Proven Strategies

Black and white cat casting shadow next to gray and white cat

Using the Current Absence of S/N
to Gain Long-Term Advantages
for Community Cats

Across the country, spay/neuter clinics are limiting their services — or closing entirely — in response to state and local stay-at-home orders related to the COVID-19 crisis. This is an important step to protect human health. That said, it can also be frustrating — especially for shelters with return-to-field (RTF) programs and caregivers involved with trap-neuter-return (TNR) efforts in their communities. 

If you talk to anyone who cares for colony cats, their biggest concerns right now are related to the numbers of unaltered kitties who will be reproducing unchecked for an unknown period. Especially given the amount of work that goes into managing colony size, this is a painful reality that keeps some cat caregivers up at night.  

So, what can we do to feel better about our current situation?  

The first thing is to remind ourselves and the caregivers in the community that we will get through this and we will rebound. The lack of surgeries right now does not mean that we will be set back decades once clinics can reopen. In fact, we will be coming back bigger and better than ever!  

The second thing is to learn how to take advantage of the downtime to keep an eye on the long game. We can use this crisis to benefit our lifesaving goals for community cats.  

Look at the Bright Side 

Yes, kittens will be born in the next few months who wouldn’t be if we had access to spay/neuter like we did before the pandemic. Which, if you think about it, is an excellent way to frame a public message around the importance of RTF/TNR in managing the number of cats in our communities.  

As shelters are taking advantage of existing resources to show the public what to do when they find kittens, they are also building an entirely new support system for the principles behind community cat programs. We can put out the most creative messaging possible about the importance of spay and neuter, but nothing beats the emotional impact of raising a litter of kittens first-hand.  

Asking the public to take care of the most vulnerable pet population there is – instead of relegating the job to overwhelmed shelters – is a brilliant way to help people understand that they are the solution. It also exposes them to the realities of overpopulation and (hopefully) drives a greater social commitment to making spay/neuter happen on a large scale.  

Listen to the Experts 

Getting the public involved in spreading the spay/neuter message while everyone is home to hear it is just one topic that will be part of “Flattening the Kitten Curve While Spay/Neuter is on Hold” at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Wednesday, April 15. Hosted by Maddie’s Fund, this panel discussion features Dr. Julie Levy, Hannah Shaw (the Kitten Lady), and Best Friends Animal Society's Aimee St. Arnaud and Marla Brown.  

They will also give advice on how to take your community cat program and caretaker support to the next level, talk about the best way to message to the public to leave kittens where they are and share virtual fundraising ideas.  

Plan for Colony Caregiving Backup 

Speaking of caretaker support, while we are reminding people to have a plan in place for how our pets will be cared for in the event we become unable to do so, the same is true for community cat caregivers. 

While some caregivers already have fellow trappers who can fill in for them on their feeding routes occasionally, many do not. Make sure your messaging includes the needs of colony caregivers. We’ve put together a guide specific to their needs here.

Dig into Data  

For TNR organizations, this pause in sterilization efforts offers an opportunity to document their hard work. One way to do this is through Cat Stats, a free online colony management tool that allows an organization to quickly identify areas of greatest need, connect caregivers with resources, and monitor progress. Cat Stats also allows caregivers to enter relevant colony data directly, thereby reducing data entry work for staff.  

This kind of data can be valuable down the road (e.g., to measure the effectiveness of TNR) but also in the near-term — for example, allowing TNR organizations to prioritize parts of their community that have seen kitten births during the pandemic. It’s easy to sign up at the Cat Stats website and training is available via webinar hosted by the Community Cats Podcast

Looking Ahead 

Shelters and rescues being forced to adapt quickly to the “new normal” are implementing innovative programs and working collaboratively like never before. The same is true for TNR groups and colony caregivers. Not only will we get through this — we’ll be more organized, effective, and motivated than ever. Indeed, our response to the COVID-19 crisis has the potential to transform the way we care for community cats.  

Peter Wolf
Research/Policy Analyst
Best Friends Animal Society

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