Best Friends Blog

The breakthrough idea of the decade

Last weekend, I was at a symposium in Portland, Oregon, on the future of spay/neuter and the exciting possibilities that a nonsurgical option will hold for our four-legged friends — notably community cats — as reported in my previous blog post.

Yesterday, Best Friends participated in the launch of a community cat program in Baltimore, Maryland, that, in its own way, is as revolutionary as any discussed in Portland, but very much rooted in the present.

I’ll explain.

Saving cats from death in shelters has always had a Catch-22 element to it. The traditional path out of a shelter for cats has been by way of adoption to the public. For feral community cats, this has never been an option, with the rare exception of some ferals being pulled by trap/neuter/return (TNR) groups for integration into a managed colony. Adoption has not been an option for feral cats because shelters do not offer frightened, hissing ferals for adoption to the public, and that’s the Catch-22 — a fact that begged the question of why bring them into a shelter in the first place.

That feral cats have no business being in a shelter has been a mantra of no-kill advocates for years, but packaging that simple idea into a coherent program that the sheltering community could embrace was a stroke of genius.

The solution turned out to be such an obvious idea, yet it was so out of the box in terms of existing sheltering policy and practices that it took the insight and salesmanship of Rick DuCharme, founder of First Coast No More Homeless Pets in Jacksonville, Florida, to put all the pieces together and convince the Jacksonville shelter and municipal authorities to buy into it.

That was in 2008.

It was radical, and I loved it. Rick needed money to help get the idea off the ground, and Best Friends was happy to provide it to see if this breakthrough program could take flight. Rick dubbed it Feral Freedom, and within one year, it effectively reduced the killing of shelter cats by 50 percent! In brief, the new program allowed community cats to bypass the shelter by going instead to the First Coast No More Homeless Pets clinic to be fixed and then returned to the area in which they were caught, never to breed again!

Fast forward five years, and today we’re announcing the launch of the fourth program sponsored by Best Friends modeled on Rick’s insight — this one in Baltimore, Maryland. We are partnering with PetSmart Charities®, and together we are committing a combined $1 million over the next three years to change the lives of community cats in Baltimore and dramatically reduce shelter killing. The program will follow the lead of the successes we’ve seen most recently with our community cat programs in Albuquerque and San Antonio. Best Friends staff integrated with Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS) will trap, neuter and return Baltimore’s free-roaming cats. Our goals are:

•    Spay/neuter 3,500 cats per year for the next three years.
•    At the end of the first year, achieve a reduction in shelter feline killing by 25 percent.
•    At the end of the second year, achieve a 10 percent reduction in shelter intake.
•    At the end of the third year, achieve a 35 percent increase in the live release rate of Baltimore shelter populations.

However, we believe we’ll outpace those predictions, certainly if the success in the other community cat program cities is any indication.

We’d like to thank Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, mayor of Baltimore; Oxiris Barbot, M.D., city health commissioner; and Jennifer Brause, executive director of Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS). Only strong, forward-thinking leadership allows for these programs to be supported and executed with perfection. And, of course, thank you to PetSmart Charities for their continued support of Best Friends programs.

But ultimately, we want to thank all of you. Without you, our supporters, we would not be able to take these kinds of risks on programs. Programs that others said wouldn’t succeed. Programs that are becoming the standard in how to lead the way to no-kill in a community. Programs that end up being the idea of the decade!

Together, we can Save Them All!


Gregory Castle
Best Friends Animal Society

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  • Sandy

    I need help!!! For the last three and a half years I have been taking care of a stray cat. (Water, Food (canned and dry) shelter (my garage door is left open on the bottom for her to sleep in the loft). The heat wave came and now I have noticed she is missing. I have put her canned food out in the same area (near by sliding door) at the same time but she is not showing up. I have been heart broken for the last five days. Would she all of a sudden looked for someplace else to stay? I don’t know what to do. I had her TNR two years ago and she has always been here. Maybe only disappearing for a day or two. I am feeling guilty that I should have tried to get her to live in the house. By the way, my house cat is heart broken to, he would wait at the sliding doors every morning and when she showed he would roll over and watch her eat. Now he just sits at the door and cries. Is this normal for a feral cat to leave it’s food and shelter? Heart broken in NJ

  • rose

    This is a great way for individuals to make a difference!

  • Questions on TNR

    I have some concerns about TNR as a policy that I have not been able to find explanations for and I would love to know if Best Friends has a full, complete manual on the topic or can answer these questions: 1 – Isn’t TNR just for ferals? I would like to know if the vision of TNR only applies to ferals? Shelters by me are now known to turn away “found” shy cats, saying that the cat is feral and instead should be released to where it was found. If it didn’t get picked up by a trap, than it’s not feral and yet they are turning it away, and that doesn’t seem right to me. 2 – Is TNR only recommended when there is a safe location to release cat to? I have now heard of mere kittens 4 months old being released to an inner-city public lot that is currently turning over in ownership, because “that’s where they were found and they are too skittish to tame easily”. Is that the intention? I just can’t see how that is safe for the cat, not knowing if the new owner will be amenable to the cats living on his property. 3 – Isn’t TNR less desirable in areas of the country that have freezing cold winters and, recently, an increase in predators like coyotes?

    • rose

      Get a trap, put the cat in it, address the cat’s needs through the program!

    • Anonymous

      Hi there,

      Thanks so much for inquiring about TNR and Best Friends’ stance on the issue. You can read more about the current programs we have in place, as well as how you can help community cats in your own area here:

      We hope this answers any questions you may have. Thanks for all you do for the animals!

      Melissa Miller
      New Media Coordinator
      Best Friends Animal Society