One of our boldest, most innovative, and successful initiatives was embracing Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) as a way to manage the free-roaming cat population. Previously Trap and Kill had been the policy, which had done nothing to reduce the number of unwanted cats in our community. Each year, thousands of feral cats were trapped, brought to AWD, spent five terrifying days in a cage, and then were killed. Some days kennel workers spent their entire shift killing animals.
When we first started to embrace TNR it was a novel approach to feral cat control: sterilize feral cats and put them back in their colonies rather than killing them. Then all cats at that location are sterilized, thus preventing future litters. Previously, when cats were taken to the shelter and killed with no follow up, the food source stayed the same and new cats took the place of the cats that were removed either through migration or through reproduction (“the vacuum effect”), so the number of free-roaming cats continued to grow.
A private group, Street Cat Companions, which was part of New Mexico Animal Friends and led by Jayne Sage (who now leads Street Cat Hub, the successor organization) had been sterilizing cats out in the community and holding clinics to sterilize free-roaming cats for several years, but when we implemented TNR at our shelter the number of cats being sterilized and returned skyrocketed.
Once we showed support for TNR, we attracted the attention of national groups, including Best Friends Society, which selected us as one of the first communities for its TNR of street cats grant program in 2012. The three year program brought approximately one million dollars to Albuquerque and paid for roughly 11,743 cat sterilizations. The euthanasia of feral cats dropped to zero:
At the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department, a cat hasn’t been euthanized simply for being feral since February of 2012.
In addition, the number of cats coming into the shelter dropped from 11,495 in 2009 to 5078 in 2016, which is a phenomenal decrease and a major improvement for our shelter. Because of other life-saving reforms in addition to TNR, the euthanasia of cats has plummeted from 6642 in 2009 to a mere 361 in 2016.
Simply put, because we embraced TNR, there are far fewer unwanted cats in Albuquerque.