Las Cruces hopes ‘trap-neuter-return’ reduces roaming cats

Michael McDevitt, Las Cruces Sun-News

Published 6:36 a.m. MT March 11, 2021

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Cats are waiting to be adopted at the Cat Meow Adoption Center in Las Cruces on Tuesday September 8th, 2020. (Photo: Nathan J Fish / Sun-News)

LAS CRUCES – The city will seek to create a process of capturing, neutering and releasing non-possessed cats back into the community in an effort to reduce the thriving local population of stray and feral cats.

While the overall goal will be to reduce the cat population over the next few years, proponents of the move see it as a more humane process than euthanasia.

On Monday, Las Cruces city councils agreed during a working session to hasten a decision to launch such a program rather than waiting for it to be implemented as part of a broader revision of the city’s animal control ordinance.

“We believe that if we split up and get a resolution to set up a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program (earlier), we could save many cats,” said District 1 Councilor Kasandra Gandara.

The stray and feral “community cats” found in Las Cruces can disrupt residents’ yards, scratch screen doors, and threaten native bird populations. These concerns were discussed at the Council meeting on March 8, attended by representatives from the Mesilla Valley Animal Services Center, Las Cruces Animal Control, and the Task Force who proposed changes to local animal regulations.

Some councilors said they had received numerous emails and phone calls about the recurring problem of numerous stray and feral cats in their districts. Animal Control Commissioner Gino Jimenez said the problem likely worsened during COVID-19 in 2020 as some animal control services and ASCMV operations ceased.

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As people stayed home more over the past year, they likely noticed more cats and called.

“We’ve probably seen most of our cat ailments in the past year,” said Jimenez.

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Cats are waiting to be adopted at the Cat Meow Adoption Center in Las Cruces on Tuesday September 8th, 2020. (Photo: Nathan J Fish / Sun-News)

Clint Thacker, executive director of ASCMV, said euthanasia at the center likely increased in 2020 as well, as ASCMV was ordered to stop running its own TNR program in late 2019, which is against city ordinance.

Currently, if a cat is classified as feral by the ASCMV, which means it cannot live with people, Thacker said it will be euthanized. Wildcats were responsible for most of the euthanasia at the center in 2020. The 321 wildcat euthanasia was more than 200 higher than the next attributable cause for animal euthanasia.

The city-wide TNR program proposed that captured cats and neutered cats be admitted, vaccinated and microchipped. After their left ears were cut off as a marker, the cats could be returned to the area where they were found, to a caretaker or other convenient location.

One form of TNR existed under a previous regulation that allowed registered cat colonies in the community, which went under in 2020, but the animals had to be caught by the registered caretakers themselves. According to Thacker, the process of compliance was arduous and resulted in few successful applicants. The new proposed program only encourages nurse registration.

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Athena Huckaby, a health professional who sits on the task force, said a TNR program could reduce the population of freeroaming cats. Euthanization would be reduced, but not eliminated as a potential instrument if necessary.

“I’m glad to hear that this approach is not all or nothing for both sides,” said District 2 Councilor Tessa Abeyta Stuve.

Huckaby cited the Feral Cat Management Program at New Mexico State University, which saw the university use TNR and adoption to reduce the cat population from at least 200 to 250 cats in 2002 to just 35 today.

Proponents also stressed that success in reducing the free cat population would require “free and inexpensive” fun and neuter options for potential caretakers.

“The cost for a person to spay and neuter these cats is very high,” said Huckaby. “Especially when it comes to low-income areas.”

“I think there are a lot of well-meaning people out there who probably in their right hearts definitely want to be able to care for and take responsibility for any number of cats in their neighborhood or backyard,” the said District 3 Councilor Gabe Vasquez. “It’s clearly a financial hurdle.”

Complementary components to the success of the TNR program include data collection and tracking, resources for those interested in becoming registered caretakers, public relations and education, inexpensive city-supplied cat deterrents, and possibly even hiring a full-time local employee. who is solely responsible for cat problems, said Huckaby.

“A reactive system will never get control of the cat population,” said Huckaby. “It has to be more proactive … (TNR is) a tool in the toolbox.”

Vasquez said he continues to worry that the city’s freeroaming cats will continue to be concentrated in low-income areas of the city.

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The proposed regulation prohibits the return of cats near daycare, schools, parks, the Rio Grande, or an arroyo. It also says that community cats that are problematic and picked up four times are taken off the street and either adopted, promoted, rescued, sent to a closed colony, or euthanized.

The city needs to know how many un owned cats live in Las Cruces to track a decline. Huckaby said a wildlife biologist at NMSU offered to help estimate the current population.

Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for Sun News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205,, or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.

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