Save rate for cats approaches 90% in Albuquerque

Best Friends community cat program staff in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is as happily surprised as anyone by the effectiveness of our shelter-integrated trap/neuter/return (TNR) program.

Program coordinator Desiree Triste Aragon reports that they're now having to scramble because of the unexpected early success. "We were really unprepared for this program to be this successful this quickly,” she says. “We didn't think we'd be achieving these numbers until year number three."

That’s a good problem to have. In just one year, our two-pronged effort aimed at reducing cat deaths in shelters has smashed every single prognostication we made.

Despite, or maybe because of, its simplicity, the Albuquerque community cat program is having an enormously positive impact. This may sound familiar if you're already aware of the Feral Freedom program in Jacksonville, Florida. Feral Freedom, a collaboration between First Coast No More Homeless Pets and Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services, and funded by Best Friends, was the first shelter-integrated TNR program for a major city. It is designed to keep community cats out of shelters where their chance of survival is minimal.

Albuquerque has tweaked that model to great positive effect. In the first year, 59% fewer cats were killed in the shelter in 2012/13 versus 2011/12! And with lower intake numbers and increased adoptions, the "save rate" for cats in Albuquerque is a high 80% now each month. We believe it will be no time before Albuquerque can add its name to the ever-growing list of no-kill communities.

So how have we achieved such fantastic (and sustainable) results? The program works in two basic ways.

First, any stray cat brought to the shelter deemed to be unadoptable is immediately turned over to the community cat program. These cats are not your friendly lap kitties; heavy gloves and humane traps are required to manage them. This category of cat constitutes the large majority of those killed in most shelters because they are not appropriate for adoption to the public. In fact, they truly should not have been placed in the shelter to begin with, but rather managed in the community on their home turf. Now, in Albuquerque and in other progressive cities, those cats are fixed, ear-tipped and promptly returned to where they came from.

Second, we identify the hotspots, as it were. Where are the cats who are coming to the shelter coming from? Once we know that, targeted colony management efforts spring into action in that specific area. This ensures that the problem area producing the cats is brought under control. This second effort means that many fewer cats ever enter the shelter because fixed cats don’t have kittens. It’s that simple, and the impact is dramatic. This part of the program has resulted in 25% fewer kittens being seen in shelters during this year's kitten season versus last.

Albuquerque's success is a great testament to hard work, creative thinking, and solid, collaborative partnerships. Just as we've seen with our sister program in San Antonio, that recipe can mean great things for the animals. Our staff members in Albuquerque, Desiree and Jayne Sage, have worked wonders, teaming up with the local shelter system and animal control. Many thanks to PetSmart Charities®, which helped to bring both of these programs to life with a very generous grant.

The success of these model community cat programs is raising demand for their incorporation into other cities. We're proud to announce that on July 1, Baltimore, Maryland, will become the next city for our community cat program to deploy. We're excited to apply what we've learned in Jacksonville, San Antonio and Albuquerque and see more victories for the animals in Charm City.

Together, we can save them all!