Throughout April, Alley Cat Allies is honoring the work of dedicated animal control agencies, animal shelters, and their staff with our Animal Care & Control Appreciation Month! National Animal Care & Control Appreciation Week is April 9-15, but we’ve decided to extend the celebration. Animal control officers (ACOs) and animal shelter staff are on the front lines helping cats and have the power to make a positive impact for cats in their communities.

We’ll be highlighting exceptional animal shelter staff and animal control officers weekly, and we’re also hosting two webinars: The Benefits of a Community, Animal, and Shelter Supported Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) Program on April 13 and Working With Animal Control and Shelters to Save More Cats on April 26. These are just a few of the things we’re doing to celebrate—stay tuned for more throughout the month!

City of El Paso Department of Animal Services

Animal care officers Sammy Marquez and Janette Martinez canvass a neighborhood. Since starting the Community Cats program, officers have had more time to talk to the community members, answer questions, promote adoption specials and low-cost clinics, and advocate for TNR and community cats!

Last year, the city government of El Paso, TX, adopted Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) as its official policy—the first in a series of lifesaving changes for cats there!

In the nine months after starting its Community Cats program with new staff, policies, and ordinances, the City of El Paso Department of Animal Services increased its live-release rate for cats and completed TNR on 3,698 cats! For the department’s hard work implementing the program and saving lives, we’re excited to highlight it as part of our Animal Care & Control Month.

“I have been shocked and pleased with the early success of our Community Cats program,” said Kurt Fenstermacher, interim director of the El Paso Department of Animal Services, in a statement to Alley Cat Allies.

With the help of Alley Cat Allies, the city adopted TNR as its official policy in January 2016, although animal services had started TNR in specific zip codes a couple years before. The citywide program, in partnership with TNR advocacy group Sun City Cats, is part of the shelter’s plan to achieve a live-release rate of 90 percent by 2020.

To go along with the new TNR policy, the city also changed its ordinances to protect community cats and their caregivers, by including special policies that keep eartipped cats out of shelters. The shelter hired a coordinator to run the Community Cats program, and animal care officers help out as needed with tasks like returning community cats to their outdoor homes.

Officer Casarin from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control Unit gets ready to return a community cat back to her colony.

New policies encourage staff to advocate for the program in the shelter and in the field. Animal care officers are trained to educate the community instead of issuing citations and provide information and resources to individuals about community cat care.

The program has benefitted animals besides community cats. Now that community cats are released back to their outdoor homes, the shelter has been able to convert two cat holding rooms into surgical recovery rooms (one for cats and one for dogs). Plus, staff members have more time to help other animals, says Fenstermacher. For example, animal services launched a foster program in March, and so far, the shelter has been able to foster out all of the healthy bottle-feeding kittens.

The animal services shelter started the Kitty Reading Book Club in January to let kids brush up on reading skills while giving cats some attention!

The community has benefitted, too. City residents are positive about the program and its lifesaving results. And while some officers might have been skeptical at first, they’re now enthusiastic after seeing the success of the program! Thanks for your hard work, El Paso, and keep up the great efforts for cats!

Read about the other featured officers and organizations for Animal Care & Control Appreciation Month: Sgt. Erin Brogan (Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office)Macomb County Animal Control, and Johnson County Animal Control