Neuter/release proves cost-effective: City fixing to fix feral cats

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1995:

SAN JOSE, California––”Are you feeding stray cats?”
the fliers ask. “The City of San Jose will give you FREE spay/neuter
vouchers to alter either your own cats or the strays you are feeding.
Simply take the voucher with the cat to a participating veterinarian.
Your owned or stray cat will be altered for free.”
Initially printed and distributed in December by the San
Jose-based National Pet Alliance, the fliers drew the attention of
reporter Linda Goldston, who amplified word of the free neutering
offer in the February 21 edition of the San Jose Mercury-News.
More than 1,000 vouchers were distributed during the next three
weeks, while voucher redemptions shot up from 575 during the first
two months of the program to 1,032 by March 13. The vouchers
were used to neuter 631 female cats and 401 toms.
“At least half of the cats were strays, according to the
questionaires attached to the vouchers in the last month,” NPA
board member Karen Johnson told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “Almost a
third of respondents claim to be feeding stray cats in their neighbor-
hood. Not everyone fills out the questionaire. There is still some
suspicion about getting something free, and those who are feeding
multiple cats are understandably nervous, since there is a two-cat
limit in San Jose and the program is run out of the dog licensing
office,” which enforces the pet limit.
Johnson’s goal is to emulate the success of the San Diego-
ased Feral Cat Coalition in lowering the local euthanasia rate by fix-
ing feral cats. City of San Jose animal control records indicate, as
the neutering program announcement explains, that “More than 37%
of the cats euthanized at the shelter are either wild, or their
unweaned offspring.” And the numbers could go up, for while NPA
survey data indicates 86% of the owned cats in the San Jose area
have already been neutered, about 10% of the households also feed
unowned cats––an average of 3.4 cats apiece, of whom 97% have
not been neutered. In the rural district south of San Jose,
including Morgan Hill, San Martin, and Gilroy, 17.8% of
households feed an average of 5.25 unowned cats apiece,
amounting to 62% of the known cat population. In all,
unowned cats are 41% of the known cat population of the
Santa Clara Valley, in which San Jose is the principal city.
“Handling these wild cats and kittens costs tax
money,” the neutering program fliers continue. “Altering
one pair of stray cats now will save the cost of handling thou-
sands of their offspring over the next 10 years.”
Indeed, Johnson’s cost/benefit analysis shows that
neuter/release not only cuts the numbers of homeless cats
faster than conventional trap-and-kill, but is also more cost-
effective. Setting the cost of testing cats for common conta-
gious diseases, vaccinating them against rabies, and neuter-
ing them at $52 apiece, substantially more than the $21.11
average cost per cat in the San Jose program (which covers
only neutering), Johnson discovers savings of $18 per cat
over the cost of keeping a cat for the mandatory three days in
a shelter prior to euthanasia.
Will pay for itself
“Looking at the figures from San Diego,” she says,
“one can readily see that for a cost of $163,956, they have
reduced the expenses at their shelter by at least 6,500 cats, or
$455,000 over a two-year timespan.” Thus the San Jose pro-
gram “will pay for itself through less shelter costs.”
As Johnson recounts in the current edition of the
Cat Fanciers Association Almanac, “The nonprofit Feral Cat
Coalition has trapped, altered, and released in excess of
3,100 cats over the past two years. Prior to this project, the
San Diego County Animal Management Information System
reported an increase of roughly 10% per year in the number
of cats handled by San Diego Animal Control shelters from
1988 to 1992. The increase peaked at 13% from fiscal year
1991 to fiscal year 1992, with a total of 19,077 cats handled.
After just two years, with no other explanation for the drop,
only 12,446 cats were handled––a drop of 35%. Instead of
another 10% annual increase, euthanasias plunged 40% from
1991-1992 to 1993-1994. Clearly, the project to trap, alter,
and release cats in San Diego County has had a dramatic
effect on the number of cats handled and euthanized at their
shelters, which even historical or nationwide downward
trends cannot explain.”
Closer to home, Johnson and San Jose officials are
impressed at the accomplishments of the Stanford Cat
Network, formed in 1989 in response to a Stanford
University plan to exterminate an estimated 500 feral cats liv-
ing on campus. Among the first organizations to openly
administrate a neuter/release program in the U.S., SCN
picked up, socialized, and adopted out 60 kittens in its first
year. “By 1994,” Johnson reports, “only four kittens were
found.” The total Stanford cat population is down to 300.
The San Jose policy has also been influenced by the
example of the San Francisco SPCA, which since giving up
the city animal control contract in 1989 has promoted neuter-
ing so successfully, including neutering thousands of feral
cats for free, that a year ago San Francisco became the first
city in the U.S. to embrace a no-kill animal control policy.
Under the Adoption Pact, more fully described in the March
1995 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE, the SFSPCA accepts
and guarantees placement of all dogs and cats not placed by
S.F. Animal Care and Control, including the aged and the
recoverable sick and injured. Only the unrecoverable, the
vicious, and animals requiring rabies testing are euthanized.
But the San Jose program differs from those of San
Diego, Stanford, and San Francisco, whose neuter/release
activity has been wholly funded and managed under private
auspices. Although other cities have funded no-questions-
asked low-cost neutering, including Los Angeles city and
county for more than 15 years, San Jose is the first major
city in the U.S. to actively endorse and promote
neuter/release as part of official animal control policy. The
initial budget of $100,000 came from a surplus in animal
license division revenue. “There is expected to be another
surplus for the next fiscal year,” Johnson says, “so the pro-
gram can be continued. At this point it is estimated at over
$60,000. There has been some discussion re vouchers for
dogs and allocating a portion of the funding in that direc-
tion,” Johnson adds. But it probably won’t happen. “Costs
for dogs would run approximately $40 each, so two cats
could be done for each dog,” she explains. In addition,
records kept by Chris Arnold, executive director of the
Humane Society of the Santa Clara Valley, show that only
5% of dogs received are puppies under four months of age,
while kittens under four months of age account for over half
of all incoming felines. “There is not a problem with too
many puppies,” Johnson concludes, “so the need for altering
more dogs is not as urgent.”
The San Jose initiative is apt to draw fire from the
Humane Society of the U.S., People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals, and the Fund for Animals, which
favor regulatory approaches to pet overpopulation; hold that
outdoor life is inherently cruel to cats; hold that euthanasia is
more humane than allowing unowned cats to remain out-
doors; and are already aggressively critical of both private
neuter/release programs and the Adoption Pact.
But San Jose isn’t alone in its position, even in the
Santa Clara Valley. The Palo Alto Humane Society is also
actively encouraging neuter/release, likewise influenced by
NPA and the SFSPCA. Providing free neutering to the needy
for 15 years, PAHS recently formed CatWorks, to expand
the service throughout the San Francisco Bay area. “We
want to make sure people don’t feel as if they’re working
alone,” president Carole Hyde told Goldston, “and we want
to provide a way to help those who would prefer to make
donations” to a neuter/release program, rather than a humane
society practicing trap-and-kill.
Other Bay area agencies practicing and/or assisting
neuter/release include Animal Birth Control Assistance Inc.,
Companion Animal Rescue, the Nike Animal Resource
Foundation, Friends of the Feral Cats, the Ohlone Humane
Society, the Oakland SPCA, and the Santa Cruz SPCA.
[NPA memberships fund pet overpopulation
research. Write to POB 53385, San Jose, CA 95153.]
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