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No longer failing cats — In honor of National Feral Cat Day

I absolutely adore cats. I very much love dogs, too, but my first exposure to animals was as a young boy growing up in England with our family cat, Chuffy.

My earliest childhood memories are framed around Chuffy. She was a sweet (and a bit mischievous) tabby with tiny orange flecks. She loved my father and spent most evenings in his lap. But during the day, Chuffy was my playmate. Together we explored under beds, played in my mother’s garden, and found all sorts of interesting bugs. During the damp, bitter English nights, Chuffy served as my “bed heater.”

While all of our animals are special and have their own ways of wriggling into our hearts, many of us have an animal who stands out as a once-in-a-lifetime companion. Chuffy was that special animal for me. She was by my side through my formative years and was the reason I became an early adopter of animal rights and the early anti-vivisection movement. And, I can attribute my current involvement with animals to the very early bond I developed with Chuffy.

Fast forward many decades, and I am very humbled and honored to be in a position at Best Friends Animal Society where I can help protect these magnificent creatures at a national level. I’ve always wondered whether cats are somehow on a different plane from us, whether the intense blinking of their wise eyes hints that they understand the world in a more elevated, and to some degree, more uniquely qualified way than we humans. I believe we have all met cats who seem to think so! They are certainly resilient, supremely athletic and mysterious.

Through the years as a society, we have completely failed cats. We have failed to protect them from the very institutions we created to “shelter” them. We worry about them when they are exposed to freezing temperatures outside, or prey, or a passing car … when in actuality, cats are at far, far greater risk in our own community shelter down the street.

Today, we have found a better way, and our protection comes in the form of saving thousands of community cats (or free-roaming cats) through trap/neuter/return. For example, Best Friends has formed a unique partnership in Albuquerque where the results are staggering.

Community cats have become part of the fabric of our society. They are prevalent in every neighborhood, in every community, in every state in this country. Without trap/neuter/return programs, they are capable of very high reproduction rates, and, unfortunately, many of their kittens end up in America’s shelter system where they are unnecessarily killed.

Traditional thinking maintains that catching and exterminating these cats and their kitties will result in a lower population, but that simply has not born out to be true. It has repeatedly failed in every single community in which it’s been tried. Rather than cat populations decreasing, they have increased.

In Albuquerque, rather than rounding up cats in the community and taking them to the local shelter where they will be summarily killed, we are providing trap/neuter/return (TNR) programs to spay and neuter community cats, and then returning them to their original locations rather than killing them. It seems simple, because it is.

As a result, the numbers of cats gradually decrease because they are unable to reproduce.

Today, in honor of National Feral Cat Day, we are celebrating the success of the Albuquerque lifesaving project. PetSmart Charities® generously awarded Best Friends Animal Society® a $700,000 grant to work with the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department (AAWD). The Community Cats Project has the goal of spaying/neutering 3,500 community cats a year for three years, which will total 10,500 cats.

With more than 2,000 surgeries performed to date, the program is already making amazing progress. Since the project started in April 2012, the city of Albuquerque has experienced a 67 percent decrease in the killing of cats compared with 2011. Admission of cats and kittens to AAWD is also lower.

The project has been successful so far due to the efforts of Best Friends, AAWD and PetSmart Charities, as well as the support of the entire Albuquerque animal welfare community. Street Cat Companions has supported the Community Cats project. With a separate PetSmart Charities grant, Animal Welfare Association of New Mexico has implemented its own TNR project in six zip codes. Local veterinarians have provided spay/neuter surgeries. Albuquerque residents have identified colonies of unaltered felines, and have also helped by caring for community cats.

Community cats need a community solution, and Albuquerque has come together to provide just that. Beyond Albuquerque and a handful of other communities across the country, I’m urging each of you to get involved and adopt TNR efforts wherever you live, in order to help keep cats out of city shelters. Help protect our community cats. In honor of Chuffy and all of the cats who have touched our lives and given us those once-in-a-lifetime companionships, we must offer a better way. And the solution is so simple.

Gregory Castle, CEO emeritus, Best Friends Animal Society Gregory Castle
CEO emeritus
Best Friends Animal Society