Two major wins for community cats

National Feral Cat Day is just a couple of days away — October 16. Here at Best Friends, though, the celebration is well under way following two major wins for community cats last week.

The first was a decision in New Mexico’s Second Judicial District Court, where Judge Alan Malott dismissed a legal challenge to Albuquerque’s Community Cats Project, a public-private partnership involving the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department, Best Friends and PetSmart Charities®. The petitioner alleged that by returning program cats to their outdoor homes, the city was in violation of animal cruelty laws prohibiting abandonment. This also implies that the people involved in our Community Cats Project have intent to harm or have knowledge that the cat will likely come to harm — neither of which is true, of course.

On the contrary, each cat qualifying for the program is examined by a veterinary professional, vaccinated and sterilized. In fact, this program focuses entirely on improving the overall health and survivability of each cat and enhances the likelihood of continued health and well-being because all cats are returned home to the locations where they were thriving.

The lawsuit was a classic attempt to circumvent the legislature (the popularly elected branch of government) and to insinuate politics into the judicial process. Understandably, Best Friends and the City of Albuquerque vigorously defended their program and preserved its integrity.

We are glad that justice was served, we are grateful for the judge’s decision and we feel it’s a real cause for celebration. Many lives will be saved as a result.

Since the Albuquerque program’s launch in 2012, it has been remarkably successful. Nearly 9,800 cats have been sterilized and vaccinated in the first two-and-a-half years, intake of cats and kittens has declined by 39 percent and the shelter killing of cats has decreased by 88 percent. Perhaps the most telling marker is the fact that the number of kittens eight weeks of age or younger entering the city’s shelter system has dropped by nearly a third — an obvious indication that the number of community cats overall is declining.

No wonder communities across the country are embracing such programs. And now, in the wake of the Albuquerque decision, we expect to see even more municipalities implementing similar operations.

Wonderful news, indeed.

The second win came only hours after the first when the City Council of Tucson, Arizona voted to amend the city’s animal ordinance and allocate funding for Pima County’s Community Cats Project, a public-private partnership of the Pima Animal Care Center (PACC), Best Friends and PetSmart Charities.

The program was recently in jeopardy, and we asked Best Friends members in that area to contact their elected officials — and PetSmart Charities asked local animal welfare groups as well — in response to a budget dispute that threatened to derail the Pima County Community Cats Project just as it was getting off the ground.

The response was overwhelming! In less than a week, more than 5,500 email messages were sent to Tucson’s elected officials. No doubt this remarkable support played a key role in the decision made last night that cleared the way for restarting the program, which had already reduced the shelter killing of cats by more than 65 percent in less than a month.

Is it any wonder we’ve begun celebrating National Feral Cat Day a little early this year?

As for what we’re doing to celebrate, that should come as no surprise. Best Friends is a leader in developing innovative programs for community cats, so we’ll be doing more trapping, more sterilizing and vaccinating, and more returning community cats to their outdoor homes.

The positive impact of these programs on the number of animals entering municipal shelters is dramatic and very welcome. Together, we can Save Them All.