State sanctions county, municipal feral cat programs by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and feral catsThe Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) does not accept feral cats. Taking unadoptable feral cats into an animal shelter is a death sentence and is contrary to the YHS no-kill ethic. Rather than employing the “catch and kill” methodology used by many shelters, YHS champions trap/neuter/return (TNR) as the only viable and humane method for effectively reducing feral cat populations.

The Arizona state legislature recently came out in strong agreement with YHS on TNR. Arizona’s governing body overwhelmingly passed SB1260. The new law encourages animal control to return healthy “stray” cats to the vicinity where they were captured after being sterilized; the very definition of TNR.

Coincidentally, perhaps the strongest scientific support for Arizona’s robust endorsement of TNR comes from a 13-month study conducted by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries in Hobart, Australia. The study, entitled “Effects of low-level culling of feral cats in open populations” appeared in a recent edition of the journal Wildlife Research, 2015. The findings, trumpeted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Discovery Science, and other media, directly contradict the Australian government, and its environment minister Greg Hunt, who has called for the “effective” eradication of all feral cats by 2023.

Biologist Billie Lazenby, who led the study, says she expected to validate the use of lethal culling (catch and kill) promoted by the Australian government but instead found, to her dismay, that culling markedly increases the numbers of feral cats in an area.

Lazenby and her team of researchers used remote trail cameras to estimate the number of feral cats at two southern Tasmania study sites before and after a 13-month “low-level culling.”

However, Vox Felina blogger Peter Wolf observed, “The effort was anything but low-level. Over the course of 13 months, researchers managed 2,764 trap-nights-an average of seven traps every day of the culling period. Each trapped cat was, after being left in the trap for up to 12 hours or more, ‘euthanized by a single shot to the head from a 0.22 rifle using hollow point ammunition.'”

“Contrary to our prior expectations,” reported Lazenby, the “number of feral cats rose 75 percent at one test site and 211 percent at the other.” Of particular interest, “Cat numbers fell, and were comparable with those in the pre-culling period, when culling ceased.” Suggesting feral cats fill a stable self-regulated ecological niche.

The researchers ultimately concluded the surprising population explosion was the result of “influxes of new [adult] individuals after dominant resident cats were removed.” A phenomenon YHS refers to as the “vacuum effect.” When cats are removed but natural conditions (such as food sources) remain the deterrents of existing territorial cats vanish and neighboring cats quickly invade and overpopulate the newly open territory.

When culling feral cats, Lazenby now says “You may be inadvertently doing more damage than good.”

“What we should focus on when managing feral cats is reducing their impact; and you don’t reduce impact by reducing numbers.” In fact, a growing number of studies conclusively prove lethal culling induces a biological imperative that causes feral cats to overbreed and overproduce to survive. Counter-intuitively, lethal culling directly exacerbates feral cat problems.

Gratefully Arizona has a legislature who understands the science and through SB1260 is directing county and municipal animal control agencies to recognize TNR as the only viable, humane solution to our communities’ vexing feral cat problems.

Arizona is leading the nation through this ground breaking legislation. How wonderful would it be if Yavapai County and local municipalities took the lead by building an effective and humane trap/neuter/return program on this historic foundation?

Putting cats to work helps them and us By Ed Boks

Ed Boks and feral catsIn a perfect world, all cats would have a loving home, they would be spayed or neutered and they would be kept indoors. Stray cat problems arise because unaltered pet cats are permitted to roam freely outdoors and they either become feral (wild) over time and/or they produce feral offspring.

The only time a cat should ever be allowed outdoors is when it is too feral to keep indoors and then only if it is spayed or neutered so it doesn’t contribute to feral cat overpopulation. However, the responsibility for making sure feral cats are spayed or neutered often unfairly falls to a compassionate person who voluntarily steps up to feed them.

Truth be known, these caregivers and their feral cats deserve our respect and our support; they provide an important service to our developing communities. They help alleviate pressure on our overcrowded shelters; they help keep rodents in check without the use of pest control chemicals that are toxic to the environment and dangerous to pets, wildlife and children; and they help reduce rodent related public health risks, such as the plague, the fatal Leptospirosis, Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, Murine Typhus, Rat Bite Fever, Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium, and Eosinophilic Meningitis.

Feral cats have taken the place of the diminishing wild animal populations in preventing an overpopulation of rodents. This is why more and more U.S. communities are joining Denmark, England, Israel and other countries in relying on feral cats to serve as a “green” (environmentally friendly) rat abatement program.

The reason feral cats are so effective is because rodents flee neighborhoods where these cats make their presence known. They actually give off an odor through their paws as they prowl about and once rodents get a whiff of feline, they quickly vacate the premises.

Less grisly than glue traps — and much more effective – feral cats go about their “work” naturally. They prowl, they eat and they sit in the sun; although they prefer to spend much of their time hiding from view.

And the oft heard complaint that feral cats are a public nuisance can be humanely remedied through a formalized feral cat program – because, contrary to conventional wisdom, you can herd cats. Feral cats tend to follow the food bowl. Unobtrusive feeding stations established in out of the way locations ensure feral cat nuisance complaints are greatly reduced if not eliminated altogether.

I encourage municipalities to support feral cat caregivers through a program called Operation FELIX (Feral Education and Love Instead of X-termination). Through Operation FELIX, feral cats are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, micro-chipped and ear-tipped (under anesthesia while the cats are being altered, veterinarians notch an ear tip, the widely recognized sign that a feral cat is altered).

To truly be effective, local municipalities should allocate funding to support Operation FELIX in their respective jurisdictions, as they are typically the recipients of feral cat complaints. Until that happens, YHS depends on donations and grants to help support our community’s volunteer feral cat care givers as they voluntarily provide this valuable community service.

If you want to help support this innovative, non-lethal feral cat program please make a donation to your local shelter and specify “FELIX” on your check.

For more information on Operation FELIX or how to solve feral cat problems in your neighborhood contact me.

If you have a rodent problem in your home or place of business, consider adopting a Working Cat as a humane solution.

In the cold weather, be sure to tap the hood of your car before starting it. Cats often look for warmth under the hood and this simple practice could save a life.

Study fails to debunk Trap-Neuter-Return by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and feral cats
Best way to protect birds from feral cats is Operation FELIX

Nature Communications is a journal dedicated to publishing research in the sciences. They recently published a controversial report on the findings of a Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute study. The results quickly became fodder for an uncritical media willing to accept its dubious findings.

Curiously, the authors elected to place their “results” in the mainstream media rather than submit them for peer review – suggesting the report was never meant for scientists, but to misinform policy makers.

The study estimated that domestic cats in the United States kill a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion native mammals, like shrews, chipmunks and voles, a year.

This estimate is two to four times higher than mortality figures previously bandied about, making the domestic cat the single greatest human-linked threat to wildlife in the nation – greater than automobiles, pesticides and poisons, collisions with skyscrapers and other so-called anthropogenic causes.

The report comes with many uncertainties and seems purposely designed to fuel the sometimes vitriolic debate between environmentalists who see free-roaming domestic cats as an invasive species and animal welfare advocates who are concerned with the millions of cats (and dogs) euthanized in animal shelters each year.

Both sides do agree on two points; pet cats should not be allowed to prowl the neighborhood at will, any more than a dog or a horse; and cat owners who insist that their felines “deserve” a bit of freedom are both irresponsible and not very cat friendly.

Projects like Kitty Cams at the University of Georgia attached cameras to the collars of indoor-outdoor pet cats to track their activities. Cats were not only filmed preying on cardinals, frogs and field mice but were also seen lapping up antifreeze and sewer sludge, dodging moving cars and sparring violently with large dogs.

This is why the I say if you love your cat, keep your cat indoors.

However, the real purpose of the study is to call into question the well established Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) method for humanely decreasing feral cat populations through attrition. TNR is the practice of trapping, spaying and returning un-owned cats to a managed colony in the area from which they came. The authors of the report failed to understand that TNR is the only known means for reducing feral cat populations and as a result reducing the number of wildlife killed by feral cats.

The report deduces eradication is the best remedy for dealing with feral cats, not recognizing that decades of such efforts across the United States irrefutably demonstrates eradication does not work.

Feral cats have a strong survival drive, which means attempts to catch cats for extermination triggers a biological imperative to over-breed and over-produce. The consequences are exponential; rather than one litter of two or three kittens per year, a stressed female will have two or three litters of six to nine kittens annually.

Even if a community could remove all its feral cats, a phenomenon called “the vacuum effect” quickly lures neighboring cats into the newly open territory bringing with them all their annoying behaviors, including increased wildlife killing.

As we’ve seen time after time in locations all over the country, the end result of “catch and kill” is always the same: vacated neighborhoods are swiftly overrun again with feral cats fighting and caterwauling for mates, over breeding, and spraying to mark their new territory – sometimes leading to demands for stronger eradication efforts, which as we know, only exacerbates the problem.

The only way to save our wildlife is to reduce the number of feral cats. The only proven way to do that is through well managed Trap/Neuter/Return programs.

The Big Fix by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and The Big FixOur motto at the Yavapai Humane Society is “Every Animal Counts.” We work hard to live up to that because we know that lost, homeless, abused and neglected animals count on YHS to intervene and reverse their plight.

Unfortunately, we can’t save them all – at least not without broad community support. Too often, and for too many animals, our limited resources become exhausted and we are forced to make the difficult decision to take the life of an animal before their time.

The good news is that euthanasia at YHS is down drastically! Following a recent change in YHS leadership and policy, the killing was reduced 42.23 percent when compared to the same period last year. Remarkably, this was accomplished despite a 3 percent increase in the number of animals taken in during this same period.

Some believe that killing shelter animals is the unavoidable by-product of providing efficient municipal services to residents. But these pragmatists might consider a state of Minnesota Legislative report, which found that for each dollar invested in spay/neuter programs, $20 in animal control costs could be saved over 10 years.

People who excuse euthanasia in shelters often say we have to be “realistic,” but such realism is best directed at the sources of the problem. Effective spay/neuter programs to assist pet owners who are poor, elderly on a fixed income, or living in remote or underserved areas is a far better use of public and private funding than catching and killing lost and homeless pets.

YHS is engaged in a quest to achieve “no-kill.” No-kill is defined as consistently applying the same criteria a loving pet owner or compassionate veterinarian would use to determine if or when to euthanize a shelter animal. That is, no healthy or treatable animal would be killed simply because of a lack of shelter space or resources.

To help orchestrate a more strategic no-kill effort, YHS is announcing a community-wide spay/neuter initiative called “The Big Fix.” The Big Fix is a program that will provide low- or no-cost spay/neuter services for pets of needy families as well as pets adopted from YHS shelters.

The Big Fix will be funded by donations and grants – and it desperately needs your help to get started. While the reduced killing over the past two months represents a good start in the right direction, we have a long way to go. Your check or online donation to YHS, with an annotation for “The Big Fix,” will help fix the problem of pet overpopulation so we can more quickly achieve No-Kill!

So where is YHS in achieving this goal today? The industry standard for calculating a community’s progress toward no-kill is determined by the number of pet deaths in local shelters annually per 1,000 human residents. The national kill rate in 2009 was 13.5. This is based on an estimated human population of 300,079,939 and 4,157,918 recorded animal deaths.

In the Southwest (Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah), the kill rate was 15.2, based on an estimated human population of 19,048,000 and 289,530 recorded animal deaths.

Our quad-city region has an estimated human population of 110,000. With 1,892 shelter deaths in 2009, our kill rate was a staggering and unacceptable 17.25.

For years, the animal welfare community thought no-kill would be achieved when killing was reduced to 5 deaths per 1,000 residents, recognizing there will always be terminally ill and injured animals and dangerously aggressive dogs that require humane euthanasia.

However, in recent years, New York City and Los Angeles reduced their kill rates to 2 and 3.7, respectively, demonstrating we really don’t know how far we can go in this life-saving quest. And if you think things work differently in small towns or rural communities, consider the fact that Reno, Nevada, has reduced their kill rate to 5.4.

As a community, we can choose to pay the relatively modest cost to fund targeted spay/neuter programs designed to fix the problem on the front end, or we can continue to pay the ever-increasing costs of catching and killing animals on the back end. We prefer the more proactive front-end approach, and we hope you will agree by sending in a donation today for “The Big Fix,” so we can help low-income pet owners spay and neuter their pets. For more information contact me.

Operation FELIX: Feral Education and Love Instead of X-termination by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and Albert EinsteinInsanity, according to Albert Einstein, is “doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” Many communities address their feral cat problem over and over again with two basic methodologies ­- only to be disappointed by the consequences of their efforts.

Feral cats are cats who have reverted to a wild state – born from tame cats that owners abandon or allow to run loose. These cats mate with other free-roaming cats, and their offspring, raised without human compassion, are wild, or feral. They grow up and breed with other feral and free-roaming cats and the cat population increases exponentially. Feral cats are considered a public nuisance by some and a public health concern by others. They needn’t be either.

The two methodologies employed by most communities are Do Nothing and Eradication. Decades of applying these methodologies has proven they don’t work – and there are very real biological reasons why.

It is easy to understand why doing nothing has little impact on the problem, but it is not as easy to understand why eradication does not work.

Feral cats typically live in colonies of 6 to 20 cats. When individuals try to catch cats for extermination, this heightens the biological stress of the colony, triggering a survival mechanism that causes the cats to over-breed and over-produce. Consequently, instead of birthing one litter per year with two or three kittens, a stressed female will produce two or three litters with 6 to 9 kittens each.

Even in the unlikely event that a person could catch and remove all the feral cats in a neighborhood, a phenomenon known as “the vacuum effect” would result. The removed colony had kept surrounding colonies at bay, but once removed, all deterrents evaporate and the surrounding cats enter the new territory to over-breed. The vacated neighborhood is quickly overrun with feral cats fighting for mates, caterwauling, and spraying for territory. Extermination only exacerbates the problem and actually produces worse results than doing nothing at all.

However, there is a third methodology that is increasingly practiced in communities across the United States and around the world with amazing results. It is called Trap/Neuter/Return, or TNR.

With TNR, all the feral cats in a neighborhood are trapped, sterilized, and returned to the area where they originated – under the care of a colony manager. The colony manager is a trained volunteer in the neighborhood willing to feed, water, and care for the colony.

Ed Boks and feral cats
Feral cats are descended from domestic cats but are born and live without human contact. Trap/Neuter/Return is the only effective – and humane – method of controlling the feral cat population.

TNR prevents the vacuum effect. Altered cats display none of the troubling behaviors of intact cats. Feral cats provide free rodent abatement, a service many neighborhoods unknowingly rely on. Since feral cats only live three to five years, the problem literally solves itself through attrition, provided TNR is implemented community-wide.

TNR also solves public nuisance complaints. There is an adage that says “you can’t herd cats.” In fact, you can herd neutered cats because they tend to hang around the food bowl. No longer having the urge to breed and prey, they follow the food bowl wherever the colony manager takes it. Feral cats can be trained to congregate in areas out of the way of the public.

TNR is a non-lethal, humane and cost-effective solution. Understanding this, YHS is enacting a moratorium on accepting feral cats at its shelters until a comprehensive community-wide feral cat program can be initiated.

In the next weeks, YHS will work with others in the community to help develop a program to provide quad-city residents the training and tools they need to effectively employ TNR in their neighborhoods.

TNR empowers citizens to solve this troublesome problem once and for all. Feral cats are trapped, neutered, vaccinated, health-checked by a veterinarian and returned to their neighborhood where their population is stabilized and reduced through attrition.

If you would like more information on TNR or if you would like to help develop this program, please contact me.

Should compassion be outlawed by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and feral catsThat is the question being debated in Beverly Hills this month. The debate officially began on Wednesday, July 1st, when a 65-year-old Feral Cat Colony Manager named Katherine Varjian appeared before a judge in the Beverly Hills courthouse charged with the crime of feeding feral cats.

To be sure there are some technical issues regarding the law and Beverly Hills’ contract with LA Animal Services, but this case begs a fundamental question, “should compassion be outlawed?”

While I am sure no one in Beverly Hills wants to outlaw compassion, it should be understood that criminalizing the feeding of feral cats does just that. Although municipalities may deliberately or inadvertently outlaw compassion by ordinance, they can never stop it. When compassion is outlawed compassionate people will turn outlaw before denying their better angels. Ms. Varjian may be a case in point.

This case presents Beverly Hills with the opportunity to once again take a national leadership position; just as they did in December, 2008 when they officially became a “Guardian City.” In that decision, the Beverly Hills City Council demonstrated their compassionate intentions by “recognizing animals as Individuals, not objects”, adopting programs designed to “change public attitudes towards animals and provide positive impacts on local communities”, and “decrease animal abuse and abandonment.”

Surely this commitment and this case present a unique opportunity for the City of Beverly Hills to expand the circle of compassion to include feral cats.

What Are Our Choices: Communities typically employ one of three methodologies to deal with feral cats: 1) Do nothing, 2) Eradication, or 3) Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR).

While it is easy to understand why doing nothing has little effect on reducing feral cat populations (and, in fact, encourages growth), it may not be as easy to understand why eradication does not work.

Although some communities continue to employ eradication (“do not feed” “catch and kill”) as a remedy, decades of eradication efforts in communities across the United States has irrefutably demonstrated that this methodology does not work. There are two very real biological reasons why eradication fails every time.

Wild animals tend to have strong biological survival mechanisms. Feral cats, which are wild animals, typically live in colonies of six to twenty cats. You often never see all the cats in a colony and it is easy to underestimate the number of feral cats in a neighborhood. When individuals or authorities try to catch cats for extermination this heightens the biological stress on the colony.

This stress triggers two survival mechanisms causing the cats to 1) over breed, and 2) over produce. That is, rather than having one litter of two to three kittens per year, a stressed female could have two or three litters per year of six to nine kittens.

Even if a community was successful in catching and removing all the feral cats from a neighborhood, a phenomenon called “the vacuum effect” would be created.

When some or all the cats in a colony are removed, cats in surrounding neighborhoods gravitate toward the ecological niche vacated. When a colony is removed but the natural conditions (including food sources) remain, the natural deterrents offered by an existing colony of territorial cats evaporate and the neighboring cats quickly enter the newly open territory, bringing with them all the associated annoying behaviors.

As we’ve seen time after time in location after location all over the country, the end result of the “catch and kill” methodology is always the same: The vacated neighborhood quickly finds itself overrun again with feral cats fighting and caterwauling for mates, over breeding, and spraying to mark their new territory. “Catch and kill” never provides a lasting solution and can easily exacerbate the problem.

Albert Einstein defined “insanity” as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. That is why so many communities are abandoning the failed “catch and kill” methodologies in favor of trying the newest and only humane, non-lethal alternative: TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return).

TNR is being practiced in more and more communities across the United States and around the world with amazing results.

While I was in Maricopa County, TNR was so successful that the County Board of Supervisors enacted a resolution declaring TNR the only viable methodology they would approve for addressing the feral cat problem in this County of 24 cities and towns (including Phoenix) spread out across nearly 1,000 square miles.

While in New York City, we observed a 73% reduction in the number of stray cats impounded in a targeted zip code on the Upper West Side of Manhattan over a 42-month period of practicing TNR. TNR, correctly administered, is the only methodology that guarantees a reduction of the feral cat population in a community.

When TNR is employed effectively, all the feral cats in a neighborhood are trapped, sterilized, and returned to the area where they were trapped. They are returned under the care of a Colony Manager. The Colony Manager is a trained volunteer in the neighborhood willing to feed, water, and care for the colony and watch for any new cats. Once the colony cats are all neutered, new cats tend to be recently abandoned domestics that can be captured and placed for adoption.

Ms. Varjian is a Certified Feral Cat Colony Manager; trained and certified by Dona Cosgrove Baker, President and Founder of the nationally recognized Feral Cat Caretakers’ Coalition.

There are many benefits to TNR: 1) TNR prevents the vacuum effect from occurring. 2) TNR dramatically mitigates the troubling behaviors of intact cats: fighting and caterwauling for mates, and spraying for territory. 3) Altered cats provide rat abatement, a service many neighborhoods value, such as the Flower District in Los Angeles, and 4) because feral cats tend to only live one-third their natural life span the problem literally solves itself through attrition, provided TNR is implemented community wide.

TNR also addresses the concern that feral cats tend to create a public nuisance on campuses and in parks. There is an old adage that claims you can’t herd cats. In fact, you can herd neutered cats because they tend to hang around the food bowl. Because neutered cats no longer have the urge to breed and prey, they tend to follow the food bowl wherever the Colony Manager takes it. Feral cats can be trained to congregate in campus or park areas out of the way of the public or other wildlife.

When you review LA’s statistics it is clear that free-roaming cats represent our biggest challenge to achieving No-Kill.

Nothing hinders Beverly Hills from joining the City of Glendale and other communities who have already embraced TNR. It is my hope that Katherine Varjian’s case will open the door to a deliberative dialogue on the effectiveness of TNR for our residents, our wildlife and our feral cats.

Citizens interested in voicing their opinion on this matter can attend the next Beverly Hills City Council meeting where the question of reinstating a prohibition on feeding feral cats will be reconsidered. The question is much bigger than feeding or not feeding feral cats. The question that needs to be answered is, can we as a community come up with a humane, non-lethal solution to our feral cat problems. I believe the answer is a resounding “Yes”.

The next Beverly Hills City Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, August 4th at 7 p.m. at the Beverly Hills City Council, Rm. 400 (Council Chambers) located at 455 N. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

If you cannot attend you can voice your opinion by contacting your Beverly Hills representative by letter, e-mail, fax or phone. (Phone: 310-285-1013, Fax: 310-275-8159)

What “transparency” looks like by Ed Boks

LA Animal Services is one of the few, if not the only, animal control program in the United States that posts and updates a comprehensive set of statistics every month.

In fact, LA Animal Services was recognized by The Maddie’s Fund, the well known pet rescue foundation established in 1999 to help fund the creation of a no-kill nation, for our “transparency,” (i.e., the ready availability of information to the public). Of the over 5200 animal control programs in the United States and the tens of thousands humane societies and other animal welfare organizations, Maddie’s identified only five organizations for their transparency. LA Animal Services was at the top of this list and was the only municipal animal control program recognized.

Over the past six years, LA Animal Services has been able to boast one of the most impressive records for reducing pet euthanasia as a methodology for controlling pet overpopulation in the nation.

However, the first quarter statistics for 2008 have recently been posted, and they are disappointing. Despite the fact that live placements (adoptions, New Hope placements, and redemption’s) continue to rise to unprecedented levels historically and unequaled levels nationally (27,565 in the past 12 months for a 59% live release rate [70% for dogs and 44% for cats]) the euthanasia level also rose.

There are many possible reasons for this increase, and it is important that we understand all of them if we are to address and correct this anomaly as a community going forward.

Preface

1. I want to preface this discussion by reminding everyone that LA Animal Services’ statistics showing increased euthanasia and animal intakes during the first quarter of 2008 demonstrates that the department does not “fudge the data” or “manipulate the process to spin the numbers” as some critic’s suggest.

2. A second preface is to acknowledge that we at LA Animal Services are as disappointed with these results as are our critics. To have both the intake and kill rates drift upward in four of our shelters over the past quarter is not acceptable and we are taking steps to reverse this disturbing trend.

To be fair, it should be understood that when you normalize* the statistics and compare the intake statistics to the euthanasia rates in the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2007 there was only a 1.49% increase in euthanasia.

But no matter how you assess the numbers, everyone agrees that no increase in euthanasia is desirable, and we will continue to do everything we can to return to our long standing trend of reducing the killing. As was explained in my last message, we have hit the proverbial “wall” and will need the help of the entire animal loving community going forward.

(* Normalization is the process of removing statistical error in repeated measured data. For us, that means comparing the euthanasia rate relative to a fluctuating intake rate.)

3. Statistics do not exist in a vacuum and there are reasons why things are as they are, some reasons are more subject to department control than are others. The bottom line, however, is that there is a lot of work to do and hysteria, hand-wringing and finger pointing does not save lives.

Operational Circumstances

4. The department recently completed a major shelter management reassignment that has impacted almost every shelter. This was done to match the abilities of some of our most experienced managers with jobs we feel they can do well. These changes bring with them adjustment periods as managers learn about their newly assigned, and in some cases, newly opened facilities. These managers must determine how they want to tackle the many challenges they face in their respective shelters. I will soon announce the selection of a new Assistant General Manager of Operations who will work directly with them on these challenges. In the meantime, we started posting statistics by shelter in the hope this information will help the community better target its resources to help the animals most at risk.

LA Animal Services opened three new facilities in the last ten months and we are scheduled to open two more in the next three months. This is the fastest and largest increase of any City Department in LA City history and represents a significant learning curve during a time of intense scrutiny and fiscal instability.

5. Center managers are responsible for determining the optimal animal capacity for their shelter. This is a delicate balance between wanting to save lives and not wanting to be perceived as “warehousing” animals. If a shelter experiences a short-term surge in new arrivals, it could lead to an urgent need to move more animals out of the shelter one way or another. Unfortunately, when that doesn’t happen via adoption, New Hope rescue, or transfer of animals within our shelter system or partnering shelter systems, it’s likely to happen via euthanasia.

Adoptions and Rescues

6. There is a spirited national debate going on about whether shelters can “adopt their way” to No-Kill status. Perhaps we can, but it takes the whole community working together. As noted earlier, adoptions at LAAS shelters were also up during the first quarter of 2008 and, on a month-over-month basis, has been up for 12 consecutive months by a range of from 10-30% depending on the month. That is encouraging.

7. The numbers of dogs and cats placed by our wonderful New Hope rescue partners during the first quarter of ‘08 is up by about 5% over last year. This is also encouraging coming after a year in which New Hope rescue placements were down. Our New Hope partners do all they can to help save animals but sometimes they run out of capacity too, so any month when they are able to increase the number of transfers that is a plus.

8. Increasing animal adoptions can be a challenge when the most easy-to-adopt animals, such as puppies, kittens and purebreds, are scooped up almost immediately after they come into the shelters. That leaves the harder to adopt big and older dogs, so-called aggressive breeds and injured or sick animals that place a larger burden on the casual would-be adopter.

These animals must be marketed more aggressively and creatively, and the simple fact is that marketing is not our strong suit at the moment. We don’t have a public relations staff, nor do we have a volunteer coordinator at the moment to run our mobile adoption program. These tasks are being done on an ad hoc basis by extraordinary employees whose primary responsibilities lie elsewhere.

We’ve been struggling to find a new PR person and volunteer coordinator through the City’s civil service system and have yet to turn up a suitable candidate with the requisite experience and skills. We’ll keep trying to rectify that as soon as we can, and under the new pressures of a deficit-driven City hiring freeze. But in the meantime, getting the word out about our shelter animals, and getting those animals out to a wider public, remains a challenge. The importance of doing so, however, was made very clear by the 52% jump in adoptions at our shelters in the week following Oprah Winfrey’s April 4 show on puppy mills which featured our South LA Animal Care Center.

Ed Boks and Riester Advertising Agency
Riester Advertising Agency generously donated creative ads to Ed Boks in Maricopa County, NYC and LA

Riester Ad Agency has generously donated a series of adoption campaign ads that are downloadable from our website. LA Animal Services asks everyone with access to a neighborhood newspaper, LA animal blog, local or business bulletin board to help us get the word out by posting these ads.

Intakes

9. Some have pointed to the first quarter upsurge in intakes as indicative of some systemic failure on the department’s part, though they offer no logical explanation for this allegation. It is impossible at this point to know if this increase in intakes is a reversal of a long standing trend or if it is a short term reaction to the recent housing market collapse.

To be sure, we are dealing with a unique phenomenon this year – widely documented in the media – and that is the unprecedented upsurge in pet relinquishment’s resulting from families losing their homes to foreclosures or evictions. Many are finding that they are unable to afford to keep their pets or, alternately, to find a new home they can afford where pets are allowed. Intakes system wide were up by 447 animals in March 2008 over March 2007, and it makes sense that housing and economic displacement contributed substantially to that increase. People leaving their pets at our shelters have made that clear.  The solution: A House is not a Home without a Pet program.

10. Spring and early summer is traditionally a problem for every animal shelter, as kitten and puppy season brings more neonates through our doors. Hundreds of orphaned neonate kittens are taken in every month at this time of year, and they are the primary focus of our life saving efforts. They require careful around-the-clock care that no shelter is equipped to provide, either in terms of facilities or available staff. Dozens of staff members have, however, stepped up to take on the challenge of fostering litters of kittens, as have more than 100 volunteers, but if a dedicated caregiver can’t be found for an orphaned litter of neonate kittens, they will probably be euthanized. We don’t make excuses for this, and we welcome every new volunteer foster caregiver we can recruit.

It should be understood that LA Animal Services is not the only organization in the greater LA region facing this crisis. All our sister jurisdictions and rescue partners are inundated with hundreds of neonate kittens at the same time. We are all exhausting our limited resources as we take in, care for, and try to place these animals.

11. Apart from a regularization of the real estate market which is probably a number of months away, one thing that must be done to arrest this trend is to create more opportunities for people to keep their pets when they have to move. The local humane community has been discussing this issue and is working on ideas that might help, including providing landlords with financial indemnification against pet-related damage, and/or other incentives that would motivate them to allow pets in the units they own and manage. In a city where 62% of the residents are tenants, increasing the availability of pet-friendly rental units is an issue that deserves much more attention than it is getting.

Spay/Neuter

12. Some blame the upsurge in intakes on the department’s alleged failure to spay and neuter everything in sight, as if that were possible. But LA Animal Services is doing what it can, and may well lead the nation’s shelters in our commitment to provide spay/neuter as a tool for reducing pet overpopulation.

With the generous support of the Mayor and City Council, we’re able to fund upwards of 40,000 surgeries a year, using our two currently operational spay/neuter clinics, the Amanda Foundation and Sam Simon Foundation mobile clinics, and the network of private veterinarians who take our discount vouchers.

As this is written, we have a Request for Proposals (RFP) soliciting operators for the five new spay/neuter clinics nearing completion in our new shelters. Additionally, others in the humane community who have an interest in spay/neuter are preparing to launch new community-based spay/neuter efforts in and around Los Angeles.

The City’s pioneering spay/neuter ordinance that became law on April 8th is already generating a surge in voluntary compliance at various clinics. We have begun to gear up the information and enforcement efforts that will be needed to make the ordinance effective and we expect it to generate results that will become clear in our statistics over the next few years.

13. All that being said, we definitely have not been able to sterilize all the feral and stray cats we want. This is because of a lawsuit threat from an environmental group opposed to the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) methodology used to control feral and stray cat populations in many locales, including cities contiguous to Los Angeles. This has forced LA Animal Services to undertake a lengthy environmental study process before trying to establish a formal TNR program here. This could take up to another year to accomplish.

In the meantime, valiant community TNR volunteers do what they can to manage the problem in various locations, but untended, unsterilized stray cats can undo much of the progress these diligent volunteers achieve. Many of the neonate litters we see come from this source and, absent the ability for the department to legally conduct TNR, unadoptable feral adults and their kittens will continue to account for hundreds, if not thousands, of the unfortunate cats who are euthanized every year.

Finally…

14. I don’t offer these explanations as excuses for what we have experienced in our shelters so far in 2008. We share the frustrations of the entire humane community when statistics don’t trend positive, and we should be held accountable when all is said and done. But our larger job is to bring the community together to find solutions, to seek new resources when the City budget can’t provide them, and find new ways to overcome the challenges few communities have ever had to face on the scale we see in Los Angeles.

We hope to soon gather the community together to try to do just that. We will continue to work on identifying new resources to help us meet the challenges posed by the spay/neuter law, make more homes welcoming to pets, get the word out that big, older dogs and neonate kittens make lovable pets, and provide adopters with the support they need to ensure that is the case.

If you would like to help, please consider joining our Volunteer Program or make a donation towards one of our many life saving programs.

IMPLEMENTING THE NO-KILL EQUATION IN LOS ANGELES – Part V: Comprehensive Adoption Program

This is the fifth posting in a series of messages responding to the recommendations of the “No-Kill Equation”. The “No-Kill Equation” is comprised of ten commonsense, long-standing practices embraced and implemented by LA Animal Services with remarkable success.

This analysis compares the “No-Kill Equation” to LA’s programs and practices. Today’s message focuses on the fifth recommendation of the “No-Kill Equation,” which is Comprehensive Adoption Programs.

The Ten “No-Kill Equation” Recommendations are:
1. Feral Cat TNR Program
2. High Volume/Low-Cost Spay/Neuter
3. Rescue Groups
4. Foster Care
5. Comprehensive Adoption Program
6. Pet Retention
7. Medical and Behavioral Rehabilitation
8. Public Relations/Community Involvement
9. Volunteers
10. A Compassionate Director

The “No-Kill Equation” is in this font.

My analysis is in italic font.

V. Comprehensive Adoption Programs
Adoptions are vital to an agency’s lifesaving mission. The quantity and quality of shelter adoptions is in shelter management’s hands, making lifesaving a direct function of shelter policies and practice.

As one commentator put it, “if each pet lives 10 years, on average, and the number of homes grows at the same rate that homes are lost through deaths and other attrition, then replacement homes would become available each year for more than twice as many dog and slightly more cats than enter shelters. Since the inventory of pet-owning homes is growing, not just holding even, adoption could in theory replace all population control killing right now–if the animals and potential adopters were better introduced.”

In fact, studies show people get their dogs from shelters only 15% of the time overall, and less than 10% of the time for cats. If shelters better promoted their animals and had adoption programs responsive to the needs of the community, they could increase the number of homes available and replace population control killing with adoptions. In other words, shelter killing is more a function of market share, than “public irresponsibility.” Contrary to conventional wisdom, shelters can adopt their way out of killing.

Ed’s Analysis:  LA Animal Services’ animal care centers have always strived to increase adoptions and have done so every consecutive year for the past six years. As the new and expanded facilities continue to open as targeted during 2008, they will be among the most inviting animal adoption environments in the nation. Even prior to the opening of all of the new or expanded, environmentally-sustainable facilities, the work of dedicated shelter staff and volunteers working in the Department’s existing shelters and at mobile adoption events have made it possible for LA Animal Services to adopt out or release to rescuers more animals than any other municipal shelter system in the U.S in 2007.

LA Animal Services has operated mobile adoption events since the late 1990s and continues to hold five to ten or more such events every month in locations all around Los Angeles, in addition to speaking engagements and information distribution regarding adoption at community events. Department volunteers work with staff to accomplish these activities and also engage in follow-up marketing of the animals that are not adopted from the mobile events. The Department’s goal is to substantially increase the number of these mobile adoptions and outreach efforts in the coming years.

While the “No Kill Equation” asserts a largely unsubstantiated theory (especially in large public shelter systems) that “shelters can adopt their way out of killing,” the reality is that as long as people fail or refuse to spay and neuter their pets, treat their pets as disposable and relinquish them to shelters or abandon them in the streets, favor specific purebred animals over mixed breeds and thus continue to buy animals from breeders and pet stores, there will always tend to be more pets than adoptive homes to care for them.

The “No Kill Equation” chooses to blame shelters and their directors for the fact that animals show up in shelters, are not always adopted, and sometimes are euthanized. This is comparable to excoriating a doctor for the fact that he or she has patients. To be sure, the doctor can and should be held accountable for how he treats those patients once they arrive, but it’s not his or her fault that the patient got sick or injured in the first place.

A variety of factors come into play and, yes, one of them is irresponsible pet guardianship. Some guardians simply refuse to have their animals sterilized and let them run loose, where they can breed in an uncontrolled manner. Others willfully breed their animals thinking they can make a few bucks selling puppies and kittens. Shelter directors and the entities that employ them can, and have, used every method available to them to try and persuade people to behave otherwise, but some will never change. To insist otherwise is to be naïve and counterproductive.

That is why the push for No-Kill must include focus on all the factors and influences that contribute to the flow of homeless animals into the shelters, from the need for more spay/neuter, to backyard breeding and puppy mills, to dog fighting and more. If we don’t include these as part of our collective focus, we’ll find ourselves perpetually frustrated by what seems like an inability to truly get to the root of the problems.

To achieve No-Kill requires communities to both stem pet overpopulation and build robust pet adoption programs. It is not either/or, it is decidedly both. I have managed the three largest pet adoption agencies in the United States, and I can assure you that the “Equation’s” contention that shelters can “adopt their way out of the killing” reveals only a naïveté. To focus only on pet adoption is like running on a treadmill expecting foolishly to reach some distant destination.

Indeed, tactical programs (like Adoption and New Hope) are important, but without strategic programs (like Big Fix, FELIX, Safety Net, and legislation like AB 1634) shelters are doomed to be gathering places for our communities’ lost and unwanted pets. We must rise above the simplistic solutions of the so-called “No-Kill Equation” and implement multi-focused strategies to effectively end pet euthanasia as a method of pet overpopulation control.

IMPLEMENTING THE “NO-KILL EQUATION” IN LOS ANGELES – Part I: Feral Cat TNR Program

LA Animal Services has long been committed to making Los Angeles a “no kill” community for animals. Over the past several years the Department has implemented numerous programs and policies to achieve this goal with some remarkable success.

Recently there has been a little buzz in the animal welfare community about a “No Kill Equation” for local government animal care and control agencies. Advocates of this book claim it to be a revolutionary formula for achieving “no-kill.” In fact, the “No-Kill Equation” is neither new nor revolutionary but is actually comprised of ten common sense, long-standing practices embraced and implemented by LA Animal Services with remarkable results.

I am beginning a series of blogs designed to assess and compare the so called  “No-Kill Equation” to LA’s programs and practices. Over the coming weeks I will share each No-Kill Equation recommendation followed by an analysis on how LA Animal Services has been addressing the same issue for, in some cases, many years.  I will begin this series with the first of the No-Kill Equation recommendations which is Feral Cat TNR Program.

The Ten “No-Kill Equation” Recommendations are:
1. Feral Cat TNR Program
2. High Volume/Low-Cost Spay/Neuter
3. Rescue Groups
4. Foster Care
5. Comprehensive Adoption Program
6. Pet Retention
7. Medical and Behavioral Rehabilitation
8. Public Relations/Community Involvement
9. Volunteers
10. A Compassionate Director

The No-Kill Equation will appear in font.

The analysis of LA Animal Services’ efforts will follow in italics.

I. Feral Cat TNR Program
Many animal control agencies in communities throughout the United States are embracing Trap, Neuter, Return programs (TNR) to improve animal welfare, reduce death rates, and meet obligations to public welfare and neighborhood tranquility demanded by governments. In San Francisco, for example, the program was very successful, resulting in less impounds, less killing and reduced public complaints. In Tompkins County, an agreement with county officials and the rabies control division of the health department provided for TNR as an acceptable complaint, nuisance and rabies abatement procedure. In specific cases, the health department paid the Tompkins County SPCA to perform TNR.

Ed’s Analysis:  The Los Angeles Board of Animal Services Commissioners in 2005 embraced trap-neuter-return (TNR) as a preferred policy and the Department informally aids feral cat rescuers on a non-programmatic basis.

The Department has no formal TNR program yet because a proposal to change City law to officially permit such a program has been delayed by threats from environmental and wildlife organizations insisting that TNR is unacceptable. They insist that the City of Los Angeles must complete a full environmental review to show that such a program will not harm bird species and habitat despite numerous reports from respected environmental organizations stating the real threats to bird species and habitats are urban development, habitat destruction and the effects of global warming.

Research and data does not support a dispositive conclusion that feral cats are responsible for species decline and the National Audubon Society supported prior state legislation, Assembly Bill 302, the “Feline Fix Bill,” requiring among other things that cats permitted outdoors be spayed or neutered.

Nonetheless, LA Animal Services is working with the Bureau of Engineering’s environmental unit to prepare appropriate documentation to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. There may be no other locale in the United States where environmentalists have actively attempted to block TNR without either considering a compromise or offering to help design a viable program that addresses their concerns. 

The Department prefers to form a partnership with environmental groups as done in the state of New Jersey where the Audubon Society and The Burlington County Feral Cat Initiative are working together to craft humane and environmentally friendly solutions to reduce the feral cat population. It is LA Animal Services’ desire and duty to care for all of the City’s animals in need and the Department is currently looking to resolve these issues as expeditiously as possible via the environmental clearance process.

In the meantime, LA Animal Services’ North Central Spay/Neuter Clinic is currently devoted to cat sterilization. Since 2006 the Department spays or neuters over 8,000 feral cats annually independent of and in addition to any formal spay/neuter or TNR programs. There is no record of any municipality funding more feral cat surgeries annually than LA City.

I think it might be helpful to explain my commitment to TNR.

Without question, one of the biggest challenges to achieving no-kill in Los Angeles is implementing a program to effectively reduce the number of feral cats in our neighborhoods. Estimates on the feral cat population in LA are difficult to make, but they range from the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands.

Feral cats are cats that have reverted to a wild state. They are born from tame unaltered cats that owners abandon or allow to run loose. These cats mate with other free roaming cats, and their offspring, raised without human compassion, are wild, or feral. These cats then grow up and breed with other feral and free roaming pet cats and the cat population increases exponentially.

Communities employ one of three methodologies to deal with feral cats: 1) Do nothing, 2) Eradication, or 3) Trap/Neuter/Return.

While it is easy to understand why doing nothing has little effect on the problem, it is not as easy to understand why eradication does not work.

Although many communities employ eradication or “catch-and-kill” as a remedy to this vexing problem, 30 years of catch and kill in communities across the United States has irrefutably demonstrated that this methodology does not work.

There are very real biological reasons why catch and kill fails. Wild animals tend to be “survivors.” Feral cats, which are wild animals, typically live in colonies of 6 to 20 cats. You often never see all the cats in a colony and it is easy to underestimate the size of a feral cat problem in a neighborhood. When individuals or authorities try to catch cats for extermination it heightens the biological stress of a colony.

This stress triggers two survival mechanisms causing the cats to 1) over-breed, and 2) over-produce. That is, rather than having one litter per year of two or three kittens, a stressed female could have two or three litters a year of 6 to 9 kittens each.

Even if a person was successful in catching and removing all the feral cats from a neighborhood, that creates a phenomenon called, “the vacuum effect.”

When some or all the cats in a colony are removed, cats in surrounding neighborhoods recognize an opened ecological niche (especially a place with food sources). The removed colony actually kept surrounding colonies at bay. When a colony is removed, all deterrents evaporate and the surrounding cats enter the new territory to over-breed and over-produce, with all the associated annoying behaviors.

The end result of the catch-and-kill methodology is always the same: the vacated neighborhood quickly finds itself again overrun with feral cats fighting for mates, over-breeding, caterwauling, and spraying for territory.

Thirty years of catch-and-kill have taught us that this methodology only exacerbates the problem. It is not a solution at all.

Albert Einstein defined “insanity” as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. That is why so many communities are trying the newest alternative, trap/ neuter/return, or TNR.

TNR is being practiced in more and more communities across the United States and around the world with amazing results.

When TNR is employed, all the feral cats in a neighborhood are trapped, sterilized, and returned to the area where they originated. They are returned under the care of a Colony Manager. The Colony Manager is a trained volunteer in the neighborhood willing to feed, water, and care for the colony and keep an eye out for any new cats. Once the colony cats are all neutered, new cats tend to be recently abandoned domestics that can be placed for adoption.

There are many benefits to TNR. 1) TNR prevents the vacuum effect from developing. 2) Altered cats display none of the troubling behaviors of intact cats: fighting and caterwauling for mates, and spraying for territory. 3) The cats continue to provide rat abatement, a service many neighborhoods rely on, and 4) because feral cats tend to live significantly shorter life spans than domestic indoor cats the problem literally solves itself through attrition, provided TNR is implemented community wide.

TNR also addresses the concern that feral cats tend to create a public nuisance on campuses and in parks. There is an old adage that says “you can’t herd cats.” In fact, you can herd neutered cats because they tend to hang around the food bowl. Because they no longer have the urge to breed and prey they tend to follow the food bowl wherever the feral cat manager takes it. Feral cats can be trained to congregate in campus or park areas out of the way of the public.

Clearly, TNR is the only viable, non-lethal, humane and cost effective solution to our communities’ feral cat problems. I look forward to the day in the not-too-distant future when Los Angeles can complete the thorough California Environmental Quality Act review required for the legalization of a formal TNR program here.

Operation FELIX – Feral Education and Love Instead of X-termination by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and feral catsOne of the biggest challenges to achieving No-Kill in the City of Los Angeles or, for that matter, in any community, is implementing a program to effectively reduce the number of feral cats in our neighborhoods without having to resort to euthanasia or killing. Estimates on the feral cat population in LA are difficult to make, but they range from the tens to the hundreds of thousands.

Feral cats are cats that are born in or have reverted to a wild state. They are born from tame unaltered cats that owners abandon or allow to run loose. These cats mate with other free roaming cats, and their offspring, raised without human compassion, are wild (or feral). These cats then grow up and breed with other feral and free roaming cats and the cat population explodes exponentially.

Communities employ one of three methodologies to deal with feral cats: 1) Do nothing, 2) Eradication, or 3) Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR).

While it is easy to understand why doing nothing has little effect on reducing the population (and, in fact, allows it to grow), it may not be as easy to understand why eradication does not work.

Although many communities employ eradication (“catch and kill”) as a remedy to this vexing problem, decades of “catch and kill” in communities across the United States have irrefutably demonstrated that this methodology does not work. There are two very real biological reasons why “catch and kill” fails.

Wild animals tend to have strong biological survival mechanisms. Feral cats, which are wild animals, typically live in colonies of six to twenty cats. You often never see all the cats in a colony and it is easy to underestimate the size of a feral cat problem in a neighborhood. When individuals or authorities try to catch cats for extermination this heightens the biological stress on the colony.

This stress triggers two survival mechanisms causing the cats to 1) over breed, and 2) over produce. That is, rather than having one litter per year of two to three kittens, a stressed female could have two or three litters per year of six to nine kittens each.

Even if a community was successful in catching and removing all the feral cats from a neighborhood, a phenomenon called “the vacuum effect” would be created.

When some or all the cats in a colony are removed, cats in surrounding neighborhoods gravitate toward the ecological niche left behind. When a colony is removed but the natural conditions (including food sources) remain, the natural deterrents offered by an existing colony of territorial cats evaporate and the neighboring cats quickly enter the newly open territory, bringing with them all the associated annoying behaviors.

As we’ve seen time after time in location after location all over the country, the end result of the “catch and kill” methodology is always the same: The vacated neighborhood quickly finds itself overrun again with feral cats fighting and caterwauling for mates, over breeding, and spraying to mark their territory. Thus, “catch and kill” is not a solution at all.

Albert Einstein defined “insanity” as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. That is why so many communities are abandoning “catch and kill” in favor of trying the newest, and only humane, non-lethal alternative: TNR.

TNR is being practiced in more and more communities across the United States and around the world with amazing results.

While I was in Maricopa County, TNR was so successful that the County Board of Supervisors enacted a resolution declaring TNR the only viable methodology they would approve for addressing the feral cat problem in this community of 24 cities and towns (including Phoenix) spread out across nearly 1,000 square miles.

While in New York City, we observed a 73% reduction in the number of stray cats impounded in a targeted zip code on the Upper West Side of Manhattan over a 42-month period of practicing TNR. TNR, correctly administered, is the only methodology that guarantees a reduction of the feral cat population in a community.

When TNR is employed effectively, all the feral cats in a neighborhood are trapped, sterilized, and returned to the area where they were trapped. They are returned under the care of a Colony Manager. The Colony Manager is a trained volunteer in the neighborhood willing to feed, water, and care for the colony and watch for any new cats. Once the colony cats are all neutered, new cats tend to be recently abandoned domestics that can be captured and placed for adoption.

There are many benefits to TNR. 1) TNR prevents the vacuum effect from occurring. 2) Altered cats display none of the troubling behaviors of intact cats: fighting and caterwauling for mates, and spraying for territory. 3) The cats continue to provide rat abatement, a service many neighborhoods value, and 4) because feral cats tend to only live three to five years the problem literally solves itself through attrition, provided TNR is implemented community wide.

TNR also addresses the concern that feral cats tend to create a public nuisance on campuses and in parks. There is an old adage that claims you can’t herd cats. In fact, you can herd neutered cats because they tend to hang around the food bowl. Because neutered cats no longer have the urge to breed and prey, they tend to follow the food bowl wherever the Colony Manager takes it. Feral cats can be trained to congregate in campus or park areas out of the way of the public or other wildlife.

As we review our 2006 numbers it is clear that free-roaming cats represent our biggest challenge to achieving No-Kill in Los Angeles. With a clear understanding that moving away from “catch and kill” as a way to manage feral cats was necessary, the Board of Animal Services Commissioners adopted TNR as the official policy of the department. We are now working on an implementation program called Operation FELIX (Feral Education and Love Instead of X-termination). Operation FELIX will make it easier for responsible Colony Managers to help us substantially reduce the feral cat population without resorting to euthanasia. Progress on the program has been delayed by local environmental groups concerned for the welfare of bird populations.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires that a variety of environmental issues – including the potential impact on wildlife – be taken into consideration whenever a jurisdiction approves a project, program or other action. Animal Services is reviewing these issues relative to TNR and is complying with state law by preparing a study covering all relevant issues. When completed, we are confident this study will be the most extensive non-academic review of this subject matter ever done in the United States and will show that TNR can be implemented with minimal negative impact on the environment.

As the aim of local environmental groups is to reduce the feral cat population so song bird and other wild life populations are able to thrive, it is my hope they will support the only effective methodology demonstrated to accomplish their objective, TNR.

In the meantime Animal Services is requesting all cat owners to spay or neuter their cats, and if possible, keep your cats indoors. Indoor cats live three times longer than outdoor cats. And although your kitty may try to convince you that he or she wants to go outside, nothing could be further from the truth. Cats prefer to be with you and will only be stressed by the threats and dangers of the outside world, living a shorter life as a result.

If you love your cat, keep your cat indoors. If you let your cat roam outdoors, please spay or neuter and microchip him or her so you are not contributing to LA’s cat overpopulation problems. Microchipping is the best way to give us a fighting chance of returning your lost cat to you when he or she turns up in one of our six Animal Care Centers.