Andrea the cat inspires an entire community to go no-kill

By Julie Castle

Last fall, a long-haired black kitty with white paws named Andrea survived two attempts by West Valley City (WVC), Utah, animal control to kill her. Following the second attempt, when her cries were heard from within a plastic bag in the shelter cooler, she was finally given reprieve and went into the care of a local rescue.

However, Andrea’s tiny voice echoed loudly throughout the Salt Lake area, calling for fundamental change at WVC animal control. In January, with the help of our Best Friends staff in Salt Lake City, the City Council passed a resolution for the community to go no-kill.

Best Friends offered our support and began negotiations with city managers to hammer out a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) defining how we could help effect positive change. The MOU was signed by the city in June 2012, with $45,000 of public funding earmarked for the first year of the project

West Valley City, with a population of 131,000, is the largest municipality in the Salt Lake metropolitan area. The city shelter also serves neighboring Taylorsville, with 59,000 residents. Popular Taylorsville mayor Russ Wall was an influential voice in moving the MOU forward.

The early result of West Valley City’s partnership with Best Friends is impressive, especially for cats. Shelter stats for the first three months following the signing of the MOU compared with the same time period last year show a dramatic reduction in cat deaths, with the save rate jumping from a meager 31 percent in 2011 to 81 percent in 2012. That means that thanks to new programs, fewer animals are entering the shelter, which translates to less crowding and healthier animals. Likewise, the save rate for dogs, which was already at 85 percent in 2011 was bumped up to 91 percent for the corresponding three months in 2012.

A look inside the numbers reveals that two key elements of the MOU – adoption promotions and the institution of a robust trap/neuter/return (TNR) program for community cats – were the primary drivers of the positive outcomes.

Best Friends adoption promotions at WVC, along with adoption-incentive stipends, boosted cat adoptions right out of the gate by 47 percent, from 147 to 211 happy kitties headed to new homes.

Where the rubber meets the road, though, is with regard to community cat management. In a three-month period in 2011, 225 cats deemed “feral” by the shelter were killed compared with only 14 such deaths in 2012 thanks to an effective TNR operation headed by Best Friends staffer Autumn Wagner. Cats constitute a disproportionate percentage of animals being killed in most municipal shelters, despite the fact that city-supported TNR has been demonstrated to be the most effective route to dramatically reducing shelter cat deaths in every city in which such a program is instituted.

In addition to Salt Lake, Best Friends funds TNR in Los Angeles, Albuquerque, San Antonio, Jacksonville and throughout Southern Utah.

Hats off to the community leaders in West Valley City and Taylorsville for actually providing some leadership when it comes to taking steps to end the needless killing of shelter pets in their towns.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society