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Local cat rescuers rejoice at news of grant
Feral cats that are spayed or neutered are released to their native place but bear a notched ear as a sign that local cat lovers cared enough to make sure they cannot reproduce unwanted offspring. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Karen Mosser of Ceres was ecstatic to hear of the Stanislaus County Animal Services shelter outside of Ceres being honored nationally by the Alley Cat Allies. The country's largest advocacy organization for cats chose the facility west of Ceres as one of five in the nation to receive a $5,000 grant - and expert guidance to continue lowering the numbers of unwanted cats destroyed there annually.

"We are on the road to a no-kill county shelter," said Mosser, who is one of a handful of volunteers who help trap and sterilize and return cats to their native areas.

The grant program, called "Future Five: Shelter Partners to Save Cats' Lives," supplies $5,000 and one year of expert guidance to help expand and sustain humane and effective programs for cats.

During the one year engagement, Stanislaus Animal Services Agency's progress and experiences will be documented and developed as a case study that can instruct other shelters in similar situations how to transition to lifesaving, results-oriented programs for cats.

Currently, on a national level, more than 70 percent of all cats and virtually 100 percent of feral cats-commonly referred to as community cats-who enter shelters are killed there. Alley Cat Allies is dedicated to helping shelters evolve and embrace lifesaving programs, including Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), building a foster home network, neutering before adoption, and providing access to low-cost spay/neuter services.

"Stanislaus County's recent adoption of TNR is a major positive first step, and we hope this grant will help the program flourish," said Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies.

In partnership with the Humane Society of Stanislaus County, Stanislaus Animal Services Agency adopted a TNR program in June. Residents are encouraged to help humanely trap community cats and bring them to the shelter where they will be evaluated for health and adoptability. Healthy feral cats will be provided with spay/neuter and vaccinations, and will be eartipped-the tip of the left ear is removed while the cat is anesthetized to identify the cat as neutered and vaccinated. After a short recovery period they are returned to their outdoor homes.

"When stray cats are brought to the shelter, we let residents know that community cats will be spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and the Humane Society will return the cats to their neighborhoods," says Annette Patton, director of Stanislaus Animal Services Agency. "We will no longer be a massive euthanasia factory."

Thousands of communities across the country are carrying out TNR programs. In the last decade, the number of cities and counties that officially endorse TNR has increased tenfold to 350, including Chicago, Baltimore, Albuquerque and Washington, D.C. TNR stabilizes and eventually reduces outdoor cat populations over time, while also saving money that could be dedicated to community education and adoption programs.

"What is most impressive about Stanislaus County's program is the shelter leadership's commitment not only to implement humane practices in their own facility, but also to serve as a resource to the community and as a mentor to other shelters in the region," says Juliana deRosa, senior manager of community engagement for Alley Cat Allies. "The Future Five program is setting the course for the future of animal sheltering."

Laurie Johnson of the Humane Society of Stanislaus County said the shelter saw 1,200 fewer euthanized cats last year than the year before due to the Feral Freedom project, the official name of the T/N/R program. From June 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2013 a total of 1,262 cats that were spayed and neutered and released. That does not include another 500 cats which spayed or neutered by their owners.

"It really is a numbers games," said Johnson. "We have to see the majority spayed and neutered for it to make a difference."

Alley Cat Allies will put on two seminars on ways to improve the local T/N/R program for the public. Meetings are at noon and 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 4 at Harvest Hall of the Stanislaus County Agricultural Center, corner of Service and Crows Landing roads. Refreshments will be served.