New Mexico shows some big love for its 6,000 at-risk cats

By Julie Castle

Albuquerque will forever hold a special place in our cat-loving hearts at Best Friends. It was the site of our very first three-year Community Cats Project, run in partnership with PetSmart Charities®. The project, which launched in 2012, aimed to drastically reduce the number of felines entering the city shelter — 9,000 cats every year — by implementing cost-effective, animal-friendly trap-neuter-return (TNR) efforts. It was conducted by working collaboratively with the City of Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department, other lifesaving groups and local community members.

Just one year in, the success of that program had absolutely blown our minds (with 59% fewer cats killed in the shelter) and the lifesaving results kept coming. By 2016, Albuquerque had achieved a 90% save rate for cats, the benchmark for no-kill. Among the elements contributing to the success of that program, one was key: organizations and individuals taking collective responsibility to care for the cats who called their community home.

The Albuquerque program was supported by local animal welfare groups like Street Cat Companions. Local veterinarians pitched in to provide the critical spay/neuter surgeries for the program. Animal control officers adopted best practices to support the work. The Animal Welfare Association of New Mexico implemented its own TNR project in six different surrounding ZIP codes through a separate PetSmart Charities grant. And thanks to a community outreach and education effort, residents helped identify outdoor cats who needed to be spayed or neutered, and they were also there to provide the ongoing care and feeding for cats once they were returned to their outdoor homes. It was a true model of community-supported sheltering.

While Albuquerque continues to sustain its no-kill status for cats, other areas of the state are still working to close a big lifesaving gap. Last year, around 6,000 cats were killed in New Mexico’s shelters. But thanks to a generous grant from an animal-loving foundation in the state, another collective effort is underway to do right by New Mexico’s feline friends.

Next month, thanks to the foundation’s support, Best Friends is launching two new community cat mentorships at Farmington Regional Animal Center and Aztec Animal Center. Together, these two northwestern New Mexico shelters accounted for a third of the cats killed in the state’s shelters last year, and they are committed to becoming two of the shelters that contribute to the state’s success with saving cats instead. Over the next year and a half, we expect to save at least 1,600 additional cats at these shelters through TNR efforts, kitten foster programs, and increased medical support for sick and injured cats.

Looking at other areas of the state, last year Best Friends provided support for a partnership between the Animal Services Center of Mesilla Valley and ACTion Program for Animals, which will be further helped by the foundation’s grant this year. Our cat lifesaving experts are also supporting the collaborative work happening in nearby Alamogordo, where KATO Foundation/Kitty City is working hand-in-hand with Alamogordo Animal Control Center (AACC) to sustain their cat-related success.

This partnership started early last year with Kitty City organizing spay/neuter surgeries for cats at AACC, who were then returned to the safety of their community homes by animal control officers. Both organizations worked together to educate community members about proven programs for keeping local cats healthy and reducing the numbers of them living outdoors over time. They ultimately achieved a whopping 97% save rate for the cats arriving at AACC.

One noteworthy difference between the cat-friendly efforts underway in New Mexico this year and our original program in 2012 is, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as the pandemic has forced animal shelters to adapt and innovate with their day-to-day operations, support for our community cat program work is adjusting, too. Typically, Best Friends cat team members travel to program cities and work alongside local staff and volunteers to provide mentoring, modeling and training. Now, that in-person support has been moved online.

While the loss of hands-on, in-person support poses certain challenges, we’re discovering that reducing the travel time normally involved with these programs is allowing Best Friends team members more time for one-on-one coaching via phone, email and digital communications platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams. That extra time is also helping us to maximize our resources by involving other Best Friends staff who can provide virtual mentoring for things like creating new kitten foster programs and allowing us to reach and support more shelters in a shorter period of time.

We’re excited to see all that unfolds with these key partnerships and programs in the coming year. But one thing we know for sure: New Mexico loves its cats and community members around the state are eager to join the national movement to save them.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society