In past decades, many local governments, including Richmond County, approached community cat populations using solutions like trap and remove, which usually involves killing the trapped cats. Those conventional approaches are now widely recognized as mostly ineffective and unable to address the larger community animal issue. New research (Hurley and Levy, 2013) reveals that this non-targeted, selective response to a population which is reproducing at high rates doesn’t help to reduce cat populations and nuisances in our communities, improve cat welfare, further public health and safety or mitigate the real impact of cats on wildlife.
Instead, sterilization and vaccination programs, such as trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNR) are being implemented to manage cat populations in communities across the country. Well managed TNR programs offer a humane and proven way to resolve conflicts, reduce population, and prevent disease outbreaks by including vaccinations against rabies and other potential diseases, with the wellness exam at the time of sterilization. Whether or not people like cats should not enter into the discussion, as it is incumbent upon us to help and protect people and animals.
Most animal care and control agencies have limited budgets, and should partner with volunteers and rescue organizations that are willing to devote their resources to helping manage community cats. In the ‘return to field’ programs, healthy, unowned cats are sterilized, ear tipped, vaccinated and put back where they were found, or nearby. The rationale is that if the shelter has no resources, a healthy cat knows how to survive and should not be euthanized to prevent possible future suffering. Using resources for sterilization has a much larger impact than focusing resources on intake and euthanasia.
People who feed stray cats will ignore the laws against feeding strays, even at personal risk. Enforcement is extremely difficult, resource intensive and very unpopular with citizens. People should not be penalized for their goodwill; they are essentially supplementing the community’s cat management protocols with their time and resources. Rather, laws should be designed to incentivize people in the community to care for these cats and to protect those who do so. It is counterproductive to alienate people for their compassion, when they are the most likely to be supportive through volunteering, donating and adopting.
Cat caretakers don’t choose how many cats there are, so pet limits are of little use. Because these cats are not owned, caretakers don’t control the cats’ movements, so leash laws are equally ineffective. Requiring community cats to be licensed by caretakers is a bad idea from an enforcement and compliance standpoint, and forcing caretakers to register colony locations often causes people concerned for cat’s welfare to go underground and off the municipal radar screen. Appropriate exemptions to current ordinances are recommended. The Humane Society of the United States, Alley Cat Allies, Humane Alliance, Best Friends Animal Society, to name a few national organizations, strongly recommend effective community cat management programs, including TNR, legislation that allows for and supports non-lethal population control, and coalition-based approaches that involve community leaders, citizens and animal rescue organizations. This type of approach is working well in a wide variety of types and sizes of communities.
While our Commissioners find that one of the most effective, economical, humane, and ethical solutions to the problem of dog and cat overpopulation is to substantially reduce, if not eliminate, unintended breeding, by making spay/neuter mandatory, the implementation of Trap-Neuter-Return programs are right in line to help to reach this goal.
Rabies, Health Issues and Nuisance Behaviors
There has not been a proven case of cat-transmitted-to-human rabies in four decades, and the more vaccinations administered through TNR programs, the more likely this trend is to continue. (Andersen 1984; Roebling, 2013)
Vaccinating community cats against rabies as part of a TNR program should be supported as a preventative measure against the potential spread of the disease. Some public health officials have concerns about revaccinating community cats when vaccines expire. Because the lifespan of community cats is typically much shorter than that of pet cats, a single vaccine may provide protection for the life of many community cats. The average life span of a feral cat is 3-5 years. The average rabies vaccine lasts a minimum of 3 years and some have been found to last 7 years.
Immunology has recognized for a great many years that viruses confer a long-lived immunity. This is why people don’t get vaccinations annually. A person’s immune system has a cellular memory. Is there any reason to believe it is different for animals? Veterinary immunologists Ronald Schultz and Tom Phillips say that “A practice that was started many years ago and that lacks scientific validity or verification is annual revaccination. Immunity for animals persists for years or for the life of the animal. Rabies vaccine is so effective in immunizing that there is likely life-long protection.”
Sterilized cats are typically healthier overall (Scott et al., 2002) and have greater immunity against a host of other diseases and parasites (Fischer, et al., 2007). Sterilized cats are also less likely to transmit feline diseases that are largely spread through mating behavior and mating-related fighting.
With TNR, nuisance behaviors can be drastically reduced or eliminated. Neutered cats typically don’t yowl late at night or fight over mates (Finkler et al., 2011), so noise is greatly reduced. The odor from male urine spray is mostly eliminated because testosterone is no longer present, and spraying to mark territory may stop entirely. Altered cats, no longer in search of mates, may roam much less frequently (Scott, et al., 2002) and become less visible. Because they can no longer reproduce, over time there will be fewer cats, which in itself will result in fewer nuisance behaviors, complain calls and a reduced impact on wildlife.
To prevent community cats from entering areas where they are unwanted, such as yards or gardens, residents can try blocking access to shelter areas and securing garbage containers. Often one person may be feeding or socializing with cats, while another family member is unaware of it, so this must cease. If these solutions don’t work, many humane cat deterrent products are available in stores and online. Many cat nuisance cases are the result of lack of information or poor communication. Facilitating dialogue and resolutions is often much more effective with a more humane outcome than removing the cat(s) in question. Volunteers in animal rescue and Community Cat Caregivers are good resources for questionable situations.
Feral cats are also not a toxoplasmosis risk to people. The CDC reports that people are ‘much more likely’ to get Toxoplasmosis from raw or undercooked meat than from cats. The only way a person can get toxoplasmosis from a cat is to actually ingest cat feces. Feral cats’ natural behavior is to avoid people, making it even more unlikely that a person could contract Toxoplasmosis from a feral cat.
Trap-neuter-return is the approach that stabilizes and reduces cat populations, preempting the destabilization of the ecosystem or endangering wildlife
a) Abandonment means that act of placing an animal on public property or within a public building, unattended or uncared for, or on or within the private property of another without the express permission of the owner, custodian or tenant of the private property. An animal shall also be considered abandoned when it has been unattended and without adequate food, water, ventilation or shelter, for a period in excess of 36 hours, regardless of where such animal may be found or kept. A community cat caregiver who returns a community cat in conjunction with Trap-Neuter-Return is not deemed to have abandoned the feral cat.
b) Community Cat means a cat that is abandoned, stray, lost, or feral and cared for by a community cat caregiver pursuant to this ordinance.
c) Community Cat Caregiver means a person who, in accordance with Trap-Neuter-Return, provides care, including, food, shelter or medical care to a community cat. A community cat caregiver shall not be considered the owner, custodian, harborer, possessor, or keeper of a community cat.
d) Eartipping means the removal of the ¼ inch tip of a community cat’s left ear, performed while the cat is under anesthesia, to identify the community cat as being sterilized and lawfully vaccinated for rabies.
e) Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) means the process of humanely trapping, sterilizing, vaccinating for rabies, eartipping, and returning community cats to their original location.
1. Trap-Neuter-Return shall be permitted, and community cat caregivers, organizations and animal control, are allowed to carry out TNR.
2. A community cat shall not be impounded merely for being at large. Community cats are exempt from registration and collar requirements and any other provisions intended for owned cats.
An example of ordinance that exempts cats from licensing_
Exempts feral cats from licensing
Sec. 8-42 – Exemptions.
1. Owners who use animals for diagnostic purposes or research, the use having been approved either by the California State Board of Public Health pursuant to Section 1666 of the Health and Safety Code or by the United States Department of Agriculture;
2. Owners who use animals for teaching purposes in accredited educational institutions;
3. Owners of animals kept as all or part of the stock of: (a) nonprofit zoological gardens open to the public; (b) circuses; or (c) animal exhibits when such enterprises are operated under business licenses granted by the City;
4. Unowned cats; and
5. The licensing regulations in this Chapter are not applicable to the following:
6. Any person or organization that is providing care for feral or farm cats and is making a reasonable effort to trap and sterilize the animals.
Proposed Community Cat Initiative
a) Purpose: Richmond County recognizes the need for innovation in addressing the issues presented by Community Cats. To that end, it recognizes that Trap-Neuter-Return is an effective and humane method to manage, and over time, reduce the population of Community Cats.
b) Trap-Neuter-Return shall be permitted, and Community Cat Caregivers, organizations, and animal control officers are hereby permitted to carry out Trap-Neuter-Return, trapping, sterilizing, vaccinating against rabies, doing a wellness exam and eartipping, in situations where there is permission from the property owner. Community Cat Caregivers shall be responsible for the costs associated with Trap-Neuter-Return that they choose or cause to be performed. Community Cat Caregivers shall have immunity from any claim or suit for damages as a result of their actions to follow the Trap-Neuter-Return procedure.
c) An eartipped cat received by local shelters will be returned to the location where trapped, since cat is already neutered, unless said cat is found to require veterinary care.
d) Community Cat Caregivers may reclaim impounded Community Cats if eartipped or for TNR program, without proof of ownership.
e) Community Cat Caregivers who perform Trap-Neuter-Return or return eartipped cats shall not be deemed in violation of the ordinance.
Properly managed TNR programs do not create cat overpopulation—the cats are already there. Our community must choose between progress which results in reduced cat populations and reduced health risks or an unmanaged, ever growing problem. Well designed and well implemented programs that focus on non-lethal control and involve all community stakeholders are in line with public opinion. They can mobilize an army of compassionate, dedicated people who care about the cats, animal rescue, wildlife and their communities.
By working together, municipal agencies, shelters, veterinarians and cat rescue groups can humanely reduce community cat populations while protecting the public, cats and wildlife. The returns are plentiful: fewer community cats; lower cat intake and euthanasia in shelters; municipal cost savings; greater volunteer participation; more adoptions; better use of limited shelter space, animal control and public health resources; increased goodwill towards shelters and more lives saved.
Doing nothing or repeating failed approaches is no longer an option. Proactive, effective approaches exist and need to be fully embraced and implemented in our communities if we are going to have a lasting impact. Augusta Richmond County can lead the way and help our neighboring communities to recognize the need for improved ordinances and lifesaving programs. To this end, we respectfully request simple exemptions for Community Cats and acceptance of a Community Cat Initiative.
The Humane Society of the United States
Alley Cat Allies
Best Friends Animal Society