The Arizona legislature recently passed Senate Bill 1260, which includes language that paves the way for return-to-field (RTF) programs for stray and free-roaming cats, such as the Pima County (Arizona) Community Cats Project, a public-private partnership of Best Friends, PetSmart Charities®, and the Pima Animal Care Center. The bill, which began life as SB 1198, sponsored by state Sen. John Kavanagh, creates a mandatory holding time exemption for community cats eligible for sterilization, vaccination and return to the community.
RTF programs are gaining acceptance across the country as both an effective and humane approach to managing community cat populations. I have written about their growth and evolution in this blog going back to our sponsorship of the Feral Freedom program in Jacksonville, Florida, which began in 2008.
Broadly speaking, RTF programs are run by or in conjunction with local animal control authorities, and while they may have different operational protocols, here are the basics.
Healthy cats lacking discernible identification or a microchip are taken into the shelter system, but they may be exempted from the standard holding period. They are simply sterilized, vaccinated and returned to their outdoor homes, never to breed again. Historically, on the other hand, community cats have been impounded in the shelter for a mandatory stray hold, and then offered for adoption or killed. Since the overwhelming majority of these cats are not well socialized to humans, their adoption prospects are essentially zero, so they are killed.
While RTF has been demonstrated to greatly reduce shelter deaths, and early data from project cities suggests that these programs are also reducing community cat populations overall, some people in animal welfare take issue with returning friendly stray cats to the community, citing safety concerns. Others are concerned that reduced mandatory holding times for cats lacking identification could make it easier for jurisdictions that don’t practice RTF to immediately kill cats without ID.
The latter concern is addressed directly in the language of SB 1260, which affirmatively states that the holding time exemption applies only to eligible cats “that will be returned to the vicinity where the cat was originally captured.”
The safety concerns cited regarding the return of friendly cats to the community are factually misguided. Nationally, only about two percent of cats impounded in shelters are returned to or claimed by their owners. However, a 2013 report regarding sheltering statistics for the state of California pointed out that cats left to their own devices were 13 times more likely to find their way home on their own than if they were taken into a shelter. RTF programs give friendly free-roaming and stray cats a much better chance of making it home, much higher than existing, mandatory hold–based routines.
We are grateful to Sen. Kavanagh for sponsoring SB 1198, as well as to Sen. Don Shooter, who incorporated the language of SB 1198 into his bill, SB 1260.
This type of informed legislation, along with programs like the Community Cats Projects, which are operating in four cities, not only facilitate the establishment of no-kill sheltering policies, they directly address the long-term objective of creating sustainable no-kill communities, where the community as a whole is an extension of a lifesaving shelter system, and the public is a partner in ensuring the safety of all animals.
Together, we can Save Them All.
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