Best Friends Blog

Save rate for cats approaches 90% in Albuquerque

Best Friends community cat program staff in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is as happily surprised as anyone by the effectiveness of our shelter-integrated trap/neuter/return (TNR) program.

Program coordinator Desiree Triste Aragon reports that they’re now having to scramble because of the unexpected early success. “We were really unprepared for this program to be this successful this quickly,” she says. “We didn’t think we’d be achieving these numbers until year number three.”

That’s a good problem to have. In just one year, our two-pronged effort aimed at reducing cat deaths in shelters has smashed every single prognostication we made.

Despite, or maybe because of, its simplicity, the Albuquerque community cat program is having an enormously positive impact. This may sound familiar if you’re already aware of the Feral Freedom program in Jacksonville, Florida. Feral Freedom, a collaboration between First Coast No More Homeless Pets and Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services, and funded by Best Friends, was the first shelter-integrated TNR program for a major city. It is designed to keep community cats out of shelters where their chance of survival is minimal.

Albuquerque has tweaked that model to great positive effect. In the first year, 59% fewer cats were killed in the shelter in 2012/13 versus 2011/12! And with lower intake numbers and increased adoptions, the “save rate” for cats in Albuquerque is a high 80% now each month. We believe it will be no time before Albuquerque can add its name to the ever-growing list of no-kill communities.

So how have we achieved such fantastic (and sustainable) results? The program works in two basic ways.

First, any stray cat brought to the shelter deemed to be unadoptable is immediately turned over to the community cat program. These cats are not your friendly lap kitties; heavy gloves and humane traps are required to manage them. This category of cat constitutes the large majority of those killed in most shelters because they are not appropriate for adoption to the public. In fact, they truly should not have been placed in the shelter to begin with, but rather managed in the community on their home turf. Now, in Albuquerque and in other progressive cities, those cats are fixed, ear-tipped and promptly returned to where they came from.

Second, we identify the hotspots, as it were. Where are the cats who are coming to the shelter coming from? Once we know that, targeted colony management efforts spring into action in that specific area. This ensures that the problem area producing the cats is brought under control. This second effort means that many fewer cats ever enter the shelter because fixed cats don’t have kittens. It’s that simple, and the impact is dramatic. This part of the program has resulted in 25% fewer kittens being seen in shelters during this year’s kitten season versus last.

Albuquerque’s success is a great testament to hard work, creative thinking, and solid, collaborative partnerships. Just as we’ve seen with our sister program in San Antonio, that recipe can mean great things for the animals. Our staff members in Albuquerque, Desiree and Jayne Sage, have worked wonders, teaming up with the local shelter system and animal control. Many thanks to PetSmart Charities®, which helped to bring both of these programs to life with a very generous grant.

The success of these model community cat programs is raising demand for their incorporation into other cities. We’re proud to announce that on July 1, Baltimore, Maryland, will become the next city for our community cat program to deploy. We’re excited to apply what we’ve learned in Jacksonville, San Antonio and Albuquerque and see more victories for the animals in Charm City.

Together, we can save them all!


Gregory Castle
Best Friends Animal Society

P.S. Find out about opportunities to volunteer in person or virtually with one of our community cat programs. Click here for information.

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  • John M.

    This is all well and good if you are a cat. Not so good if you are a bird. (However, I must say we were impressed when we visited Turkey in April. They have quite a few wild cats and dogs. But, Turkey seems to be doing what you are doing. Instead of killing the animals they “fix” and vaccinate them and turn them loose. What is crazy is that these animals are very friendly and loving and approach humans for petting (or shoe nawing in the case of puppies!). My wife was “mauled” by a bunch of frisky puppies trying to get her shoe laces at the ruins of Troy. During the recent protests, some protesters were Crying out because the animals were being affected by the tear gas.

  • As an individual making efforts to trap/spay/return in my own neighborhood, I have noticed certain obstacles. First and foremost, the low-cost clinics here in Fresno have limitations that make it difficult/impossible to bring ferals to them. I think they are really geared toward family pets only.

    One such place only accepts cats 3 days a week for neuteriong, only 5 ferals on each of those days, first-come-first-served. If a cat doesn’t enter the tuna-baited trap until too late, the cat cannot be taken there. The very lovely no-kill shelter where I volunteer has a clinic, but demands appointments for the spay/neuter service. I cannot leave a feral cat in a trap for a day or two waiting for an appointment! I take them to my own vet, who very kindly accepts and even offers a discounted rate for ferals, but it is still significantly more expensive than the low-cost clinics. A feral male neutering is $65 there, a feral female spaying is around $85…unless she is in heat, then the price goes up…and goes up astronomically if she is pregnant. To the best of my recollection, it then becomes about $185. I’ve had about 4 of those.

    Since I also have been getting them a rabies shot it is a bit more expensive. I’d get them the FE-LK vaccination if it were not a two-visit process. So far I’ve caught/spayed/released 14 ferals (I never name these, merely label them as “feral #(whatever). It would be LOVELY if the low-cost clinics would show a bit more flexibility for ferals because it is really a situation of “catch as catch can.”

    I have fortunately enough disposable income to deal with this situation, but not everybody does. The lack of flexibility in terms of timing is a HUGE obstacle.

  • anniecat

    Yeah, this sounds great, but out here in the middle of rural Tennessee nowhere, we can’t even think of anything like this. Even though the town has a university, the students seem to think the stray cats on campus are little more than a nuisance that really should just be “removed.” Three of us feed three feral colonies (including one on campus), and we can get NO one else from the community or university to help out. We have no financial resources other than our own paychecks, so we can’t keep up with TNR. Our local no-kill shelter is overwhelmed itself; while they totally support our efforts, they too have too few committed, long-term volunteers and too few financial resources (while people continue to dump animals on them). So we folks in small, rural areas have a really hard time coming up with any ideas that will gain community support and involvement on behalf of animals, especially strays/ferals.

    • Carolina

      We have trapped cats that we have had to keep for a few days before taking them to our local vet who charges $35 to spay or neuter plus gives them a rabies short. You do have to make an appointment. What you need is a trap along with a “gate” that will slide down and let you keep the cat in one end of the trap while you put a small litter box and food and water in the other end. It is not the best situation for the cat in the short run but certainly is in the long run! The gate costs $12.95 plus shipping. Google cat traps and look for it. The big problem is education for the general public. I remember a friend of mine saying that she wanted her children to witness the miracle of birth. I asked her if she was going to take her children to the local pound to see unwanted cats and dogs being killed. She did not speak to me for a while!

  • jmuhj

    (Sure am sorry that such a negative poster even knows Best Friends exists. That said…) You GO, Best Friends Albuquerque!

  • jmuhj

    (Sure am sorry that such a negative poster even knows Best Friends exists. That said…) You GO, Best Friends Albuquerque!

  • Jule1

    Excellent results! So glad you are setting this example for other communities.

  • Wisdom speak

    Way to be negative with the above comment.
    So…. How many animals have you paid to be spayed or neutered, for a low income or indigent person who cannot afford the operation? Have you pushed for anti kitten/ puppy mill rules? Have you pushed for spay / neuter laws?
    Do you educate people to spay neuter their pets, and keep them indoors?
    Do you volunteer to educate people on not dumping their cats and kittens ?
    Do you volunteer to help place animals who are adoptable?
    Or are you just sitting on your fat backside spewing vitriolic hatred at people who are trying to solve a PEOPLE-CREATED problem?
    And for the record, managed cat communities don’t generally nail wildlife that people want around.
    Unless you are an advocate for the rat population, which would make sense, with the way you write.
    Now go scamper back to your little hole until you can come back with working solutions to the problem instead of mis-directed hate speech.

    • Wisdom Speaks

      Addressing self professed “nature advocate” (not) below, not the positive comments here. Nature Advocate is clearly psychotic as evidenced by writing.

  • Nature Advocate

    Ooops. Just one slight problem. That is less than 0.5% of all the feral cats in Albuquerque. So more than 95.5% are still breeding out of control. A far far cry from the 75%-85% that is required for TNR to START to become the least bit effective.

    Isn’t it fun how easily that you TNR psychotics are so easily deceived and manipulated by your own minds?

    • Nature Advocate

      typo: more than 95.5% = more than 99.5%

      • You should really change your alias to “psychotic cat-hater.”

    • Carolina

      I guess “Nature Advocate” can’t read but the article states very plainly that the number of kittens has dropped by 25%. What have YOU done to help feral cats?

  • Peter C McNaughton

    How do we start this in Charleston and Walterboro, SC??? I have thought this idea was so simple for many years… since I heard of it in Cali.

    • Anonymous

      Peter, check out some of our community cat resources: Included in them are some great handouts and action kits on how to start a program like this in your own community. Best of luck, and thanks for being a voice for your South Carolina community cats!

      Melissa Miller
      New Media Coordinator
      Best Friends Animal Society

    • Carolina

      Talk to the people at the Beaufort (SC) Animal Shelter. They are doing an excellent job! They will lend traps and then when you take a cat in they will neuter or spay at no charge and you pick it up and release where it was trapped. The operation is done by a local vet. My understanding is that they will also come into an area and set the traps if requested to do so. When I adopted a cat from the Beaufort Shelter some years ago it was taken to a local vet and spayed before I could take it home. We currently feed 5 cats that we have personally paid to have “fixed” and are trying to trap a female who just showed up with two kittens. She is very trap wary. These are feral cats but we really enjoying watching them.