Monday, September 28, 2015

TNR Helps Keep Rabies in Check

CDC Incidence of rabies in cats in the U.S. 1992-2013 | Create infographics

by Adam Jablonski
The risk of exposure to rabies is often held up by anti-TNR folks as a reason not to employ trap-neuter-return programs. And a recent letter to the editor asserted that as TNR programs increase in number across the country, more people will be at risk of exposure due to contact with community cats.

The chart above shows the number of confirmed cases of rabies in cats, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), for every year since 1992. There is certainly no upward trend in infected cats. The total number of infected cats in 2013, 247, is the lowest yearly number reported since 1992. Far more cats are tested than return positive results as well; 247 is just over one percent of all cats tested over the entire year.

We believe that implementing TNR programs DECREASES the potential for human exposure to rabies. The numbers show there has been no increase in the number of rabid cats to watch out for, and with more compassionate caretakers employing TNR in their communities, MORE cats will be vaccinated against the disease, as rabies vaccination is an integral part of every TNR program. With more outdoor cats vaccinated, the chance of domestic cats encountering a sick animal outside will decrease as well.

We must also stress the importance of vaccinating one's companion animal and keeping detailed records of her vaccination history. An animal must be euthanized or already dead to be tested for rabies, and quite often uninfected animals are killed simply because their vaccination status is unknown. An available vaccination history can be a lifesaver for a community or companion cat, and can also save a person the trouble of unnecessarily receiving post-exposure treatments.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Important Meeting Friday to Support D.C.'s TNR Program

We're closely tracking the Washington D.C. Draft Wildlife Action Plan as it moves through the local legislative process. There is an important roundtable meeting this Friday with the District's Committee on Transportation and the Environment. We'll be there to read our letter of support below into the record, and you can attend too! You can sign up to speak in person, or write a letter of support that will also be entered into the official record. Just being in attendance is also a powerful statement in support of trap-neuter-return and community cats. The meeting will be held at:

John A. Wilson Building, Room 412
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20004
Meeting starts at 10 a.m.!

If you'd like to speak, you must reserve a spot by contacting Ms. Aukima Benjamin at (202) 724-8062, or by email at If you can't make the meeting or prefer to send comments in writing, you can email them to Ms. Benjamin at the address above. You have until the close of business on Monday, Sept. 21 to submit written comments.

Below is the letter we will read for the record on Friday. Feel free to use it as a template. Local government officials are always eager to hear about the unique experiences of their constituents. Relating your own personal experience with, and support for, trap-neuter-return and community cats in the District adds great value to your testimony, and we strongly encourage you to do so. If signing a petition is more your style, we've got one of those too. Click here to sign, and thank you for speaking out on behalf of community cats!

The Honorable Mary M. Cheh, Chair,
And Members of the Committee on Transportation & the Environment
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. Suite 108
Washington, D.C. 20004

Re: DOEE Draft 2015 District of Columbia Wildlife Action Plan
Dear Council Member Cheh and Members of the Committee,
Before you today is the 2015 update to the District’s Wildlife Action Plan, which contains language calling to “revisit” the long-standing and successful Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program managed by the Washington Humane Society (WHS) and found in the city’s code, § 8–1802. Alley Cat Rescue and our 140,000 members, many of whom reside in the District of Columbia, call on you to strike this language from the plan as TNR is the most effective and humane way of managing feral cat populations.
TNR has a few advantages. First, it immediately reduces the number of community cats living outdoors by placing socialized cats and kittens into adoption programs. Second, it addresses the companion animal overpopulation problem. Every cat put through a TNR program, whether placed into an adoption program or returned to the outdoor trapping site, is spayed or neutered so that no new homeless cats are born. These two factors lead to a leveling off and eventual decrease of colony populations. The spay/neuter procedure also reduces reproductive hormones in cats, which has the added benefit to the community of reducing “nuisance” mating behaviors such as wandering, spraying, yowling, and fighting. Finally, Trap-Neuter-Return programs provide important vaccinations for rabies, feline distemper, and feline leukemia (FeLV). These vaccinations help to keep the cats healthy and form a type of barrier between wildlife diseases and humans. With more community cats vaccinated, there is a smaller chance a person or domestic owned cat will encounter a sick community cat.
By all measures Trap-Neuter-Return has been a success in Washington D.C. The live release rate of healthy cats at WHS has increased nearly 80% since the program’s inception. Euthanasia has fallen 71%, and, most importantly, community cat intake has decreased significantly. This is because there are simply fewer cats living outdoors and in colonies thanks to the TNR program. And because this program is supported entirely by donations, all of this good work and public service has come at no cost to the D.C. taxpayer.
TNR is the best humane method for effectively managing community cats while reducing their numbers. Catch-and-kill strategies, which groups like the American Bird Conservancy advocate for through programs like Cats Indoors, are outdated, ineffective, and costly. Simply removing cats from a space produces a “vacuum effect,” wherein nearby cats move into the empty yet supportive habitat and quickly reproduce to fill the space again. One timely study[i] published earlier this year in the journal Wildlife Research examined the effects of a typical trap-and-shoot effort to reduce the size of a feral cat population. To the author’s surprise, she observed an increase in the number of cats after the cull, at one site an astonishing 211%. With the evidence showing that killing actually leads to an increase in the number of cats, it follows that the cost of such a program would likely increase over time. In fact, a 2013 study[ii] calculated that cruel and inhumane catch-and-kill initiatives would actually cost local governments 4.5 to 9 times more to implement than Trap-Neuter-Return programs.
If the TNR program in the District goes away, the number of outdoor cats will increase as sterilization ceases and new kittens are born. More cats will suffer outdoors, and euthanasia numbers at local shelters will increase. Healthy kittens and cats will be killed simply for lack of a home or program to assist them. By moving away from TNR, the District will condemn itself to an endless and costly cycle of trapping and killing, as each new litter creates more kittens for “removal.”
It is also far from clear that removing community cats from our environment will have any positive effect on plants or wildlife in the District. Eradication efforts for feral cats around the world have been long and costly, and have brought about negative unintended consequences.[iii] Populations of prey animals, like rats and rabbits, often explode[iv] when cats are removed wholesale, and usually go on to produce the same effects on the environment that those culling cats sought to mitigate.
Washington D.C. embarked on a bold and progressive mission in 2004 with the DC Cat pilot program, an initiative to educate the public about community cats and to bring TNR to the District. Over the next four years, as stakeholders and community members saw the success of this program, the District further embraced Trap-Neuter-Return, even writing it into city code in 2008. Since then the program has flourished, accomplishing its goals of reducing shelter intake and euthanasia while humanely reducing the population of outdoor community cats. We demand that you keep this successful program in place and strike the language calling to “revisit” the Washington Humane Society’s Trap-Neuter-Return program from the Draft Wildlife Action Plan.
Do not divert the District’s more than ten-year-long journey toward compassionate care for all cats.


Louise Holton
Alley Cat Rescue

[i] Lazenby, Billie T., Nicholas J. Mooney, and Christopher R. Dickman. “Effects of Low-Level Culling of Feral Cats in Open Populations: A Case Study from the Forests of Southern Tasmania.” Wildlife Research 41.5 (2015): 407–20. Print.
[ii] Zawistowski, S., Simulating different approaches for managing free-roaming cat populations, in 2013 National Council on Pet Population Research Symposium Presentations: CATS: The Ins and Outs: Improving their Future Through Research 2013, Society of Animal Welfare Administrators Tempe, AZ.
[iii] Australian Department of the Environment. “Lessons Learned from Devastating Effects of Cat Eradication on Macquarie Island — Australian Antarctic Division,” January 13, 2009.
[iv] Strickland, Eliza. “Attempt to Control Invasive Species Backfires Spectacularly on an Antarctic Island.” 80beats, Discover Magazine, January 12, 2009.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

DC Feral Cats URGENTLY Need Your Vote of Support

Did you know that Trap-Neuter-Return is official policy in our nation's capital? Washington, D.C. code says the city's animal control agency (i.e. the Washington Humane Society) shall promote, "The utilization of trap, spay or neuter, and return practices as a means of controlling the feral cat population; provided, that all efforts shall be made to adopt out a trapped, tamable kitten." (§ 8–1802)

This program has been in place for years and is a model of success for other municipal TNR programs to follow. Since its inception, the program has sterilized 8,000 cats at no cost to taxpayers, which has kept countless homeless kittens from being born. But at the behest of the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the District Department of the Environment's 2015 Draft Wildlife Action Plan is calling for "revisiting" the District's position on TNR. The ABC is vehemently opposed to TNR, so we know the recommendation to "revisit" current policy is actually a call to reverse it. (Curiously, the DDOE chose not to consult the Washington Humane Society in regard to revisiting TNR policy.)

Please tell DDOE Director Tommy Wells that you do not support changing the current TNR policy in the District. Feel free to use our letter below, and to add your own personal experiences as they relate to TNR. Please write at your earliest opportunity, as the public comment period for the draft Plan closes next Monday, Sept. 7. 

Re: Wildlife Action Plan

Dear Director Wells,

I do not support the District Department of the Environment’s plan to “revisit” Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) as part of the Draft Wildlife Action Plan for 2015. Loss of this vital program would have negative consequences for the community and only lead to more cats and kittens being brought to shelters and euthanized.

TNR is the humane method by which we can effectively manage community cats and reduce their numbers. Catch-and-kill strategies are outdated, ineffective, and costly. Simply removing cats produces a Vacuum Effect, wherein remaining cats move into an empty but supportive habitat and quickly reproduce to fill the space again. TNR is the only method that seeks to address this issue at the source, reproduction. By moving away from TNR, the DDOE will condemn itself to an endless and costly cycle of killing, as each new litter creates more kittens for “removal.”

I support the District’s promotion of Trap-Neuter-Return and the Washington Humane Society’s Cat Neighborhood Partnership Program (CatNiPP). Both reflect the desire among District residents for humane treatment of community cats and I strongly urge you to leave the District’s model Trap-Neuter-Return policy in place.


[Your Name]
[Your Address]
[City, State, Zip] 

You can email your comments, with the subject line "Wildlife Action Plan", to, and physical letters can be mailed or hand-delivered to:

DDOE, Fisheries and Wildlife Division 
Attention: Wildlife Action Plan
1200 First Street NE, 5th Floor, Washington, DC  20002

Please take action TODAY on behalf of our capital's feral cats!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Honoring our Canine Friends on National Dog Day

Today we celebrate National Dog Day by honoring a few canines that are extra special to ACR. These dogs have come into our lives through our work on behalf of cats, and we just had to give them love and help when the time came.

First is Bandit, who was rescued in Mexico by our president, Louise. ACR was in the country conducting a MASH-style spay/neuter clinic when Louise met Bandit at a local shelter. At the time, the shelter was very much overcrowded with multiple animals housed in each cage, and euthanasia was being done by electrocution. Louise showed great compassion for Bandit in Mexico, and now we all get to share in Bandit's love. She greets us with enthusiasm during office visits, and is a doting "mother" to many of the cats and kittens in our care. Bandit's patience and love are big reasons why so many of our cats and kittens do great in homes with dogs.

Then there's Pickles, another sweetie rescued by one of our board members, DesireƩ, in Los Angeles. Pickles does his best to dispel the notion that dogs and cats don't get along. He's so cuddly and affectionate that he's been nicknamed Velcro. When it comes to interacting with Pickles, frequent and prolonged snuggling is mandatory.

Canine pal Pickles, rescued in L.A., with Chico, who was rescued from a Baltimore shelter.

Lastly there's Buddy, the pitbull mix Louise found abandoned at a Hyattsville dog park early one morning this spring. Louise has found a few dogs dumped at dog parks in this manner, where we assume the former caretaker figured a kind soul would happen upon the dog and take him in. Of course we'd never condone this method of "rehoming," but we're sure glad Louise had her Animals-In-Need-Radar working that day!

When it comes to rescue work, for us it's all about compassion and giving the animals the best life possible.We were able to take in Buddy and care for him while we searched for his new forever home. With the help of our friends at the Brentwood Animal Hospital, word spread about Buddy and his friendly and energetic personality, until a new home was found. And what a home it is, with a large open yard and even a stream for frolicking!


We're so appreciative of Buddy's new family for taking him in. We couldn't imagine a more stark contrast between the life he faced when he was left alone at the park and the life he can now look forward to. Our pledge is to find every cat we come in contact with a loving home like Buddy's, and if we can help out a dog or three along the way, all the better!