Transcript: Q&A on trap/neuter/return of feral cats - Arizona Daily Star

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Transcript: Q&A on trap/neuter/return of feral cats

Jessica Shuman, an animal advocate associated with several animal welfare groups, answered questions about the trap/neuter/return program in Pima county.

    Please find a way to identify the TNR cats other than ear tiping.
    I understand that people have concerns about ear tipping. It is the left ear that is tipped and the tip should not be more than 2mm. It's something that you would not necessarily notice from afar. It really is the best method to identify that a cat has been TNRd. The initial way of identifying TNRd cats was to put dye near the surgical scars but this required re-sedation of the cat. The next way that came about was to put a triangular-shaped nick in the ear, but sometimes cats that fight will develop similar shaped markings. So now we have the left ear tip. It's a more obvious, humane and efficient way to identify previously altered animals and not have to subject them to further transport, anaesthesia, etc. Remember, truly feral cats cannot be handled for examination unless they are sedated. It's cost prohibitive to microchip feral cats and it is extremely difficult to scan them.
    I understand they're wild, but are these cats adoptable?
    Cats that are young enough to be socialized can be removed from feral colonies and would be adoptable. Lost, abandoned or stray cats can also be re-socialized and are adoptable. However, adult feral cats are not adoptable and need to remain in their territory. While reducing colony size is the ultimate goal, and removing adoptable animals is the best practice, if you remove the feral cats regardless of their fate, cats from surrounding areas will move in. This scientific principle is known as the vacuum effect.
    We're expecting my mid-September, but we don't have official confirmation. Typically, representatives from Best Friends host community forums and those will be publicized. They already held one last month. If you are eager to start now, there are resources available. Call the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, 881-0321.
    Some critics say feral cats can harm birds and pose health hazards to other animals. Are those concerns valid? Why or why not?
    Any concerns that people have regarding Community Cats are valid. Whatever those concerns may be, trap/neuter/return is the answer in that it is the only PROVEN effective long-term means of reducing free-roaming cat populations. I'm sure that TNR advocates and its opponents can agree that none of us want animals or the environment to suffer. Fewer cats equals smaller colonies equals less predation and health hazards are extremely minimal.

    One example that is a common concern of exposure to free-roaming cats is of toxoplasmosis. The vast majority of toxoplasmosis cases come from eating undercooked meat. A house cat is far more likely to bite a human than a feral cat.

    The most significant cause of all species lost is habitat destruction, including industrial and residential development, road and dam building, logging, farming, grazing, mining, pollution, pesticide use, etc. Humans are responsible for this, not cats.

    That said, the number one cause of death for cats in the United States is shelter killing.
    How can we get help in trapping feral cats that seem to live next door but come into our yard and kill birds and bury their feces?
    Judy, are you accepting trap/neuter/return as a solution or are you wanting the cats removed?
    Judy, trap/neuter/return is the best solution and you can certainly trap the cats on your own property and get them TNRd at absolutely no cost. You will be thrilled with the results. If this is not something you would want to undertake yourself, there are organizations that would help you, but we prioritize assisting people with disabilities, the elderly and without transportation. There are extensive waiting lists because it's impossible to meet the demand of people wanting help. We're so excited for the Best Friends Community Cat Project - an opportunity of a lifetime.

    There are many ways to deter unwanted cats from your yard and deal with their nuisance behaviors. If you email me your email address to I can send you information on deterrents.
    We have time for more questions!
    Can you tell me more about the Best Friends Community Cat Project?
    Absolutely, although I'm still learning details myself. It's a $1.5 million project over the course of three years, $900,000 of which will be coming from Best Friends and Petsmart charities, two of the country's most renowned animal welfare organizations. The remainder will come from the county, which will be a $200,000-a-year contribution. The county will not be spending any more money than it already has been on public spay and neuter. A portion of it will be redirected toward Community Cats.
    The goal is to alter 5,000 Community Cats each year. The program includes the alter, the ear tip, the rabies vaccine, the fvrcp, and there is some funding for additional medical care for those who need it. The hope is to reduce intake of cats at the Pima Animal Care Center by 10% in the first year and to reduce the rate of euthanasia by 25% a year for three years.
    My understanding of how the project will work is that when people bring a trapped cat to PACC it will be TNRd and then a street team will do outreach in the surrounding area of that cat's habitat to do targeted TNR efforts. We will definitely need community volunteers to reach our goal, so stay tuned to join us in this undertaking.
    Virtually 100% of feral cats brought to PACC are destroyed. The overwhelming majority of stray cats that are brought to PACC are incredibly healthy and clearly belong to someone. However, the return to owner rate is currently 1%-2% on cats. The moment they enter the building, sadly, many of them become less adoptable as the stress and conditions of shelter living impact them emotionally, behaviorally and physically. Sooner or later, almost all of them become sick. It is ironic to think that these cats are healthier on the streets but they are. I encourage everyone to adopt from local shelters and rescue organizations, and before you judge this program, spend time at our county's animal control facility. It is eye opening.
    One must also consider the impact on shelter workers who are subjected to ending the life of healthy animals. This is unacceptable when we have TNR as a solution.
    Will the Project rely on referrals/complaints to identify colonies or will they actively seek them out and will they continue trapping in a colony until all its members have been spayed or neutered?
    Great question! I'm not exactly sure of all the details. There will be three full-time employees that coordinate and trap and return. They will definitely be looking for feedback and support from the community. They've done such projects in several other communities and they try to tailor it to each one. I know they are focusing on zip codes that have had the largest intake rate at PACC, but that doesn't mean others will be excluded. The goal is always to get 100% of a colony; however, the keyword is "manage."
    Will additional traps be provided by Best Friends? They are expensive to buy.
    Best Friends will be using their own traps. There are currently traps available through local depots for the purposes of TNR at no cost to borrow. You can find this information at

    My favorite traps are tru-catch. They are not spring-loaded like most traps. They are safe and easy to maintain. Heart of the Earth is a great woman-owned business who distributes the traps. Please visit their website. The best time to buy these traps directly from the manufacturer is in the month of October. In celebration of National Feral Cat Day, they offer a special rate of $50 per trap. The traps will last a lifetime.
    Could there be an issue with feeding the cats once they are re-released?
    Cats are found virtually everywhere there are humans to some degree or another because there are resources. Cats became domesticated nearly 10,000 years ago. As humans became agrarians, cats were attracted to grain stores because of the rodents and roaches. Cats are extremely resourceful and the majority of feral and free-roaming cats are healthy. There are many benefits to actually providing food to Community Cats. I personally believe it's compassionate. The primary benefit is that it keeps cats concentrated in one area, which makes them easier to manage when employing TNR. Colony caregivers can see when there is a new cat needing to be spayed or neutered, needs medical attention, etc.
    I see cats in my neighborhood but am unsure if they are pets or if they are feral. Is there a way to tell if my neighbor's cat is trapped by mistake?
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