by Joyce Brandon
Joyce is a part of Animal Compassion Team, an animal rescue in Squaw Valley.
Our Central Valley has a black eye with its high animal kill rates; but, there are some exciting things happening with our small communities and change is just around the corner.
Officials in towns such as Orange Cove, Reedley, and Dinuba are getting are ready for a change. It is refreshing to hear the concern and sense their desire to do things differently. The longing for change is the critical first step.
Small towns that have contracted with the Central California SPCA in the past are looking for options. The kill rate at the CCSPCA runs between 70-80% depending on what set of numbers you believe. The kill rate for the animals of Orange Cove and Reedley have been near 100% because, until recently, the Fresno shelter policy dictated that these animals be delivered straight to the kill room. Killing for population control is not only inhumane, it has never worked. We need to work together to achieve no-kill in our valley. No-kill is being achieved across the country in cities and towns of all sizes and demographics. It is achievable.
Nathan Winograd wrote a groundbreaking book that has become the handbook for the no-kill movement. His book, Redemption, tells the history of the animal movement. He tells of the great intentions of the founder of the ASPCA in New York City, and the downslide into the current sheltering system we know today with the marriage of the SPCA and animal control.
No-kill does not mean that everything lives. There will always be animals that for humane reasons (untreatable health issues), or public safety issues (aggressive animals) will not be savable. The thought seems to be that to achieve no-kill a community will be saving about 90% of their homeless animals.
Nathan Winograd lays out a 10 step plan that he calls the No Kill Equation. Included in this plan are proven, effective ways to manage animal populations including: trap/neuter/return, high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter, rescue groups, foster care, adoption programs, pet retention programs, medical and behavior care, PR and community involvement, volunteers, proactive redemptions, and a compassionate leader. When all of these things are implemented, lives are saved.
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood programs is the trap/neuter/return (TNR) cat program. It is simple: trap feral community cats, spay/neuter them, and then release them back where they came from. When I mentioned TNR at a recent meeting with city officials a loud groan could be heard; not because they don’t love kitties; but, because they can anticipate having to deal with the naysayers. It is obvious we have some educating to do.
It has been proven many times over that TNR is not only the best option for the cats, it can help to stabilize a community cat population. This program benefits both felines and humans.
Community cats are not homeless. Cats have thrived and existed alongside humans for more than 10,000 years. They thrive in rural farmland, inner cities, and small towns. How does it make sense to take an animal that has managed to survive for thousands of years and kill them in our shelters? They are not adoptable and therefore have no chance to leave the shelter alive once admitted.
Studies have shown that the catch and kill method of controlling feral cats is cruel and ineffective. Cats thrive in an area because there is a food source and shelter. When cats are removed from an area, new cats move in. It is called the vacuum effect and there is some really good information about this on the Alley Cat Allies website. Removing feral cats from an area is only a temporary measure. Cats are territorial. When you remove the resident cats, new ones move in and repopulate. It is a never ending cycle.
Additional studies have shown that TNR is the single most successful method (and least costly) of controlling and maintaining a feral cat population. In 1989 it was estimated that there were 1500 feral cats living on the grounds of Stanford University. Through a comprehensive, humane TNR program there is now a stable, healthy, and happy cat population of 200. You can read more about the Stanford program by clicking here. San Francisco, Foster City, and Santa Clara County are working hard to save their community cats. If they can do it, we can too.
Trap-Neuter-Return does work. Returning altered, vaccinated, ear tipped cats to their outdoor homes benefits everyone. There are no more kittens; the population stabilizes; and the lives of the returned cats improve. The fighting and yowling associated with mating stops which is certainly a good thing for their human neighbors. TNR not only makes good sense, it is the responsible humane thing to do.
Contact your city officials today and speak up for the community cats: they only hear the complaints. Let them know you support a TNR program in your town. Everyone will benefit.