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Cat lovers and No Kill advocates: A new study shows TNR works. OK, you know that. That is neither a controversial nor new finding. In so many ways, it may even seem mundane. But the study will be very helpful to you as you advocate for TNR/SNR in your community because it offers plenty for government officials and bean counters who want the proof that it saves lives, reduces the number of free-roaming cats, and saves money.

The study, which reviewed a San Jose, California shelter’s TNR program, concludes that neuter and release programs:

  1. Reduce intakes: the study shows that cat intake was reduced by 29% in San Jose despite only sterilizing a modest number of cats relative to the size of the population (10,080 over four years).
  2. Reduce killing: cat killing declined 67%.
  3. Save money: roughly 2,500 cats were sterilized and released every year, but over 3,000 fewer cats are entering the shelter every year. Assuming an average cost of $106 to impound, hold, and kill a cat, compared to $72 per cat to participate in the program, the savings was significant.
  4. Reduce free roaming cats: cat DOAs declined by 20%, both because there were fewer cats and, as prior studies noted, neutered cats roamed less.
  5. Reduce illness: because “feral” cats are stressed in the shelter and because of fewer cat intakes, URI in the shelter declined by 99%, reducing killing and length of stay thus resulting in a healthier cat population, more revenue (from adoptions), and lower costs (treatment, holding, and killing).

Aside from the obvious, there was an additional benefit: “The impact of not having to care for more than 3,000 additional cats annually allows staff and management to focus on other areas of the operation and pursue other welfare related strategies. The internal capacity of the organization to help other animals is increased without requiring more staff.”

It would have also been nice to see the decline in “nuisance” complaint calls as has been documented with other TNR programs.

It should be noted, however, that the program reviewed also had limitations. For one, the shelter only sterilized 10,080 cats. While this may seem like a lot of cats, it is modest relative to the size of the population. If they had done more, the impact would have been greater. The upside is that the benefits were great despite the modest size of the program (again relative to the size of the population). Second, the program only applied to cats who were not social with humans. Had they included socialized community cats, again the benefits would have been greater. Third, they still killed some healthy “feral” cats when they deemed the original location unsafe: “When a cat was euthanized as a healthy feral, it was because the location to return the cat was not deemed safe or viable. This can occur when the location is directly adjacent to a freeway…” It simply does not make sense to kill a cat now because of the possibility that the cat might get killed in the future. This is an ethical contradiction that cannot be reconciled. Finally, “the shelter does not support the relocation of feral cats to new areas.” This also does not make sense for two reasons: it costs cats their lives and progressive shelters have proved that relocation is a viable strategy when the original trapping location is not available and the alternative is death.

The paper, “Study of the effect on shelter cat intakes and euthanasia from a shelter neuter return project of 10,080 cats from March 2010 to June 2014,” can be found by clicking here.

For further reading: The Life of a Wild Cat

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