In what could be considered one of the biggest lifesaving decisions made in recent HSSM history, Board of Directors has adopted a policy that has the potential to save lives we never thought were “saveable” before.
During the June Board Meeting, a resolution passed unanimously by the Board to implement a full-scale model of a program known as “Feral Freedom,” effective January 1, 2015.
Stray/Feral Cats--Are They Unsaveable?
One of the most at-risk populations that enters any shelter’s doors are stray cats--oftentimes they are feral (semi-wild) and even if they are very friendly, their odds of adoption are much lower than that of cute, cuddly kittens and puppies, or even that of dogs.
A few years ago, the over-arching opinion of Animal Welfare professionals nationwide was that these cats--especially the ferals--were simply “unsaveable,” that there was no program that could save the majority of their lives, and that any community could count these unfortunate cats among the sector of the unwanted pet population that would not be able to be saved. Historically, these cats were subjected to their worst nightmare--they were kept in cramped, steel cages for 5 days only to be euthanized because they were unwanted and had nowhere to go.
However, with Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs on the rise, the number of outdoor and free-roaming cats entering shelters began to decline. And then, a stroke of genius. Officials in Jacksonville, Florida were wise enough to ask themselves, “If we are seeing such impactful results from TNR programs, why couldn’t the cats entering the shelter through ‘normal’ shelter channels also benefit from such a model?”
Jacksonville eliminated the stray-hold times for cats lacking traceable identification, instead sending them directly through a TNR model in which they were spayed/neutered, Rabies vaccinated, and ear-tipped (the upper postion of the left ear removed for identification purposes) before being returned to their location of origin. The result? HUGE drops in the number of cats euthanized in Jacksonville shelters. Finally, someone had developed a working model to save feral and free-roaming cats.
What it Means for Us
Now, with the HSSM Board of Directors’ forethought, we will embark on a half-year process of readying our community for the implementation of a Feral Freedom program that mimics that of the very succesful Jacksonville model. Ordinances will need to be modified to allow for its implementation, and we have already begun work on this front.
We believe this one program will save thousands of lives each year--thousands of lives we previously thought unsaveable. This singular program is the biggest missing piece of our lifesaving puzzle--and its implementation could potentially bring our already impressive 77% Live Release Rate closer to an astounding 90% or better--virtually overnight.
We look forward to the day when we do not have to subject these cats to their worst nightmares and instead we are able to offer them services that allow them to live more healthily in the environment they are used to, because every homeless and unwanted animal deserves its chance at happiness--and for many cats, that place is roaming free.
2014 is passing by so quickly that we wanted to share with you some of the success that was made possible by YOU! Because of your support, HSSM celebrates hundreds of lives saved compared to the first quarter of 2013. These saved lives were directly affected by your support. With your help, we have also been able to:
- Adopt 932 pets into forever homes
- Decrease shelter intake from 2,485 to 1,803 animals compared to last year (Jan-March)
- Decrease euthanasia from 476 to 300 animals compared to last year (Jan-March)
- Transport 139 of our pets on the Love Train to other shelters in parts of the country where they have the demand for animals, but don’t have the supply
- Reunite 219 lost pets with their owners
- Place 325 pets with foster families where they will receive extra TLC until they are ready to come back to the shelter.This program increases the quality of life for homeless animals and opens up much needed space so that HSSM can rescue another pet.
But most importantly, our Live Release Rate to date is 73%! We are well on our way to reaching our Countdown to Zero goal of 75% by the end of 2014. Thanks to supporters like you this dream will soon be a reality. We can’t wait until South Mississippi is truly a Humane Community and healthy and treatable pets are no longer euthanized. When we reach our ultimate goal of 75% we will be the first in the Deep South to achieve this milestone. Thank you again for believing in and supporting this dream.
Tara High, CAWA
HSSM Executive Director
As our Countdown to Zero initiative enters into the last year, we are exploring different ways to ensure we reach our much anticipated 75% Live Release Rate by the end of 2014. We have a plan that will make this goal that is currently just beyond our fingertips a REALITY.
It's inevitable, when you operate a shelter like HSSM, where we take in every pet brought to us and we are the ONLY shelter serving our community, that we will have to accept that we just can't save them all.
And among the most-at-risk populations for euthanasia are feral/unsocialized cats.
In the past, these cats faced dire odds. Being wild in nature and unpredictable, they are not candidates for a traditional adoptive home- so unless there is a barn placement available, these cats almost invariably face euthanasia.
But now, a new approach to feral/free-roaming "Community Cats" is spreading across the nation. This approach, known in many communities as "Feral Freedom," takes Community Cats entirely out of the stressful sheltering system, putting an end to the antiquated, "Trap, Shelter, Kill" method which has been used in the past.
Instead, "Feral Freedom" acknowledges that Community Cats are inherently different from socialed, domesticated cats. In most communities, progressive statutes differentiate these cats and their management by employing Tran-Neuter-Return for ALL Community Cats...meaning cats brought to the shelter as strays are fixed, vaccinated, ear-tipped, and returned to their natural environment to live out their lives, rather than kept in a steel cage for 5 days and then being euthanized for being unsocial or because there were already too many cats in the shelter.
HSSM is aggressively pursuing supportive ordinances in our service area to put an end to needless euthanasia of Community Cats and the first step is gathering public opinion. In a recnt online poll which mirrored that of a national study, we found that 87.91% of the population surveyed chose to use the Feral Freedom model as their preferred method of controlling the Community Cat population, by a landslide beating out leaving the cat to live out its life as is (2.11%) or Trap-and-Kill (3.45%).
Stay tuned for upcoming way that we may need YOU, our cat-loving supporters to help us create a better future for cats in our community!
The Humane Society of South Mississippi (HSSM) uses a lot of numbers to determine our success. We track outcomes, we watch trends, and we analyze statistics to ensure that our organization is running efficiently.
Why? Because every number that we crunch has an impact on the lives of the animals we serve. As we count the animals in our care or the number of spay/neuter surgeries performed, we remind ourselves of the true goal of our organization: to save more lives. Our favorite number? Zero.
In 2012, after 60 years of service to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, HSSM got our first taste of zero. We successfully eliminated the euthanasia of healthy, adoptable pets in our care—for the first time ZERO pets lost their lives because of overcrowding and lack of space in the shelter.
That is why we spend so much time on the numbers. The more numbers we crunch and monitor, the better we can focus our most effective programs. It’s all about reaching what we call our “Countdown to Zero” goal—saving every healthy and treatable pet that enters our care—and we are on our way to achieving this goal by 2015.
So here are some numbers—and you still may look at them and think “BORING!” But remember, every number represents a pet’s life saved or impacted for the better.
Since beginning the GlobalGiving challenge on September 1, 2013 we have taken in 1,935 homeless animals. We have adopted out 801 four-legged friends, we have successfully returned 187 pets to their owners, we have trapped, neutered/spayed and returned 336 community cats, we have transported 112 homeless pets into other parts of the country that are not plagued by pet overpopulation and we have placed 574 sick animals into foster care, where they can receive the TLC that that need in order to be placed up for adoption. All of these accomplishments YOU have helped us achieve! Because of your support we are right on track to reach our goal of a 75% Live Release Rate by 2015.
With your support what do you think is possible? I think that HSSM can surpass the goal of 75% and save more of the precious lives that are entrusted to our care. Are you up for the challenge?
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