by Carol S. Kramer
A few years ago when I lived in New York, I had a large house with a big back yard. The owner of the house next door died, and the house and its shed were abandoned. Behind it was a vacant strip of land. A group of cats lived in the buildings and lot. I started feeding them. Every day more cats showed up and they were looking pretty chunky. The cats were getting fat because several households were feeding them. The colony was becoming larger because the cats kept breeding. One cat can have as many as 3-5 litters each
Like most people who aren’t involved with animal rescue, I didn’t have a clue what to do. I had so many barriers to overcome that I almost gave up in frustration. I had no idea of the amount of time, the types of materials, the work or the money involved in helping outdoor cats.
I called my town shelter. Eighty percent of the kittens in shelters come from feral mothers. They said they’d pick them up, but they’d probably be euthanized due to overcrowding. Approximately half of the kittens born outdoors die before they reach eight weeks of age.
The shelter told me to Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR). It was the first time I heard that phrase. TNR is a partnership between concerned community members, trappers who are usually volunteers, and veterinarians who perform the surgery. It requires equipment, cars, and places to hold the cats before and after surgery.
However, it was expensive to TNR the colony. At the time it cost $65 to TNR each cat and only a handful of vets would do low-cost spaying and neutering. And cat-trapping wasn’t one of my skills. But as I watched my colony grow, I knew I had to do something to control it. And time was against me. I was planning to move to Albuquerque.
At the same time I was discovering the world of TNR in New York, rescue groups in Albuquerque were organizing their efforts to help feral and stray cats. Working together, these groups secured a three-year grant from PetSmart Charities and Best Friends Animal Society.
Albuquerque has made huge strides in managing our street cat population humanely. The rate of TNR has doubled since the funding was granted in 2011. Coordinated by a small staff funded by the grant, a coalition of volunteer organizations, including PACA and NM Animal Friends, does much of the work.
Albuquerque no longer euthanizes feral cats. In fact, they haven’t euthanized feral cats for the last two years. And PACA contributes a lot to the TNR efforts in Albuquerque. Jill Kleven, Mark Stein, Thecla Dodge and Marilynn Stone are among the PACA volunteers who are active trappers. They have trapped 40 cats per month for the first three months of 2014, with a total of 120 cats TNRed for January through March. Winter TNR rates are high because most of the kittens found are over two pounds and can be spayed/neutered and
fewer of the adult females are pregnant or nursing.
PACA volunteers are out trapping up to five days a week. The cats are held in their traps until it’s time to take them for spaying/neutering. Every morning Tuesday through Saturday, trapped cats are delivered to VetCo at Hoffmantown Shopping Center, where they are prepped for surgery, spayed/neutered, vaccinated and treated for usually minor but sometimes critical health problems. Every afternoon on these days, cats are picked up and taken to a temporary shelter to recover overnight. Cats are returned to the location where they were trapped, typically a day or two after surgeries, unless they need a longer recovery time.
Despite all of these efforts, there are still many cats that need to be spayed/neutered. Since it’s legal to feed feral cats in Albuquerque, colonies still exist, but they do not have to continue to grow. If someone is aware of a cat or cats that need to be “fixed,” they should call Animal Control at 311. The information will be passed to the Best Friends staff, who will come out and perform the TNR process. You can also call PACA at 505-255-0544.
See the program on Youtube titled “Saving Albuquerque’s Community Cats” below.
The people in the video and dozens of others volunteering their time and effort make it happen. There is also a new book, “PetSmart Charities Community TNR: Tactics and Tools,” by Bryan Kortis. This is a national publication that has inspiring community cat stories, including pictures of the people PACA is working with and our Albuquerque results. The book is available online for free download. Use this link to get yours: www.petsmartcharities.org/sites/default/files/CommunityTNR.zip
(from our Spring 2014 newsletter)