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Cats and community coffers

The right approach can make local governments allies—rather than enemies or indifferent bystanders—to TNR programs

From Animal Sheltering magazine July/August 2015

Community cats are thriving in Port Orange, Fla., thanks to a city-supported trap-neuter-return program.

Eight core volunteers run Concerned Citizens for Animal Welfare (CCFAW), a Daytona Beach, Fla., nonprofit formed in 2000 to promote and fund spay/neuter for pets in Volusia County. Over the years, some of the group’s volunteers have also worked outside the organization to trap and sterilize community cats. So when the city of Port Orange Police Department asked for help solving a “cat problem” at an elementary school, CCFAW had the experience to offer a humane solution.

“We felt we could make the biggest impact by reducing the cat population through a coordinated trap-neuter-return program,” says CCFAW co-founder Pat Mihalic, “and that’s why we got involved.”

In a presentation to the city council, CCFAW highlighted the city’s costs to impound and kill cats. Then it showed how trap-neuter-return (TNR) would save the city $35 per cat because much of the work could be done by volunteers. “We were offering them free labor,” says Mihalic.

The approach worked. Instead of implementing a proposed feeding ban at the school, Port Orange approved a six-month TNR program in which the city would cover the vet care costs and CCFAW would coordinate the trapping and care of the cats. In May 2012, volunteers trapped 26 cats at the school. They found homes for 10 tame kitties and returned 16, who were moved to a more remote part of the school property. They then went on to TNR 123 cats from commercial locations in Port Orange. Pleased with the results, the council voted unanimously to expand the program into residential areas.

Over the next three years, Port Orange officials helped CCFAW convince Volusia County’s 15 other cities to authorize TNR programs and cover the basic vet expenses (spay/neuter, rabies and distemper shots, pain medication and ear tip).

While none of the cities had laws that prohibited TNR, officials also agreed to amend their existing animal ordinances to state that TNR is legal.

CCFAW administers the program in Port Orange, Holly Hill, Edgewater and unincorporated Volusia County. Its volunteers make clinic appointments, register colonies, negotiate fees with private veterinarians, verify vet bills and mediate any complaints. Between 2013 and 2014, the number of cats from Port Orange taken to the Halifax Humane Society in Daytona Beach dropped by more than half—from 975 to 475—while the total cat intake at the shelter decreased by 1,152.

The Jersey Side

In its efforts to win municipal support for TNR programs, the Monmouth County SPCA (MCSPCA) in Eatontown, N.J., is also appealing to officials’ bottom-line concerns. About five years ago, the MCSPCA began reaching out to officials and attending township meetings in about 10 of the communities it contracts with. The goal was to convince local leaders to adopt a model TNR ordinance.

The benefit of such an ordinance is that “the townships, if questioned, can point to the policy and say, ‘We’re following policy,’” says Jerry Rosenthal, MCSPCA president and CEO. And an ordinance provides some protection for the cats and peace of mind for their caretakers.

Only four towns to date have adopted the model ordinance. So the organization is trying a new tactic: charging towns $275 for a cat that animal control brings to the shelter and leaves versus $75 for a cat who can be sterilized at the MCSPCA’s on-site spay/neuter clinic and returned to the community.

Over the past two years, the shelter has sterilized nearly 2,000 community cats, with towns or individual groups footing the bill. The number of cats and kittens coming into the shelter from towns with a TNR ordinance has gone down, resulting in lower sheltering charges for those communities.

In the past, the MCSPCA hasn’t been able to convince the two largest towns that bring in the most cats to adopt a pro-TNR policy. But now one of the towns is talking about trying TNR on an unofficial basis, says Steve Arrison, MCSPCA cat manager. “So we’re talking, and that’s the biggest hurdle to get over.”

For tips on enlisting government support for TNR programs, check out Managing Community Cats: A Guide for Municipal Leaders, published by The HSUS.

About the Author

Nancy Peterson is the former Community Cats Program Manager for the Humane Society of the United States.