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.