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Big win for cats in Hidalgo County, Texas

The board of directors for Palm Valley Animal Center has been behind several landmark developments in the shelter’s recent history. In May 2018, the board voted to pursue no-kill, shortly after they voted to lift a ban on pit bull adoptions, and just this week they made history by voting to begin a trap-neuter-return (TNR) program in partnership with Best Friends Animal Society. This decision will flip the switch on a proven lifesaving strategy that will accelerate the drive to no-kill in this important border community.

Two weeks ago, we told you about the amazing work being done by Palm Valley Animal Center (PVAC) under the leadership of Mike Bricker, a Best Friends staffer embedded as the PVAC shelter director, with funding from the Petco Foundation. In last 10 months, 6,848 animals who would likely have lost their lives a year ago instead walked out of the shelter and into loving homes. This is an astonishing improvement that outpaces the first year’s progress of the NKLA initiative in Los Angeles following its launch in 2012.

As impressive as that is, it’s not enough when thousands of animals are still dying every year at PVAC. That’s where a community cat program (CCP) comes in.

I’ve written about CCPs in this blog before. These programs are founded on the principles of trap-neuter-return (TNR), which have long been practiced by grassroots groups and individuals, though not necessarily in a targeted fashion and typically not in collaboration with shelters.

CCPs expand on the traditional, community-based approach by targeting TNR efforts and scaling it up to be integral to shelter operations to become shelter-neuter-return (SNR). Healthy cats who come into a shelter as strays without owner identification are fixed, vaccinated and given a general health check before being returned to their neighborhood homes. CCP staff then walk those neighborhoods to educate the public about the program, identify caregivers and address any nuisance issues being caused by the cats (the most common reason people bring cats to the shelter in the first place).

SNR cats also carry a very important piece of information: an address that is likely home to more unaltered community cats who can then be trapped, sterilized and returned.

This practice clearly offers a lot of benefits. Vaccinating and fixing cats promotes healthy colonies and protects indoor-outdoor pet cats, as well as protecting a community’s public health. And by targeting these efforts, there’s an immediate and long-lasting impact on breeding, thereby stabilizing and reducing community cat populations. Moreover, this innovative approach truly addresses complaints about spraying, yowling and fighting — problems that aren’t solved by simply removing one or two cats from a neighborhood.

Removing all the cats isn’t realistic either, because cats are brilliant at finding resources. Besides, in any neighborhood that’s home to these cats, it’s quite likely that there’s more than one person feeding them and perhaps providing shelter and attention.

Back at the shelter, shy or feral cats no longer receive a death sentence, and friendly, well-cared-for outdoor (or indoor-outdoor) cats get to go home instead of staying in a shelter where they risk getting sick or being killed because of overcrowding. Fewer cats also translates to less crowding and illness for previously owned indoor cats who need to find new homes, and it frees up resources, which can be redirected to provide enrichment and build adoption strategies for all animals in the shelter.

It’s no surprise, then, that CCPs are a game-changer for shelters around the country looking for new, non-lethal ways to manage community cats. CCPs deliver results, and quickly.

We should know, because Best Friends operates more such programs in coordination with animal control and sheltering agencies than any other organization in the country. Since 2012, we’ve seen drastic save rate improvements in Baltimore, Maryland; Pima County, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and other locations.

Now it’s Hidalgo County’s turn, and we couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity. In 2018, PVAC took in 11,527 cats and 7,186 didn’t leave alive. This year, we will do better by the community’s cats.

So, in the words of Mike Bricker: “Give your cats an extra treat tonight and let them know their brothers and sisters in Texas had a big win!”

Learn more.

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