNR program, Major Lamb decided to look into it. In addition to online research, he worked with local caregivers to determine locations and population sizes for feral cat colonies. Spartanburg Animal Services crafted a proposal to cover the costs of a pilot TNR program, and received a grant to fund the effort, allowing the program to launch at the beginning of 2013.
How the TNR Program Works
- Collaboration. The city’s TNR program is a joint effort between Spartanburg Animal Services and a group of community volunteers. Two full-time animal control officers do the bulk of the trapping, but volunteers also assist when needed. The city loans traps to volunteers.
- Clinic care. Once trapped, cats are transported to a low-cost spay/neuter clinic for treatment. The animals receive an initial health assessment and are then neutered, vaccinated, and eartipped. The cats receive additional medical care if necessary. The cost is about $45 per cat. After an overnight recovery period, animal control officers return the cats back to their original colony.
- Outreach. Spartanburg Animal Services works hard to promote TNR efforts through its Facebook page. It also organizes community classes on how to manage cat colonies and build winter shelters for cats. The efforts have paid off—the agency now has an active and dedicated volunteer corps that assists them in the TNR program.
Major Lamb says his vision of the agency as a community partner is becoming a reality in large part because of TNR. Spartanburg Animal Services hopes to extend its TNR grant through 2014. It’s also compiling data on the cost savings of TNR. Major Lamb says he’s optimistic that the ongoing success of TNR will convince city leaders to pass an ordinance supporting the effort. “It’s our view that feral cats are not homeless,” he says. “They already have a home, it’s in our community.”