Commentary: Controlling Delaware cat population takes changing ways

A previous letter to the editor questioned the ability of trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNVR) to reduce the free-roaming cat population and cited presumed failures. Documented successes in diverse communities have shown that this is simply not the case.

In Newburyport, Massachusetts, a colony of 300 cats was successfully reduced to none over 17 years. In Las Vegas, shelter intake and euthanasia rates have steadily decreased largely due to TNVR efforts by The Community Cat Coalition of Clark County.

Community cats may roam independently or live together in a colony. The colony may include feral (unsocialized) cats, partially socialized cats, and formerly owned cats that were abandoned or strayed. The ASPCA’s Position Statement on Community Cats emphasizes multiple approaches and supports TNVR with managed colonies over return-to-field programs.

Successful TNVR requires ongoing management so that new cats are promptly sterilized and vaccinated for rabies. Kittens and friendly cats are put up for adoption. This requires committed volunteers, accessible low-cost and no-cost spay/neuter, and an educated public.

Visible support from municipalities and legislation supporting humane management of free-roaming cats are vital. Large-scale success requires that these variables occur simultaneously.

On a small scale, diligent caretakers with well-managed colonies see their cats decrease in number over time. A local community engaged in TNVR has fewer litters of kittens and less noise from mating and cat fights. Animal welfare officers receive fewer calls about nuisance behaviors or ill cats.

For those who want to be part of the solution, consider one of the following:

• Work with your neighbors to TNVR free-roaming cats in your community. The Neighborhood Cats handbook is a respected resource giving you information to do this safely and effectively (www.neighborhoodcats.org)

• Foster an adoptable cat or a litter of kittens

• Adopt a “store” cat. Growing up, our family business had multiple cats; a source of enjoyment to customers and never a complaint.

• Revise stringent pet policies and exorbitant pet deposits if you are a landlord and increase the pool of adopters.

• Build alliances in the community. TNVR advocates, animal welfare nonprofits, public officials, and veterinarians working together offer the best chance of a sustainable solution.

Delaware has the potential to be a shining star. But it has a long way to go before it is truly “animal-friendly.” A compassionate method of managing our community cats is available to us if we work together and are willing to make some changes.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Gail Bottomley is resident of Dover.

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