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Find more information by visiting San Jose Animal Care & Services’ website:
San Jose Animal Care & Services–San Jose, California
San Jose Animal Care & Services is a government animal control agency that serves the city of San Jose and surrounding communities. San Jose is a large, diverse city of more than a million residents located about an hour drive south of San Francisco. San Jose Animal Care & Services runs the city’s animal control division, which enforces laws, and operates a shelter and two veterinary clinics. The agency, with the support of city leaders, has long embraced a number of lifesaving programs to humanely and effectively curb the growth of animal populations, including low-cost spay/neuter and community Trap-Neuter-Return. In 2010, the agency expanded its work with feral cats, also known as community cats, by launching an innovative program to target cats entering its own shelter, San Jose Animal Care Center.
A growing number of U.S. municipalities now support the concept of TNR within their communities, but few use it within their own shelters. San Jose Animal Care & Services is an exception. In March 2010, the agency began identifying cats at the point of intake for Shelter-Neuter-Return (SNR), a shelter-run neuter and return program. Cats who qualify are spayed/neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, and eartipped for identification. After they recover from surgery, they are transferred to a community nonprofit that returns them to their colony location. As of October 2013, more than 8,000 cats have gone through San Jose’s SNR program, and kill rates at the city shelter have plummeted as a result.
- Lives saved. San Jose Animal Care & Services reports that in 2013, the shelter’s save rate for adult cats is about 85%. That’s a huge improvement over 2007, when the save rate for impounded cats was only about 30%. Between 2010 and 2013, the shelter’s intake rates for cats and kittens fell by 25% as a result of SNR. This decline is especially notable because San Jose Animal Care & Services operates an open-access facility, meaning it does not limit the number of animals who can be brought in or the age, health, or disposition of animals brought in.
- Money saved. It costs San Jose Animal Care & Services about $50 per cat for SNR, about a quarter of what it costs the shelter to hold, care for, and kill a cat. Other savings are realized from a recent steep drop in shelter intakes because of the SNR program.
- Partnerships. San Jose Animal Care & Services pays to spay/neuter, vaccinate, and microchip cats in the SNR program. A local nonprofit steps up for the last leg of the effort. Each night, volunteers with the animal rescue group Town Cats pick up shelter cats who have recovered from surgery and are ready to be returned to their original colony. Volunteers also place doorhangers on nearby homes with basic information about the program. The collaboration between San Jose Animal Care & Services and Town Cats’ volunteers is a huge part of SNR’s ongoing success.
A few years ago, San Jose Animal Care & Services staff thought they were doing everything they could to stabilize animal populations. The agency operated low-cost spay/neuter clinics and supported local TNR efforts. It even offered spay/neuter services for feral cats on a walk-in basis. The efforts seemed to be paying off. Then, in 2007, the global economic crisis started to take a toll. Instead of declining numbers, cat intakes at the San Jose Animal Care Center spiked to levels not seen in years. From 2008 to 2009, the shelter took in 11,428 cats and kittens. Most were killed. The agency needed a new solution to address the community’s needs.
After much research, San Jose Animal Care & Services started a pilot project based on a successful program in Jacksonville, Fla. In Jacksonville, community cats brought to the city shelter are transferred to a nonprofit group that sterilizes them at its own clinic. The cats are then returned to their outdoor homes. San Jose added an extra innovation: since the city didn’t have a nonprofit in a position to run a program, the city shelter started a TNR program itself. The shelter would not just evaluate cats for participation in the program, it would neuter them as well. Three years later, the city shelter boasts a save rate for adult cats of about 85%.
How the SNR Program Works
- Evaluation. In San Jose, animal control doesn’t actively trap feral cats or participate in colony management. Shelter-Neuter-Return is a shelter-based program that kicks in at the point of intake. Most cats are brought to the shelter by residents. People dropping off cats are required to sign an acknowledgement that one potential outcome is the cat will be returned to the neighborhood after sterilization. Animals are evaluated within the first 24 hours. Healthy cats are placed in the SNR program if they are not socialized and thus do not qualify for adoption.
- Spay/neuter. Shelter-Neuter-Return cats are community cats who live and thrive in their own neighborhoods. The agency’s goal is to “prevent them from breeding, not prevent them from living.” After being placed in the SNR program, the cats are spayed/neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, and eartipped for identification.
- Return. To limit their stress, the cats are returned to their colony within three days of intake. When the cats have recovered from surgery, they are transferred to volunteers with Town Cats, who return them to where they were first picked up. Town Cats also maintains a website (www.catcenter.org) that offers additional information on SNR.
San Jose Animal Care & Services has saved the lives of thousands of cats and has saved money for the people of San Jose by taking bold and innovative steps including:
- Seeking the cutting edge. Before starting a program of its own, San Jose Animal Care & Services looked for groundbreaking models elsewhere, particularly within the nonprofit sector. Once the agency found an innovative TNR program in Jacksonville, Fla., it set out to fashion its own program, which is tailored to the city of San Jose.
- Limiting the focus. San Jose Animal Care & Services supports community-wide TNR, but it made the decision to focus its efforts on neutering and returning cats brought by others to the city shelter, rather than spending the shelter’s limited time and resources trapping free-roaming cats. With a clear mission and a targeted population, the agency has been able to spay/neuter cats at high volume. The shelter clinic currently serves about 2,500 cats a year in the SNR program alone.
- Offering help. The agency feels strongly that education is part of its role. “We have to help people understand what we are doing,” says Jon Cicirelli, Director of San Jose Animal Care & Services. In addition to maintaining its own website and Facebook page, the agency promotes the efforts of its nonprofit partner, Town Cats. The San Jose Animal Care Center also runs a program to supply traps and deterrents and repellants, including Cat Stop devices, to the community. Cat Stop is a motion-activated ultrasonic device to deter cats from areas where they are not welcome. “We are emphasizing non-lethal solutions,” Cicirelli says.
- Moving forward. As a result of Shelter-Neuter-Return, the San Jose Animal Care Center has the benefit of additional space and time. With feline intake down by a quarter, staff are now able to focus on the cats awaiting adoption.