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Trap, neuter, release gets green light in Doña Ana

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LAS CRUCES – County commissioners have approved an overhaul of Doña Ana County’s pet ordinances, which will authorize feral-cat colonies to be set up by residents.

The pet ordinance overhaul, approved 5-0 by the commission, includes a measure allowing the first-ever trap-neuter-release, or TNR, program for feral cats in the county.

Some advocates, such as East Mesa resident Emile Bourdet, said they were pleased the ordinance passed with the TNR provision.

“This will give the animal advocates the opportunity to implement a program that will reduce the population of feral cats,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to show this works.”

Now, feral cats when captured and turned into the countywide animal shelter, wind up euthanized because they’re deemed not adoptable.

Before passing the new ordinance, the commission agreed to remove a provision to require feline leukemia testing of all cats in a managed feral cat colony. Some pet advocates had said that would make the cost of running a feral-cat colony too expensive, when the risk for the illness was small.

But Beth Vesco-Mock, executive director for the Animal Service Center of the Mesilla Valley, had recommended that not only feline leukemia virus be tested for, but also feline immunodeficiency virus. Both diseases are spread from cat to cat via body fluids, but neither is contagious to humans.

County Commission Chairman Billy Garrett said the proposed requirement for feline leukemia virus testing didn’t seem to be merited in the ordinance. But there’s nothing to keep a group running a feral-cat colony from carrying out the testing, if it wants to.

“If a program wants to move forward on the particular kinds of testing or, for that matter, any form of improving the quality of life of cats, it’s up to those programs to do that,” he said.

Two residents expressed concern about authorizing that cats can roam in the outdoors. Critics have said that wildlife populations, especially birds, suffer because of stray cats.

Resident Marcy Scott questioned whether the size of cat populations would decrease.

“TNR has never been shown to reduce numbers of feral cats, anywhere,” she said.

County spokesman Jess Williams, who’s also on the board of the animal shelter, said there are plenty of feral cats in the county, even without a feral-cat colony measure in place.

“What we’re doing now isn’t working,” he said. “This is a different strategy we can hope will have a different outcome.” Williams said the measure is not likely to be “perfect out of the gate,” but it’s a start.

Frank Bryce of the Humane Society of Southern New Mexico expressed support for the pet ordinance overhaul.

County Commissioner Leticia Duarte-Benavidez said she “wasn’t sure which way to go” on the proposed ordinance but the arguments that the current system isn’t working made sense to her. “We need to do something, to see if it works,” she said. “And if it doesn’t work in the future, then we have something to debate about.”

The larger ordinance contains new time limits on chaining dogs and several requirements for new pet ownership licenses, depending on the number and types of pets a person wants to keep.

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