|Fight to Survive|
The 2010 third quarter numbers for our shelter show 908 cats “dropped off” at the shelter with road patrols bringing in an additional 174 “strays” or a total of 1,082 intakes.
None of the cats picked up were returned in the field and only two reclaimed by their owners during a three-month period. Of the 1,082 cats needing life saving efforts at our “shelter” 915 or 85% were killed. The cost to catch and kill 915 cats in a three-month period is between $50,000 to $80,000.
“Trap-neuter release, commonly referred to as TNR, is the only method proven to be both humane and effective at controlling feral cat population growth.
With a “Trap/Neuter/Release program the cost to spay/neuter these same 915 now dead cats would have been less then $20,000 including vaccination costs.
TNR traps all the feral cats in a colony – they are altered and then returned to their territory, where caretakers provide them with regular food and shelter. This non-lethal sterilization method reduces the number of feral cats in an environment both immediately and over the long run.
TNR was introduced in the US during the 1980’s. The practice of TNR grew rapidly in the 90’s when Alley Cat Allies began providing information and assistance to people caring for feral cats that recognized that their numbers must be controlled and reduced sterilization.
In communities where TNR is widely embraced, feral cat numbers have dropped. TNR works because it breaks the cycle of reproduction. Since TNR programs are operated largely or entirely through the efforts of dedicated and committed volunteers the cost savings to taxpayers is an added benefit.
The Huge Cost Savings through TNR
Aside from the minor ethical issue of killing healthy yet wild cats there is a much larger issue that even taxpayers can support. That’s the potential advantage on a large scale is cost savings with our animal control budget both short term and in the years to come.
For one – a Trap Neuter Release Program doesn’t involve funding new animal control trucks at a cost of over $207,000 to be used to round up cats for slaughter. Instead, freed of the responsibility of chasing down loose cats, these same “road” officers could instead focus on enforcing county leash, tethering, neglect and cruelty laws and working with the public on life saving programs at the shelter instead.
Traditionally, the cost involved with feral cats includes the time it takes for an officer to trap the cat, the expense of feeding and sheltering during the usual mandatory waiting period before the animal can be killed and the cost of killing and disposing of the body.
In contrast, the only cost involved with TNR is the neutering and vaccination of each cat. The rest of the work – trapping, feeding, and so on – is done by volunteers.
In a study in Orange County, Florida, over the course of two and a half years of a new TNR program, cost savings were found to be 47 percent of an alternative “catch and kill” program.
TNR has the advantage of being humane because it respects the cats' right to live and provides them with as high a quality of life as possible under the circumstances.
It is also effective at lowering population levels, both within individual colonies and across entire communities. “Catch and Kill” is not only more costly; but it doesn’t work. TNR is clearly the future when it comes to care and control of feral cats.
Is there any wonder our new shelter has experienced an increase of over FIFTY PERCENT in the number of cats being killed in the last three years alone?
There are volunteers and rescue groups who care about cats – enabling these citizens to do the right thing for feral cats is critical in reducing not only the growth in killing but in animal control costs as well.
Yet, shelter management under the watchful eye of the Gwinnett Police Department continues to cling to this model that fails EVERY YEAR.
National Animal Control Association Supports Trap Neuter Release
In practice, many municipalities which have tried TNR have found it effective in reducing cat populations within their borders. For this reason, the National Animal Control Association recently changed its position on feral cat control to support TNR.
In an interview explaining the change, the president of the National Animal Control Association explained that municipalities have found management more successful in controlling cat populations than attempts at eradication, that it is much cheaper and elicits the assistance of the private sector, that no agency in the country can afford to just keep practicing trap and euthanize, and that the old method of trapping and euthanizing is like trying to "bail the ocean with a thimble" due to limitated animal control resources.
The High Cost of Trap, Hold and Kill
In general the cost of sterilization and returning a feral cat is less than half the cost of trapping, holding, killing and disposing of a feral cat. TNR protects public health and advances the goal of reducing the numbers of feral cats in the environment. The public will support humane, non-lethal TNR as the long-term solution to feral cat population.
The traditional approach has been "trap-and-kill," whereby feral cats are trapped, usually by animal control or your neighbor, and then invariably killed. The reasons why it almost always fails in the long term are clear enough.
First, it's not easy to catch all the cats in a feral colony. If there are a large number of cats, it can take several days and a lot of persistence. Animal control and/or your neighbor rarely have the time or resources to make this kind of sustained effort.
Instead, what normally happens is that animal control officers set some traps, catch some of the cats, and make a temporary reduction in the colony's numbers.
All’s well until nature kicks in – or new cats show up. The feral colony grows in size up to the number of cats their food source can support. Once the colony is reduced, the remaining cats over breed until the ceiling imposed by the food source is reached again, and the temporary drop in population is quickly erased.
Even assuming all the cats in a colony are caught and removed, that still won't lower the population in the long run. This is due to the "vacuum effect," first observed by Roger Tabor in his studies of London street cats (The Wild Life of the Domestic Cat).
In the real world one feral colony are surrounded by other feral cat groups in adjoining areas. If a colony is removed but its food source remains, cats in neighboring territories will move in and start the cycle of reproduction again.
This last point also indicates another reason why it is almost impossible to eradicate feral cats from an area: their caretakers. Feral cat caretakers are a devoted breed who will often do whatever is in their power to feed and protect their feline wards, including violating feeding bans.
The trap-and-kill approach turns these caretakers into enemies. While “Trap Hold and Kill” sheltering models are costly to implement TNR, on the other hand, mobilizes an enormous volunteer force for population control.
An effective TNR program also reduces cost and killing by not bringing feral cats into the shelter in the first place. Plenty of domestic cats are now dying in our new shelter for “lack of space”. Why bring in feral cats off the streets when they can be maintained where they are, in a manner more befitting their unique natures?
At the other end of failed alternatives to TNR is the “rescue” model. Feral cats are NOT adoptable as pets. Many well-meaning people, convinced they are "saving" a feral cat by bringing him indoors, end up condemning the poor creature to a life of hiding under the bed and being in constant fear. Better a fuller, even if riskier, life in freedom.
Breaking the Cycle of Failure
Every female feral cat trapped and altered represents fewer kittens during and after “kitten season”. Should the county invest from $20 to $50 on a spay surgery as a preventative measure or should taxpayers be burdened with the cost of handling an entire litter soon thereafter?
Should the county support a TNR program that can be funded by local citizens, volunteers and non-profits when the only trade off is putting an end to a killing mentality or should we taxpayers continue to finance the slaughter of thousands of cats each year instead? Who benefits from this “pest” eradication service?
The cost of trapping – holding – killing and disposing on an entire litter is several times higher then the initial investment in spay/neuter.
It has estimated that the cost to handle a stray cat for the five required days in the shelter, plus the cost of killing and disposal, is about $70 per cat. There are still only three alternatives to handling the population of stray cats: 1) alter/release/management; 2) exterminate/kill; 3) ignore.
Comparing cost options:
Test/Vaccinate/Alter = less then $50 in a low-cost program vs.
Stay at shelter = $70 - $100
Funding for a program of this type can take many forms:
1. Looking at the figures from 2009 alone, one can readily see that for a cost of 4800 cats (killed) X $70 per cat (to trap-hold-kill)) cost the taxpayers close to $340,000. The costs of altering (even if this cost was absorbed by the county) would be less then half. Successfully implementing a TNR program would not only provide immediate cost savings but would also reduce the number of cats handled in the future further reducing the cost of “controlling cat populations”.
2. The program pays for itself with reduced animal control costs. Reduced shelter costs frees up resources and manpower for staffing life saving adoption and retention programs instead.
3. Further cost saving can be realized by developing partnership with local veterinary services and by soliciting donations through local non profit rescues and grant programs. The decreased shelter costs would more than fund any future and ongoing trap/alter/release efforts.
If Gwinnett County’s animal welfare policy included a partnership with the rescue community by providing services instead of simply killing off as many cats as they can pick up our citizens would do the rest.
Removing the obstacles that enable volunteers to provide medical treatment, food and support services for feral cats will provide the best possible outcome for all involved. Instead of enabling solutions, current policy only provides the obstacles to that success. Should we be surprised with nothing but failed results?
Naysayers who scream for “eradication”
There may be those who prefer to continue the eradication method. The concerns put forth are usually centered around noise (cats fighting over territory or mating), smell (of spray), vector infestation, disease transmission or possible injury. The assumption of a quick and clean solution makes this avenue of population control especially attractive. Yet eradication programs are ineffective.
While attractive from a theoretical and short-term perspective, eradication has proven to be an elusive goal. Some will continue to advocate the trap and kill eradication approach. However, if eradication programs really worked, we wouldn't be faced with so many stray cats and their offspring ending up being killed at our shelter during “kitten season”.
Cats are territorial. They don't allow other cats into their territory to steal their food. Altered cats will stand their ground and guard their food source, will not have kittens, and will die in a few years. Remove the cat(s) from the habitat without changing the habitat and another cat will move in.
Gainesville Florida Study evaluates effects of feral cat sterilization program
Various long term studies have shown that TNR is effective in stopping the breeding of cats in the wild and reducing the population over time. In addition to these studies, a 2004 controlled study by veterinarians in Connecticut found that TNR consistently reduced the populations of feral cat colonies, by a mean of 36% over two years and with the extinction of one third of the colonies within the same period, while the non-TNR'd colonies increased by a mean of 47%.
Many TNR programs that have resulted in decreased populations have also included intensive efforts to adopt a large proportion of the population, which is generally part of TNR.
Although a recent study on a Florida spay/neuter program for feral cats wasn’t able to identify the program’s precise effects, the results published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (Vol. 5, No. 4, 2002) suggest that a feral cat trap-neuter-return program can be an important facet of a community strategy to fight pet overpopulation.
Written by Kathy L. Hughes and Margaret R. Slater of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A & M University and Linda Haller of the Hawaiian Humane Society, the study focuses on the feral cat sterilization program that Haller oversaw when she managed Orange County Animal Services in Orlando.
Begun in 1995, the trap-and-return program was a cooperative effort between the county and a local volunteer group. Though the county had tried in the past to address feral cat issues, those efforts had focused mainly on trapping and euthanasia—and had failed to reduce the numbers.
Under the new program, the volunteer group trapped the cats and brought them to the county to be spayed or neutered, eartipped, and vaccinated against rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, panleukopenia, and rabies. (Some were later re-trapped for a subsequent vaccination.) The surgery was free, and caretakers paid $5 for each rabies vaccination.
“High-risk males” or cats that appeared ill were tested for feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus infections, and, if positive, were euthanized. Kittens were not returned to the colonies but were socialized and, if possible, put up for adoption. Those who appeared to be at least seven weeks old were neutered or spayed.
From fiscal years 1990 to 2001, the period during which data was collected, the county sterilized 37,182 cats, including 7,903 ferals. Analysis of the program’s results was complicated by concurrent changes to regulations and other animal control programs (the study did not identify these), but statistics were still significant.
The number of cat impoundments remained stable during the study period, despite an increase of 32 percent in the human population. Although intake rates did not decrease as expected, the authors note, “This may reflect in part a change in the county code of September 1995, in which a renewed emphasis was placed on enforcement.”
The adoption rate during that period reached 12 percent, twice as high as it had been during the six years before the trapping program began. Euthanasia of impounded cats decreased by 18 percent from fiscal year 1996 to fiscal year 2001. (Feral cats who had already been spayed or neutered did not factor into impoundment statistics.)
The frequency of cat-related complaints also fell—by 25 percent between the mid-90s and 2001. The county’s policy of requiring relocation of colonies deemed a “nuisance” may have contributed to this decline (though the need for relocation was rare); public awareness also may have increased during the years because of educational outreach on the part of volunteers and rescue groups.
Reducing the financial cost of addressing feral cat issues was a goal of the program from the beginning, with county officials surmising that a neuter-release program would be less expensive and less labor-intensive than impoundment.
They appeared to be right: Spaying and neutering the feral cats totaled $442,568, according to the study, substantially less than the estimated $1.1 million it would have cost to impound and euthanize the cats.
Other positive trends were recorded during the study period. The authors observed that the relationship between animal services staff and citizens concerned about feral cats improved, and that “citizens who previously felt overwhelmed by the dilemma of feral cats they saw in their neighborhood now feel empowered and able to make a difference in these cats’ lives.”
While the authors acknowledge that “separating out the effects of a single program may be impossible,” they stress that no negative consequences were recorded for the sterilization program. They also laud the creation of the program itself.
“The establishment of the feral cat program was done without a change in the county code,” they wrote, “through the persistence and teamwork of concerned citizens and county officials.”
It's important to recognize that if a cat is truly feral, then the most compassionate choice may be to allow him to live outdoors. Trying to domesticate such a feral cat is little different from trying to make a squirrel or a raccoon a household companion - you might succeed somewhat, but never fully and only with a great deal of time and patience. Moreover, you would not be permitting the animal to live in the manner that suits him best.
Innovative Solutions versus the Rhetoric of a Failed Killing Philosophy
The number of feral cats in the U.S. is estimated to be in the tens of millions. Sadly, many communities still opt to control populations via outdated methods, including lethal elimination or relocation. Not only are some of these methods horribly cruel, they are also highly ineffective. It’s time to include the issues of feral cats in the fight to end animal cruelty.
We the Pet Owners of Gwinnett support the immediate implementation of a Trap Neuter Release Program that will put an end to the slaughter of hundreds of cats each month.
We support an immediate issuance of free spay/neuter vouchers for all residents to take in stray and “loosely owned” community cats for free altering.
Implementing this one program alone will dramatically reduce the number of pets being killed at our shelter and lead to the cost savings necessary to further implement other life saving programs as well.
To accomplish the cultural change needed to transition from an animal “control” mindset to a responsive animal “services” unit it is imperative that our elected commissioners and the law department show the political courage to move swiftly in approving the “Animal Advisory Reform Resolution” that has broad community support and was approved without dissent by our current animal advisory council.
We the Pet Owners of Gwinnett encourage the Board of Commissioners to appoint a new voice to fill the “Feline Interest” position on the newly revised advisory council with a voice experienced in establishing a successful TNR program in our community. This voice would be responsible for building the critical partnership bridge with the Feline Rescue community to assure success.
The following information provides background on TNR, online and print resources, and what you can do to get involved.
TNR is the only proven solution to solve this problem. Caring for the existing colony:
· Ends the breeding cycle
· Alleviates suffering due to: fights, starvation, being hit by cars, illness...
· Helps prevent the spread of disease; the two of concern to humans being fleas and ringworm
· Results in less noise and troublesome behavior
· Cuts down on wildlife predation
To learn more
Alley Cat Allies
Feral Cat Coalition