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A small group of us do a feral cat clinic once a large clinic once a month with local vets and then a small 5 cat clinic once a week. While we are very proud of our accomplishments, we feel like we are never getting ahead of the game, especially in the spring, when there are so many pregnancies and kittens. Although this year, even in the winter, we still saw pregnant cats! How do you set goals for how many cats you are going to do each year and do you have any measurable results for your programs?

Jan Raven’s response:

You are making a difference with what you do. Any feral cat sterilized makes a difference. Getting ahead of the game - now that is a whole different thing! We have been at this for five years. One thing I used as a "measure" of success was that it got a little later every year before we lost control during kitten season. AzCATs started in June so we started completely out of control. I can't remember what it was like the next year but as the years rolled by we began to see that we were holding the line for a little longer each year. We still aren't close to being out of control this year yet and we are actually in the position for the first time ever of having to advertise TNR and our services or we are in danger of not having as many cats to sterilize as we have vet slots. (Doesn't mean the job is close to being done - it is just that we always had so much more than we could ever do that even with people finding us by word of mouth some would wait as long as 6 months before we could help them.)

We are still seeing a lot of kittens this year but we are able to meet the needs of each caregiver and help them address their kittens within the confines of what they are willing to do. Getting out of control in this context means that there are kittens everywhere and we can't even think about doing anything but waiting for them to get big enough to sterilize. I'm sure we will get there again this year but once again it is going to hit later than ever before.

Remember you don't have to sterilize every free-roaming cat to get this under control. You just have to get to the point where the supply of cats able to live as household pets is in harmony with the demand for them as household companions. Once you reach that point you reach the turning point. Until then you get an E for effort - to borrow from Merritt Clifton.

Grow, change, adapt. Try new things. Press hard. AzCATs sets our goals pretty arbitrarily actually. I pretty much just pick a number that I don't think we can achieve without busting our butts then find a way to do it! Not very scientific and perhaps not even very wise but I've always driven myself that way. Last year our goal was to TNR 3,000 - think I picked that number by increasing a percentage over the prior year. We exceeded that goal by 430 so I decided I hadn't been very aggressive. This year I just doubled the 2003 goal, gave everyone a heart attack, and started working to reach it. In the first 3 months of the year we have sterilized 1487 cats through our TNR program so I am 13 cats short of being right on target to meet our goal.

Measurable results for us right now is just meeting our TNR statistical goal basically. We also have a goal in conjunction with another organization of taking 400 kittens off the street and placing them for adoption with that organization.

We used to count the number of pregnancies we saw at our high volume spay neuter clinics. The number of litters prevented was impressive. I know it is controversial on many levels but internally we now count the number of fetuses aborted rather than just pregnancies. Many of our high volume clinics this spring had either almost the same number of fetuses as cats or more fetuses than cats at the clinic. That is a lot more powerful number than just the number of pregnancies. It also permits you to extrapolate and come up with some assumptions to help you powerfully present how critical TNR is to the movement to end the companion animal overpopulation problem.

Chris Whyle’s response:

Don’t be discouraged!!! It sometimes takes years to see overall results from your spay/neuter efforts, and it is important to continually explore ways to increase the amount of cats sterilized. But every cat fixed is a success story. Have you ever heard the “Little Boy and the Starfish On the Beach†story?

The smaller your program area, the faster you will see measurable results. As an example, if your program area were a single colony of 10 cats, you would see results in a couple of weeks! At almost every clinic we say goodbye to a participating colony caretaker, who proudly informs us that “this is the LAST cat!†If we add up all those totally spayed/neutered/managed colonies, we are indeed making a big difference in the community.

Homeless Cat Management Team’s program area covers Southwestern Pennsylvania. If we had to do it all over again, we would probably have chosen a smaller area. We have, however, chosen a small municipality in our coverage area that receives priority status at our clinics. This municipality’s cat problem was so visible that it was the subject of several newspaper articles. We scheduled a meeting with municipal authorities, received their blessing for a TNR program, held a Town Meeting to address the issue of free-roaming cats and TNR, registered colony caretakers from that municipality, and continue to guarantee spay/neuter spots to this community’s cats at each of our clinics. In a recent conversation with the borough manager, he said that he hasn’t received a complaint about free-roaming cats in a long time.

Each year our basic goal is to sterilize more cats than we did the year before. We find it hard to set a goal for a specific number of cats, because the number of cats we can sterilize at each clinic depends on volunteer veterinary participation. We have no way of knowing ahead of time how many vets will volunteer at any given clinic.

We are just about to launch a low-cost clinic, two Sundays a month, where we will pay vets and vet techs for their services and charge a fee for spay/neuter. We also have an agreement with the Western PA Humane Society where they will spay/neuter up to 10 cats a week for us, during the week, at a small fee per cat. With these two new programs, we hope to double the amount of cats we sterilize each year.

Because of our large service area, we have not seen the significant reduction in intake and euthanasia in our local shelters that we would have liked to see, even after five years. Some shelters do not differentiate between feral/stray surrenders and pet surrenders, and that also hinders quantifying the impact a TNR program is having on the shelter level. Euthanasia of “adoptable†animals has decreased dramatically in our local shelters, but whether that is due to increased spay/neuter programs (including TNR), more progressive adoption options (off-site adoptions, etc), or just redefining “adoptable†is hard to quantify.

Keep up your good work, keep looking for ways to fix more kitties, and know that you are improving the lives of the cats you spay/neuter and the communities in which they live.