by Cristen Williams, Caldwell County resident
As Hays County actively discusses ways to achieve a 90%+ live outcome at the animal shelter, trap-neuter-return (TNR) and return-to-field (RTF) programs have to be included. These methods of community cat management involve humanely trapping healthy unsocial cats, where they are then fixed, vaccinated, ear-tipped (a visual indicator that they’ve been sterilized), and then returned to their outdoor homes.
TNR/RTF is sound public policy. It reduces shelter intake, euthanasia and calls to animal control – all of which save funds and resources that could be better spent on proactive measures like spay/neuter and helping animals truly in need. It also improves neighborhoods, improves the lives of shelter staff, aligns with the community’s expectations for proactive and humane animal services, and is endorsed by the ASPCA, Humane Society of the United States, and other national animal welfare organizations. Why? Because it works. It has been proven in countless communities nationwide as the only humane and effective way to reduce community cat populations.
“Feral” cats are just like house cats, though unowned or “community” cats. They are all the same species (Felis catus). And, like any animal, cats come in a range of socialization levels and personalities. Some are quite wild and best suited to their outdoor habitats. Others sleep on their caregiver’s front porch but aren’t friendly enough to be indoors. Others (especially kittens) can easily acclimate to an indoor life with diligent, compassionate care or through a foster program. Regardless of the type of cat, there is a life-saving alternative that replaces killing. “Behavior” should never be a death sentence. All cats are worthy of compassion and care.
Cat lover or not, one thing everyone can agree on is that limiting the population of homeless and free-roaming cats is the right thing to do. Targeted spay and neuter accomplishes that by stopping the flow. Haphazard catch and kill does not. It is inefficient, costly, reactive and basically like mopping with the faucet on.
The numbers speak for themselves. Trapping and killing cats as a means of “animal control” has been standard practice in Hays County for far too long already and, as evidenced by shelter records, it has not been effective. At all. Between 2013 and 2017, the shelter’s annual cat kill rate fluctuated between 70% and 90%, and cats deemed feral, unsocial or having a behavior-related issue made up a significant portion of these deaths. Still, thousands of cats and kittens have entered and died at the shelter every year.
From a professional excellence standpoint, it’s ridiculous and irresponsible to do the same thing over and over expecting different results. Instead of wasting money on an endless cycle of impounding and killing healthy cats, it’s time for progressive and proactive measures based on best practices. Targeted spay-neuter programs in cities like Baltimore, Jacksonville, Albuquerque, San Antonio, Waco and many others have resulted in a dramatic reduction in shelter intake and deaths for cats and kittens – a strong indication that these programs have effectively reduced the breeding populations of community cats.