In the category of really great news for cats, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously earlier this week in favor of resuming (and fully funding!) the Citywide Cat Program.

Tuesday’s vote makes Los Angeles—home to just under 4 million people—the largest municipality in the country to conduct Trap-Neuter-Return within their animal services agency. This incredibly valuable program, run by Los Angeles Animal Services (LAAS), has been on hold as a result of protracted legislation for over a decade.

Tuesday’s vote ends that stalemate and is a decisive victory for cats and people who care about them.

“We extend a huge thanks to the City of Los Angeles and to the City Council for their perseverance, vision, and leadership. Through sheer grit and commitment, L.A. ploughed through legal challenges and years of red tape to assert its right to implement smart, effective approaches to cats,” said Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies. “In the years to come, L.A. will be a shining model of the many benefits of nonlethal cat population management. Not for the first time in its storied history, LA is ushering in the future.”

The Council’s vote to approve an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Citywide Cat Program clears the way for large-scale implementation of humane, nonlethal programs for cats by Los Angeles city animal services.

The Citywide Cat Program is a comprehensive plan years in the making. Under the Program, funding will be provided to spay and neuter and vaccinate at least 20,000 community cats annually, over and above ongoing funding for pet cats. The Program opens up the city’s Animal Sterilization Fund to community cats, provides public education on TNR, and declares TNR the official policy of Los Angeles.

How Los Angeles Got to This Point

You may be wondering how Los Angeles, with city departments so dedicated to TNR, ended up in a 10-year legal battle to be able to practice it. To explain, we’ll have to go back to the beginning.

L.A. embraced TNR long before many cities in our nation. In 2006, LAAS began an unofficial TNR policy and program for cats, which included handing out low-cost spay and neuter vouchers to caregivers and connecting with local TNR organizations.

Cat advocates across the city relied on the vouchers to help cats and kittens. It was an invaluable partnership between a city and its people to stabilize and improve the health of cat populations and keep unadoptable cats out of shelters to live and thrive in their outdoor homes.

But six groups, under the false belief that cats are a significant threat to wildlife and that TNR increases community cat populations, sought to bring an end to TNR. They sued the City of Los Angeles, claiming the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by proceeding with TNR without conducting an environmental review of its impact prior to launching the program.

Following some back and forth about what was and was not required, a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge ordered the suspension of all city funding and promotion of a TNR program until an environmental review was conducted.

Much of the progress in Los Angeles for cats in turn came to a halt.

Not only were city officials barred from providing (already allocated) spay and neuter funding for community cats, they were censored from recommending privately-funded TNR programs to the concerned public. LAAS shelter staff couldn’t even hand out an educational brochure about TNR. With one of their biggest avenues of support cut off, many community cats were left without critical services.

Advocating for Cats in L.A.

From the very start, when Alley Cat Allies was located in Becky Robinson’s spare room, we’ve been advocating to protect L.A.’s feral and stray cats. For more than two decades we worked with and advised individuals and organizations carrying out TNR and consulted with LAAS on community cat issues. So, when the injunction was filed, we did not let the decision stand unchallenged.

We launched an education and outreach campaign to restore city funding and promotion of TNR and formed a coalition with national and local groups to overturn the suspension. But even with all our combined expertise and commitment, it was up to the city to respond to the lawsuit. And the city did not make a strong enough argument against the necessity of an environmental review.

As a result, Los Angeles set off on a decade-long journey to complete an EIR for its Citywide Cat Program, finally beginning an $800,000 study on TNR’s impact on the environment in April 2017. Just like when a city decides to build a new bridge, each component of the program had to be picked apart, examined, reviewed in detail, edited, then examined again.

In addition to joining in on the fight, Alley Cat Allies worked to make sure there were good outcomes for as many community cats as possible during these dark years, chiefly by helping groups conducting TNR in L.A. LAAS was barred from doing this work by the injunction. Local non-profits were not.

Many members of the Alley Cat Allies Feral Friends Network worked tirelessly to save and improve the lives of community cats. Without TNR as an option for LAAS, outcomes for cats who landed in LAAS shelters were all too often tragic.  Local non-profits worked hard to keep cats out of the shelters, but their capacity was stretched thin.  There is no question that many more cats suffered and died as a result of the injunction than would have without it.

Out of Darkness, Into Light!

The Final EIR, after an extensive public review process, is now completed and approved. The report is a hefty 716-page document which concludes that TNR does NOT pose significant risk to the environment. In short: there is no reason the city cannot resume undertaking and funding spay and neuter for community cats. The City Council has voted unanimously in favor of doing so and has approved funding.

Now the road is open for the longstanding injunction on TNR to be overturned, and for the Citywide Cat Program to move forward.

Again, Alley Cat Allies deeply thanks the L.A. City Council for bringing its city closer to reinstating the policies and programs that once made Los Angeles a national leader in the humane treatment of cats. Though we have a lot of ground to make up to undo the damage of these long years of suppression, we know amazing things can be accomplished with a city and community working, united, on behalf of the cats who need them.