Best Friends Blog

The AVMA leaves the door open for killing community cats

Brown tabby community catI was disappointed by the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) release of its revised policy on “Free-roaming Abandoned and Feral Cats.”

I am disappointed because the recently revised policy is out of step with current best practices in animal welfare regarding community cats, and because it does not seem to reflect the views of the broader membership of the AVMA.

I say this based upon the real-world policy of thousands of veterinary professionals that I have had direct and indirect contact with through our various community cat programs, the Best Friends No More Homeless Pets Network and our National Conferences over the years. These vets and vet techs support or participate in programs that would be constrained or eliminated by strict adherence to the new AVMA policy. In fact, forward-thinking veterinarians such as Dr. Kate Hurley and Dr. Julie Levy have pioneered some of the most progressive community cat programs in the country.

The most discordant note coming out of the AVMA is the endorsement of lethal methods of community cat population management despite the fact that they’ve been a demonstrable failure in controlling free-roaming cat populations in the decades that this was the default animal control policy. More disturbing is the idea that in 2016, an association of professionals dedicated to the protection of life, would leave the door open for the cruel, indiscriminate and ineffective “catch-and-kill” practices that were discredited last century.

Beginning in the early 1990s trap/neuter/return (TNR) protocols, pioneered in this country by Alley Cat Allies, changed the fundamental paradigm for managing free-roaming stray and feral cats – collectively known as community cats.

Through the 1990s and into the first decade of the 2000s, TNR was practiced primarily by local organizations and individual caregivers who tended to individual colonies – often multiple colonies – providing ongoing feeding and monitoring for the arrival of newcomers and any obvious symptoms of disease.

In 2008, Best Friends sponsored an innovative program pioneered in Jacksonville, Florida, by Rick DuCharme, founder and president of First Coast No More Homeless Pets, in collaboration with Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services. Feral Freedom, as the program is called, elevated TNR to an integrated shelter program and brought an economy of scale and citywide effectiveness to what had been an a random collection of individual efforts. The results were immediate and Feral Freedom reduced the shelter killing of cats by 50 percent in its first year.

One of the signature elements of Feral Freedom, is an understanding that if cats have found a niche in the community and are thriving on their own, it is sufficient to simply spay or neuter the colonies brought to the attention of animal services via the public and while desirable, on-going colony feeding and monitoring is not essential.

Last year, under the leadership of two university-affiliated veterinarians, Dr. Julie Levy (University of Florida) and Dr. Kate Hurley (University of California – Davis), and sponsored by Maddie’s Fund, The Million Cat Challenge was launched with the aim of saving the lives of 1 million shelter cats in five years. Key return-to-field (RTF) elements of the Million Cat Challenge would be undermined by adherence to the AVMA’s new policy.

This type of disconnect between the veterinary establishment and front-line vets and vet techs striving to save lives is not new. For example, low-cost spay/neuter services targeted at those below the poverty line, who cannot otherwise afford any veterinary services, are often the object of ire and legal actions by local and state veterinary boards. This is because some vets believe (despite evidence to the contrary) that low-cost spay/neuter services threaten their businesses, even though the target audience for these subsidized programs is quite different from their client base.

Please understand that regardless of such policy statements and institutional resistance and inertia, Best Friends and our partner organizations across the country will do everything in our power to support and implement commonsense, lifesaving policies such as RTF programs and anything else that can demonstrably reduce, and eventually end, the killing of community cats in our nation’s shelters.

Together, we will Save Them All.

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Gregory Castle
CEO Best Friends Animal Society

  • johnbachman

    I posted a comment yesterday. Why is it not posted?

    • Melissa_BestFriends

      Hi John,

      Apologies – our blog moderation system sometimes filters out comments as spam. I’ve found your comment and it should now be posted here.

      Melissa Miller
      Social Media Community Manager

  • marilyn james

    Thank you Gregory and Best Friends for your uncompromising determination to continue to do the right thing, no matter what

  • marilyn james

    This is so upsetting, I cant believe this

  • feralpower

    This is a sure sign that AVMA is living in the past. How can they endorse something that causes millions of cats to be killed? Obviously they are not thinking of what is best for cats. TNR works! It reduces population in a kind humane way. Politics seem to be involved here, no doubt ABC is involved. Endorse TNR and stop living in the past. Killing cats has not worked yet, it never will!

  • PatinRaleigh

    Now that TNR is gaining ground nationally, there’s an active push back from the wildlife/hunter community who have heretofore predominated. I heard a program on NPR about a week ago in which they were defending the hunting/killing of bobcats for their pelts. It was immediately followed by a broadside delivered against feral cats and TNR! I think we must expect and be prepared for a long hard fight against these people if we’re to gain nationwide acceptance of feral cat TNR. They’re typically in positions of power in each state and accustomed to getting their way in dictating policy.

  • CatfishBigg

    I’m curious why the author is removing all comments that are not in favor of TNR? Might it have something to do with the fact that TNR is an abject failure and constitutes outdoor cat hoarding at the expense of dead wildlife and public health. What’s wrong, can’t you stomach a rational debate based on logic and science?

    • WoodsmanOO1

      Right-click –> View Page Source

      It’s a fun way to see every comment on every discussion of theirs that has ever been that scares the heII out of ’em, and for which they have absolutely nothing left to refute those comments. LOL

      Those who promote the existence of their cats are never too bright. 🙂

    • Melissa_BestFriends

      Hi CatfishBigg,

      The only comments that have been deleted are those from a repeat violator of our comment policy ( This account has been banned from commenting here on the blog.

      We quite clearly disagree on the issue of community cats and TNR. The results speak for themselves (

      Thanks for all that you do to help homeless pets.


      Melissa Miller
      Social Media Community Manager

  • HarveMorgan

    Vets take an oath. TNR, the suffering of the free roaming cat, goes against that oath. It’s about time they started honoring that oath.

    • CatfishBigg

      That’s right Harve, it’s about time we considered all animals, not just cats.

    • WoodsmanOO1

      That’s why vets are against it, it only promotes (and I quote) the suffering of FREE-ROAMING CATS. You know, like every last TNR cat suffers to death from your “loving and humane attrition” (diseases, infections, busted bodies, road-kill, shot-to-death, poisoned — all are your rose-colored-glasses term of “attrition”) and then they die a heinous and inhumane death.

      Without “attrition” then you are promoting a failed concept that will NEVER reduce cat populations (which it doesn’t anyway, even with your “loving and humane attrition”.)

    • Julie

      Our TNR program performs 3000 surgeries for community cats a year and only 2% of them are euthanized for being in poor condition. The suggestion that veterinarians should be involved with mass culling of cats simply because they live outside is the antithesis of our oath. The oath says nothing about taking the life of a a healthy thriving animal. We euthanize those that are suffering, but not those that are not.

      • HarveMorgan

        The question is whether you care about the cats after the surgery and what happens to them. You honestly think these cats lead a good life? No one said mass culling. What I say is live up to the title of rescue and take them off the streets. Trap, Neuter, and RETAIN.

        • Julie

          Yes, based on the condition of the cats in front of our eyes, I do think they are living a good life. It’s not a life without risk or eventual death, just as all free-living animals face. I am not sure what you mean by retain. Are you suggesting confining tens of thousands of feral cats in our county? The only places I’ve seen that are confining large numbers of feral cats are hoarding sanctuaries. I’ve had the unpleasant experience of deploying with the responder groups to remove the cats when the sanctuaries eventually melt down. The condition of those retained cats is far worse than the condition of the cats brought in for TNR by the residents that look after them. Can you provide an example of a successful and sustainable large-scale confinement program for feral cats? We also work closely with rescue groups and our local municipal shelter to rehome as many socialized cats as possible. Despite a great local collaboration and an 85% save rate at the shelter, there are far fewer homes available in our county than there are cats that could be placed in them. Our shelter still euthanizes cats that could be saved due to a lack of adequate resources. In our community, forcing more cats into the shelter would definitely result in more culling.

  • CatfishBigg

    TNR is an abject failure and has done absolutely nothing to reduce feral cat populations. TNR is outdoor cat hoarding at the expense of dead wildlife and public health. The only and best option for feral cats is complete extirpation.

  • Sure It Is

    This needs to be stopped and turned around “stat”. It just gives more fodder to those opposing TNR and makes the job of turning around communities that much harder. That said I have talked with the new vets coming out of UF and am shocked at their position on Ferals- they are 90% on the kill em all side and I have to wonder why- since Opeeation Catnip has been part of their curriculum -and Maddies is there with millions in training, the ball is being dropped somewhere.

    • Nature_Proponent

      Veterinarians who engage in TNR practices aren’t doing it for the cats, nor the humane treatment of any other animals alive on this planet.

      The ONLY veterinarians that support TNR are sub-human who make a profit off of torturing cats to death and torturing billions of other animals to death that those cats skin-alive and disembowel-alive for their cats’ play-toys. It’s easy to see right through them to know why. $Ka-$Ching! It’s most certainly not because of any education nor morality that they’ve ever had or claim to have, that’s for certain. They’re the absolute low-life scum of the veterinarian world.

      How many almost-dead TNR road-kill cats paid for those houses, boat(s?), and cars of theirs?

      I often wonder why any veterinarian who supports TNR isn’t in prison for encouraging domesticated animals to fight each other for their very survival — the main selling-point of TNR, forcing cats to fight each other for territory. It is a highly punishable crime to force ANY domesticated animals to fight each other for their very survival — and then financially benefiting from the outcome of doing so.

      Let me guess, one of your best friends is a sub-human veterinarian that is just betting on you bringing in all the barely surviving losers from TNR territorial battles. Barely alive cats with which they get to line their pockets with more cash from forcing domesticated animals to fight each other for their very survival. Is that it? It’s the other side of the coin of betting on animals fighting in dog-fight and ċōċk-fight rings to get some quick cash. Or maybe you already bought a domain-name where you can parade all the photos of maimed and injured cats so you can ask for donations to line your own pockets. Just like all the other TNR advocates that have exploited suffering cats for their own bank accounts. Is that it?

      I wonder if veterinarians bet on the winners like dog-fight rings? They most certainly make a $bundle off of any barely surviving losers. That’s for sure!

    • Julie

      I doubt that 90% of UF grads are for culling ferals. Most of the vet students volunteer enthusiastically for Operation Catnip and understand the critical role they can play as veterinary professionals.

  • Jannette

    I completely agree with you, Gregory and am happy to stand with and support the efforts of Best Friends. You are reminding more and more humans that every life , including every animal, is as valuable as another. Thank you for all you do.

    • Nature_Proponent

      I often ask you people why you don’t go to pet-stores and buy live canaries and hamsters to throw at your cats, so your cat can rip them to shreds while they’re alive right in front of you for your and your cats entertainment. Is the ONLY reason that you don’t is because it costs too much, and using other animals for this entertainment need of yours is much cheaper when you use the free wildlife? Is that it? Must be. When asked, I’ve yet to hear any other answer to this question from even one of you cat-lickers, and I’ve been asking you animal-torturing and cat-torturing cretins this question going on 5 years now, every time that I remember to.

    • Nature_Proponent

      Throw some more of your 100%-expendable garbage-cats under the wheels of cars or let them lap-up antifreeze in a gutter or let them roam where they will be shot to death, or force them to fight each other to death for territory so some sub-human veterinarian can win the animal-fight-ring cash prize when administering aid to the barely surviving loser (or someone finding the injured cat can parade it in the media for $thousands in donations for themselves), or where your cat will inevitably die any of the hundreds of myriad heinous and inhumane ways that every last stray cat eventually dies; then tell us all again how much that “you love cats”.

      If all those ways that you harm all your own cats while claiming to “love” them, and how you gleefully torture native wildlife to death with your vermin cats, aren’t mentally-ill disconnects from reality then there are no other, nor better, examples of it on earth.

      Blame cats’ Toxoplasma gondii parasites in your brain for permanently hijacking your ability to reason and think like a sensible human anymore, then at least you’ll have some verifiable excuse for your innate and easily proved mental-illness.

  • Oh we so hope you can change this around to stop the unneeded killing of the feral cats etc. Feral cats are just the best and deserve a good break along with any other cat. They are very happy living outside as long as there is a little shelter and some food and they sure won’t bother anyone.