Taos News (11/8/2018 ed.) - Spay/Neuter Taos Ends - What Was Accomplished?
Spay/Neuter Taos refers to the animal welfare partnership between Taos Feral Feline Friends (TFFF) and PetSmart Charities, Inc. (PetSmart) which began in January 2011. The partnership sought to quickly increase cat spay/neuter in Taos County with the contractually specified objective to reduce the number of cat intakes at the Taos community animal shelter (Stray Hearts). Reducing intakes at Stray Hearts was a worthy goal. Fewer intakes mean less expense for a shelter, less over-crowding and less euthanasia due to lack of space… all very good things. Because our mission from day one has been to eliminate the unnecessary euthanasia of cats, we undertook Spay/Neuter Taos with high hopes.
PetSmart provided about $80,000 in total funding split between four grants; the first was in Jan. 2011, the final was in Jan. 2017. The money was provided with the understanding that TFFF would complete 300 spay/neuter cases during each twelve month grant period and that the project would focus on “free-roaming” cats. Free-roaming cats are the feral and stray cats that are ownerless and, of course, roaming and reproducing freely. Cats already in shelters and pets did not qualify.
Chart A shows how many spay/neuter cases TFFF completed from 2010 to 2017. During the first year of Spay/Neuter Taos, our cases surged from 198 in 2010 to 376 in 2011. In total, during the seven years from 2011 to 2017, TFFF completed 2101 spay/neuter surgeries, averaging 300 cases per year, exactly in-line with the Spay/Neuter Taos objective. Keep in mind that PetSmart provided grants for only four of the seven years and even during those four years did not fully pay for the program.
However, in 2016, PetSmart, the pet store chain, was taken over by a hedge fund. The management of PetSmart Charities, Inc. was replaced and their entire grant program was revised. For free-roaming cat spay/neuter grants, PetSmart now requires a minimum of 500 completed cases per year. Frankly, 500 cases is impossible for us. We applied in August, without promising 500 cases, for what would have been our fifth grant, but it was not accepted. Spay/Neuter Taos ended as a result. But there are no hard feelings. We, actually the entire Taos animal welfare community, owe a debt of gratitude for the substantial, long term support of PetSmart. If those 2101 cats had not been fixed, Taos County would be overrun with who knows how many thousands of homeless cats!
So Spay/Neuter Taos is done, but what was accomplished? It turns out, quite a lot! Chart B displays the annual feline intakes and euthanasia cases at Stray Hearts for 2010 through 2017, kindly provided by Stray Hearts. Intakes exclude kittens born in the shelter and, except for the last two years, cats that were taken from outside of Taos County.
Let’s look at cat intakes first: the pattern is a bit bumpy but clearly heading down. Based on 2017 vs. 2010 intakes are down 51%; based on 2016 vs. 2010 they are down 83%! We’re not sure why intakes were so low in 2016 at Stray Hearts, but 2016 and 2017 are the two smallest years on record. So the goal to reduce intakes, set back in 2011, has been convincingly achieved. Lower intakes imply there are significantly fewer homeless cats in Taos… that’s what spay/neuter of free-roaming cats does best.
The Stray Hearts euthanasia numbers are even better. In 2010, 201 cats were euthanized, last year only four. That’s 98% lower. Some euthanasia is justified for medical reasons so the main point is that Stray Hearts transformed into a no-kill shelter around 2014 and remains so today. Because euthanasia occurs when shelters take in more animals than they can house, we believe that reducing intakes helped Stray Hearts end feline euthanasia. It is a huge credit to their organization, leaders and volunteers as well. Many community shelters around the country are still euthanizing hundreds of innocent animals every year due to lack of space.
Despite PetSmart’s decision, we are continuing to offer free spay/neuter for cats, at a scale appropriate to our lower budget. But getting your cat fixed for free is actually easier than ever today! Along with TFFF, other groups such as Planned Pethood, the Espanola Humane Clinic and the Zimmer Feline Foundation are all currently offering free spay/neuter for cats. The Taos County Sheriff’s Department recently began hosting free spay/neuter clinics for both cats and dogs. We hope these clinics will continue.
In 2005, Taos Feral Feline Friends introduced Trap, Neuter and Return for feral cats to Taos and, for many years, was the ‘only game in town’ for free spay/neuter. It is better that Taos citizens have multiple options. We are still the only charity that rescues, shelters and adopts out feral cats and the only charity offering free food and vet care for feral cats. Our commitment remains strong.
In a separate development, TFFF was awarded a 2018 Gold Seal of Transparency by GuideStar, the world’s largest source of information on non-profit organizations with data on over 2.5 million charities. According to GuideStar, the Gold Seal is only awarded to about 1 out of 200 charities who have demonstrated transparency by reporting comprehensive information on their mission, programs, charitable achievements and financial condition. To view GuideStar’s free report about TFFF, or any non-profit organization, just type the organization’s name into the search box at www.guidestar.org.
Leanne Mitchell, President of TFFF, stated, “Recent developments, here in Taos, nationally, and regarding Facebook, have raised concerns in our community about privacy and data sharing. All of our partners, whether clients or donors, need to feel safe giving us their personal information. We will never share your information under any circumstances. We will never store your information on the internet. I promise to protect your privacy.”
Concerning GuideStar, Ms. Mitchell commented, “GuideStar is an excellent, free resource for anyone seeking timely information about non-profit organizations. We are pleased to have been awarded their Gold Seal.”
About TFFF: Taos Feral Feline Friends operates a no-kill shelter for cats and, since 2005, is the leading provider of free spay/neuter and vaccinations for the cats of Taos County, NM..
Taos Feral Feline Friends Reports its 2017 Charitable Accomplishments
Taos, NM 3/25/2018… Taos Feral Feline Friends has released its summary of charitable activity for calendar year 2017. The organization helped 408 cats in total during 2017, the second highest total in the charity’s 14 year history. ‘Cats helped’ includes cats residing at the TFFF shelter during 2017, cats handled through Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) and the Pays To Help Strays adoption service, but excludes cats that were given free cat food or free veterinary care via the low-income caregiver assistance programs. In addition, 272 total adoptions were funded by TFFF, the highest total in the charity’s history. There were 233 Pays To Help Strays adoptions and 39 shelter adoptions, including 18 feral cats adopted in a single month, December 2017. Each Pays To Help Strays case was a homeless cat taken into a permanent home by a Taos-area resident with TFFF paying for the spay/neuter surgery and all vet-recommended disease screenings and vaccinations. There were 82 TNR feral cat cases in 2017. Each cat was fixed, given a veterinary exam, treated for injuries or illnesses, and vaccinated for rabies before being returned to its caregiver. All programs combined, TFFF provided 311 free spay/neuter surgeries during 2017.
The TFFF shelter recorded its 700’th adoption last year. It ended the year with 49 residents, down 14 from a year ago, mainly due to the large number of adoptions in the last month of 2017. Two shelter cats and four cats from the free spay/neuter programs were euthanized last year. TFFF also helped low-income residents of Taos County last year by providing over $6,300 of free cat food and veterinary expense reimbursement, a 27% increase over the previous year. The 2017 Annual Report, containing more details on TFFF’s accomplishments, financial condition, programs and goals, is available for review or download at the TFFF website.
Leanne Mitchell, President of TFFF, commented, “Our strong performance was fueled by the award of a 300 cat spay/neuter grant from PetSmart Charities, Inc. in January 2017 for our “Spay/Neuter Taos” partnership. Since Spay/Neuter Taos began in 2011, using data from 2010 to 2015, Stray Hearts feline intakes declined 42% and “euthanasia for space” had been eliminated. We are currently working with Stray Hearts to update these statistics. Looking ahead, with the expiration of the PetSmart grant, TFFF will focus on cat rescue and adoptions, particularly for feral cats. We also want to reach more low income Taos area residents with free cat food and veterinary care. Regardless of whether a cat is feral or a pet, getting them fixed is top priority, but cats also need food and injury/disease treatment to survive and our charity is unique in making sure feral cats have these vital needs met every day. If you are having difficulty supporting unowned cats at your home, please give us a call. I also encourage everyone who loves animals to volunteer with us or Stray Hearts and experience firsthand the joy of helping homeless cats and dogs. Finally, if you have ‘mice issues’, our feral cat spring special is almost here. During April and May, two feral cats can be adopted for just $15. They are fixed, vaccinated and ready to hunt! Call 575-737-9208 for more information.”
Taos Feral Feline Friends Completes PetSmart Charities Grant
Taos Feral Feline Friends has finished its grant project partnered with PetSmart Charities, the #1 grantor for animal welfare in the US! From 1/20/17 to 2/15/18, they supported spay/neuter for 286 Taos-area cats and, in total, helped 324 cats. The grant targeted the areas of Taos County with the highest concentrations of stray and feral cats, helping 154 cats in Taos, 46 cats from El Prado, 101 cats from Ranchos De Taos and 23 from Questa. Feral cats, homeless cats coming into our shelter and strays being adopted into new homes all benefited. Based on an estimate that a single fertile female and her offspring can produce 1000 live births over a three year period, the 157 female cats spayed under this grant prevented the birth of as many as 157,000 homeless kittens.
According to their website, PetSmart Charities, in just one year, funded 3,228 spay/neuter surgeries throughout New Mexico, a wonderful achievement! We are thrilled to be their partner, but I encourage everyone interested in animal welfare and all Taos animal groups to visit their website and see all the good they do. And how they might help you!
Thank you PetSmart Charities!
Taos Feral Feline Friends Reports its First Half 2017 Charitable Accomplishments
Taos, NM 8/19/2017… Taos Feral Feline Friends (TFFF) has released its report of charitable activity for the period 1/1/2017 to 6/30/2017. The Pays To Help Strays adoption service supported 102 adoptions during the six month period. Each cat in this program was a stray taken into a permanent home by a Taos-area resident with TFFF paying completely for the spay/neuter surgery and all vet-recommended disease screenings and vaccinations. There were 37 Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR) feral cat cases. Each TNR cat was fixed, given a veterinary exam, treated for injuries or illnesses, and vaccinated for rabies before being returned to its human caregiver. The TFFF shelter ended the period with 70 residents, up from 63 at 12/31/2016. 20 new cats were admitted into the shelter and 13 were adopted out. Not counting the 63 cats living at the shelter at the start of the year, TFFF helped 159 cats and fully paid for 131 spay/neuter surgeries during the six month period. TFFF also assisted low-income residents of Taos County by providing free cat food and veterinary bill reimbursements.
Leanne Mitchell, President of TFFF, commented, “If you have stray/feral cats in your neighborhood, we’re currently seeking more volunteers to participate in Trap, Neuter and Return. If you are feeding outdoor cats, or know someone who is, please give us a call. We can even help with free cat food if you need it. Our shelter has feral and pet cats available for adoption at bargain rates: pets for $25, feral cats for $12.50. Call us at 575-737-9208 for more info.”
Taos Feral Feline Friends operates a no-kill shelter for cats and is the #1 provider of free spay/neuter for cats throughout Taos County.
Taos Feral Feline Friends Reports its 2016 Charitable Accomplishments
Taos, NM - Mar. 24, 2017 - Taos Feral Feline Friends (TFFF) has released its report of charitable activity for calendar year 2016. There were 129 Trap, Neuter, and Return feral cat cases in 2016, an increase of 15% over 2015. Each cat was fixed, given a veterinary exam, treated for injuries or illnesses, and vaccinated for rabies before being returned to its human caregiver. The Pays To Help Strays adoption service supported 151 adoptions during 2016, compared to 152 last year. Each cat in this program was a stray taken into a permanent home by a Taos-area resident with TFFF paying completely for the spay/neuter surgery and all vet-recommended disease screenings and vaccinations. The TFFF shelter ended the year with 63 residents, unchanged from a year ago. 41 new cats were admitted into the shelter and 33 adopted out, 28 of which were feral cats. Three shelter cats required euthanasia during 2016. All programs combined, TFFF directly helped 384 cats during 2016 (vs. 369 during 2015) and fully paid 288 spay/neuter surgeries (vs. 268 during 2015). TFFF also helped low-income residents of Taos County in 2016 by providing over $5,000 of free cat food and veterinary bill reimbursements.
Leanne Mitchell, President of TFFF, commented, “Helping 384 cats, was our third highest annual caseload since 2004. This was accomplished by an extraordinary effort of our volunteers and cat caregivers. Without our volunteers, if we needed to pay staff to carry out our programs, we could have only served a small fraction of the families, a small fraction of the cats that we helped last year. I encourage everyone who loves animals to get involved with us or Stray Hearts and experience firsthand the joy of helping homeless cats and dogs. Right now we’re seeking more cat caregivers to participate in Trap, Neuter and Return. If you are feeding stray cats, or know someone who is, please give us a call. We can even help with free cat food if you need it. Now is also a great time to adopt a feral cat. Call today for our 2 for $15 spring special: 575-737-9208”
Taos Feral Feline Friends Receives more than $20,000 from PetSmart Charities® to Fuel Local Spay/neuter Efforts of Taos, Ranchos De Taos, El Prado and Questa
Taos, NM – Feb 16, 2017 – Taos Feral Feline Friends (TFFF) has been awarded a more than $20,000 grant from PetSmart Charities, the leading funder of animal welfare in North America, to spay/neuter up to 300 cats over the next twelve months. The grant program, “Spay/Neuter Taos”, which began in January 2011, focuses on free-roaming cats in Taos, Ranchos De Taos, El Prado and Questa. All free-roaming cats are eligible, including cats and kittens adopted by local residents from anywhere other than shelters, pet stores or breeders.
This grant represents the fourth grant from PetSmart Charities funding of Spay/Neuter Taos. Leanne Mitchell, President of Taos Feral Feline Friends, remarked, “PetSmart Charities is the top funder of animal welfare in the North America. Their application process is rigorous and competitive. They insist that their partners adhere to a high standard of financial integrity and they only fund animal welfare programs that are measurably effective. We are honored to have earned their trust again. In particular, we are very happy that they have agreed to extend funding to the residents of Questa. This is a part of Taos County that has been underserved in animal welfare for many years and we intend to change that immediately.”
Ms. Mitchell continued, “Like PetSmart Charities, Taos Feral Feline Friends is dedicated to solving the related problems of feline homelessness and feline over-population. Because 80 percent of all cats are born homeless, the unchecked reproduction of homeless cats must be addressed to make any progress whatsoever. Spay/Neuter Taos is the cornerstone of TFFF’s strategy to spay/neuter homeless cats. PetSmart Charities’ grant will prevent thousands of live births in the wild.”
Proceeds from the grant will support each of TFFF’s core programs. Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) will be the primary means to “find and fix” feral cats. In essence, TNR is a support program for the many feral cat caregivers facing a tough financial dilemma: incur steep veterinary costs to get their cats fixed or face an ever-growing, always-hungry population of feline dependents. Through TNR, TFFF lends traps to catch feral cats and arranges veterinary service for spay/neuter surgery, rabies vaccination and treatment of any injuries or illnesses… all at no cost to the caregiver. Leanne Mitchell commented, “If you’re feeding strays or ‘barn kitties’, you’re surely saving their lives. But new litters of kittens just make it harder. Let us help you. You can even get free cat food if you’re in need.”
The TFFF shelter also benefits. New cats admitted will have their spay/neuter costs fully funded. Finally, the grant contributes to the TFFF “Pays To Help Strays" adoption service. This unique program rewards residents who adopt stray cats directly from the wild by providing free spay/neuter surgery, comprehensive vaccinations and testing for serious feline diseases. Ms. Mitchell emphasized, “The motto of Pays To Help Strays is ‘Adoptions Done Right.’ This is the only cat adoption service in Taos that pays for all vet-recommended vaccinations and tests.”
Ms. Mitchell concluded by stating, “Tackling feral cat reproduction is tough, labor-intensive work for our volunteers and caregiver clients, but it is critical to animal welfare in Taos. Cats born in the wild often end up at Stray Hearts which lacks facilities to house these difficult-to-adopt animals. Shelter over-crowding in turn leads to higher expenses for the shelter, and ultimately, the taxpayers of Taos County. TFFF works every day to prevent this. Furthermore, before our partnership with PetSmart Charities, hundreds of cats were euthanized each year in Taos for lack of shelter space. But today, all cats, even feral cats, have a chance to live. I am thrilled to have this new opportunity to continue helping homeless cats. Thank you, PetSmart Charities!”
PetSmart Charities aims to proactively prevent pet homelessness through increased spay and neuter efforts. With the help of animal welfare partners, such as Taos Feral Feline Friends, PetSmart Charities has funded over 1.4 million spay and neuter surgeries in the U.S. since 2009. To learn more about helping stray cats and the free programs of Taos Feral Feline Friends, contact Leanne Mitchell at (575) 737-9208.
About Taos Feral Feline Friends: Taos Feral Feline Friends is an all-volunteer charity promoting animal welfare throughout Northern New Mexico and the leading provider of free feline spay/neuter in the Taos area. Since 2004, it has operated the only facility in Northern New Mexico that rescues, shelters, and relocates feral cats. It promotes stray cat adoption through its Pays To Help Strays adoption service and offers free spay/neuter, cat food and veterinary care to feral cat caregivers throughout Taos County.
About PetSmart Charities: PetSmart Charities, Inc. is a nonprofit animal welfare organization that saves the lives of homeless pets. Each year nearly 500,000 dogs and cats find homes through our adoption program in all PetSmart® stores across the U.S. and sponsored adoption events. Each year millions of PetSmart shoppers contribute to PetSmart Charities to help pets in need by making donations on a pin pad at the register. PetSmart Charities efficiently uses 90 cents of every dollar to support its mission of finding lifelong, loving homes for all pets. PetSmart Charities grants more money to directly help pets in need than any other animal welfare group in North America, with a focus on funding adoption and spay/neuter programs that help communities solve pet overpopulation. PetSmart Charities is a 501(c)(3) organization, independent from PetSmart, Inc. PetSmart Charities has received the Four Star Rating for the past 13 years from Charity Navigator, an independent nonprofit that reports on the effectiveness, accountability and transparency of nonprofits, placing it among the top one percent of charities rated by this organization.
About Our Mission by Leanne Mitchell
Editor’s Note: the following discussion is an excerpt from the TFFF 2015 Annual Report
TFFF began in June 2004 as an informal group of Taos-area citizens devoted to helping cats. As the group coalesced and became a legally tax-exempt organization, I realized the need to formalize our concern for cats into a mission statement that would guide the organization for years to come: a black and white, plain and clear description of what was most critical to all of us. Not one word of it has ever been changed and it’s guided TFFF admirably these twelve years. In this letter, I’d like to focus on TFFF’s mission statement: what it really means, how it has guided the organization and what progress TFFF has made towards fulfilling its charitable ideals.
Our mission statement has three elements. The first is the most conventional part insofar as it is probably common to many animal welfare charities’ missions: Prevent the inhumane treatment of stray and feral cats in Northern New Mexico. We share this ideal with all “humane societies”… that cats deserve to be treated respectfully, kindly, without malice. Cats, even feral cats, are descendants of domesticated house cats (felis catus). Through thousands of years of selective breeding, people modified the original Asian wild cats, into smaller, more human-reliant companions. Unlike wild cats in their native environments, domesticated cats are not adapted to outdoor living without human support. Stray and feral cats have a tough life as an invasive species. I think that we, as humans who domesticated wild cats and then abandoned our companions to live without us, have a moral obligation to help. Usually, pet cats do receive our help, but every day is a struggle for a feral cat – that’s why our mission is to protect them as opposed to all domesticated cats and that’s why TFFF’s first program was to create a shelter to protect feral cats. Our shelter serves a need that is unmet here in Taos and most other communities, providing a safe environment for feral cats that are abused, unwanted and unadoptable as pets. Since 2004, hundreds of feral cats have come here and been adopted by people who appreciate them – that’s progress! Hundreds more are cared for every day in the backyards and allies of Taos by kind-hearted people, our feral cat colony caregivers. To support the poorest of our volunteers, TFFF distributes free cat food and helps pay vet bills. That’s another way we fulfill this part of our mission.
The second part of our mission is: Stop unnecessary euthanasia of stray and feral cats. This may seem redundant with preventing inhumane treatment, but we wanted to be completely unambiguous on this key point – TFFF does not believe in killing healthy cats. Regardless of whether euthanasia is quick or painless, it is an unacceptable, inhumane solution to shelter crowding or feline over-population.
Yes, euthanasia can be ethical, when cats are seriously, permanently injured or ill and suffering, but these cases are rare and the decision to euthanize a feral cat is fundamentally no different than euthanizing a beloved pet. For this reason, the TFFF shelter has always operated on a ‘no-kill’ mandate. On the other hand, nearly all government-funded community shelters have dealt with feline over-crowding by killing cats, including the Taos community shelter, Stray Hearts. Sick, elderly and ‘unadoptable’ (e.g. feral cats) animals were targeted first, often within a few days of admittance. But today here in Taos, our mission to stop unnecessary euthanasia has been completely achieved. Thanks to a firm commitment by Stray Hearts management and TFFF’s homeless cat population control programs, the killing in Taos has stopped. It wasn’t done overnight; it took years of ‘finding and fixing’ homeless cats with Trap, Neuter and Return – over 1400 since we started, but eventually the feline intakes at Stray Hearts declined to a level where killing for space became unnecessary. This has happened at other shelters across the nation as well: one study found that euthanasia cases drop one-for-one as shelter intakes drop. Needless to say, I’m very proud that TFFF has accomplished this life-saving part of its mission.
I’ve already mentioned how important controlling the population of homeless cats is to preventing euthanasia at community shelters. That’s a main reason why the third and final element of our mission is: Reduce the population of stray and feral cats. There are other reasons as well. As I’ve already mentioned, the lives of homeless cats are fraught with discomfort and peril. Few would disagree that a home with human care and affection is preferable to ‘living on the street’. Furthermore, in some locales, there is significant ecological detriment caused by homeless cats against native species. Although humans, not feral cats, pose by far the most risk to endangered species, it is certainly better to keep non-native populations in check. For these reasons, TFFF introduced Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) to Taos in 2005. TNR is recommended by nearly all animal welfare organizations as the most effective means to control homeless cat reproduction. It’s critical that every community have a robust TNR program – according to the Humane Society of the United States, around 80% of live feline births occur to homeless mothers. Spay/neuter programs focused on pet owners, such as discount vouchers and mobile vet clinics, are useless for feral cats. But TNR takes time to work… years in fact. That’s why TFFF introduced the Pays To Help Strays adoption service in 2008. This program immediately reduces the number of homeless cats by encouraging residents to take strays into their own homes. Adoptions are serious undertakings affecting peoples’ lives and finances. By paying for spay/neuter, all vet-recommended vaccinations and viral disease testing, PTHS removes much of the risk and upfront cost of adopting a cat. The program has been a phenomenal success – last year alone over 150 homeless cats were taken inside by new loving families. That’s the best way I know to reduce the population of stray and feral cats!
Finally, I wanted to acknowledge our volunteers, donors and friends without whose support our mission would have remained mere words. Thank you for your generosity, your compassion and your patience as we continue striving to fulfill our mission.
What To Do About Mice
Like last year, Taos has been blessed with abundant monsoon rain. Critical to the health of our high desert and mountain ecosystems, these welcome showers have brought unwelcome numbers of mice and other rodents. I know this year is bad because I’ve even seen mice (usually ripped-up remnants of mice), inside our cat shelter here in Ranchos De Taos. Our residents are not caged so they enthusiastically enjoy some late night mouse entertainment.
Mice are primarily herbivores who prefer to eat things like oats, grains, fruits, and seeds. However, when hungry enough, they will eat almost anything, even their own tails! But there’s not much tail chomping going on now – the monsoons have fostered lush plant growth and enough seeds and fruits to feed armies of rodents. Being careless with our own food and animal feed, just adds to their free buffet.
Nature’s in control here, and frankly, fighting mice right now is fighting nature. Yet we know we should try because mouse saliva, urine and feces can contain bacteria such as salmonella and viruses such as hantavirus. So here’s our take on fighting mice:
If the mice are strictly outdoors, they seldom pose a big threat so save your money and time. The big exception here is if you’re storing grain for farm and livestock, you don’t want it contaminated with mice excrement. One of our clients, an organic farm in Embudo, was able to quickly clear up their barn mice problem by adopting feral cats as ‘barn kitties’.
Indoor mice are also best dealt with by owning an indoor cat. Most healthy cats will do an excellent job catching mice. Young adults are better that elderly cats and I give females a slight edge over males. Do not restrict food to make your cats hungry. Cats catch mice instinctively not because they are hungry.
Not everyone likes cats or can own them so there are alternatives. Glue or snap traps are effective. Snap traps, like the classic Victor brand, are inexpensive and reusable. Some people prefer the glue traps because you don’t need to touch the mouse during disposal, but these are more costly and not as humane as snap traps. Place traps in areas where mouse droppings occur.
Some approaches we don’t recommend: mouse repellent sprays and electronic devices that purport to make an irritating sound, inaudible to humans, that repels mice. There is no scientific evidence that these work. (But, if you’ve had success with these or another unusual method, I’d love to hear from you!) Poison bait presents too much risk to pets and children to be recommended, but if you use it indoors and don’t have animals or children, it can be effective. Poison bait can kill all kinds of birds and animals so we strongly discourage its use outdoors.
Unfortunately, killing indoor mice does not prevent them from returning. The only permanent solution is to evaluate and fix openings in exterior walls, doors and windows and seal cracks or holes in the floors and foundation of your home. Some professional exterminators provide sealing services, but this is quite costly, particularly in comparison to using cats and/or traps.
Keeping Taos a No-Kill Community
We received some good news from Stray Hearts (Taos County’s community shelter) a few weeks ago – only six cats were euthanized at their shelter during 2015. Although I don’t know the specifics of the six euthanasia cases, it’s safe to assume these were severely injured or sick animals with little chance of survival, suffering from their conditions, and euthanasia was ethically justified. When a shelter is able to manage its intakes and adoptions so that no animals are killed simply due to lack of space, it becomes a “no-kill shelter”. When all the shelters and animal welfare/control agencies of a community operate under “no-kill” protocols, the community becomes a “no-kill” community. Given that the Taos Feral Feline Friends shelter has always been “no-kill” and Stray Hearts’ has become “no-kill”, I believe Taos meets the definition of a “no-kill” community.
I’ve said this before, but I love to repeat it: achieving a “no-kill” community is a tremendous accomplishment that everyone in Taos can be proud about! Sadly, across the nation, there are few communities that have succeeded like us. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 70% of all cats entering community shelters will be euthanized, nearly all of these being healthy animals. Why do they do it? It’s lack of space. If the number of cats entering the shelter exceed the number leaving, then the shelter population grows until the housing capacity is reached and then euthanasia is the only way to maintain balance. The least adoptable - feral cats, senior cats, cats with illnesses or injuries, are the first euthanized so that the cats with better adoption chances have room.
In fact, published research has concluded that there is an almost one-to-one relationship between changes in the number of shelter intakes and changes in the number of shelter euthanasia cases: if intakes change by some number, euthanasia changes by approximately the same number. This makes sense to me. The demand for shelter cats as pets or barn kitties doesn’t vary much from year to year – it’s a function of human population which changes slowly in most areas. So if a community shelter is full and intakes spike up by 100, they probably can’t get 100 extra adoptions and euthanasia will increase. Same thing happens in reverse: if intakes drop by 100, the adoptions probably stay the same and euthanasia will drop by around 100. This actually happened at Stray Hearts. Feline intakes between 2010 and 2015 fell by more than 200. Feline euthanasia dropped from 201 in 2010 to 6 last year. Shelters don’t like to euthanize. If their intakes can be significantly reduced, most shelters will happily become “no-kill”.
So if keeping shelter intakes low is an important part of being a “no-kill” community, what can the average person do to help? If you own a pet, be sure that pet has been fixed. Kittens and puppies are cute, but far too often end up as abandoned or stray animals, adding to the intakes at the community shelter
That’s why all responsible animal charities promote and, if possible, financially support spay/neuter programs. It’s more humane to deal with feline overpopulation by preventing births than by killing cats when there’s no shelter space available. With Stray Hearts starting to offer spay/neuter clinics for Taos County residents and other local programs such as mobile veterinary vans, there’s no excuse for pet owners to allow their cats to reproduce. Giving kittens away to family and friends might seem a kind act, but, for many reasons, adoptions don’t always work out: behavior issues, allergies, conflicts with other pets, landlords not allowing pets, etc.,. So kittens given away often wind up at a shelter. Pet owners need to act responsibly about spay/neuter to keep shelter intakes in check.
But what about cats that don’t have owners,? What about feral cats and their kittens? Do their litters contribute significantly to feline overpopulation? I was surprised at the answer I found on the web site of the Humane Society of the United States. According to them, 80% of all kittens are born to homeless mothers. That’s 4 out of every 5 births! If this is anywhere near being accurate, then the litters born to homeless cats are the major factor causing feline overpopulation and a major burden on community shelters. It’s something that few people understand, even those involved in animal welfare, perhaps because most of these litters are born unnoticed by us, out in the deserted lots and abandoned buildings. But we must face reality: litters upon litters of homeless kittens are the main reasons shelters become crowded and cats suffer euthanasia.
Fortunately, there’s a proven solution to this dilemma - Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR). If feral cats can be “found and fixed” before mating, then the problem can be overcome. With the help of the considerate residents that supply daily food and water, feral cats can be trapped, taken to a veterinary clinic for spay/neuter surgery and then returned unharmed to their habitat. The cats are also treated for injuries and given a rabies vaccination. They benefit immensely from this treatment: a fixed cat no longer engages in mating and fighting is reduced, making disease transmission and injuries less likely.
A robust TNR program is essential to every community. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of the United States and nearly all major animal welfare organizations endorse TNR. Taos Feral Feline Friends (TFFF) is proud to have served this need in Taos since 2005. TNR is available from us at no cost to all residents of Taos County and the Enchanted Circle. Recently, because some of our cat caregivers are unemployed or underemployed, we have begun distributing free cat food. If you are feeding homeless cats, give us a call. Please don’t let two or three cats become twenty or thirty! With TNR, we can keep Taos a no-kill community forever!
Taos Feral Feline Friends Reports its 2015 Charitable Accomplishments
Taos Feral Feline Friends (TFFF) has released its report of program activity for calendar year 2015. There were 112 Trap, Neuter, and Return feral cat cases in 2015. Each cat was fixed, given a veterinary exam, treated for injuries or illnesses, and vaccinated for rabies before being returned to its human caregiver. The Pays To Help Strays adoption service handled 152 adoptions during 2015. Each cat in this program was a stray cat adopted into a permanent home by a Taos resident. TFFF paid for the spay/neuter surgery, a complete set of vaccinations and FELV/FIV viral disease testing. The TFFF shelter had 63 residents at 12/31/2015, admitting 28 new cats into the shelter and finding permanent homes for 37 cats total, 32 feral and 5 companion cats. Five shelter cats required euthanasia during 2015. All programs combined, TFFF helped 369 cats during 2015 (vs. 364 during 2014) and fully paid 268 spay/neuter surgeries (vs. 277 during 2014). Additionally, through its two low-income feline caregiver assistance programs, TFFF distributed $2,986 in free cat food and paid $1,744 of veterinary bills.
Leanne Mitchell, President of TFFF, commented on the 2015 results, “With the partial closure of Stray Hearts (the government-sponsored shelter in Taos) in July, requests for animal welfare assistance hit record levels. We responded by expanding eligibility for our Pays To Help Strays adoption service. This program not only offers free spay/neuter, but encourages residents to adopt stray cats directly from the wild. When someone opens their home to a stray cat through Pays To Help Strays, they simultaneously reduce the homeless cat population and limit intakes and over-crowding in the shelter system, benefits that were critically important during the Stray Hearts shutdown. During 2015, the number of Pays To Help Strays cats grew by 36% over last year to 152 cases, a record for the program. Our 189 total adoptions during 2015 was also a new record.
Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) remains the mainstay of our mission to control the homeless cat population. During 2015, TFFF was the #1 provider of free spay/neuter surgeries for homeless cats in Taos County and the only TNR provider in Taos County. Successful TNR requires both effort and expertise. Feral cats are elusive and wary of humans. Trapping and handling them takes a skilled, dedicated effort from our veterinarians, volunteers and feral cat caregivers. The caregivers, however, are the real backbone of TNR, These kind people generously provide daily food, water and shelter and assist TFFF throughout the trapping process. With their help, TNR has prevented thousands of cats from being born homeless and helpless in Taos. The caregivers have fewer hungry cats to feed and the shelter system is protected from being overwhelmed with homeless kittens. Our neediest caregivers can receive free cat food and veterinary expense reimbursement directly from TFFF.
The TFFF shelter had a good adoption year with 32 feral cats, 37 cats in total, finding new homes. Our feral cat adopters are residents and businesses looking for natural, non-toxic rodent control, a need that both we and the feral cats are happy to fulfill. Many of our non-feral shelter residents have ‘special needs’. Although special needs cats are difficult to place in permanent homes, we never give up on them: they are advertised monthly in the Taos News and continuously on petfinder.com.
Looking ahead to 2016, TFFF is actively seeking more cat caregivers to participate in Trap, Neuter and Return. If you are feeding stray cats, or know someone who is, please give us a call. Don’t let two or three become twenty or thirty!”
Taos Feral Feline Friends Announces Expanded Adoption Benefits, Comments on Stray Hearts Dispute
I've gotten some Stray Hearts related questions lately... has Taos Feral Feline Friends shutdown or cut back its programs? Have we been affected at all?
All of our programs, including free spay/neuter and the shelter, are fully available to the community. Anyone needing help with cat spay/neuter should contact us at 575-737-9208. Our call volume has grown considerably over the past month so please try again if the phone is busy. We are fully committed to helping the community through this difficult period.
Towards this goal, we are expanding the Pays To Help Strays adoption service. Effective today, anyone wanting to adopt a stray cat from the wild or from a foster home, or who has adopted within the past four months, is now eligible to receive free spay/neuter, all vet-recommended vaccinations and feline leukemia and feline AIDS testing for their new cats at no cost. The aim here is to encourage adoptions by making them as cost-free and risk-free as possible. And if everyone commits to spay/neuter their pets, the issues with funding animal welfare will disappear.
I've also been asked where we stand in the Stray Hearts dispute.
As the President of the only other cat shelter in Taos County, I do have a few comments. First, TFFF firmly believes that no cat or dog should be killed because of lack of space or money. The prevention of unnecessary euthanasia has always been a cornerstone of our mission. I completely support Stray Hearts' stated policy to prohibit the killing of shelter animals for space.
Not long ago (2010), over 200 cats were euthanized at Stray Hearts. As the chart (see below) shows, they have worked hard to bring that number down to a level that is essentially no-kill. This is a tremendous achievement that the whole community, not just animal welfare people, should celebrate. We don't kill homeless cats and dogs in Taos County!
Other charities such as us, Four Corners Animal League, Zimmer Feline Foundation, Planned Pethood, etc. have all worked hard towards this goal without costing taxpayers a penny. So the city and county governments should do their part to maintain Stray Hearts as a no-kill shelter. Stray Hearts in turn should review its spending to eliminate waste and substitute volunteer hours for paid hours. Compromises will be needed on both sides, but killing homeless animals to save money should not be one of them.
Leanne Mitchell is President and Founder of Taos Feral Feline Friends
Taos Feral Feline Friends Awarded Grants from Three Local Charities
Taos, NM – June 19, 2015 – Taos Feral Feline Friends (TFFF) has been awarded animal welfare grants from the Zimmer Feline Foundation, Planned Pethood and the Taos Community Foundation. The Zimmer Feline Foundation grant of $4,279 is directed at providing approximately three months of funding for spay/neuter of stray and feral cats, subject to requirements of TFFF’s programs, following the completion of the PetSmart Charities/TFFF collaboration, “Spay/Neuter Taos”. The Planned Pethood grant of $1,000 targets approximately one year of funding for spay/neuter of stray and feral cats ineligible under the terms of Spay/Neuter Taos. It is earmarked to benefit residents of Taos County outside of Taos, Ranchos De Taos and El Prado. The Taos Community Foundation grant of $2,000 bestows core support for the TFFF animal shelter and its programs offering free cat food and veterinary expense reimbursement for low-income residents of Taos County who provide daily food, water and shelter for homeless cats.
Leanne Mitchell, President of Taos Feral Feline Friends, commented, “I am extremely grateful for the support of these outstanding local charities. As a small non-profit that receives no local, state or federal funding, we are entirely dependent on the donations we receive from individuals and the grants we receive from other organizations who believe in our mission. Relationships take time to build. Each of these grants represent an extension of an existing collaboration. Operating a no-kill shelter and being the #1 provider of free spay/neuter surgeries for cats in Taos requires more than just a dedicated volunteer team. It takes consistent, reliable financial support. The Zimmer grant will enable TFFF to bridge the gap between the current and, hopefully, next Spay/Neuter Taos grant. Planned Pethood, similarly, has filled the funding gap for residents outside of the Spay/Neuter Taos focus area. The Taos Community Foundation grant not only gives vital support to our shelter, but also backs the newest TFFF initiatives, providing financial assistance to the neediest of our feral cat caregivers. On behalf of all of the volunteers of TFFF, thank you to each of these organizations for helping TFFF and the homeless cats of Taos.”
About the Zimmer Feline Foundation: The Zimmer Feline Foundation is a 501(c)3 private operating foundation providing cat welfare services in New Mexico since 2010 and since 2000 in Michigan under our predecessor Zimmer Foundation organization. It now works in 10 New Mexico counties providing vouchers for pet cats in low‐income households for free spay/neuter assistance.
About Planned Pethood Taos: Planned Pethood Taos is a 100% volunteer non-profit organization. Founded in 2014, it aims to provide a compilation of information regarding resources for low & no-cost spay-neuter for Taos County residents and offer no and low-cost spay-neuter clinics periodically.
About the Taos Community Foundation: Taos Community Foundation is dedicated to serving the unique needs of the communities of Taos and western Colfax Counties. Its philanthropic efforts support and enrich the lives and opportunities of citizens and protect the environment which sustains us. Its initiatives amplify donor investments which directly and powerfully support growth in our community.
About TFFF: Taos Feral Feline Friends is a an all-volunteer charitable association promoting animal welfare throughout Northern New Mexico. Since 2004, it has operated the only facility in Northern New Mexico that rescues, shelters, and relocates feral cats and the only Trap, Neuter, and Return program in Taos County to spay/neuter feral cats and assist their human caregivers.
A Five Year Study of Cat Intakes in Taos County
Editors Note: This article , without the chart or data table, was published in the 4/30/2015 edition of the Taos News.
An important part of the mission of Taos Feral Feline Friends (TFFF) is to reduce the population of stray and feral cats in our area. To accomplish this, we started a shelter for feral cats, developed the area’s first Trap, Neuter and Return program to ‘find and fix’ feral cats and offer free veterinary services to people who take in stray cats. But since there’s no way to actually count homeless cats, how can we tell if these programs are effective?
However, fewer homeless cats should cause fewer cats to be impounded so TFFF uses the changes in feline intakes at Stray Hearts as an approximate measure of how the homeless cat population is changing. In fact, PetSmart Charities, Inc, our charitable partner, has also adopted community shelter intakes to evaluate the impact of its numerous spay/neuter grants, including ours.
Stray Hearts summarized their feline intakes for the past five years separated by the “zip code of origin”. For example, if a cat was picked up by Animal Control in El Prado, it would have a zip code of origin of 87529. The same would be true if a resident of El Prado dropped off a cat at the shelter. After some minor edits (removing cats originating outside Taos County and cats born at Stray Hearts), the intakes by zip code are graphed in the accompanying chart. Only the three most populous zip codes of Taos County are shown separately; the rest are lumped together as “All Other” (visit the TFFF website at taosferalfelinefriends.tripod.com to view numbers for all zip codes and years in detail).
All cat intake lines show a declining, if somewhat bumpy, pattern. This strongly suggests that homeless cat numbers have dropped throughout most of Taos County. Taking a closer look, Taos (87571) dropped 37% from 263 in 2010 to 166 in 2014; Ranchos De Taos (87557) dropped 53% from 201 in 2010 to 95 in 2014 and El Prado (87529) dropped 55% from 105 in 2010 to 47 in 2014. Intakes from the remainder of the county declined 39% from 99 in 2010 to 60 in 2014. In aggregate for Taos County, intakes declined 45% from 668 in 2010 to 368 in 2014.
These results offer encouraging evidence that the feline spay/neuter programs of TFFF and other animal groups have been effective over the study period. Actually, Taos County is now on par with the nation. With a county-wide population of about 33,000, the 368 total intakes from 2014 represent about 11 cat intakes per one thousand residents, almost the same as the national average reported by the Humane Society of the United States.
But I believe we can do much better. We have a unique network of animal welfare groups working on feline spay/neuter in Taos, something that very few communities have. With their efforts and the will of the community at large, there is no reason that the number of homeless cats can’t keep dwindling until nearly all of these innocent creatures have the care and love they deserve.
Note: the detail cat intake data for all zip codes and years is shown here>>>>
Taos Feral Feline Friends Reports its 2014 Charitable Accomplishments
TFFF has released its report of program activity for calendar year 2014. The TFFF shelter had 77 residents at 12/31/2014. We admitted 45 new cats into the shelter during 2014, placed 33 cats in permanent homes and had four cats that required euthanasia. An additional 112 adoptions were arranged through the Pays To Help Strays adoption service. Each cat in this program was a stray cat adopted into a permanent home by a Taos resident. TFFF paid for the spay/neuter surgery, a complete set of vaccinations and FeLV/FIV testing. There were 132 Trap, Neuter, and Return feral cat cases in 2014. Each cat was fixed, given a veterinary exam, treated for injuries or illnesses, and vaccinated for rabies before being returned to its human caregiver. All programs combined, TFFF helped 364 cats during 2014, including 271 no-cost spay/neuter surgeries. The charity also distributed over $3,000 in free cat food to low-income feral cat caregivers and helped them pay over $1,800 of vet bills.
Leanne Mitchell, President of TFFF, commented, “2014 was another busy year. The TFFF shelter was near capacity for most of 2014 and, once again, we were the #1 provider of free spay/neuter surgeries for cats in Taos County. Considering that most of the cats we fix are feral cats that would have continued breeding litter after litter of homeless kittens, TFFF is keeping the homeless population in check. One indication is that feline intakes at Stray Hearts shelter were the lowest in many years. They reported 376 intakes last year, down 39% from 2013. This is convincing evidence that local spay/neuter efforts, ours and those of other charities, are truly effective.
The feral cat caregivers deserve much credit for this progress. They are the backbone of our Trap, Neuter and Return program: the ones who help TFFF ‘find and fix’ these elusive creatures, the ones who provide daily food and water so that homeless cats don’t suffer. I feed cats daily, too, so I know how expensive it is. If you are a current or former TNR client and are having difficulty feeding your feral cats, call us about joining our Low Income Food Assistance program.
TFFF is always looking for new ways to support people that help cats. Last year, we expanded the Pays To Help Strays adoption service to provide full benefits to foster care providers. Here’s how it works. Suppose your cat has kittens or you find a cat on your doorstep. You’re caring for them, but you can’t keep them, so you’re trying to find them homes. If a cat is old enough, we’ll pay for spay/neuter, vaccinations and testing; if it’s too young to be fixed, we’ll provide the benefits to the adopter you find. Your foster cat will be fixed and healthy with no costly vet services pending… making it easier for you to find a good home!
Finally, although our charity’s programs are targeted to aid homeless cats, we try to help pet owners and anyone with cat-related questions. There are local resources that I can connect you with. If you’re looking for a cat to adopt, wanting to get a cat fixed or have questions about your cat’s behavior, give me a call. Taos Feral Feline Friends is here to help.”
Taos Feral Feline Friends Announces 2015 Programs
The start of a new year is a good time to outline the animal welfare services that we offer.
The TFFF shelter has approximately 80 feline residents. The majority of our residents are feral cats, usually adopted out as mousers or ‘barn kitties’. The shelter also has some domesticated cats available for adoption and a few cats that we have decided, due to poor health or age, to retain as permanent residents. Photos of our adoptable, domesticated cats can be viewed on the internet at petfinder.com. We don’t post photos of our feral cat residents, but if you are interested in adopting a feral cat and have preferences for sex, breed, or color, we will attempt to meet your needs.
The Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) Program focuses on reducing over-population of unowned cats. Unowned cats are homeless cats that are abandoned or lost pets or they can be feral cats, cats that have lived most of their lives outdoors without close human contact. An unspayed female cat can have three litters of kittens each year. With homeless kittens facing exposure to the elements, starvation and predation, most will perish before their first birthday… a short, cruel life. Through TNR, we help local residents prevent these tragic births by providing free spay/neuter for unowned cats. Feral cats are caught in humane traps, taken to a vet clinic for spay/neuter and vaccination, and then returned to their territory. The people we help become (or already are) caregivers for the unowned cats, providing food, water and shelter every day. If you are currently feeding unowned cats, TNR is the best way to keep a manageable number of cats from growing into a huge problem. When two or three cats become twenty or thirty, neighbors run out of patience, caregivers run out of money, cats run out of food and some may starve. Please call us, we are here to help.
The Pays To Help Strays Program is tailored to promote the adoption of stray cats. TFFF pays for spay/neuter, all vet-recommended vaccinations and testing for feline leukemia and feline AIDS. There are two ways this program can help. First, if you have found a stray cat and adopted it, TFFF will pay for the listed veterinary services on your behalf. Just contact us before or within 60 days of adoption to receive these benefits. Second, if you are temporarily caring for a cat with the intention of finding it a permanent home, in other words providing ‘foster care’, contact us and TFFF will provide the listed vet services at no cost. If you are fostering kittens under three months old, they are too young to receive the vet services. In this case, upon finding someone to adopt the kitten, you can transfer the Pays To Help Strays benefits to the adopter for later use. This service actually helps foster parents find permanent homes because it removes the costly burden of veterinary expenses from the adoption process.
Although various “terms and conditions” apply to our programs, generally any resident of Taos County or the Enchanted Circle area of Colfax County is eligible. Please contact me at (575) 737-9208 for more information.
2014 - The Year In Review
2014 has been eventful for our charity. Here are the highlights:
In May, Taos Feral Feline Friends (TFFF) was awarded $20,000 from PetSmart Charities, Inc. for the Spay/Neuter Taos program, the third award since January 2011. We are on track to provide at least 300 spay/neuter surgeries to stray and feral cats throughout Taos County at no cost to the community. These efforts directly reduce the stray cat population, preventing the birth and suffering of thousands of homeless kittens. By bringing in money from out of state, this grant also helps our community economically because nearly all of the money is spent here in Taos and many locally owned businesses directly benefit.
In June, TFFF began its second decade of service. From just a dozen or so cats and a handful of adoptions back in 2004, the shelter now regularly provides daily care to over 75 cats and has helped over 1000 cats find new permanent homes. Overall, we’ve helped over 3000 cats either at the shelter, through spay/neuter of feral cats or by arranging adoptions.
In October, TFFF celebrated its tenth anniversary Paws For The Cause Walkathon. Six hardy animal lovers walked the full 27 miles this year, a new record for the walkathon. If you love cats and would like to join the walkathon team for 2015, give us a call. But please note: this is no walk for wimps! It’s a grueling two day event so you must be in great cardio shape!
In November, TFFF began a new partnership with Four Corners Animal League to provide funding for its foster care network. Four Corners has a group of volunteers that generously accept homeless cats and kittens into their homes. TFFF offers free spay/neuter surgery, all vet-recommended vaccinations and testing for serious diseases for any foster care cats who have been or will be placed in permanent homes. We are very glad to support the efforts of these volunteers. It’s an incredibly valuable service because there is simply not enough shelter space for all the homeless cats in Taos.
Taos Feral Feline Friends is your friend, too! If you have a stray cat or pet that’s not fixed yet, if you yearn to adopt a cute little stray waiting on your doorstep or require some guaranteed mousers from our shelter, even if you just have questions about feline behavior or health, please give us a call at 575-737-9208. We’re your community cat experts and we’re here to help. Finally, please call us if you’d like to volunteer or make a holiday donation.
Best wishes for the new year!
Cat Intakes at Stray Hearts Shelter Decline During 2014
There’s some good news on the animal welfare scene – feline intakes at Stray Hearts for the first half of 2014 are dramatically lower than last year. During 2013 through June 30, there were 317 cats admitted at Stray Hearts; this year through June 30, there were only 169 feline intakes, a decline of 47%. This has important practical implications because fewer intakes mitigate over-crowding, reduce expenses and relieve stress on both cats and shelter staff.
At Taos Feral Feline Friends, we pay close attention to the intake statistics because they indirectly measure the homeless feline population in our community. In fact, one of our responsibilities under Spay/Neuter Taos, the partnership between PetSmart Charities, Inc. and Taos Feral Feline Friends, is to monitor and report feline shelter intakes. Additionally, we have agreed to use shelter intakes as the yardstick by which to judge the effectiveness of Spay/Neuter Taos, so declines in shelter intakes over time indicate our partnership is “successful”.
Let’s see how we’re doing! Here’s a chart that shows Stray Hearts feline intakes for each year since 2010. The highest line is the shelter total, the lowest line represents the intakes attributed to the town of Taos and the middle line represents the intakes from Taos County, excluding those from the town of Taos. Note: the chart numbers for the first half of 2014 have been multiplied by two to approximate a full year of intake activity.
I have two main observations. First, there does appear to be a downward trend in shelter intakes showing up in each of the lines. This is what we expected to see because for each of the past three years, we’ve fixed over 300 cats in Taos County, mostly strays or ferals, so eventually there should be fewer homeless kittens born, fewer needing the animal shelter.
The second observation is that the 2013 intakes were higher than what I would expect, especially for the town of Taos. We don’t know why. Maybe 2014 is merely a low year; perhaps 2015 will bounce up like 2013 or maybe it will be below 2014… time will tell.
It is important to know that the ultimate judge of our program’s success is PetSmart Charities, the primary funder of Spay/Neuter Taos. Declining intakes support a continuation of the program. An uptrend indicates an unsuccessful program, one that will need to be corrected or, if not fixable, terminated.
Today, with this new data, I remain optimistic we are on the right track and that our community will continue to benefit from the inflow of animal welfare funding provided by Spay/Neuter Taos.
Taos Feral Feline Friends Receives New Grant from PetSmart Charities®
Taos, NM – June 6, 2014 – Taos Feral Feline Friends (TFFF) has been awarded a $20,100 grant from PetSmart Charities® to spay/neuter up to 300 cats over a twelve months beginning May 16, 2014. The grant program, “Spay/Neuter Taos” focuses on free-roaming cats in Taos, Ranchos De Taos, and El Prado as defined by the United States Postal Service zip codes, 87571, 87557, and 87529. All free-roaming cats are eligible, including stray cats that are adopted directly from the wild into the homes of residents in the three zip code regions.
This grant represents the third funding of Spay/Neuter Taos by PetSmart Charities. Leanne Mitchell, President of Taos Feral Feline Friends, remarked, “PetSmart Charities is the leading provider of animal welfare grants in the United States. Their application process is very detailed and competitive. They insist that their partners adhere to a high standard of financial integrity and they only fund animal welfare programs that are measurably effective. We are proud to be chosen by them for a third time; we are honored by their trust.”
Ms. Mitchell continued, “Like PetSmart, Taos Feral Feline Friends is dedicated to solving the related problems of feline homelessness and feline over-population. We hold a common belief that the unchecked reproduction of homeless cats must be addressed as part of any solution. Spay/Neuter Taos is the cornerstone of TFFF’s strategy to spay/neuter homeless cats. This grant enables us to handle enough cases to prevent thousands of live births in the wild.”
Proceeds from the grant will help pay spay/neuter costs for each of TFFF’s core programs. Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) will be the primary means to “find and fix” feral cats. In essence, TNR is a support program for the many feral cat caregivers facing a tough financial dilemma: incur steep veterinary costs to get their cats fixed or face an ever-growing, always-hungry population of feline dependents. Through TNR, TFFF lends traps to catch feral cats and arranges veterinary service for spay/neuter surgery, rabies vaccination and treatment of any injuries or illnesses, all at no cost to the caregiver.
The grant will also contribute funding to the TFFF “Pays To Help Strays" adoption service. This program rewards residents who adopt stray cats directly from the wild by providing free spay/neuter surgery, comprehensive vaccinations and testing for serious feline diseases. Finally, although the grant does not support the TFFF cat shelter, cats admitted into the shelter can be sterilized using grant proceeds.
Ms. Mitchell commented, “Tackling feral cat reproduction is tough, labor-intensive work for our volunteers and caregiver clients, but it is critical to animal welfare in Taos. Many cats born in the wild here ultimately end up at Stray Hearts which lacks facilities to house these difficult-to-adopt animals. Shelter over-crowding in turn leads to higher expenses and potentially more euthanasia. Although feline intakes at Stray Hearts declined in 2011 and 2012, intakes were rising again during 2013, so it’s clear that we need to do more to prevent the homeless cat population from growing.”
Ms. Mitchell concluded by stating, “I want to personally thank Executive Director Jan Gordon of Stray Hearts for providing valuable data for our grant proposal and a letter of recommendation. Thanks are also due to Pennie Wardlow from Four Corners Animal League and Trish Hernandez for writing convincing testimonials of their support for Taos Feral Feline Friends. Finally, I congratulate all of the volunteers and cat caregivers who labored tirelessly last year to complete our 300 spay/neuter goal ahead of schedule. With new funding in place, I look forward to joining all of you again in this vital quest.”
To learn more about helping stray cats and the free spay/neuter programs of Taos Feral Feline Friends, contact Leanne Mitchell at (575) 737-9208.
Adopting a Feral Cat as a Pet – Are You Crazy ???
You might recall that I have written about five great reasons to adopt a feral cat. The reasons were mainly about how feral cats catch rodents more efficiently and safely than traps or poisons. A lot of homes in Taos have rodent problems and rodents can carry Hantavirus and plague so using a cat as a mouse-catcher indeed makes good sense. The families who have adopted feral cats from us appreciate being protected from these terrible diseases and the other damage rodents cause, such as chewing up wires.
But protecting your health and property is not the only reason that people adopt feral cats. Some folks actually prefer to own feral cats as pets! Let me explain.
First, understand that feral cats are genetically identical to ordinary house cats, the same species. The difference is strictly a matter of behavior. Feral cats, having survived living in the wild, have learned different behaviors than what a house cat learns. For example, consider hunting behavior. All cats instinctively are hunters. Feral cats depend on hunting for food so they’ve learned behaviors that make them experts while house cats need only know where their food dish is – they may have never even seen a mouse! It’s a matter of experience – like the difference between giving some random person boards and tools to build a shed versus going to a professional carpenter. Who’s going to build it better? Who’s going to finish it faster? On the other hand, house cats have learned to get along with people while feral cats have not had the opportunity. This is why pets are called “socialized” while feral cats are “unsocialized”. A house cat knows that sitting in your lap is a sure way to receive attention; a feral cat doesn’t know you can be trusted. Their instinct is to fear you.
So why would anyone want a cat that doesn’t much like you for a pet? There are reasons!
People sometimes prefer to own animals that exhibit their innate wildness. Some folks keep exotic animals like deer, hawks, or large cats such as tigers for this reason. A feral cat is your own little tiger, just as wild, but not dangerous or illegal to own.
Some owners expect their cats to live primarily outside. A feral cat is a true survivalist. A cat that has never been on its own is going to have a tough time with coyotes, free-running dogs and cars in Taos.
Then, there is what I call the “aloofness factor”. Cats are usually more aloof than dogs – if you own a dog, when you return home, your dog runs to you, paws at your legs, barks in happiness, etc. If you own a cat and return home, it’s not going to jump for joy, right? It might look at you and yawn - that’s the aloofness factor! Some people want “constant affection” from their pets, some people (and these tend to be cat owners) prefer aloofness. If you are busy at home, an animal wanting constant affection is going to be a nuisance. If you don’t want animals begging for food at dinner time or wanting to sit on you when you’re relaxing, aloofness is a virtue. The “aloofness factor” is a personal preference, but if you appreciate it, then a feral cat may be a great choice because they are very, very aloof.
Finally, if you enjoy a challenge, you can try to make friends with your feral cat. A friendship will take time and patience to build. But aren’t such hard won friendships the best? Remember, inside every feral cat, there is the potential for love, a potential only you can unlock.
Right now at Taos Feral Feline Friends, we have over 80 cats, many of them feral, ready to adopt. During April, our adoption fee is only $12.50 per cat. Call (575)737-9208 for more information.
Taos Feral Feline Friends Reports its 2013 Charitable Accomplishments
Taos, NM, March 21, 2014: Taos Feral Feline Friends (TFFF) has released its report of program activity for calendar year 2013. The TFFF shelter had 75 residents at 12/31/2013. We admitted 53 new cats into the shelter during 2013, placed 25 cats in permanent homes and had six cats that required euthanasia. An additional 135 adoptions were arranged through the Pays To Help Strays adoption service. Each cat in this program was a stray cat adopted into a permanent home by a Taos resident. TFFF paid for the spay/neuter surgery, a complete set of vaccinations, and for FeLV/FIV testing. There were 167 Trap, Neuter, and Return feral cat cases in 2013. Each cat was fixed, given a veterinary exam, treated for injuries or illnesses, and vaccinated for rabies before being returned to its human caregiver. All programs combined, TFFF helped 408 cats during 2013, an increase of 11% from the prior year.
TFFF was the top provider of cat spay/neuter surgeries in Taos County during 2013. TFFF paid for 316 spay/neuter surgeries for cats last year, 6% more than the prior year. All spay/neuter surgeries and vaccinations were provided for free to the cats of local residents. The charity also distributed over $2,700 in free cat food to low-income feral cat caregivers in the community.
Leanne Mitchell, President of TFFF, commented, “As our numbers indicate, 2013 was a very successful year for us. I’m especially proud of all of the free spay/neuter surgeries that were given away last year. Our clients know they call us year-round when new cats appear and we will assist if necessary with trapping and always with getting their cats fixed for free.
Many people don’t realize it, but most of the homeless cats around Taos are not pets that ran away or were abandoned. They are mostly cats born in the wild to stray females that were never fixed, surviving only because of compassionate residents who put out food and water. I am privileged to know many of you who help those wandering strangers, those cats you don’t even own, sustaining them even if you barely have enough money for your own needs. Many kindhearted people cannot afford the veterinary bills to get stray cats fixed, and yet, if they don’t, the cats keep multiplying and the cost of feeding them becomes an overwhelming burden. My promise to all of you in Taos who care for or care about stray cats is that I will help you every way I can. Having us fix your cats for free is a great start!
Although our programs are primarily targeted to aid homeless cats, I want to help pet owners, too. If you need financial assistance to get your cat fixed, please call me and, through a referral to the Zimmer Foundation, we’ll get it done. If your pets have behavior issues or other problems, let me help you find a solution. The bottom line is: if you ever need help with cats, whether pets, strays, or ferals, Taos Feral Feline Friends is your friend!
Finally, please consider donating to us if you can help. Our free community programs are not government-funded so your support is essential to our mission.”
Five Great Reasons to Adopt a Feral Cat
February 27, 2014: March is Adopt- a-Feral-Cat Month at Taos Feral Feline Friends. It’s the start of spring and springtime is mousetime in Taos! Actually, rodents can do harm all year, but in the warming weather of March, rodents become more active, leaving their underground burrows where they spend the winter. This activity makes them a prime target for cats.
Here are five great reasons to adopt a feral cat today:
Reason #1 Traps have to be set and checked constantly. Rodents can sometimes trigger a spring trap without being caught. Glue traps can only be used once. Whatever the trapping system, the owner must remain vigilant – a sprung trap (whether containing a mouse or not) is not ready for the next rodent. A feral cat is always ready and can kill multiple rodents the same day.
Reason #2 Poison can be effective against rodents no doubt, but it’s also a hazard for other living things as well, particularly dogs, cats, birds and toddlers. Every veterinarian can tell you sad accounts of a cherished pet that succumbed to rat poison. Poison bait can also end up contaminating the soil and groundwater. Cats are safer than poison; they are the ‘green’ solution to rodent problems
Reason #3 You may not realize where all the rodents live, where all the rodents travel. You can waste a lot of time trapping in one spot while the rodents are scurrying somewhere else. Cats are hunters with a keen sense of smell. They find the rodents for you. They find the ones you didn’t even know about.
Reason #4 Some people like cats but are allergic. A feral cat can live outdoors in a barn, shed or garage where they won’t be a problem for your allergies. Other folks don’t want cats scratching on their furniture or leaving hair on beds and curtains. Some object to a litter box as home décor. Feral cats do just fine outdoors; they won’t disrupt your home environment.
Reason #5 Feral cats are a real bargain. During Adopt-a-Feral-Cat Month, Taos Feral Feline Friends is offering feral cats for adoption for a flat charge of $25, up to a maximum of six cats. That’s $25 for one cat or $25 for two cats or $25 for three cats, up to six. All our cats are healthy, fixed, fully vaccinated and guaranteed ready to hunt.
There’s never been a better time to adopt a feral cat! Call Taos Feral Feline Friends at (575)737-9208.
Taos Feral Feline Friends Completes PetSmart Charities Grant
November 28, 2013: Friends (TFFF) has successfully completed the 300 spay/neuter treatments targeted for its Spay/Neuter Taos project funded in part by a PetSmart Charities® grant. The one year program which began November 16, 2012 focused on the Taos, Ranchos De Taos, and El Prado areas as defined by the United States Postal Service zip codes, 87571, 87557 and 87529.
In total, TFFF helped 343 cats within the target area during the one year period, 11/16/2012 to 11/15/2013. 178 cats were handled by the feral cat Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR) program resulting in 162 spay/neuter surgeries. All TNR cats were also vaccinated for rabies. 114 stray cats found permanent homes through the Pays To Help Strays adoption service, resulting in 110 spay/neuter surgeries. Each adopted cat was also provided, at no expense to the adopting family, a complete set of vaccinations and was tested for FELV and FIV. Finally, 51 cats were admitted to the TFFF shelter, resulting in 40 spay/neuter surgeries. Each new shelter cat has a guaranteed home for life at the shelter until they find a permanent home through the shelter’s adoption program.
An additional 24 cats were helped from various areas outside of the PetSmart Charities target area, bringing the total number of cats assisted by TFFF during the one year period to 367. Of the total 367 cats, 13 cats required euthanasia primarily due to feline leukemia (FELV) and feline immunodeficiency (FIV).
Leanne Mitchell, President of Taos Feral Feline Friends, explained, "This was the second completed grant for TFFF working in partnership with PetSmart Charities. We are very grateful to have received their support and will be reapplying for new funding in the near future. We are also thankful for everyone who donated to our Paws For The Cause walkathon. The PetSmart funding is less than one third of our total program costs so we truly need the support of all local animal lovers in order to continue our operations. With 51 new entrants arriving at the shelter, we have some great cats ready for adoption, both pets and feral cats, so call me at (575) 737-9208 if you’re looking for a new pet or ‘barn kitty’."
Taos Feral Feline Friends Reports its 2012 Charitable Accomplishments
TFFF has released its annual tabulation of program activity for 2012. There were 198 Trap, Neuter, and Return feral cat cases in 2012. Each cat was fixed, given a veterinary exam, treated for injuries or illnesses, and was vaccinated for rabies before being returned to its human caregiver. The TFFF shelter had 53 residents at 12/31/2012. We admitted 26 cats in 2012 and placed 33 cats in permanent homes. An additional 83 adoptions were arranged through the Pays To Help Strays program. Each cat in this program was a stray cat adopted into a permanent home by a Taos resident. TFFF paid for the spay/neuter surgery, a complete set of vaccinations, and for FeLV/FIV testing. All programs combined, TFFF helped 368 cats during 2012, two of which required euthanasia. TFFF funded 297 spay/neuter surgeries during the year.
Leanne Mitchell, President of TFFF, commented, “Ever since I started TFFF in 2004, our mission has been finding a loving home for every cat in Taos. Well, I’m thrilled to tell you that major progress has been made. Based on our shelter and Stray Hearts combined data, there were 155 fewer cats admitted in 2012 than in 2010. Fewer shelter intakes is a clear sign that there are fewer cats living as strays, fewer cats being abandoned… fewer cats lacking an appropriate home.
Our spay/neuter programs are a big factor. When TFFF began its partnership with PetSmart Charities® in January 2011, we increased our spay/neuter activity from about 230 per year to over 350, preventing thousands of additional births among the homeless cat population. The fact is that the ramping up of our surgeries coincided with the drop in shelter intakes.
But there was another important change from 2010 to 2012: Stray Hearts reports their feline euthanasia cases declined from 201 in 2010 to just 33 cases in 2012, a two-year decline of 84%! This startling decline is what TFFF has been seeking for many years: a reduction in unnecessary euthanasia of healthy cats. It’s an incredible animal welfare achievement, a credit to Stray Hearts and the entire Taos community.
In summary, I see continuing improvement for cats in Taos. The Zimmer Foundation recently began offering low income cat owners free spay/neuter surgeries. Our own free spay/neuter programs should produce at least 300 more fixed stray and feral cats during 2013. Together these efforts will lead to fewer homeless cats, which in turn will cause fewer shelter intakes, further alleviating overcrowding and unnecessary euthanasia at Stray Hearts.
I want to thank our local donors, many of whom have supported us for years. Just like me, you knew that helping our abandoned former pets was the morally proper thing to do. Just like me, you knew that a no-kill shelter was the only hope for many cats. But just like me, given the vastness of the feline over-population problem, you wondered would we ever find a solution?
And now we know: by actively getting feral cats fixed, by working hard finding homes for every stray, we reduce the homeless population, we cut the numbers of cats sent to the shelter, and, best of all, we save the lives of hundreds of innocent cats from euthanasia… we have truly made a difference!”
Where Are All The Cats Coming From?
Often, on those busy days at Taos Feral Feline Friends (TFFF) shelter, I wonder, “Where are all these cats coming from?" Thanks to some new information provided by Stray Hearts, there is an answer to this question. (Note: Stray Hearts, Inc serves contractually as the animal shelter for both the town of Taos and Taos County, New Mexico.)
Stray Hearts provided TFFF with their feline intakes for the past three years separated by the “zipcode of origin”. For example, if a cat was picked up by Animal Control in El Prado, it would have a zipcode of origin of 87529. The same would be true if a resident of El Prado dropped off a cat at the shelter.
A breakdown of intakes by zipcode is important to TFFF because our current grant from PetSmart Charities, Inc. targets three Taos County zipcodes (87571, 87557, and 87529). We chose this target area to focus on a geographically compact area where our free spay/neuter program could have the most impact.
The intake data is summarized in Table 1. Each of our “target” zipcodes is shown separately, but the non-target areas are lumped together as “Remainder of County”.
Table 1 shows that Taos (87571) averages 248 intakes annually, Ranchos De Taos (87557) averages 167, El Prado (87529) averages 91. The remainder of the county only accounts for 105 intakes, about 17% of the total. The TFFF target area represents 83% of the total shelter intakes so we are focusing on the places where most cats originate.
Table 1 also shows the intake rate per 1000 residents. El Prado has the highest intake rate while the remainder of the county is lowest, probably because the remainder area is so vast and much farther away from Stray Hearts and Animal Control headquarters.
Table 2 is the detailed breakdown of cat intakes for all zipcodes in Taos County.
Next month, we’ll look at TFFF intake numbers and trends.
2013 is the Year of the Fixed Feline!
Taos Feral Feline Friends (TFFF) declares 2013 to be the Year of the Fixed Feline. Partnering again with PetSmart Charities®, TFFF plans to complete 300 spay/neuter surgeries for Taos County in 2013 all with no cost to the public.
According to Leanne Mitchell, President and Founder of TFFF, “Our main focus this year will be Taos, Ranchos De Taos, and El Prado, but we will be able to help most cat owners or caregivers in Taos County. Although TFFF’s programs target stray or feral cats, we can now refer low-income pet owners to the Zimmer Foundation, based in Santa Fe, for free spay/neuter benefits. The Zimmer Foundation has already helped over a thousand cat owners in the Santa Fe area and now they are making their program available to residents of Taos County and the Enchanted Circle. This is an incredible opportunity for Taos to finally solve feline over-population.”
TFFF is offering two free spay/neuter programs in 2013:
1. Trap, Neuter, and Return: this program applies to stray or feral cats. TFFF will lend out traps to harmlessly capture feral cats. Residents can then take them to Salazar Road Vet Clinic to be fixed for free. The cats will also be treated for any injuries or illnesses, given a rabies vaccine, and then returned to their outdoor location. To be eligible, you must be a caregiver for the cats, putting out food and water daily, and the cats must have some form of shelter. All vet treatment is paid by TFFF.
2. Pays To Help Strays: this program is for people who would like to adopt a stray cat directly from the wild. TFFF will pay for the spay/neuter surgery, rabies and all other recommended vaccinations, and testing for feline AIDS and feline leukemia, a package of services worth around $200. The costs of other veterinary services, if any, are the adopter’s responsibility. To be eligible, you must call TFFF before or within 60 days of the adoption.
In addition, Taos Feral Feline Friends offers feral cats and a limited number of pet cats for adoption from its shelter. Adoption fees are $25 for two feral cats or one pet. All cats are already fixed and up-to-date on vaccinations.
Leanne Mitchell explained, “Our free spay/neuter programs are not just for low-income residents. Whether you are caring for one feral cat or twenty, or adopting a stray or feral cat into your home, we want to help you. For 2013, our Trap, Neuter, and Return program is available throughout all Taos County, Angel Fire and Eagles Nest. The Pays To Help Strays adoption program is limited to the PetSmart grant area of Taos, Ranchos De Taos, and El Prado. However, low-income residents who are not eligible for TFFF programs, including pet owners, may qualify for free spay/neuter vouchers from the Zimmer Foundation.”
The Zimmer Foundation defines income as the total income from all adults in a household. Households earning less than $40,000 per year are considered to be “low-income”. Furthermore, you must agree to get all cats under your control fixed and must agree to keep caring for the cats, in other words, that you will not be finding other homes for them or sending them to a shelter. If these conditions are met, the Zimmer Foundation will mail you vouchers for free spay/neuter and rabies vaccination at a participating vet’s office. Both Salazar Road Veterinary Clinic and Taos Veterinary Clinic are participating so you have a choice who to use. There is a limit of eight cats per household for this program and the program can be used for pets or feral cats under your care.
To order free spay/neuter vouchers or get more information from the Zimmer Foundation, call them at (505)466-1676.
Leanne Mitchell emphasized, “Please take advantage of these exceptional programs while they last. Ultimately, it’s each person’s responsibility to get their cats fixed and when this doesn’t happen, the result is more cats being sent to shelters or abandoned in the wild. It’s so bitter cold out now – we really shouldn’t condemn our former pets to a homeless life outdoors. Let’s “fix” this situation once and for all. Call me at (575)737-9208 to get started!
Taos Feral Feline Friends Receives $18,950 Grant from PetSmart Charities®
Taos, NM – December 13, 2012 – Taos Feral Feline Friends (TFFF) has received an $18,950 grant from PetSmart Charities® to spay/neuter up to 300 cats during 2013. The grant is specifically targeted to free-roaming cats in Taos County for residents of Taos, Ranchos De Taos, and El Prado as defined by the United States Postal Service zip codes, 87571, 87557, and 87529.
The grant continues and broadens the original TFFF/PetSmart partnership from the town of Taos to the three zip code regions closest to the town. All free-roaming cats are eligible, including stray cats that are adopted directly from the wild into the homes of residents in the three zip code regions. The program is effective immediately.
Leanne Mitchell, President of Taos Feral Feline Friends, explained, “This new grant will support a highly focused effort to reduce the number of homeless cats in Taos County. The best way to do this is to prevent the continuous cycle of kittens being born homeless and then growing up and producing more homeless kittens. Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR) is the cornerstone of our solution to this problem. TNR is essentially a support program for the many, loving people who put out food and water every day for stray or feral cats. These compassionate souls, without whom the cats could not survive, are often struggling to feed themselves. But they face a terrible financial dilemma: find money to get their cats fixed or face an ever-growing, always-hungry population of cats dependent on them. With TNR, our charity pays in full the vet bills for spay/neuter surgery, rabies vaccination, and a vet exam and treatment. The result is fewer, healthier cats and a tremendous relief for the feral cat care-givers of Taos.”
The new grant will also allow enable TFFF to expand its “Pays To Help Strays" adoption service. This program rewards residents who adopt stray cats directly from the wild by providing a wide range of veterinary services at no cost, including spay/neuter surgery and comprehensive vaccinations and testing for serious diseases. According to Ms. Mitchell, “Taking in a stray cat is a very kind act. It can be life-saving for the animal and life-changing for the individual or family who opens their home to a homeless cat. I understand that not all people can do this – there can be allergy problems, landlord problems, and conflicts with other pets – but when it can happen, TFFF wants to help. By providing all the essential tests and vaccinations, we reduce the financial burden and make the adoption as smooth and safe as possible.”
It is important to note that TFFF does not offer spay/neuter benefits to existing pets and the terms of the PetSmart grant specifically exclude this service. For financial assistance with spay/neuter of existing pets, owners are encouraged to contact Stray Hearts or Four Corners Animal League.
“The success of the original grant program was demonstrated when Stray Hearts’ cat intakes from the town of Taos significantly declined in 2011 and 2012”, according to Leanne Mitchell. “PetSmart Charities® recognized this and has now provided the financial backing to apply our proven methodology to a much larger area. I want to personally thank Jan Gordon from Stray Hearts for her cooperation in providing data for our grant proposal and her letter of support. I am also indebted to Pennie Wardlow from Four Corners Animal League and Trish Hernandez for writing compelling letters in support of our grant. Finally, I am deeply thankful for all the people who unselfishly devote time and money caring for the wandering, hungry, homeless strays that appear at their doorsteps. You are my unsung heroes.”
To learn more about helping stray cats and the free spay/neuter programs of Taos Feral Feline Friends, contact Leanne Mitchell at (575)737-9208.
Note: The following article by Leanne Mitchell was published in the September 20, 2012 edition of the Taos News:
Spay/Neuter Taos - A Success Story For Cats
Two years ago, I started work on a grant proposal to PetSmart Charities® to provide free spay/neuter surgeries for stray or feral cats in the Taos area. Taos Feral Feline Friends (TFFF) had been offering free Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR) for several years so I didn’t expect that this grant, if we would be fortunate enough to receive it, would radically change anything. I was wrong.
PetSmart had originated a new concept that I would need to embrace if I wanted their funding, a highly focused campaign that would target a large number of spay/neuters to a specific area. The idea was to get a high percentage of the free-roaming cats fixed as quickly as possible. In addition, TFFF would need to provide objective proof that the program was actually reducing the free-roaming cat population.
To fit their grant-making criteria, TFFF proposed to arrange 300 spay/neuter surgeries over twelve months. TFFF would focus the entire effort on the town of Taos, thereby satisfying the requirement of being highly focused. To provide the objective proof that PetSmart insisted on, we would monitor the number of feline shelter intakes at our shelter and at Stray Hearts. The program would only be considered ‘successful’ if the feline shelter intakes from the town of Taos decreased significantly. Graciously, Stray Hearts provided their intakes back to 2008. Combined with our intakes, we had a starting point for our measurements. We named the program “Spay/Neuter Taos” and PetSmart funded it with $15,000 back in January 2011.
Of course, we were thrilled to receive the grant, but frankly I was worried. Shelter intakes had been going up steadily every year. Would the program really work, really reduce cats taken to the shelter as we had promised? Would we even be able to find 300 unfixed, free-roaming cats in the town of Taos?
It took us longer than 12 months, but TFFF found and fixed 300 cats within the town limits. Actually, we did 313 spay/neuters over a 19 month period ending August 15, 2012. The main reason it took longer than we planned was that one of Taos’ three vet offices, Dr. Karlin’s Animal Care Clinic, closed in 2011 and that caused a huge bottleneck for anyone, including us, trying to get vet appointments.
Now did all of this spaying and neutering really lower feline shelter intakes as we had predicted?
The chart (see bottom of article) illustrates the town-based shelter intakes (Stray Hearts and TFFF shelters combined) compared to TFFF’s spay/neuter activity in the town of Taos for each calendar year. The 2012-1H values are for the first six months of the year, converted to an annual number by multiplying by two.
Let’s see what happened. Before 2011, shelter intakes were increasing each year. After TFFF ramped up its spay/neuter cases in 2011, the chart shows a decline in shelter intakes. It was just a small drop in 2011, but a larger decline in 2012. The bottom line is that we achieved what we promised. Spay/Neuter Taos was a success.
The highly focused approach to getting cats fixed truly worked. And it’s not just a numbers game, fewer shelter intakes is an exciting victory for all of us concerned with animal welfare. Fewer shelter cats means less over-crowding at the shelters, lower expenses at the shelters, fewer cats being euthanized, lower veterinary costs, etc. Fewer intakes also suggest that Animal Control had fewer cat-related calls and more time to focus on other issues. Most important, fewer cats taken to the shelter is a sign that there are fewer unwanted cats in Taos. It’s a win for all of us, including the cats!
Unfortunately, Spay/Neuter Taos is over for now. But I have some good news: we have a chance to expand the program beyond the town of Taos. I’ve applied to PetSmart for a new grant that would allow TFFF to offer free spay/neuters to anyone with a Taos, El Prado, or Ranchos De Taos zip code. This new area includes over 20,000 people, a majority of Taos County.
We need your help to seal the deal. Many non-profits across the nation apply to PetSmart for aid. One of the criteria in picking who wins is community support. You may not realize it but the vast majority of our funding (about 75%) comes from you, the kind citizens who support our mission. Please make a pledge, if you can, to the TFFF Paws For The Cause Walkathon. Your donations prove that Taos cares about homeless cats and solving the problem of over-population. We’ve already had one success… let’s go for two!
Note: The following article by Leanne Mitchell was published in the "My Turn" section of the May 3, 2012 edition of the Taos News:
Encouraging Signs in Cat Overpopulation
Cat overpopulation is a serious problem. In the town of Taos, the shelter intake rate (per 100 residents) is four times the national average. This creates shelter over-crowding, enormous pressure on shelter staff, adds to Taos’ animal control costs, and results in the tragic euthanasia of innocent cats.
However, there was an encouraging development last year that I wanted to share with everyone. The number of cat intakes at the Taos Feral Feline Friends and Stray Hearts’ shelters combined declined from 735 in 2010 to 644 in 2011. It’s the first time shelter intakes have declined since we started tracking them. Shelter intakes are a good measure of unwanted cats and when their numbers decline, it means that our programs to stop the over-population crisis are making a difference.
It’s definitely no coincidence that the first ever drop in shelter intakes occurred in 2011 while we were handling a record number of 376 spay/neuter surgeries at Taos Feral Feline Friends. Stray and feral cats, not pets (as many believe), are the main cause of feline over-population. Most pets are fixed by their owners before they are allowed to reproduce. It’s the owner-less cats, the stray and feral cats, that reproduce without limits. Even if every pet were fixed, the owner-less population will continue to breed, their offspring will breed, and the crisis will never end.
Don’t misunderstand me. The actions of all animal welfare organizations to promote spay/neuter of pets are essential – after all, the stray cat problem began with abandoned pets. But getting pets fixed won’t stop the unchecked breeding in the stray/feral population.
That is precisely why the programs of Taos Feral Feline Friends focus on getting stray and feral cats fixed. Humanely reducing the population of homeless cats is our mission.
Here’s another sign that we’re making progress: the number of feral cats at many of our outdoor locations is dropping. People who use to feed twenty feral cats are now feeding only twelve; people who use to feed eight are down to five, etc.
But we need your help to keep up this progress. If you are putting out food and water for stray or feral cats, you are showing true kindness every day to these unfortunate animals. We want you to do just one more kind act. Give us a call at Taos Feral Feline Friends (737-9208) and we’ll get them fixed for free. It’s not hard to do and once a cat is done, it’s done.
Here’s what we have right now: free spay and neuter for stray and feral cats is available for anyone in Taos County, Angel Fire, Red River, or Eagles Nest. We will lend you safe, easy-to-use traps and give you complete instructions on the whole process. Another program, Pays To Help Strays, will pay for spay/neuter and all vaccinations if you take in a stray cat as a pet. Just call us before, or within 30 days, of the adoption. Due to terms of our grant, Pays To Help Strays is only available to residents within the town of Taos. Finally, please call our shelter or Stray Hearts if you’re thinking of adopting a pet. Let’s not encourage breeders or pet stores to keep making more dogs and cats when we already have too many. For more information about our programs, call me or visit our website – google “Taos Feral” to find us.
Now that there’s evidence that our efforts are succeeding, it’s a great time for animal lovers to get involved. If you don’t have feral cats nearby, you can help as a volunteer or donor with us or any of the other non-profits in Taos. Helping our abandoned, homeless cats and dogs will be something you’ll never regret.