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Best Friends launches progressive community cat programs

I’ve talked to thousands of community cat caregivers over the last 20 years and discovered so many of their stories are similar to my own. They never saw themselves as a cat lady (or cat guy), but when they encountered homeless cats living in their communities and started looking into how these cats might be helped, they found themselves dissatisfied with the status quo of how we, as a society, were dealing with these felines.

It was 1990. I was completing a college internship and working as a restaurant server in the evenings. Behind the restaurant, I came upon a group of cats foraging for scraps around the dumpster. I asked around to see if they belonged to someone. A few neighbors and restaurant workers fed them (one chef delighted in giving the cats sushi-grade tuna), one neighbor provided a place for the momma cat to have her babies, but no one claimed ownership. I called Salt Lake County Animal Services to see if they could help.

I was astonished by what they told me. It was against the law to feed the cats, and I could be fined $50 per day for doing so. I told them I wasn’t feeding the cats, but I did know others were. The shelter “customer service” representative asked me the location of these cats, and I, in a young person’s panic, hung up. Then I did some research.

In order to be a “good” citizen, I should have done the following:

  • Rented a trap from Salt Lake County Animal Services.
  • Told all the neighbors they were criminals for their compassionate act of feeding the cats and informed them of the potential consequences of their actions: citations, fines and possibly jail.
  • Baited the trap with tuna, trapped the cats, and brought them to the shelter, where I was told they would be put up for adoption. (What they didn’t tell me is that only a small fraction of cats impounded there made it out alive at that time.)

Here’s what I actually did:

  • Hooked up with a restaurant patron and together humanely trapped the dumpster cats.
  • Tamed and found homes for the kittens.
  • Sterilized, vaccinated and returned the adults.
  • With same restaurant patron, went on to form the first TNR group in Utah.
  • Formed positive relationships with Salt Lake County Animal Services, despite our major differences.

Fast forward 20 years, and Salt Lake County Animal Services is one of the most progressive shelters with regards to trap/neuter/return (TNR) and community cats. In Salt Lake City, cat shelter deaths have reduced by about 60 percent over the past few years, and TNR is one of the leading reasons. Best Friends partners with Salt Lake County Animal Services and other forward-thinking municipalities across the country who have seen that TNR works to save lives and reduce cat populations.

I am so proud to announce that thanks to a generous grant from PetSmart Charities, the largest funder of companion animal welfare efforts in North America, Best Friends is now partnering with the City of San Antonio Animal Care Services and the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department to help save more community cats in those cities. San Antonio and Albuquerque were chosen as partners because they both exemplify the kind of leadership, infrastructure, community support, and willpower to achieve our ambitious goal of TNRing 21,000 cats over the next three years.

If you live in San Antonio or Albuquerque, take just a moment to thank the city leaders for supporting the most effective and sensible way to manage community cat populations (San Antonio and Albuquerque residents only, please).

If your city or town doesn’t yet endorse TNR, visit our cat initiatives page and find out how you can inform your local government about community cat programs.

Astonishingly, despite the success of TNR across the country, there are still plenty of places like the Salt Lake County of 20 years ago. Worse yet, some pretty strong opponents of cats, who seem upset that the status of community cats is rising, continue to promote the labeling of community cats as vermin, the shooting of cats in order to control them, and the banning of TNR.

Thank you for doing your part to ensure TNR continues to be embraced and practiced across the United States.

Holly Sizemore, Chief national programs officer, Best Friends Animal Society Holly Sizemore
Chief mission officer
Best Friends Animal Society