One recent weekend, Anchorage Animal Care and Control found adoptive homes for a dozen cats, and other local animal welfare groups are doing similar work with great results. However, adoptions alone will not fix the community cat problem in Anchorage. And yes - we do have community cats in Anchorage, living outside year-round and fending for themselves, as best they can. They are not a new addition, they have been here for many years and continue to thrive.
"Community cats" is an umbrella term that includes ferals and strays and means any unowned cat. These cats may be "feral" (unsocialized) likely born into the wild, or "friendly" socialized pet cats who have been lost or abandoned. The most effective -- and most humane means of dealing with this wide variety of cats is through a community-supported Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program.
The ultimate goal of any TNR program is to reduce the community cat population as much as possible. TNR works by humanely trapping community cats, followed by careful evaluation. Whenever possible, owned cats are reunited with their families (via collar tags, microchips, or lost animal databases). "Friendly" strays, who were once a part of a family or that have had human interaction in the past, are made available for adoption. However, truly feral cats are never suitable for adoption. Therefore, ferals are spayed or neutered, vaccinated and then returned to their colony. When provided with spay/neuter, food and shelter, managed colonies of feral cats are more likely to stay in one area, are no longer able to reproduce and are less likely to harass wildlife or cause disturbances (less noise and fighting, no spraying after being spayed/neutered). Over time, the number of feral community cats is greatly reduced. This is a significant factor in understanding how TNR works, and an important distinction from merely supporting community cats with food and shelter.
In just the past decade, community based TNR has developed into the mainstream response to this common animal welfare issue. Up to 243 large cities and small communities across the United States have embraced TNR as the best means of managing free-roaming community cats, and TNR is endorsed by leading national groups including the ASPCA, Humane Society of the United States, Best Friends Animal Society, and Alley Cat Allies. Many municipal animal control agencies endorse and support TNR in their communities, and foundations such as PetSmart Charities provide logistical support and funding to TNR projects. Closer to home, an innovative TNR program in Wrangell has enjoyed tremendous success.
Those who boldly advocate for simply killing "the stray cats" are wrong on many counts. Fortunately, there is very little community support for such a drastic and thoughtless approach. Ours is a compassionate society, and we know we can do better for these animals in need. We are also mindful of the fact that many outdoor cats belong to someone, or have lived with a family in the past. Surely these pets, for whom we are collectively responsible for, deserve a better fate than euthanasia due to circumstance.
As people with compassion for all animals, we understand bird lovers' concerns about outdoor cats killing birds. But we hasten to remind them that the ultimate goal of TNR is to greatly reduce the number of community cats, to the benefit of local birds and other wildlife. The humane approach takes time and effort. But it is the right thing to do. The cats are out there -- they have been out there -- and the method of "catch and kill," is not having an impact on the ever-growing population.
A truly effective TNR program requires education, time and commitment, community involvement, and patience. This is a worthwhile effort, and is the only truly effective and humane means of dealing with community cats. By working together with other rescue groups and our local animal control, we can help community cats, their caretakers and the community as a whole by trying a more practical and humane approach. Mojo's Hope and other local nonprofits ask that all responsible pet owners please join us in support of this effort, on behalf of the animals, and our entire community, to create positive changes for all community cats.
Shannon Basner is a co-founder of the feline rescue group "Mojo's Hope." The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
BY SHANNON BASNER