Animal center adopts trap-neuter-release program

A newborn kitten at Palm Valley Animal Center in Edinburg on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. As summer looms in the Rio Grande Valley, the shelter begins to see more kittens being admitted to their facilities. (J. Edward Moreno | emoreno@themonitor.com)

The Palm Valley Animal Center board of trustees voted Monday to approve and adopt a trap-neuter-release program, which aims to lower the population of stray cats throughout the county.

Through TNR, feral, or “community cats,” who are brought to the shelter can be spayed or neutered then returned to the neighborhoods where they were found. As they stop reproducing, eventually these populations will begin to decrease.

PVAC was one of several finalists to have its TNR program funded by Best Friends Animal Society, a national animal welfare organization that has aided the shelter in the past. For the next three years, Best Friends will fund every TNR spay and neutering the shelter performs.

Mike Bricker, PVAC’s shelter manager, said the shelter veterinarian, Dr. Lisa Rodriguez, as well as several partner veterinarians will be performing the procedures. They plan on addressing an estimated 3,500 cats in the first year. Best Friends, who committed to funding the program for three years, will pay for as many procedures PVAC is able to perform. If more veterinarians reach out, PVAC will work with them to get more spay and neuters done.

The biggest difference between TNR and their current system is that less animals end up euthanized, Bricker said. As the shelter strives to achieve a “no-kill” status, meaning over 90% of animals leave the shelter alive, he said TNR seemed like an approach that better aligned with the shelter’s mission.

“Historically, the way of solving a community cat program was euthanization,” he said. “That was the approach in the past, but now we’re seeing more TNR.”

Currently, the shelter has been approved to do TNR in McAllen, Edinburg, Alamo and Hidalgo County. Rebecca Villanueva, director of development at PVAC, said the shelter has years of data that can show them where the most amount of stray cats are so they can allocate their resources accordingly.

One problem, Villanueva said, is that the community won’t immediately see the fruits of the program, making it difficult to gain the support they need.

When someone calls animal control on a group of stray cats, they often want to see them gone immediately, not released back into their neighborhoods. The birding community in particular has made complaints about stray cats eating birds that are unique to the area.

It will take a few years for TNR to affect the cat population in the region, but unlike the trap-and-euthanize method, TNR is designed for long-term mitigation.

“The purpose of this program is not to put more cats out there,” Bricker said. “We aren’t putting anything back that wasn’t already there. This is going to mean a decrease in cats but it’s going to take some time.”

“We have years of data that the trapping and euthanizing doesn’t stop the amount of cats coming in,” Villanueva said. “In fact, every year there’s more.”

In 2018, PVAC took in 12,000 cats, which shelter officials note is likely a “very, very small fraction of what’s actually out there.” If TNR helps reduce the amount of cats that make it to the shelter in the first place, cats who are more suitable for adoption may have a better chance at a live outcome.

“By doing this we can reduce the amount of cats going into the shelter so the ones who do come in can get more individualized care. That way, we can reduce the amount of cats that end up euthanized,” said Rodriguez, who has worked at a San Antonio shelter that practiced TNR.

Residents of the aforementioned municipalities can expect to see outreach efforts and marketing in their areas promoting TNR in the coming weeks. Residents are encouraged to notify animal control or PVAC when they see groups of stray cats in their neighborhoods.

Those wanting to get involved further can attend monthly “Kitty Committee” meetings at PVAC, which take place the last Wednesday of each month.

“Where the community can help is by working with us,” Villanueva said. “We need to the community to be a part of this.”