Most shelters don’t want to euthanize cats, but they often don’t know where to start in implementing lifesaving changes in their community. Luckily, a couple of cat advocates in Rockbridge County, VA, came to Alley Cat Allies for help earlier this year because they knew their shelter needed and wanted help.
Located in the scenic Shenandoah Valley Region, Rockbridge County is home to many history buffs, as well as numerous outdoor cats. In fact, the Rockbridge County SPCA received an average of almost 200 cats a month in 2015. It was clear that they needed our support to protect and save cats’ lives.
I reached out to Rockbridge SPCA to introduce myself and try to set up a time to meet and discuss Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)—the only humane and effective approach to stabilizing community cat populations. They were very receptive and interested in my experiences as a former animal control officer, and how I’ve seen TNR work in other jurisdictions.
Soon I learned the major hurdle: Rockbridge SPCA needed more affordable spay and neuter surgeries for the number of cats they were receiving, and more surgery slots. They also didn’t have a veterinarian who would do pediatric spay and neuter on a regular basis. This meant that they had to wait until a cat was six months old to spay and neuter instead of safely spaying or neutering kittens at eight weeks old or as soon as they weigh two pounds.
At the time, I was also in touch with the Lynchburg Humane Society, which began implementing TNR in 2011. In just four years, they had successfully increased their live release rate for cats from 77 percent in 2010 to an astounding 92 percent in 2015. Luckily , they also own the South Central Spay Neuter Clinic in Evington, VA.
Although the South Central Spay Neuter Clinic is over an hour away from Rockbridge SPCA, I reached out to the clinic for prices and transporting options. Not only were they open to working with the SPCA, but they also agreed to help with the long transports to the clinic. They offered to do the surgeries, vaccinations, and eartip for a very low 25 dollars per cat. They also were willing to do pediatric spay and neuter so kittens could be helped earlier.
Because they had the generous support they needed, Rockbridge SPCA decided they were finally in a position to start their own TNR program. But creating feline-friendly communities is a group effort, and we needed to get animal control on board.
I reached out to animal control officers in the area to explain the benefits of TNR—noting the positive impact it has on cats as well as people. TNR addresses community concerns and reduces complaints about cats, allowing animal control officers to focus on more pressing matters in the community. They were reluctant, but supportive, after hearing of the success in other communities.
Next thing I knew, two cat advocacy groups in the area— Cats Unlimited and Rockbridge Animal Alliance—had planned an educational event for National Feral Cat Day. They even asked me to participate as a guest speaker for the event on October 16. I told Rockbridge SPCA about this, and they decided to join in the festivities by sponsoring 50 cats for spay and neuter surgeries at the Lynchburg Humane Society on October 17.
It was a phenomenal few days for cats! In the end, Rockbridge County SPCA ended up sponsoring 60 cats, who were all spayed and neutered, vaccinated, and eartipped. And because they now have a working TNR program, countless other cats in the county will be saved.
This lifesaving change took time and patience to establish and implement successfully. It’s important not to rush it—people need to see the benefits of TNR for themselves, and realize that it truly works for cats and the community.
At times, I didn’t know if we would succeed in bringing everyone together for the cats in Rockbridge County. But I knew that the key to success was to stay positive and stay focused on the goal—protecting and improving the lives
Until next time,
Alice Burton is the Associate Director of Animal Control and Animal Shelter Engagement with Alley Cat Allies. Alice recently returned from Virginia, where she participated in National Feral Cat Day events including a Trap-Neuter-Return seminar and a spay/neuter clinic.