A Model for Trap-Neuter-Return
The Morgan County Humane Society is a nonprofit shelter located in the city of Martinsville, Indiana. It serves the 14 townships of rural Morgan County, a rural county with a population of approximately 69,713. MCHS is the only shelter and animal control facility in the county. It typically takes in around 1,500 animals each year.
Morgan County does not have an ordinance to support TNR and the county animal control contract specifically excludes cats. MCHS is free to use its own method: TNR. The program has no county funding and operates through grants, donations, and fundraisers.
Where: Morgan County, Indiana
Communities served: The 14 townships of Morgan County.
Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) Program adopted: 2013
Increase in live release rate due to TNR: 20 percent
Annual operating budget: $243,401
Cat intake: 1390
Cat live release rate: 73 percent
Cat intake: 866
Cat live relase rate:94 percent
Cats helped/kept out of shelthers through TNR:791
Cat intake: 615
Cat live release rate: 93.8 percent
How They Saved Lives:
Morgan County Humane Society shelter increased live outcomes and saved cats with TNR, SNR, low-cost spay and neuter, vaccination, education, fundraisers.
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
The Morgan County Humane Society’s building is a renovated church without a lot of space to hold animals. In the past, money was always tight, staff were under pressure, and there were no resources for community cats. Each year, over 1,000 cats were brought into the shelter and hundreds were killed. Most of the cats killed were community cats who were not socialized to people and thus unadoptable.
Then Alicia Fouty, the shelter’s now former volunteer community cat coordinator, joined the MCHS board in 2013 and started a TNR program.
In 2015, Jennifer Londergan was hired as the new shelter director and provided more support to the budding TNR program. Under her leadership, a Shelter-Neuter-Return (SNR) program was created in 2016 to run congruently with Fouty’s TNR program. In an SNR program, cats are brought to the shelter and, from there, are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, eartipped, and returned to their outdoor homes.
The programs preserve critical shelter resources, reduce stress on staff, and save thousands of cats’ lives by ensuring community cats do not remain in the shelter. As of 2018, MCHS has cut its cat intake numbers in half and increased its live release rates from 73 percent to a high of 94 percent.
Alicia Fouty: “If you’re going to be an open admission shelter and take in cats, you’re going to be euthanizing unless you have an active TNR program. Those are just the facts.”
Steps to Success
- Diverting community cats from the shelter with TNR. MCHS’ community cat coordinator runs a TNR “diversion” program in which the cats served never enter the shelter system. The coordinator and a team of volunteers trap community cats, or residents trap the cats and bring them to volunteers. Volunteers transport the cats to low-cost veterinary clinics for spay or neuter, vaccination and eartip. After a short recovery, volunteers return the cats to their outdoor homes, or residents pick up the cats and return them. The cats never enter the shelter system.“It’s all about finding the kind of TNR program that works for you,” says Fouty. “Some shelters have the funds to do all of the TNR themselves, but we prefer diversion. There are all these different ways to do TNR and everybody does it a little differently.”
- Practicing Shelter-Neuter-Return (SNR). MCHS’ SNR program serves any community cats impounded or brought in by residents. Two weekly transports bring cats to a low-cost veterinarian for spay and neuter, vaccination, and eartip. The second transport was added as a response to the community’s needs. The cats are transported back to the shelter to recover. After recovery, the people who brought the cats in pick up them up and return them outdoors. If a person can’t return a cat, the community cat coordinator and her team will.
“Many people would happily keep a community cat and manage a colony, but they just don’t have the means to spay and neuter and transport cats themselves,” says Londergan. “With this program, we remove that barrier so the cats can stay in outdoor homes with loving caregivers.”
- Special budgeting and veterinary discounts to treat cats. MCHS takes in sick or injured community cats and has a special medical fund budgeted for their care. The shelter also budgets for expanded medical treatment of shelter cats. The funds pay for everything from hair loss treatment to major surgeries like amputations. The change was possible because MCHS qualified for discounts at their partner veterinary clinics.
- Providing vital services to the public.MCHS runs a cat food assistance program for residents who need support in caring for their animals. Through the program, MCHS connects with the community, builds goodwill, and meets people’s needs. The shelter’s responsiveness to the community increases donations and attracts volunteers.
“I think the TNR program has been a big boost for the Humane Society in donations,” says Fouty. “People want to give and donate to organizations that they feel are truly helping animals.”
- Focusing on education. MCHS has specific staff members who are trained to educate people on the facts about community cats, community cat programs, and the benefits of TNR. If concerned citizens ask about community cats, they are directed to these staff members. MCHS found that when people are educated about TNR, most are willing to support it and let cats stay in their outdoor homes.
- Getting the word out.MCHS utilizes social media to spread the word about the TNR and SNR programs. The shelter posts about the programs on its community cat Facebook page and website and has had local papers publish articles. MCHS sends out mailers and posts flyers in the communities most in need of assistance.
- Multiple options for community cats.MCHS created a barn cat program as a last resort measure to help cats who are in immediate danger in their current outdoor homes. Rather than stay in the shelter, these unadoptable cats are found homes in barns, vineyards, farms, and other areas where they live independently but have a caregiver to provide for them.
- Pursuing grants and holding fundraisers.Every year, MCHS hosts multiple large fundraisers, like its Feline Frolic Fun Run in the spring. It’s a great way to get the community involved and gain volunteers and donations. Half of the proceeds from each fundraiser is earmarked for the community cat programs.
Challenges and Solutions
- Concerned community members.Some people are initially skeptical about MCHS’ TNR program. MCHS staff and volunteers meet this challenge by investing time and patience into education and outreach. They trained to clearly and accessibly explain the benefits of TNR and the consequences of bringing community cats shelters, where most will be killed.
- Clarity about options for cats. To avoid confusion, MCHS makes everyone who brings in a cat sign a form that explains the shelter’s options for cats. For stray or feral cats, the shelter will either intake them and refer them to the TNR program or the person can keep the cat and bring her back on a TNR transport day. Permanent impoundment is specially stated to not be an option.
- Funding. MCHS does not receive county funding specifically for cats. Instead, the shelter must raise and budget its funds for the TNR and SNR programs. MCHS developed multiple fundraisers and applies to several grants to bring in funds. Shelter staff and volunteers also stay closely connected with the community and responsive to its needs. As a result, the community is supportive and willing to donate time and money to MCHS’ community cat programs.
- Provide more services to the community and its cats. Right now, the shelter only budgets for medical treatment of shelter and community cats. It aims to create a medical assistance fund for cats who live indoors as well to help residents without the means to pay for veterinary care.
- Expand its number of spay and neuter transports, including a transport specifically for cats who live indoors, to help even more cats.
- Expand the foster care program to include more people who will foster older cats or cats with special medical needs. Then, these cats can stay in comfortable homes and out of the shelter.
Advice to Other Shelters
- Any shelter can implement a TNR program that fits its capabilities. The first step is to start small and combine efforts with like-minded people. If you’re a small group working outside the shelter, build a positive relationship with shelter staff and animal control officers and find out how you can collaborate with them. Fouty boosted her TNR work by joining efforts with MCHS.
“Even if you have only five traps, you do what you can with what you have,” says Fouty. “Even spaying one cat can make a huge difference in preventing future litters. And if you can collaborate with the shelter, that relationship is essential.”
- Build a volunteer base as soon as possible. Remember that everybody has a part to play—big or small.
“I have volunteers who don’t have time to do more involved things like trapping and transport. But they’ll do laundry, or they’ll host a cat food donation drive,” says Fouty. “And that helps immensely. You have to learn to delegate tasks and accept all kinds of help. It’s not a one-person job.”
- Remember that TNR and SNR are community efforts. Everyone from residents to advocates to officials to veterinary professionals need to come together to make these programs as effective as possible.
“Many shelters have few funds and can’t take on TNR alone. As a community member, you have to step up and do what’s best for animals,” says Fouty. “Donate when you can, volunteer to help with TNR, whatever you can do.”