Spay/Neuter Taos ends – What was accomplished?

By Leanne Mitchell
For The Taos News
Posted 11/7/18

Spay/Neuter Taos refers to the animal welfare partnership between Taos Feral Feline Friends and PetSmart Charities Inc., which began in January 2011.The partnership sought to …

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Spay/Neuter Taos ends – What was accomplished?


Spay/Neuter Taos refers to the animal welfare partnership between Taos Feral Feline Friends and PetSmart Charities Inc., which began in January 2011.

The partnership sought to quickly increase cat spay/neuter in Taos County with the contractually specified objective to reduce the number of cat intakes at the Taos community animal shelter, Stray Hearts. Reducing intakes at Stray Hearts was a worthy goal.

Fewer intakes mean less expense for a shelter, less overcrowding and less euthanasia due to lack of space, all good things. Because our mission from day one has been to eliminate the unnecessary euthanasia of cats, we undertook Spay/Neuter Taos with high hopes.

PetSmart provided about $80,000 in funding split among four grants; the first was in January 2011; the final was in January 2017. The money was provided with the understanding that TFFF would complete 300 spay/neuter cases during each 12-month grant period and that the project would focus on "free roaming" cats.

Free roaming cats are the feral and stray cats that are ownerless and, of course, roaming and reproducing freely. Cats already in shelters and pets did not qualify.

Chart A shows how many spay/neuter cases TFFF completed from 2010 to 2017. During the first year of Spay/Neuter Taos, our cases surged from 198 in 2010 to 376 in 2011.

In total, during the seven years from 2011 to 2017, TFFF completed 2,101 spay/neuter surgeries, averaging 300 cases per year, exactly inline with the Spay/Neuter Taos objective. Keep in mind that PetSmart provided grants for only four of the seven years and, even during those four years, did not fully pay for the program.

However, in 2016, PetSmart, the pet store chain, was taken over by a hedge fund. The management of PetSmart Charities Inc. was replaced and their entire grant program was revised.

For free roaming cat spay/neuter grants, PetSmart now requires a minimum of 500 completed cases per year. Frankly, 500 cases is impossible for us.

We applied in August, without promising 500 cases, for what would have been our fifth grant, but it was not accepted. Spay/Neuter Taos ended as a result. But there are no hard feelings. We owe a debt of gratitude for the substantial, long-term support of PetSmart. If those 2,101 cats had not been fixed, Taos County would be overrun with who knows how many thousands of homeless cats.

So Spay/Neuter Taos is done, but what was accomplished? It turns out, quite a lot.

Chart B displays the annual feline intakes and euthanasia cases at Stray Hearts for 2010 through 2017, kindly provided by Stray Hearts. Intakes exclude kittens born in the shelter and, except for the last two years, cats that were taken from outside of Taos County.

Let's look at cat intakes first: the pattern is a bit bumpy but clearly heading down. Based on 2017 versus 2010, intakes are down 51 percent; based on 2016 versus 2010, they are down 83 percent.

We're not sure why intakes were so low in 2016 at Stray Hearts, but 2016 and 2017 are the two smallest years on record. So the goal to reduce intakes, set back in 2011, has been convincingly achieved. Lower intakes imply significantly fewer homeless cats are in Taos, and that's what spay/neuter of free-roaming cats does best.

The Stray Hearts euthanasia numbers are even better. In 2010, 201 cats were euthanized, last year only four. That's 98 percent lower. Some euthanasia is justified for medical reasons, so the main point is that Stray Hearts transformed into a no-kill shelter around 2014 and remains so today.

Because euthanasia occurs when shelters take in more animals than they can house, we believe that reducing intakes helped Stray Hearts end feline euthanasia. It is a huge credit to their organization, leaders and volunteers as well. Many community shelters around the country are still euthanizing hundreds of innocent animals every year due to lack of space.

Despite PetSmart's decision, we are continuing to offer free spay/neuter for cats at a scale appropriate to our lower budget. But getting your cat fixed for free is actually easier than ever today. Along with TFFF, other groups such as Planned Pethood, the Espanola Humane Clinic and the Zimmer Feline Foundation are all offering free spay/neuter for cats.

The Taos County Sheriff's Department recently began hosting free spay/neuter clinics for both cats and dogs. We hope these clinics will continue.

In 2005, Taos Feral Feline Friends introduced trap, neuter and return for feral cats in Taos, and for many years it was the "only game in town" for free spay/neuter. It is better that Taos citizens have multiple options.

We are still the only charity that rescues, shelters and adopts out feral cats and the only charity offering free food and vet care for feral cats. Our commitment remains strong.

Leanne Mitchell is president of Taos Feral Feline Friends.


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