Many would argue that free-roaming cats are the biggest issue facing the animal welfare industry. They’re responsible for majority of the kittens produced in the U.S.* Some may also say that, sometimes, it’s challenging for animal welfare professionals to all just get along.
Okay, the “can’t we all just get along” issue is not necessarily unique to the animal welfare field. But you see my point.
Alley Cat Advocates brought their Louisville, Kentucky, community together to address its growing free-roaming cat problem. And they did it exceedingly well, cutting free-roaming cat intake in half in the zip code responsible for the highest stray cat intake in just two years while introducing trap-neuter return (TNR) as the officially mandated approach to feral and stray cats in the Louisville community.
An organization at the forefront
TNR on a community-wide scale is a relatively new practice, and Alley Cat Advocates has always been at the forefront. When Karen Little founded the group in 1999, she focused on setting up a high volume spay/neuter clinic which concentrated on TNR efforts. But soon, she and her team recognized that the community needed more of an advocacy agency, not just a service agency. “We needed to do more than just passively wait for people to call us,” Karen said.
To get to that point, Alley cat Advocates applied for a PetSmart Charities® Free-roaming Cat Spay/Neuter grant. They were one of our first applicants in this new and growing grant area. We funded a $75,000 grant to spay/neuter 2,000 free-roaming cats in one Louisville zip code.
There just aren’t as many cats as we thought
Free-roaming cats cause a lot of issues in their communities. The animal welfare field has always assumed that this is because there are so many of them. We even had a standard formula to use as a starting point for calculating the number of free-roaming cats in a community: divide the area’s human population by 6.
But what we’ve discovered by working with Alley Cat Advocates is that, though free-roaming cats do cause a lot of issues, there just aren’t as many of them as we assumed. We reviewed some of the research on the topic, and the results of some of our grants, and decided that a better starting point would be to divide the area’s human population by 15, not 6.
A quick adjustment
Even with our learning curve, Alley Cat Advocates has had tremendous impact on the Louisville community, reducing stray cat intake by 51% in their original target area. Stray cat intake in the rest of the region dropped only 20% during the same time period.
But they’ve needed far fewer spay/neuter surgeries than we originally thought to accomplish this reduction. In fact, since the initial grant, Alley Cat Advocates has only needed to perform 1,350 surgeries. This is even after it expanded its scope to include 2 more zip codes. The group has adjusted to this learning quickly. We’ve now added 7 more zip codes to the mix to achieve our goal of 2,000 surgeries.
“We were able to affect monumental change with far fewer surgeries,” Karen said. “Intake has dropped dramatically, and today we’re having trouble finding any cats coming in from our initial target zip code.”
Community relationships build trust
Part of the reason that Alley Cat Advocates had such tremendous impact on the Louisville community was that they worked very closely with their local animal control agency—Metro Animal Services. This was an overwhelming success.
Together, the two groups instituted a ride-along program. When animal control responds to cat complaints, a representative from Alley Cat Advocates accompanies them. When they arrive at the scene, they focus first on whether it’s practical to TNR the cat and keep her where she is—versus a knee-jerk reaction to bring the cat right into the shelter.
Demonstrating impact; institutionalizing change
The rest of the community started to take notice. First, a city council member whose district included Alley Cat Advocates’ initial target zip code started noticing a drop in volume in cat-related calls. Even when she got calls, they were handled quickly. She was so thrilled; she became a champion for Alley Cat Advocates’ TNR programs with other councilpersons. Together, they enacted an ordinance which directs the local animal control agency to develop a TNR program.
“If we hadn’t been able to focus on that neighborhood, and show the government officials that TNR works, we would never have been able to initiate that type of change,” Karen said.
According to Karen, PetSmart Charities’ grant “put Alley Cat Advocates on the map.” In addition to the ordinance change, Metro Animal Services now consults Karen on best practices involving free-roaming cats for their group. Plus, Alley Cat Advocates started getting more recognition from other local animal welfare groups. Karen even received an award from a local television station for her significant volunteer work.
Most recently, the ASPCA selected Louisville for its Community Partner program. Alley Cat Advocates will play an important role in the ASPCA program, including collecting data, training on TNR, assisting in writing a grant application to the ASPCA and then implementing the agreed-upon community strategy starting in 2013.
Learning goes both ways
With the help of these findings, we’re now making great strides in reducing the amount of free-roaming cats in the United States. Through this experience, I think both Alley Cat Advocates and PetSmart Charities have learned that flexibility is important. It’s imperative to apply what we’ve learned in future grants.
Our grant application period for high-impact targeted spay/neuter programs is open until Aug. 31.Join our live Twitter chat tomorrow at 9 a.m. Pacific Time to learn more. All you need to do is:
- Familiarize yourself with PetSmart Charities two high-impact U.S. grant programs
- Review our grants FAQs
- Log on to Twitter on Tuesday, Aug. 14, at 9 a.m. Pacific Time
- Submit your question using the hashtag #grantchat
- We’ll answer your question in real time
- We’ll post a transcript of the Q&A on our blog. If we can’t get to all questions, we’ll answer them there.
We can’t wait to see what new and innovative high-impact spay/neuter proposals come in.
* Levy, J., Humane strategies for controlling feral cat populations (2004) Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Assn., Vol. 225, No. 9.