Should city change approach to feral cats?

Should city change approach to feral cats?

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Should city change approach to feral cats?

By Mike Cook

Las Cruces Bulletin

Can the City of Las Cruces find a way to cut back the number of feral cats on the streets, yet still cut back the number of cats killed at a shelter?

The Las Cruces City Council spent about two hours discussing issue at a work session on Monday, Sept. 29.

Rebecca DeHaven, a staff attorney for the national Alley Cat Allies (ACA) organization, said the city would benefit from a trap-neuter-return (TNR) policy instead of trying to enforce the registration requirement that is part of the its animal control ordinance.

Las Cruces and Doña Ana County, along with five other cities and one other county in New Mexico “have taken steps toward promoting TNR as the best approach to stabilize and reduce the community cat problem,” DeHaven said. Some animal control ordinances, “like the one in Las Cruces, have restrictions that can be problematic,” she said.

“Nationwide, there are 531 communities that have in one way or another embraced TNR,” DeHaven said. That’s up from just 23 in 2004. TNR is “no longer something novel.” It has become “widely accepted as the only viable solution” to feral cat problems,” De-Haven said.

She described feral — also called stray, wild or community — cats as already living outdoors, trying to avoid contact with humans, mostly unadoptable and not suitable for an animal shelter environment.

“I think that it is safe to say that Las Cruces has a large community cat population, typical of cities with limited TNR taking place,” DeHaven said. “This is evidenced by the tremendous number of feral cats being killed in the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley shelter each year (more than 1,700 in 2014), as well as the number of feral cats trapped by city residents and delivered to the shelter by animal control. My understanding from the shelter reports, animal advocate groups, and animal control, is that the problem, measured by the intake and euthanasia of feral cats, has been persistent for many years,” she said.

“You are killing more than 50 percent of the feral cats that are entering your shelter right now,” she said. “That’s a lot of lives that don’t have to be lost.”

“We would like to see fewer cats living on the streets and dying in the shelter,” DeHaven said. The so-called “catch and kill” policy of many communities has not solved the century-old problem of feral cats, she said. Cities and counties “can’t kill their way out of this problem.”

Under a TNR policy, entire colonies of feral cats are humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, eartagged and returned to the area where they were captured.

TNR “can be traced to its beginnings in England during the 1950s,” according to an article by attorney Elizabeth Holtz in the 2014 edition of “Trap-Neuter-Return Ordinances and Policies in the United States: The Future of Animal Control.” “It then came to the United States and took hold in the 1990s.”

TNR stabilizes cat populations and improves cat health, helps shelters and animal control departments save money and reduces cat nuisance issues, helping feral cats to “become better neighbors,” she said.

A study by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association showed six colonies of feral cats that were spayed or neutered had a population decrease of 36 percent in Randolph County, NC from 1998 to 2000. A control group of cats in three colonies where nothing was done showed a 47 percent population increase during the same period, she said.

Requiring people to register colonies of feral cats that they are caring for, as the city’s current animal control policy does, is “putting the cart before the horse,” De-Haven said. “People who care deeply about cats are afraid to turn over lists of animals to animal control,” she said. Removing strict colony registration requirements “will not lead to more feral cats. It will enable citizens and organizations to work at their full capacity for TNR.”

“Registration (which costs $50 a year) is not the problem. Fear of registration is the problem,” said Humane Society of Southern New Mexico President Frank Bryce. People have been caring for colonies of feral cats “under the table so long … it’s almost become institutionalized,” he said. He called for a “more open, collaborative effort on the part of the city” to help solve the problem. The city, Bryce said, “hasn’t been doing your fair share.” Doña Ana County, he said, has provided $67,000 for spaying and neutering services.

When a feral cat issue comes up in the city, he said, the HSSNM should be called in “to mediate” and provide assistance.

“We are making progress,” Bryce said. “We do need to resolve this problem.”

“There really isn’t cat ownership when there is a colony” of feral cats, said JoAnne Ferrary, cochair of The Coalition for Pets and People of Las Cruces. People who care for these cats should not be considered as pet owners and should not have to bear the burden of colony registration. Rather, she said, free spaying and neutering should be offered.

If the council considers the feral cat issue again, DeHaven said she hopes it will “involve the fantastic animal advocacy groups working in Las Cruces, including the Coalition for Pets and People, which is bringing together many voices. These groups and individuals are working with community cat caretakers, educating the community, and helping connect resources with those who need it. They understand that to reduce the number of community cats living on the streets, and the number of cats dying in the shelter, the focus needs to be on enabling as much TNR as possible,” she said.

Mayor Ken Miyagishima said he hopes the feral cat issue will be brought up at the city’s next bi-annual work session with the county, probably in early 2016.

For more information, visit www.alleycat.org and www.hssnm.org/ events.html.

‘You are killing more than 50 percent of the feral cats that are entering your shelter right now. That’s a lot of lives that don’t have to be lost.’

REBECCA DEHAVEN

Staff attorney for Alley Cat Allies organization

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