Sunday, December 9, 2012

Should shelters who are unable to find placement for cats take them in at all?

Earlier I shared Dr. Hurley's suggestion that if shelters are not succeeding at what they hope to accomplish (humanely sheltering cats even if they were to be killed, and finding a good number of cats homes), in the absence of a local or state mandate to accept cats perhaps they should not be taking them in. An article of a shelter that divested themselves in this manner can be found here.

The shelter will take lost/stray cats and injured/sick cats, but not otherwise healthy, and likely unadoptable, street/feral cats.

However, I know myself how difficult it has been on me when there is no option for cats other than myself. My local shelter is frequently full, and the shelter in the nearby county does not accept feral cats.

When there is non-injured but suffering cat and it needs help, what are we to do? Who defines whether or not a cat with no visible injury is suffering. If people are harassing her, if her source of food has been taken away, if the place she is sheltering is about to be bulldozed, who is going to take on that responsibility?

We have been raised to believe that it is the obligation of the local shelter to accept these animals, and for them to accept the cumulative damage of killing them if need be.

The fact is, if this is not the case, a responsible and humane society needs to provide an option.

In the face of a lack of services, many individual citizens and private cat-services groups have chosen to offer spay/neuter. Grants have been born of Maddie's Fund, the ASPCA, Petsmart Charities, and PETCO Foundation, specifically to help groups fill this need. Individuals beggar themselves to help other people with cat "problems." I sat next to two women from a cat rescue in Kansas who were there on their own dime, to learn more.

Are there enough of these people to fill the need, especially if some shelters step out of the picture? I would say that at this point there is not.

To this end, some shelters who no longer want to accept the cumulative damage of killing cats for free have turned to a spay/neuter program called Feral Freedom.

Here is a .pdf of a PowerPoint presentation on the subject.

And from this article:

City Animal Care and Control workers still will pick up feral cats when they receive complaints or spot roamers in neighborhoods. But instead of taking the cats to a shelter, where they run the risk of catching or spreading diseases, they end up at First Coast No More Homeless Pets. Jacksonville Humane Society also helps with transportation.

Once they reach the No More Homeless Pets facility, the cats are spayed or neutered, their ears clipped for identification purposes and a microchip is inserted under their skin so they can be tracked. Once the animals recover from surgery, they are returned back to where they were found.

People living near where feral cats are returned are left literature that explains Feral Freedom and how homeowners can keep unwanted feral cats away from their property.

The idea is that once sterilized, the cats will stop exhibiting the behavior that is most bothersome: fighting, mating, roaming and spraying. And the city says there are many residents that welcome the tamer animals: One University of Florida professor estimates that 12 percent of households feed feral cats.

The feral cats will no longer be able to mate and rapidly grow their ranks. The city hopes that the population will decrease as they die naturally.

Initially I objected totally to this program. (I have real concerns about the young cats in the video, newly released, who follow along at the feet of the person who brought them back. Aren't those kittens adoptable? Wouldn't a foster program suit them better?). However, in cities where shelter killing is high, who is to say that it is that shelter's "obligation" to kill those cats, if that is not their mission, and the offered funding (if any) does not cover the cost? So while I too would like to have some magic place where I can take any cat in need, I know that I myself get angry and resentful at people who contact me with a statement that I "have to" help them. Sometimes my anger is dependent on how overworked I am, how broke I am, and whether I have space. On a day when I have some cash, have gotten plenty of sleep, and have empty cages, I might actually feel positively about the request.

What about these shelters that are always overfull, always underfunded, and always tired? Do they "have to" kill these cats when past experience has shown they have failed at releasing a significant number of them alive to new homes?

An interesting aspect of Feral Freedom is their three strikes rule. If a cat is trapped three times, animal control has the option of not sending it back into the Feral Freedom program. The rationale for this is that if the cat has been three times trapped, there is an underlying issue that might indicate that cat is either a danger to itself, or a repeated public nuisance at his current location. This does not mean the cat must be killed (he could go into a Barn Buddies program, etc.) but the cat will be evaluated more seriously if it ends up in a trap three times, and putting the cat down might be the final decision, based on that evaluation.

Also vital to the program is micro-chipping. Many feral cat advocates hesitate to microchip cats because it may reveal the location of their colony, or make them legally responsible for any damage. This program takes the stance that cats must be tracked. We need the knowledge. Is this program succeeding or failing? Do the cats move around? How long do they really live? How many highway killed cats are unaltered versus altered?

Some cities are not willing to divest entirely of the outdoor cat issue, even if they cannot house the cats. If every person who sees a feral cat at least has the option of getting it fixed, that is better than ignoring the cat, which is often what happens if people know the cat will be killed in the shelter.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in cities using the program. I would suggest we need more than shelter intake numbers to determine if the program is successful. Even fewer complaints may not be a true indication of success. If people know the shelter will only fix and return cats, they may not bother to call the shelter at all if they don't want that option.

Previously people who didn't mind a cat being killed received service. Those who were worried the cat would be killed did not. Now the coin has flipped, and those who will accept spay/neuter over death have an option, while those who only want death do not. Not because one person is right and the other is wrong, but because death, so far, has failed to improve the situation.


  1. Good questions and a thoughtful discussion, Susan. Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts on this issue.

    Community cats (the term Dr. Levy has adopted) are a divisive issue. Here in Florida we (the "cat" people)tried, several years ago, to start a dialog with the wildlife people. After several meetings, the talks broke down. Maybe I'm prejudiced but those advocating for wildlife refused to listen or budge at all. I can only hope that this conference signaled a willingness to some day work together to the benefit of cats, wildlife, those who care about them and the general population.

  2. Hey Connie. I hope to get a copy of the presentation by a representative of the Audubon Society who spoke about their work together with the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon. They concentrated on two areas on which they agreed: reducing feral cat numbers, and promoting indoor pet cats. I think this is where we need to concentrate. When either organization addressed those issues, they cited the other group as well, signaling to the public that they were in agreement on those issues. There were also several representatives from sensitive areas (New Zealand, Hawaii) who had multi-level programs--pet cats should be indoors, community cats in residential areas should be spay/neutered, truly feral cats in non-residential areas and areas with species at risk might be shifted or euthanized. A TNR group may not agree with all of these aspects, but on the first two non-lethal aspects they certainly could work together. It was a fascinating range of speakers. Certainly there were discussions that were outside of the comfort zone on both sides, but I think that was the entire point---that whether or not one agrees, one needs to listen, and upon listening, may learn something we did not know before.

    1. Hopefully there will be more conferences like this & some closer to me so that I might be able to attend.

      It's true that there will never be 100% on agreement from both sides, but what issue ever managed that anyway?

      I think the two of us are of similar mindset - because of your work in wildlife rehab & my education in zoology & work with a nonprofit focusing on a single endangered species. Our TNR program in Orlando, as well, has been a partnership with the local animal control & it's worked really well.

      I'm also looking forward to Peter Wolf's upcoming posts about this conference as well. He has been a great addition to the TNR community.

  3. Hi Susan,
    I have the good fortune to live in Jacksonville and have only been doing TNR for a couple of years, so Feral Freedom is the only program I have ever known. It took awhile to realize just how lucky I am!

    Just a quick note, they no longer microchip the's a more recent article that explaines how the program has evolved:

    Love your blog, thank you for continuing to share your life with rescued cats! I frequently refer new trappers to your American Cat Project pages.