Each day, an average of 11 animals are admitted to Frederick County Animal Control. That added up to a total of 3,955 in fiscal year (FY) 2018, 58% of which were cats, 26% dogs, and 16% other types of animals. Most dogs and cats that arrive at the shelter are owner or guardian surrenders and strays.
For these animals entering the shelter, there are six possible outcomes. They may be dead-on-arrival, die while there from illness or injuries, or be euthanized. Other animals have a more positive outcome of adoption, transfer to rescue, or are returned to their owner. In FY 2018, the live release rate, the percentage of animals leaving the shelter alive, was 84% of dogs and 51% of cats. Cats are euthanized at the shelter at double the rate of dogs (44% vs. 19%) and don’t get returned to owners anywhere near as often as dogs (4% vs. 38%). Disparities in the outcomes for cats and dogs suggest that many of the cats entering the shelter are community cats.
Community cat is an umbrella term that includes any un-owned cat. These cats include strays, lost or abandoned pet cats forced to survive on their own, as well as feral cats born outdoors. The cats may be domesticated and friendly or feral, un-socialized, and fearful of people, or anywhere in between. The term, community cat, reflects the belief that when cats are not owned by any individual, they belong to the community as a whole, which has collective responsibility for their care.
Though not always visible to us, as cats tend to be active at night and avoid people, there are a lot of community cats. They are all around us, in our neighborhoods, parks, along roadways, and around business establishments, in both cities and more rural areas, they come in search of food and shelter. It’s hard to say exactly how many community cats live in Frederick County. Using the shelter and outdoor cat population calculator developed by the University of California, Davis, Koret Shelter Medicine program, based on approximately 1 cat per 7 people in a community, there are an estimated 36,500 un-owned cats in the county.
Currently, Frederick County has no effective program to deal with the ever-growing number of community cats. Left unaltered and allowed to free-roam outdoors, cats are prolific breeders. If we factor in another 25,500 pet cats that are allowed outside, based on 2011 pet cat population estimate from 2012 AVMA Demographic sourcebook, we have approximately 62,000 free-roaming cats in the county.
Trap-and-Kill at the shelter will not reduce this overpopulation. Less than 4% of the estimated number of free-roaming cats in Frederick County were housed at the shelter in FY 2018. Recent science tells us that about 50% of a population needs to be removed through admission to a shelter or sterilized in order to achieve long term control. Shelter admissions don’t come anywhere near this level.
An alternative exists to the killing of community cats. Using the well-established targeted Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) strategy, cats are trapped, sterilized, vaccinated, and returned to their colonies, moved to safer locations or adopted out. A two-year study, “Effect of high-impact targeted trap-neuter-return and adoption of community cats on cat intake to a shelter”, focused on TNR efforts in Alachua County, Florida. The research was conducted by principal investigator Julie Levy, DVM, PhD, the Maddie’s Fund professor of shelter medicine at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine and published in The Veterinary Journal. Study participants sterilized 54% of the feral cat population in that area. Levy reported a 70 percent decline of animal control cat intake from a baseline of 13 cats per 1,000 residents to four cats per 1,000 residents at the end of the study. In contrast, outside the target area, the county saw only a 13 percent decrease in animal control intake. Study results showed that euthanasia declined 95 percent, from a baseline of eight cats per 1,000 residents to less than one per 1,000 residents. Euthanasia rates only dropped 30 percent in the surrounding non-target areas.
TNR is the right, most cost-effective and humane approach for effectively dealing with community cats and has been adopted by many large and small cities across the nation including Baltimore City and County, and Anne Arundel County in Maryland. According to the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs, it costs between $52 to $123, average of $87, to euthanize a cat at the shelter and between $104 to $550, average of $327, to shelter and adopt, with no end in sight! It costs an average of $65 to TNR a cat and is often paid for by grants and private citizens. It’s time for Frederick County to implement the TNR approach to save cat’s lives and taxpayer dollars.
Frederick AdvoCats, a network of cat welfare advocates, is asking the county council to please consider approving an amendment to the animal ordinances that supports an effective TNR program. Currently, county ordinances are completely silent in dealing with community cats and animal control doesn’t have a policy on TNR. “Animal Control officials in Montgomery, Carroll and Howard counties are among those who said they work with animal advocates so some feral cats are neutered and released” as stated in an article by Lisa Rossi, entitled, “Feral Cat Issue Divides Counties, Residents in Maryland” published March 13, 2012 on Patch. Frederick AdvoCats is counting on our county coming together and for our elected leaders to do the right thing for cats and our community.
About Frederick AdvoCats
Frederick AdvoCats (www.frederickadvocats.weebly.com) is a network of cat welfare advocates who envision a world in which every cat enjoys a good life. As cat advocates, our mission is to protect the rights of cats in our community, promote policies that improve their quality of life, and hold our officials accountable for what happens to cats in Frederick County, Maryland. Working together, we seek coordinated solutions to stabilize the cat population and create a better life for felines and community members in our county. Follow Frederick AdvoCats on Facebook.