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By Gary Weitzman, DVM, President and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society
In a report published December 20, 2020 in the San Diego Union Tribune, titled “The San Diego Humane Society Urges To Stop Releasing Adoptable Cats To The Street,” reporter Morgan Cook noted that some animal advocates are not concerned about the best care for community cats agree.
The problems surrounding community cats are complex and we want to help those who share a passion for animals learn more about why our programs are evolving and what we want to achieve.
“Community cats” are cats outdoors with no apparent ownership structure and are found all over the world. In San Diego County, an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 cats live in the community. If that sounds like a lot, it is. Community care for cats is one of the most complex problems animal shelters face today as they work to stabilize and reduce their numbers. Leading animal welfare organizations, veterinarians and researchers find advanced solutions.
In early 2021, the San Diego Humane Society will launch a comprehensive community cat program designed with one simple, clear goal in mind: to help cats. We strive to achieve the best, most compassionate result for every animal in San Diego County, just as we have been doing for more than 140 years.
Community cats can be wild or friendly, young or old. They live in urban areas, parks, canyons, backyards, and beach communities. New programs to best care for these cats are complex and often misunderstood – but they are urgently needed. Traditional protection practices have not been effective in caring for or reducing the number of community cats. Shelters are extremely stressful for cats, even sociable cats, and staying in an animal shelter for long periods of time can lead to serious health problems and a significantly reduced quality of life.
Despite the work of many people and organizations committed to animal welfare, the volume of cats entering shelters continues to increase. In 2019, nearly 2.3 million cats entered animal shelters across the country, up from 2.2 million in the previous year. In the past fiscal year, 21,648 cats entered animal shelters in San Diego County alone. These facts require that we challenge old ways of thinking and work with other leading animal welfare professionals to develop innovative programs that are in the best interests of these animals.
San Diego Humane Society, along with other leading animal welfare organizations such as Alley Cat Allies, American Pets Alive, the ASPCA, Best Friends, HSUS, the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the University of California, Davis, and Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida, do just that.
Support for Community Cat programs spans multiple sectors, from animal shelters to veterinarians to stakeholders. Everyone agrees that the most humane way to care for cats in the community is to develop programs that will neuter, vaccinate, and quickly return them to their outdoor homes. Not only is this best for individual cats, but it’s the only approach that has been shown to decrease the number of community cats over time.
Like other programs of this type, the San Diego Humane Society’s Community Cat Program draws on years of scientific research and discussion and debate among those in the animal welfare community who have devoted their lives to doing best for animals. This program only applies to healthy cats who can demonstrate that they are living well outdoors. This does not apply to cats that are unhealthy, abandoned or abandoned by their owners, or found in a dangerous location. In most cases, this also doesn’t apply to kittens under 6 months of age.
By developing a community cat program in partnership with experts in the US, we are taking the next step in our commitment to doing the best for cats in our area. This is new to many people and there are questions about how it should be for any new program that is innovative and that moves us to evolve our attitudes about our role in caring for animals in need.
While there have been successful community cat programs across the country for decades, these programs represent a new way of thinking for many. Our website provides resources that will help our community understand why we think this is the most effective type Cats Calling San Diego County Home To Work With.
We encourage those who share our passion for animals to visit sdhumane.org/communitycats to learn more, and we invite you to join us in creating a better future for cats everywhere.