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The (feral) cat’s meow: Best Friends teams up with the Animal Foundation on community cat program

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feral cat

A new program will sterilize, vaccinate and rerelease feral cats.

The Animal Foundation recently announced plans to become a no-kill shelter by 2020 — welcome news to the foundation’s critics, such as No Kill Las Vegas, which was so disgusted with local euthanasia rates that it competed (unsuccessfully) for the municipal animal-sheltering contract this spring.

Lost in much of the jubilation over the Animal Foundation’s course-change was the role that Kanab, Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society will play. A national heavyweight in animal welfare, Best Friends will partner with the Animal Foundation on a program to deal with community — commonly known as “feral” — cats, which account for the bulk of animals euthanized at Lied Animal Shelter. Desert Companion asked Holly Sizemore, Best Friends’ national programs director, how one tackles this seemingly intractable problem.

What are Best Friends and the Animal Foundation doing together, exactly?

It’s a pilot project, so it will be designed to test something new. It won’t be in the entire Las Vegas area, but a select area. The basic gist of it is, right now cats are coming into Lied Animal Shelter that are deemed to have been successfully living outdoors, so if they are healthy and happy, we are going to sterilize and vaccinate them, and return them to their outdoor home. It’s reflective of what is commonly referred to in other parts of the country as “return to field.”

Support comes from

Why you?

Best Friends co-partners on more return-to-field community cat projects than any other organization in the country. Most of these projects have been made possible by a partnership with PetSmart Charities, Best Friends and the local municipalities and TNR (trap-neuter-release) groups.

Will you be a subcontractor for Clark County, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, since the Animal Foundation is their animal shelter contractor?

We’ll be working side-by-side with the Animal Foundation and numerous volunteers in close coordination with other TNR groups as well. … The Animal Foundation is contributing resources in time and staff to this project, and we are contributing the same. The local TNR groups are helping as well.

Is that groups like C5 (Community Cat Coalition of Clark County) and Heaven Can Wait?

Yes, we’ve been in close coordination with them about this, and we’re thrilled to have their and other groups’ support. The work they’re doing is phenomenal, and it has already had an impact over the years. That won’t stop. Our pilot is different in that it’s focusing specifically on the cats entering Lied. Of course, we’ll all work together to improve the whole comprehensive picture of community cats in the Las Vegas area, so coordination is key. We’re not taking over what these other groups were already doing. We’re adding one more piece of the pie in euthanasia reduction.

How do you respond to those who believe feral cats should be exterminated?

The idea that cats should be rounded up and euthanized is being challenged by community members all over the country, and shelters are responding by testing return-to-field programs on eligible cats. We’re partnering with shelters in nine cities around the country that have reduced their euthanasia rates, in part, through these programs, and we’ve supported dozens more through grants and mentoring. It’s an idea that is catching on.

You mentioned it’s a pilot project. What’s the length of your commitment?

Through March 31, 2016. We hope that it will turn into something permanent down the road.