Let’s not kill cats | Opinion
By Lee Greenwood
In 2019, 72,591 dogs and cats entered New Jersey shelters and 60,957 found positive placements, for a state save rate of 83.97%. There’s a lot to celebrate in that data, including the tremendous strides made to save the lion’s share of dogs that enter our shelters. But despite the state’s effort to save pets, cats continue to die in shelters at an alarming rate. In fact, a whopping 97% of the pets killed in New Jersey’s shelters last year were cats and a major portion of them were community cats.
Community cats are free-roaming cats who live outdoors and are cared for by residents. Some of these cats are feral, some not, but all of them deserve a chance to live. They’re in every county and municipality throughout the state, from the biggest city to the smallest township. Simply put, community cats are living amongst us and it’s our collective responsibility to figure out a safe and humane way to coexist.
For decades, animal control officials have tried in vain to reduce the number of community cats by trapping and impounding them at shelters. Unfortunately, once their seven-day stay hold is up, they are typically killed because they either cannot be adopted (because they are feral) or returned to where they came from. With few options on the table for positive outcomes, we put our friends and neighbors in animal control and sheltering in the impossible position of having to kill healthy animals day after day when this doesn’t have to be the case. It’s time to stop this inhumane practice and give community cats the chance they deserve.
If municipalities adopted Trap-Neuter-Return policies (TNR, also known as Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return or TNVR), many of these cats would be saved, and animal control resources could be directed to other lifesaving programs and interventions. The number of community cats would also begin to decrease, which is a goal shared by all.
TNR is a veterinarian-approved, cost-effective, and common-sense method for keeping community cats safe and healthy while reducing their numbers over time. It entails trapping, neutering, vaccinating, and returning community cats to their original outdoor locations. It’s not only the most humane method of preventing cats from entering the shelter system, it’s also the only effective one.
In fact, peer-reviewed research consistently finds that TNR is the only viable management option. The traditional “catch and kill” model simply does not work. Cats can reproduce faster than any municipality can catch them, which is why communities across the country are embracing TNR.
When TNR programming began in Jersey City, Hoboken, and Bayonne, the Liberty Humane Society almost immediately saw a 37% decrease in the cat kill rate and a 16% decrease in cat intake and those numbers continue to improve as the community embraces these lifesaving programs. Real-world case studies like this are why many New Jersey shelters want to adopt TNR in their communities.
There are also other benefits to TNR. Sterilized cats are less likely to exhibit behaviors that make them unwelcome in our backyards, such as spraying, yowling and fighting. Additionally, TNR eliminates wasting taxpayer dollars by removing the cost of sheltering community cats — cats that would most often otherwise be destined to be killed.
In order to support community cat programs, communities need a dedicated funding source to be effective. Right now, the legislature has a bill pending that would solve for this funding gap. The “Compassion for Community Cats” bill, (S1034), offers funds to municipalities for local TNR efforts throughout the state, giving thousands of New Jersey residents access to lifesaving and community-minded solution for at-risk cats. The bill recently received a unanimous vote of support in the Senate Environment and Energy committee, showing that TNR is a truly bipartisan issue.
Right now, New Jersey’s community cats are dying unnecessarily because TNR programs are not being widely and effectively implemented at the local level. But the legislature has an opportunity to change that and to make an immediate impact for these beloved cats. Let’s put New Jersey on the national forefront as being a leader in animal welfare and protection by passing the Compassion for Community Cats act.
Lee Greenwood is the legislative attorney for Best Friends Animal Society.
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