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Feral cat program is good for community

On Feb. 9, Albuquerque celebrated a very special anniversary – two years without killing a single cat in a local shelter simply because the cat was deemed “feral.”

Despite the fact that killing free-roaming cats over many years did nothing to reduce their numbers, these “community cats” were, nevertheless, killed as a matter of course.

However, all that changed in April 2012, when the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department entered into a public-private partnership with Best Friends Animal Society and PetSmart Charities to launch the city’s community cat program with an investment of nearly $1 million in private funding.

In less than two years, Albuquerque’s “save rate” for cats and kittens (the percentage of animals admitted to a shelter that aren’t euthanized) has grown from 64 percent to 87 percent, with more than 4,400 lives saved.

The number of cats entering the shelter is declining, which means adoptable cats can stay in the shelter longer – giving them more time to find a home. Even neonatal kittens, which require intensive care, have more life-saving options available.

And yet, just when the city’s community cat program is really beginning to take shape, a frivolous lawsuit aims to unravel the whole thing.

The suit, filed in November, alleges that the city is violating animal cruelty laws by returning program cats to their outdoor homes. This implies that the people involved have intent to harm or have knowledge that the cat will likely come to harm – neither of which is true.

On the contrary, each cat qualifying for the program (operated by Best Friends) is sterilized, vaccinated and examined by veterinary professionals who assess the cat’s ability to thrive outdoors before returning cats (in better health than when they were picked up) to the area where they were found.

For cats who don’t qualify, other options include adoption into loving homes and “barn cat” programs. Only irremediably ill or injured cats are humanely euthanized.

Opponents of these programs, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the American Bird Conservancy, and others, have for years misrepresented the science and used scaremongering in their attempt to influence policymakers and the public.

These organizations imply, despite the irrefutable evidence to the contrary, that communities can kill their way out of “the feral cat problem.” They’ve adopted an unwavering stance against the types of progressive, life-saving programs that Albuquerque has implemented; yet, they offer no alternative.

It’s no wonder, then, that community cat programs are becoming increasingly common across the country – popular with a public that finds the opposition’s rhetoric insulting.

People are fed up with the lethal control methods used for so many years that have proven ineffective and costly. On the other hand, the targeted sterilization approach at the heart of programs such as Albuquerque’s has proven effective at reducing the population of unowned free-roaming cats.

One dramatic example that we’ve witnessed is the 18 percent drop in the number of young kittens entering the city’s shelter system over the past two years – a clear indication of success.

Opponents of community cat programs have neither science nor public opinion on their side. And soon, if this lawsuit proceeds as many of us expect it to, we’ll confirm for all to see that they don’t have the law on their side, either.

Meanwhile, the dedicated team that’s made Albuquerque’s community cat program a model for other communities will continue its diligent efforts, beginning Year Three secure in the knowledge that this life-saving program is not only better for the cats, but something good for the entire community.

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

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