The Success of One of Alley Cat Allies’ Future Five: Shelter Partners to Save Cats’ Lives
Johnson County Animal Shelter is located in suburban Franklin, Indiana, near Indianapolis, and works in a 320-square-mile area populated with about 150,000 people. The shelter takes in about 700 cats each year. Prior to 2013, the shelter killed hundreds of cats each year. It became one of Alley Cat Allies’ Future Five: Shelter Partners to Save Cats’ Lives in 2013 and has since transformed to protect more cats than ever.
Where: Johnson County, Indiana
Communities served: The 320 square mile area of Johnson County, near Indianapolis.
Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) Program adopted: 2013
Increase in live release rate due to TNR: Over 77%
Annual operating budget: $555,700
Cat intake: 1338
Cats “euthanized”: 1125, many for space
Cat live release rate: 15.5%
Cat intake: 779
Cats euthanized: 61, all for terminal illness or injury and none for space
Cats referred to TNR: 376, with many more never entering the shelter because of TNR
Cat live release rate: 92.2%
How They Saved Lives:
Becoming a member of Alley Cat Allies’ Future Five: Shelter Partners to Save Cats’ lives, leveraging grant money, training, and educational resources from Alley Cat Allies, implementing TNR and SNR, educating the community, partnering with veterinarians.
The Benefits of TNR:
- Fewer cats killed in the shelter
- Improved shelter staff morale and decrease of turnover rate
- Money that would have been used to “euthanize” cats is redirected to adoptable animals
- Improved reputation within the community
When the Johnson County Animal Shelter in Indiana reached out to Alley Cat Allies in 2013, its animal control director Michael Delp and staff were emotionally exhausted from “euthanizing” healthy cats, many of whom were community cats who were not socialized to people and thus unadoptable.
To make lifesaving change, Alley Cat Allies began to work with the shelter as part of our Future Five: Shelter Partners to Save Cats’ Lives program. The initiative was designed to help five shelters, each representing a different shelter structure found in the United States, develop Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs to reduce the intake and euthanasia rate of cats.
With support, expertise, and one-on-one training from Alley Cat Allies and the Humane Network, Johnson County Animal Shelter developed its own Shelter-Neuter-Return (SNR) program. In an SNR program, cats are brought to an animal shelter and, from there, are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, eartipped, and returned to their outdoor homes.
The results were dramatic. The shelter, which euthanized hundreds of community cats each year prior to 2013, has killed no healthy cats since the program began.
“There is no nobility in euthanizing—or let’s call it what it really is: killing—healthy cats. It’s never going to reduce the cat population. I know, because I did it for years,” says Delp, “Trap-Neuter-Return is the only solution. It’s the right thing to do.”
Steps to Success
- Reaching out to Alley Cat Allies. Alley Cat Allies’ support was key to Johnson County Animal Shelter’s success. As a Future Five shelter, it received a $5,000 grant from Alley Cat Allies to save community cats’ lives. The grant money was used to purchase humane traps, fund surgeries and vaccinations for community cats, and develop and expand educational materials and programs. Alley Cat Allies also provided a full year of expert guidance from Humane Network’s experienced team to strengthen the shelter’s humane programs.
- Implementing a Shelter-Neuter-Return (SNR) program. Johnson County Animal Shelter adopted its SNR program in 2013. It even hired an ‘SNR officer’ whose primary job is to facilitate SNR. Now when community cats are brought to the shelter, they are immediately placed in a designated area that is quiet and separated from other animals. The SNR officer then sets appointments with one of the shelter’s veterinary partners and transports the cats to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and eartipped. The cats are brought back to the shelter to recover and then are returned to their outdoor homes.
Thanks to the SNR program, community cats, who are unadoptable, do not remain in the shelter for a long time. Because these cats leave the shelter quickly, they are no longer being killed for space. The cats in the shelter also no longer suffer the stress and disease risk caused by overcrowding.
- Saving money and redirecting it to help more animals Since the SNR program began, the number of cats impounded and killed at Johnson County Animal Shelter plummeted. Delp says the change has saved taxpayers at least $250,000 over the last five years. Those resources are now directed toward adoptable animals and the shelter’s vaccine budget. SNR, says Delp, pays for itself and then some.
- Education. Alley Cat Allies helped Johnson County Animal Shelter educate residents. We also advised shelter staff on how to most effectively ask for financial and volunteer support from the community. Alley Cat Allies and Humane Network held multiple TNR workshops for Johnson County community members, shelter staff, and animal control officers.
- Connecting with the community. Johnson County Animal Shelter hosts fundraisers to meet community members and increase support for the SNR program. It has also adopted other humane programs to help even more residents. The shelter’s Sara Woods Fund assists the public in paying for medical procedures for their animals. The shelter also offers low-cost vaccination and microchipping clinics, low-cost spay and neuter, and free adoption events. All the shelter’s surplus food, towels, medicines, and vaccines are given to animal rescue groups and the Humane Society.
Challenges and Solutions
- County laws. Johnson County Animal Shelter needed the county to pass an ordinance supporting TNR in order to adopt an effective humane program. Delp met with Lisa Tudor of IndyFeral (a member of Alley Cat Allies’ Feral Friends Network) and Johnson County Commissioner Brian Baird to draft language for an ordinance to make TNR the official policy of the county. With Commissioner Baird as a sponsor and the Johnson County Humane Society’s backing, the ordinance passed swiftly.
- Convincing skeptical staff. Delp says many of his animal control officers were skeptical about the SNR program at first. Through Alley Cat Allies’ workshops and trainings, and by seeing the benefits of SNR for themselves, the officers have since changed their minds. Now, Delp says, they are enthusiastic about the SNR program and make sure not to impound any eartipped cats they see outdoors.
- Future Goals Expand SNR. Towns and municipalities around Indiana have taken notice of Johnson County’s success. Delp and Commissioner Baird have spoken with numerous shelters and officials who have expressed interest in SNR programs of their own.
- Provide a support network. Delp wants to ensure that community cat caregivers have a support network through the shelter, the Johnson County Humane Society, and their volunteers.
“I don’t exaggerate when I say things are 100 percent better, simply because we aren’t putting down healthy animals every single day,” says Delp. “It’s such a morale booster to know we are saving lives, and only using euthanasia as a last resort to end an animal’s suffering.”