Spring 2013 Magazine

Street Cat Companions and
Animal Humane | New Mexico

By Nancy Marano

Street Cat Companions (SCC) is a program run by New Mexico Animal Friends that focuses on caring for feral cats. For over 17 years they have done their best to manage feral colonies in the greater Albuquerque area. When they started, the idea was to manage the colonies, feed the cats and grab the kittens for spaying or neutering, socialization and possible adoption.

Vicki Williams, president of New Mexico Animal Friends (NMAF), has worked with SCC since the beginning. "The trap/neuter/return (TNR) concept was being used in some places 17 years ago but not in Albuquerque. Several of us went to a conference in Denver and learned more about TNR. We researched the idea further and thought it would work here," Williams said. "We approached Susan Larsen, a veterinarian working at Animal Humane | New Mexico (AHANM), about spaying and neutering feral cats at the AHANM facility. We consulted with then Director, Joel Warner, and got the go ahead to use their facility. That's when the second Sunday of the month spay/neuter clinic began. The program has expanded immensely. We started by spaying and neutering 25-30 cats at one clinic and now we operate on up to 100 cats."

The Second Sunday feral clinic requires considerable coordination to accomplish what they do. Two NMAF volunteers took over the administrative duties connected with the spay/neuter clinic. They lend out traps, talk with trappers about the program, answer telephone calls from people interested in getting cats spayed or neutered and map the feral cat colonies in Albuquerque. They also work with the City animal welfare department and Best Friends to get feral cats spayed or neutered. Williams orders all the clinic supplies, handles the budget and makes sure everything is ready to go while another volunteer contacts the veterinarians and signs them up for the clinic.

"Each animal group has its own individual programs," Williams explained. "NMAF has a contract with the City. They pay us $21.00 for every feral spay/neuter surgery we perform. We also subsidize AHANM's surgeries at $21.00 per feral cat. AHANM has a grant that targets ferals in certain zip codes. If they spay and neuter 50 cats in a month who live outside the targeted zip codes, we subsidize those cats at $21.00 each."

All of the current programs definitely are resulting in a decrease of feral cats. Jim Ludwick, policy advisor to the Animal Welfare Department, reports it has been a full year since the city shelter has euthanized a feral cat.

"I think the Albuquerque programs currently in place will produce more decreases in feral cat euthanasias and in kitten births. When we first started our contract with the City, we were spaying and neutering 2,500 cats per year. The Best Friends program has a goal of spaying and neutering 3,500 cats over a three year period. We believe the NMAF, AHANM and Best Friends programs combined will spay and neuter 10,000 feral cats over the next three years," Williams said.

When asked whether she believes that TNR is the best way to handle the feral population, Williams replied. "All the research I've done on TNR and its successes worldwide, it just seems to be the solution that works. People have been trapping and killing feral cats forever but there still are feral colonies. That indicates to me that trapping and killing isn't a solution to the problem. By spaying and neutering feral cats, we are eliminating kittens who will not be born and, through attrition, the colonies. But as long as people continue to let their domestic cats outside and don't spay or neuter them, there will be a need for TNR. I hope this blitz that we're doing over the next three years will at least lower the number of ferals out there. It's a service the City needs and one NMAF will continue to provide."

In 2008 Animal Humane | New Mexico began doing feral cat spay and neuter surgeries one day a week in their clinic. "That year we did 500 surgeries but in 2009, we did 1,500 TNR surgeries," according to Peggy Wiegle, Executive Director. "The City shelter wasn't doing any TNR surgeries and still doesn't because they send them here."

By 2011, on the basis of what AHANM had already accomplished, they received a grant from PetSmart Charities. "The grant was for $132,000 over a two-year period to fund TNR surgeries in six zip codes. "We received $60,000 in 2011 and met our goal of doing 1200 surgeries in the six zip codes. Overall that year we did 2,250 TNR surgeries," Wiegle said. "2011 was the first full year of the PetSmart grant. That year kitten intakes went down by 19% overall and 30% within the six zip codes covered by the grant. The figures prove TNR totally works."

PetSmart Charities did a study of shelters across the country and found that 82% of the kittens who go to shelters are from feral cats. "If we can really get the feral cats spayed and neutered we will be able to take away kitten season. I see it coming," Wiegle said.

The programs for feral cats run by AHANM and SCC were a major factor in PetSmart Charities choosing Albuquerque for its three year grant in cooperation with Best Friends to spay and neuter 3,500 feral cats per year. They looked at 30 cities before deciding which ones would receive the two available three-year grants. Of the 30 cities Albuquerque and Austin, TX were chosen. These programs have the backing of Mayor Berry and the City Council. When the grant was announced, Mayor Berry said, "We are pleased that our city was recognized for its forward-thinking work on the management of community cats."

Williams sums up another benefit of the Albuquerque TNR programs when she says, "This is one of the few programs that has got the animal organizations to work together on an issue that has come to the attention of a lot of the organizations. I think we've all raised the public awareness of feral cats and TNR. It causes people to study the issue and see what solutions we can devise."

(For the first article in this series go to: TNR IS A SUCCESS IN ALBUQUERQUE The final article in this series will discuss the Best Friends program and will appear in PETroglyphs' Summer issue.)

Nancy Marano is an award-winning writer who is owned by two cats, Callie, a tortoiseshell, and Max, a black, panther wannabe. She is a member of the Cat Writers' Association and Dog Writers of America.

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