This article was co-written with Holly Sizemore, Director of Community Programs & Services, and National Programs, Best Friends Animal Society. It originally appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on Oct. 16.
Take a walk through any part of Albuquerque. Whether you’re in a park, apartment complex, shopping center or tree-lined neighborhood, you’re likely to see cats wandering the streets.
Unowned, free-roaming cats have become part of the landscape in almost every community across the United States—rural, suburban and urban. They are responsible for the majority of kittens born in this country and, unfortunately, many of the kittens from these litters as well as adult feral and stray cats eventually end up in shelters where they’re at high risk for euthanasia. The cost in terms of the cats’ lives, the financial burden on taxpayers of holding, euthanizing and disposing the cats, and the emotional stress to shelter workers can be overwhelming.
In the past, many communities tried to solve the problem by catching and euthanizing enough of the cats to reduce their overall numbers. However, this approach has repeatedly failed and instead of helping to control cat populations, intake of cats and kittens into most shelters has steadily risen. In fact, millions of cats in the U.S. are euthanized each year due to overcrowding.
But there is a better way – Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs spay and neuter free-roaming cats, commonly referred to as community cats, then return them back to their original locations rather than euthanizing them.
As a result, the numbers of cats gradually decrease because they are unable to reproduce. Additionally, spaying and neutering resolves most nuisance issues—such as loud noise from mating and odor from males marking their territory—so the cats become better neighbors. They’re vaccinated against rabies, preventing spread of the deadly disease, and because TNR allows the cats to live, many cat-loving volunteers come forward to help and provide free labor and other resources.
In an effort to build a model for saving the lives of community cats, while at the same time reducing their numbers and environmental impacts, PetSmart Charities® awarded Best Friends Animal Society® a $700,000 grant to work with the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department (AAWD) on the Community Cats Project. The project aims to sterilize 3,500 community cats a year for three years, or a total of 10,500 cats.
The program already has yielded impressive results after more than 2,000 surgeries have been performed. Euthanasia of cats from the City of Albuquerque has decreased by 67 percent since the project started in April of this year (compared with 2011) and intake of cats and kittens to AAWD is also trending lower.
Success to date has been due in large part not only to the work of Best Friends, AAWD and the funding of PetSmart Charities, but also to strong support from the entire Albuquerque animal welfare community. Street Cat Companions has played a major role in the day-to-day work of the Community Cats Project. Animal Humane New Mexico, with a separate grant provided by PetSmart Charities, has been conducting its own, complementary and highly successful TNR project in six targeted ZIP codes. Local veterinarians have provided surgeries and Albuquerque residents have joined in by identifying locations of unaltered cats and providing them with the food and shelter they need to thrive.
Free-roaming cat overpopulation is a community problem and Albuquerque has truly come together to provide a community solution.
If you have a passion for animals and your community, visit www.PetSmartCharities.org or www.BestFriends.org to learn how to become involved in Albuquerque’s Community Cats Project and read about other successful Trap-Neuter-Return programs. You’ll discover how efforts to manage Albuquerque’s free-roaming cat population can form a better community for human residents as well as our feline neighbors.