Here’s how we're saving thousands of cats in Florida
Up until about a year ago, there weren’t many options for stray cats in the shelter at Osceola County Animal Services (OCAS) in Florida. There was nowhere to go if they weren’t socialized to people and couldn’t be adopted into a traditional home. So, unfortunately, those cats were killed. It’s an all-too-common practice in shelters across the country, but that’s changing, just as it changed at OCAS. Now, more cats than ever before receive care at the shelter so they can go on to live good lives.
The difference came in April of 2018, when OCAS launched a community cat program in partnership with Best Friends Animal Society. The program is one of many across the country operated by Best Friends to save thousands of cats’ lives. Florida is an important state for this work, because it is one of the five states that account for half of the animals killed in shelters nationwide. And because most of the animals killed there are cats, the community cat program is key in changing that sad fact.
The Best Friends community cat program with OCAS is a three-year project. It gives free-roaming cats a third option not previously available to cats coming to the shelter. They are spayed or neutered, vaccinated and then returned to the place where they were picked up. In addition, the team identifies areas with a lot of free-roaming cats and goes there to administer trap-neuter-return (TNR), which keeps cats from having kittens.
"Putting these neutered animals back helps stabilize the population and prevents growth of that population," said Kim Staton, director of Osceola County Animal Services in an article for WKMG-TV in Orlando. "What we used to do with trap and remove and euthanize doesn't work."
Working together for community cats
The partnership provides two full-time Best Friends employees to oversee the program, includes a van and covers the costs for supplies, vaccines and spay/neuter surgeries. It also receives additional support from lots of dedicated volunteers who want to help cats.
“The Osceola community has been very supportive of the program,” says Marla Browne, Best Friends community cat manager. “In addition to volunteer trappers, tremendous shelter staff support and some media attention, we’ve also received gifts and thank-you notes from people.”
In fact, once a month as part of the community cat program, volunteers bring humanely trapped cats to Harmony High Veterinary Academy for a surgery event called The Harmony Project. It’s a way for many cats to be spayed or neutered and vaccinated in a single day before they are returned to where they were trapped.
Since the community cat program began last year, it has provided surgeries for nearly 2,090 free-roaming cats — surgeries that not only prevent more kittens from being born, but also reduce the number of cats entering the shelter.
Between 2017 and 2018, the number of cats entering the shelter dropped by 16%. Marla says that by the time the program wraps up in May of 2021, the shelter should have a 90% save rate for cats.
A program to help kitten season
To relieve the tight surgery space in the shelter's clinic, Best Friends and OCAS staff outfitted the community cat program trailer behind the shelter with a surgery suite. “This keeps the TNR cats separate from the shelter animals and adopted animals who come to the shelter for medical care,” says Marla.
That extra space will come in handy now that kitten season is here. “We know it's still going to be a difficult summer this year,” says Kim, “but the way this should work is each summer should get a little bit easier, a little bit shorter with kitten season."
Photos by Best Friends staff