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The AVMA leaves the door open for killing community cats

Brown tabby community catI was disappointed by the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) release of its revised policy on “Free-roaming Abandoned and Feral Cats.”

I am disappointed because the recently revised policy is out of step with current best practices in animal welfare regarding community cats, and because it does not seem to reflect the views of the broader membership of the AVMA.

I say this based upon the real-world policy of thousands of veterinary professionals that I have had direct and indirect contact with through our various community cat programs, the Best Friends No More Homeless Pets Network and our National Conferences over the years. These vets and vet techs support or participate in programs that would be constrained or eliminated by strict adherence to the new AVMA policy. In fact, forward-thinking veterinarians such as Dr. Kate Hurley and Dr. Julie Levy have pioneered some of the most progressive community cat programs in the country.

The most discordant note coming out of the AVMA is the endorsement of lethal methods of community cat population management despite the fact that they’ve been a demonstrable failure in controlling free-roaming cat populations in the decades that this was the default animal control policy. More disturbing is the idea that in 2016, an association of professionals dedicated to the protection of life, would leave the door open for the cruel, indiscriminate and ineffective “catch-and-kill” practices that were discredited last century.

Beginning in the early 1990s trap/neuter/return (TNR) protocols, pioneered in this country by Alley Cat Allies, changed the fundamental paradigm for managing free-roaming stray and feral cats – collectively known as community cats.

Through the 1990s and into the first decade of the 2000s, TNR was practiced primarily by local organizations and individual caregivers who tended to individual colonies – often multiple colonies – providing ongoing feeding and monitoring for the arrival of newcomers and any obvious symptoms of disease.

In 2008, Best Friends sponsored an innovative program pioneered in Jacksonville, Florida, by Rick DuCharme, founder and president of First Coast No More Homeless Pets, in collaboration with Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services. Feral Freedom, as the program is called, elevated TNR to an integrated shelter program and brought an economy of scale and citywide effectiveness to what had been an a random collection of individual efforts. The results were immediate and Feral Freedom reduced the shelter killing of cats by 50 percent in its first year.

One of the signature elements of Feral Freedom, is an understanding that if cats have found a niche in the community and are thriving on their own, it is sufficient to simply spay or neuter the colonies brought to the attention of animal services via the public and while desirable, on-going colony feeding and monitoring is not essential.

Last year, under the leadership of two university-affiliated veterinarians, Dr. Julie Levy (University of Florida) and Dr. Kate Hurley (University of California – Davis), and sponsored by Maddie’s Fund, The Million Cat Challenge was launched with the aim of saving the lives of 1 million shelter cats in five years. Key return-to-field (RTF) elements of the Million Cat Challenge would be undermined by adherence to the AVMA’s new policy.

This type of disconnect between the veterinary establishment and front-line vets and vet techs striving to save lives is not new. For example, low-cost spay/neuter services targeted at those below the poverty line, who cannot otherwise afford any veterinary services, are often the object of ire and legal actions by local and state veterinary boards. This is because some vets believe (despite evidence to the contrary) that low-cost spay/neuter services threaten their businesses, even though the target audience for these subsidized programs is quite different from their client base.

Please understand that regardless of such policy statements and institutional resistance and inertia, Best Friends and our partner organizations across the country will do everything in our power to support and implement commonsense, lifesaving policies such as RTF programs and anything else that can demonstrably reduce, and eventually end, the killing of community cats in our nation’s shelters.

Together, we will Save Them All.
Gregory Castle, CEO emeritus, Best Friends Animal Society Gregory Castle
CEO emeritus
Best Friends Animal Society