Humane League of Lancaster County–Lancaster, Pennsylvania
The Humane League of Lancaster County (the Humane League) is an independent, nonprofit organization saving thousands of animals each year. The shelter is located in rural south central Pennsylvania. Many Lancaster county families are struggling financially and more than 34% of residents live below the poverty line.
Since 2008, as part of its effort to create a humane community and greatly reduce the number of healthy stray and feral cats entering the shelter, the Humane League has operated a successful Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program for outdoor cats in Lancaster County.
Among the program’s achievements:
- Big impact. The Humane League spays/neuters and vaccinates between 2,500 and 3,000 feral cats each year at little or no cost to the community. As a result, fewer litters of kittens are being born in the county.
- Big reductions in cat intakes. Preliminary data show a dramatic decrease in cat intakes, the number of cats entering the shelter, since Trap-Neuter-Return began in 2008. Neighborhoods where TNR has been heavily promoted showed a 67% lower rate of adult cat intakes after just one year. This is powerful evidence that the program is reducing the number of free-roaming cats.
- Increased awareness. The Humane League uses its website, newsletter, Facebook, and other social media to explain and promote TNR to residents of Lancaster County. The payoff is huge demand for the program and strong community support for TNR.
Before the Humane League of Lancaster County started its Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program, the shelter had high numbers of feline impoundment. Many cats were dropped off by residents; others were brought in by private trapping companies who charged residents to trap and remove cats. Because feral cats are not socialized to people, they cannot be adopted into homes. The result: The Humane League was spending its time and resources killing large numbers of beautiful, healthy cats. This approach was not only costly, but also demoralizing for a shelter with a mission of animal protection.
CEO Joan Brown made the case to the Humane League leadership and to the community that the catch and kill approach they were supporting had to stop. “I finally went to the board and said, ‘Where in our mission statement does it say euthanize healthy animals?’” explains Brown.
In 2008, the Humane League decided to change as an organization. It would no longer impound feral cats since they cannot be adopted and because they live in their family groups. Instead, it embraced TNR as the logical and humane approach that is aligned with its mission.
How the TNR Program Works
- Clinics. The Humane League offers three weekly appointment-only feral cat clinics for spay/neuter services, vaccination, and eartipping for little or no cost. These regular clinics are supplemented by an occasional all-day Sunday clinic. The Humane League says an experienced veterinarian is “a must” to operate an efficient TNR program. Its veterinarian performs approximately 50 TNR spay/neuter surgeries per clinic and can handle as many as 100 animals during an all-day Sunday clinic. The staff veterinarian is aided by veterinary students who perform “rotations” at the Humane League as part of their hands-on training.
- Targeted TNR. The Humane League practices targeted TNR, which involves identifying which areas have the most cats, then targeting TNR efforts in those areas. For example, in Lancaster City, a target area, the Humane League provides spay/neuter services for feral cats at no cost to the residents who bring them in. The costs are covered by a grant the Humane League received from PetSmart Charities.
- Trap loans. The Humane League also loans humane traps to residents who need them for use in TNR. Residents agree to return feral cats to their outdoor homes post surgery. The shelter supports and provides education to caregivers of feral cat colonies.
- Marketing & public relations. The Humane League promotes TNR both through traditional print campaigns (posters, newsletters) and increasingly through digital media. The shelter has written about its TNR work in a monthly blog for a local online publication and has more than 8,000 subscribers to its own e-newsletter. It also encourages online donations to the TNR program and promotes its work on the Humane League Facebook page.
The Humane League is proud of its TNR program—and with good reason. In the five years since the Humane League started its TNR program, the shelter has spay/neutered and vaccinated about 15,000 feral and stray cats in Lancaster County. Intake rates decreased across the county, even in places without targeted TNR.
Data from the first full year (2011-2012) of its targeted TNR in Lancaster City show a significant drop in feline intakes. Adult cat intakes dropped by 67%, and kitten intakes declined by 29%.
The program has proven enormously popular, so much that at times it has been challenging to meet the demand. For instance, the Humane League often receives as many as 75 emails and phone calls a day from people seeking information and appointments for TNR services. The shelter has responded by providing an explanation of the program and clear and comprehensive instructions on its website and on a dedicated phone line. Although the wait for services can be lengthy, staff say once people understand what the Humane League is trying to do on a tight budget, they’re usually willing to be patient. The Humane League says that the program’s popularity is a testament to the community’s strong support of the humane and compassionate treatment of feral cats. “If you do the right thing, your community supports you,”says Brown.
The Humane League hopes to continue expanding its TNR program, with the help of donors, grants, and public support. The shelter has received a PetSmart Charities grant that will allow it to expand its TNR efforts substantially.
The Humane League is also exploring other creative approaches to boosting revenue. It uses some of the proceeds from its online store to support the TNR program and opened its own animal wellness clinic, which it hopes will generate additional revenue.
The Humane League has restructured other programs in an effort to save more lives. In the past, the shelter has held contracts with municipalities in the county to accept stray dogs from animal control.
But in 2013, the shelter decided to stop serving as a holding facility for animal control because the constant influx of stray dogs took up valuable space, staff resources, and funds and was not sustainable. The Humane League now accepts stray dogs from animal control only after a two-day holding period has expired and if kennel space is available. This move is expected to free up additional funding that can be channeled into TNR and other lifesaving efforts at the shelter.
CEO Joan Brown says the need for TNR in Lancaster County remains huge but that the shelter is “making headway.” “So far, so good,” she says.