Chalk up another win for community cats

The success of Best Friends Animal Society’s Community Cats Project (CCP) partnership with PetSmart Charities® is helping to redefine community cat management protocols across the country. Last week, the Board of Supervisors in Pima County, Arizona, paved the way for a new CCP in Tucson with the passage of a facilitating ordinance and approval of the program itself.

This latest partnership includes an investment of approximately $900,000 over three years in Pima Animal Care Center (PACC) with Pima County bringing to the table an additional $600,000 in the same time frame.

PACC has made remarkable strides in recent years, improving its overall live-release rate from 55 percent two years ago to approximately 75 percent today. We anticipate, based on results in other communities, that the new partnership will boost life-saving rates above the 90 percent threshold.

The CCP is an innovative public-private partnership between PetSmart Charities® and Best Friends, which employs a proactive, shelter-integrated, trap/neuter/return (TNR) method in the management of stray and free-roaming cat populations.

Thus far, the CCP model has demonstrated great effectiveness in reducing the number of kittens born to free-roaming cats, as suggested by dramatic reductions in the number of kittens being turned in to participating shelters. For example, since Albuquerque’s CCP was launched in February 2012, the intake of kittens under eight weeks of age has dropped by 29 percent. This is a strong indication that the program is reducing the overall population of community cats.

Not surprisingly, one of the reasons for the dramatic success of this model is the fact that residents are much more likely to report community cats when they’re given the option of a humane solution, versus registering complaints that are likely to result in the use of lethal methods. In Albuquerque, where we have compiled data on this multiplier effect, more than three-quarters of the cats sterilized and vaccinated came to us not via shelter intake, but through calls from the public and neighborhood canvassing efforts. In other words, for every cat who might have been euthanized, but was instead returned to its neighborhood under the new model, three more cats who were previously “under the radar,” were discovered, fixed and returned. This type of proactive community engagement, hitched to the combined resources of a municipal agency, Best Friends and PetSmart Charities® has supercharged the desired effect of TNR.

It also explodes one of the myths perpetuated by some in the wildlife conservation community and government agencies that are opposed to these projects. Their contention is that TNR has not proven to be effective in reducing community cat populations. However, the truth is that the only shortcoming of such TNR efforts is that they have lacked the focus, intensity and long-term commitment of the CCP model (and similar programs such as Jacksonville, Florida’s Feral Freedom program, also sponsored by Best Friends).

The Pima County project will be the largest public-private effort by PetSmart Charities® and Best Friends, as reflected by the ambitious target goals of reducing cat euthanasia by 25 percent in Year 1; reducing cat intake by 10 percent in Year 2; and increasing the live-release rate by 25 percent overall by Year 3. This will involve sterilizing, vaccinating, and returning to their outdoor homes approximately 5,000 cats per year, for a total of about 15,000 cats over the course of the three-year grant.

Since January of 2012, the Best Friends/PetSmart Charities® CCP has been implemented in six major metropolitan areas. These programs go right to the core of the issue of our Save Them All mission, since cats (and community cats in particular) constitute the largest group of animals dying in our nation’s shelters.

With your help and through collaborative programs such as the Community Cats Project, we can Save Them All.

Francis Battista