San Antonio Unites to Conquer Pet Overpopulation

Trap-Neuter-Return comes out of the dark to change ordinance

Read the previous chapter: Community foundation steps up to oversee early initiatives 

Stray cat next to buildingWhile these collaborative efforts opened community discussions on responsible pet care, TNR remained “a cloak-and-dagger operation in San Antonio,” said Jenny Burgess, executive director for the San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition (SAFCC).

TNR targets cat overpopulation at its source by preventing unwanted litters from free-roaming cats. But “there was a stupid ordinance on the books that said if you fed a cat for 3 days, that cat became your responsibility,” said Jenny.

Even worse, if someone fed a cat for 3 days in a row, she could face an additional fine for not having the cat vaccinated or for “allowing” him to roam outside. Colony caretakers and trappers feared drawing attention to themselves.

“Folks were doing TNR, but they were doing it in the darkness of night because they didn't have the endorsement of the city,” said Lisa. To bring TNR into the light of day, SAFCC held monthly training classes to educate residents and lobbied the city council to change the ordinance.

“No one person or agency can solve cat overpopulation alone,” said Jenny. “We all have to work together to get people to do the right thing.”

In 2009, the San Antonio City Council did the right thing: It passed an ordinance that removed the “3-day-feeding rule” and cited TNR as the new humane solution for managing feral cat colonies in San Antonio.

ACS, the city agency, followed with its own policy changes. ACS prohibited residents from bringing trapped cats to the shelter. It also encouraged caretakers to register their cat colonies with the city so it would be easier to identify areas that needed TNR resources.

To help high-risk neighborhoods introduce TNR, PetSmart Charities® awarded grants to several San Antonio groups.

But with thousands of cats roaming its streets, “San Antonio still needed a lot more TNR resources to help free-roaming cats,” said Julie White, senior director of grants, programs and field initiatives for PetSmart Charities.

With that in mind, in 2011 PetSmart Charities gave ACS a $700,000 TNR grant, administered by Best Friends Animal Society, for the spaying or neutering of 12,500 free-roaming felines. Over the grant’s 3-year period, ACS received fewer complaint calls about free-roaming cats and saw fewer cats coming into the city shelter, overall.

After the groups implemented the Community Cats Project, ACS reported fewer complaint calls about free-roaming cats and saw fewer cats coming into the city shelter. Compared to 2011 — before the Community Cats Project ­— by 2014 the cat euthanasia rate had dropped 83% at ACS.

“It took a partner like PetSmart Charities showing us how important community cat programs could be for a city like San Antonio,” said Lisa from ACS. “This grant was a game-changer for us. Literally overnight, we started to see cats' lives being saved.”

Next: Pulling from animal shelters and not breeders

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