A total of 11,746 cats (8160 (69.5%) adults and 3586 (30.5%) kittens) were enrolled in the three-year Albuquerque CCP. Sterilization surgery was performed on a total of 11,038 cats, 8851 (80.2%) as part of the targeted TNR program and 2187 (19.8%) under the RTF initiative. The combined number of sterilization surgeries fluctuated over the course of the CCP: Year 1 (4/12 to 3/13): 3723; Year 2 (4/13 to 3/14): 3981; Year 3 (4/14 to 3/15): 3334. Sterilizations associated with the RTF program declined each year as a percentage of the total number performed: Year 1: 25.9%; Year 2: 19.1%; Year 3: 13.9% (Figure 1
). Over the course of the CCP, the number of male cats sterilized slightly exceeded females 5589 (50.6%) to 5449 (49.4%) and more adults were sterilized than kittens, 7551 (68.4%) to 3487 (31.6%). A total of 642 cats (5.5%) were discovered after program enrollment to have been previously sterilized.
In total, 10,738 cats (91.4%) were returned to colony sites as part of the CCP; 946 (8.0%) were adopted from AAWD, transferred to rescue groups for adoption, or placed in foster care; 34 (0.3%) died in surgery, pre-operatively, post-operatively, or in care; 20 (0.2%) were euthanized for serious health concerns; 6 (0.1%) were relocated because they could not be returned safely to locations of capture; and 2 (<0.1%) were returned to owner or otherwise released without undergoing surgery (Table 1
). Of the cats returned to colony sites, 7654 (71.3%) were adults, 3067 (28.6%) were kittens (≤5 months of age), and the age of 17 (0.1%) was unknown. Cats originated from 1875 different colony sites across 22 zip codes. The number of cats enrolled in the CCP per zip code (as part of either the RTF or targeted TNR programs) ranged from 3 to 2032, median of 353; 69% of the cats originated from locations in 6 of the 22 zip codes in which the CCP operated (87121, 87105, 87107, 87102, 87123, and 87108).
At the end of the three-year CCP, when compared to a baseline of the 12-month period immediately prior to program inception, feline euthanasia at AAWD declined by 84.1%, from 3023 (4/2011 to 3/2012) to 480 (4/2014 to 3/2015) cats. The euthanasia rate for cats fell by 74.4% over the same period, from 30.9 to 7.9%, and feline intake was reduced by 37.6%, from 9776 to 6102. The euthanasia of kittens (≤5 months of age) declined by 89.8% from 1462 at year-end 2011 to 149 at the close of 2015 (some data were tracked only by calendar year); the euthanasia rate for kittens fell 81.8% from 32.9 to 6.0% over the same period, while kitten intake dropped by 44.4% from 4441 to 2468, overall, and 40.3% (2803 to 1672) for “newborn” kittens under two months of age (Table 2
The live release rate (LRR), calculated using the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) formula of dividing live outcomes by intake [36
], for cats at AAWD increased from 60.6% in 2011 to 89.5% in 2015; an improvement of 47.7%. Euthanasia of cats per 1000 Bernalillo County residents declined by 86.5% from 5.2 in 2011 to 0.7 in 2015; feline intake per 1000 county residents fell by 44.2% from 14.7 to 8.2. Over the same period, the number of cats reclaimed by their owners (a.k.a., returned to owner (RTO)) decreased 6.7% from 297 (3.0% of feline intake) in 2011 to 277 (5.0% of feline intake) in 2015, and the number of cats adopted from AAWD shelters decreased 21.8%, from 4264 (43.5% of feline intake) to 3333 (60.2% of feline intake). Moreover, calls from residents (via a 3-1-1 non-emergency municipal services line) about dead cats in the city of Albuquerque declined by 23.9%, from 2220 in 2011 to 1689 in 2015 (Table 2
Results at AAWD for 2016 reflected continued declines in feline intake (5078), euthanasia (361) and euthanasia rate (7.1%), and sustained increases in LRR (91.0%) adoption rate (67.4% of feline intake, based upon 3422 adoptions), and RTO rate (5.5% of feline intake, based upon 279 cats returned to their owners); moreover, the number of 3-1-1 calls for dead cats decreased again, to 1616 (2017 results for this metric, which became available just as the present investigation was being concluded, indicate a continued decline to 1222 calls about dead cats).
Multiple initiatives commencing in 2008, some shelter-based and others conducted by private non-profit organizations in the Albuquerque community, contributed to the significant declines in feline euthanasia and intake experienced at AAWD. The totality of these efforts can be loosely divided into four phases, a key component of which was the three-year CCP, which began in April of 2012 (Figure 2
Phase 1 (2008 through 2010) established TNR as the preferred method of managing free-roaming cats in the city of Albuquerque. Actions included discontinuing trap rentals to residents for the purpose of bringing in feral cats, support for community-based TNR by referring calls about free-roaming cats to TNR groups, and subsidizing the cost of sterilization surgery co-payments for residents. Phase 2 (2011 through March 2012) laid the foundation for the CCP by initiating a pilot RTF program at AAWD that ended the euthanasia of cats based solely upon temperament. Phase 3 (April 2012 through March 2015), the CCP, institutionalized the use of RTF at AAWD by implementing sustainable protocols that appear to have been the primary factor in feline euthanasia dropping by 84.1%. Similarly, the integrated use of targeted TNR, including the RFCM, appear to have been the primary factor in a significant reduction (37.6%) in feline intake at AAWD as well. Phase 4 (April 2015 through 2016) consisted of the permanent adoption of RTF and targeted TNR as free-roaming cat management practices at AAWD. After the formal conclusion of the CCP, major elements of the program were retained by AAWD. Although no longer operated by BFAS (and funded by BFAS and PCI), shelter-based RTF and targeted TNR programs were continued due in large part to a municipally-funded contract between AAWD and Street Cat Hub (SCH), formerly SCC [26
]. Under the agreement, SCH assumed the role of trapping and returning cats previously filled by BFAS. Improvements in shelter metrics attained as part of the CCP were sustained during this period.
As was observed in Jacksonville and San José, California [7
], the addition of a RTF program to existing community and shelter-based initiatives (e.g., low-cost or free sterilization programs for pet cats and colony-level TNR) appears to have been the primary impetus behind the dramatic reductions in euthanasia at AAWD. Six years after initiation of the pilot RTF program in 2011, feline euthanasia at AAWD had declined by 93.3% (compared to the baseline year of 2010); 53% of that reduction occurred during the three-year CCP. The significant decrease (47.8%) in feline intake at AAWD over the same period is likely attributable to the addition of targeted TNR to the RTF program, as 79.2% of the observed decline in feline intake between 2010 and 2016 took place over the course of the CCP. In fact, during the pilot RTF program (2011), which included no targeting component, cat intake at AAWD increased by nearly 1% (from 9717 to 9810). Feline intake declined each year after targeted TNR began to be practiced in tandem with RTF. Similarly, after a program including targeted TNR was added to the aforementioned RTF program in Jacksonville, feline intake declined at the municipal shelter by 40.8% over four years [18
]. A decline in the admission of stray cats at AAWD (from 6406 to 3563) comprised 60% of the total reduction in feline intake from 2011 through 2016 (the only years for which such data are available); a drop in the admission of owner-surrendered cats (from 3232 to 1345) accounted for nearly all the remainder of the overall reduction in feline intake. One factor likely contributing to the decline in owner-surrendered cats is a program initiated in 2014 (about halfway through the CPP), which provided free resources (e.g., spay or neuter surgeries, food, and advice concerning behavioral issues) to residents considering surrendering a pet [24
]. Another contributing factor might have been an ongoing misclassification of cats at shelter surrender, as described by Zito et al. [38
], due to an inherent inadequacy in the binary choice of admission categories (i.e., owner surrendered pet or stray), which fails to account for “semi-owned” cats receiving varying levels of direct support from humans. Hesitation on the part of caretakers to bring such cats to AAWD likely waned after the routine euthanasia of “feral” cats ceased in 2008, thereby creating an increase (of unknown magnitude) in the intake of cats presumably deemed “stray,” yet which may have been more accurately categorized as “semi-owned.”
The sharp declines noted above in feline intake and euthanasia at AAWD took place despite an estimated 2% increase in the population of Bernalillo County over the same period [39
]. From 2011 to 2015, the number of cats admitted to AAWD per 1000 county residents fell by 44.2% (from 14.7 to 8.2), and the number of cats euthanized per 1000 county residents dropped by 86.5% (from 5.2 to 0.7). Elsewhere, four years after initiation of the previously referenced RTF program in San José, the number of cats admitted to the municipal shelter per 1000 county residents was reduced by 31.4% (from 10.2 to 7.0) and feline euthanasia per 1000 residents had declined by 77.8% (from 7.2 to 1.6) [7
]. In Alachua County, Florida, where a two-year high-impact targeted TNR and adoption program was implemented, a 69.2% reduction in feline intake (from 13.0 to 4.0 per 1000 residents) and a 95% decrease in feline euthanasia (from 8.0 to 0.4 per 1000 residents) at the municipal shelter occurred in the targeted area (zip code 32601) versus declines of 31.3% (from 16.0 to 11.0 per 1000 residents) and 30% (from 10.0 to 7.0 per 1000 residents), respectively, in the remainder of the county [10
] (Table 3
). Sterilization efforts from the CCP resulted in 4.9–5.9 cats sterilized annually per 1000 residents, although additional sterilization efforts were undertaken concurrently throughout Bernalillo County (e.g., via AHNM). These rates are considerably lower than those reported in Alachua County’s targeted TNR program (57–64 cats sterilized annually per 1000 residents) [10
], but similar to those from San José’s RTF program (approximately 2.7 cats sterilized annually per 1000 residents) [7
]. The much greater figure resulting from targeted TNR efforts in Alachua County is most likely the result of the limited geographic area (i.e., one zip code); by contrast, the other two programs covered much larger areas and a much greater number of residents (although the CCP was still targeted in scope).
No zip code-specific feline intake data from AAWD was available to compare results from targeted and non-targeted areas. However, such data was collected by AHNM in order to track feline intake from six zip codes that were the subject of a targeted TNR program, funded by PCI, in 2011 and 2012. Results of this program indicate a two-year decline in feline intake of 62% at AHNM from the targeted zip codes compared to a reduction of only 8% from non-targeted areas [18
]. These results were similar to what occurred in Alachua County [10
]. Zip codes with the highest levels of stray cat and kitten intake at AHNM were selected for the targeted TNR program [40
], which remained active at year-end 2016. Between 2012 and 2015, AHNM’s targeted TNR efforts resulted in the sterilization of 3489 cats in seven zip codes. Nearly 70% of the cats enrolled in the CCP originated from six of the same zip codes (Figure 3
The RFCM appears to have played a significant role in bringing about the reductions in feline euthanasia and intake experienced at AAWD. In all, 2707 cats enrolled in the CCP (23%) originated from locations where both RTF and targeted TNR took place in a given year. Nearly 70% of these cats (1881) were trapped, sterilized, vaccinated, and returned or adopted as part of targeted TNR efforts associated with cats returned to the field from AAWD. On average, an additional 4.5 “field-origin” cats (median of 2) were enrolled in the CCP for each “shelter-origin” cat returned to field at RFCM sites; results varied by year and the range is far greater than might be suggested by the median values (Figure 4
). In some cases, more than 50 “field-origin” cats were enrolled in the TNR program as a result of targeted outreach efforts in response to a single cat being brought to the shelter as a stray. This illustrates a key advantage of the RFCM, and of integrating RTF and TNR programs in general. The RFCM was part of the Albuquerque CCP from the beginning; however, in practice, it was implemented with more regularity as the number of locations in the community that were considered sources of high feline intake at AAWD were reduced over the course of the three-year program [32
]. This trend is illustrated in the ratios of cats enrolled in the CCP as part of either the targeted TNR or RTF component; targeted TNR enrolled cats outnumbered RTF cats 3:1 in Year 1, 4:1 in Year 2, and >6:1 in Year 3. Similarly, RTF cats declined as a percentage of total feline intake at AAWD from 12% in Year 1 of the CCP to 7.6% in Year 3, presumably as the percentage of sterilized cats increased at enrolled colony locations. It is estimated that by the end of the CCP a 90% sterilization rate was achieved across the 1875 enrolled colonies [41
The cats enrolled in the CCP were generally in good health, as illustrated by the low incidence of cats requiring euthanasia or dying in care, which is consistent with what has been observed at other locations where RTF [7
] and targeted TNR [10
] programs have been implemented. Implementation of the CCP did not alter the ratio of adult cats to kittens admitted to AAWD. More adult cats than kittens were admitted, by a ratio of 1.2:1, in both 2011 and 2015. Similarly, after initiation of a RTF program in San José, the relationship between the intake of adult cats and kittens remained stable; however, in San José more kittens than adult cats entered the shelter both before and after initiation of the program [42
Although the percentage of feline intake at AAWD adopted into homes increased from 43.5% in 2011 to 60.2% in 2015, the number of cats adopted decreased by 21.8% from 4264 to 3333 cats. The most obvious explanation is that adoptions decreased largely as a result of reductions in feline intake. However, this was not the case in San José, where feline intake decreased nearly 21% (from 43,517 to 34,380) as a result of a four-year RTF program while adoptions increased about 1% (from 5126 to 5175) [42
]. Adoptions of cats and kittens from AHNM also decreased, from 1741 cats before the CCP to 1444 cats after the CCP (although a precise comparison is not possible because AHNM data is tracked by a fiscal year that does not correspond to CCP program years or calendar years), possibly as a result of 463 fewer cats coming into AHNM. Even so, this decrease is surprising since AHNM opened a new adoption center in 2014, designed to make adoptions a more attractive and convenient option for residents. Although it is not clear from the data available why adoptions of cats and kittens from both AAWD and AHNM would have decreased over the course of the CCP, one likely factor is the reduced “supply” to both organizations as a result of the AAWD’s ongoing RTF efforts. Again, though, this trend was not observed in San José [42
]. It is possible, too, that targeted TNR efforts led to an overall decrease in the number of free-roaming cats and kittens in the community (the “supply” itself). In any case, despite fewer adoptions from AAWD, the agency’s dramatic decrease in feline euthanasia resulted in the significant improvement in LRR (60.6% to 89.5%) observed over the course of the CCP.
RTO decreased from 297 in 2011 to 277 cats in 2015. This modest decline must be considered in light of the results of a national survey of U.S. households, which found that only 2% of lost cats were recovered by contacting a local shelter [43
]. Viewed in this context, the increase in AAWD’s RTO as a percentage of feline intake, from 3.0% in 2011 to 5.0% in 2015, is noteworthy. By way of comparison, San José’s RTF program saw RTO decrease from 1200 cats (2.8% of feline intake) to 772 (2.2% of feline intake) over four years [42
]. AAWD’s modest reduction in RTO might be seen as surprising given the prominent role RTF played in the CCP and the considerable decline in feline intake; if there are far fewer cats kept in the shelter, one might expect a sizable decrease in RTO. However, RTO decreased 6.7% while feline intake decreased 37.6%; AAWD reunited 20 fewer cats with their owners in 2015 despite 3674 fewer cats entering the shelter. One factor likely contributing to AAWD’s RTO is the mandated microchipping of pets in the city of Albuquerque making it easier for lost cats to be reunited with their owners [25
]. Moreover, as has been observed elsewhere after the implementation of a RTF program [7
], AAWD documented a significant decrease in the number of dead cats recorded on an annual basis.
5. Study Limitations
As has been noted elsewhere [42
], the limitations of the present study include those invariably encountered when conducting a retrospective investigation, which is bound by the parameters and precision of the available data. Results for metrics tracked specifically as part of the three-year CCP (e.g., feline intake and euthanasia, and sterilization surgeries) were calculated for 12-month periods that correspond to the beginning (April) and ending (March) months of the program; results customarily tracked by AAWD, apart from the CCP, were based upon the calendar year. For that reason, changes over time for some metrics are reported by calendar year and some by program year; applicable criteria used to calculate changes in metrics are noted herein. Moreover, after initiation of the CCP, some metrics were tracked by both AAWD and BFAS. In order to ensure consistency, data were sourced from BFAS whenever possible; results were obtained directly from AAWD when information from BFAS was unavailable (i.e., years prior to 2011). It was found that whenever common sets of data from each source existed, discrepancies were few and minor (<0.5%). RFCM colony sites were not specifically tracked as part of the CCP; only data indicating the number of cats enrolled by year as part of either the RTF or targeted TNR components of the program were available for analysis. Therefore, for the purposes of this study, RFCM colony sites were defined as those where RTF and targeted TNR activity both occurred during the same calendar year.
Feline intake and euthanasia at AAWD were not formally tracked by zip code; therefore, an assessment of the impact of targeted TNR on these metrics for specific zip codes, as has been formulated elsewhere [10
], was not attempted. An assessment of the impact of targeted TNR on feline intake in targeted versus non-targeted zip codes was made, and presented above, as part of a program conducted by AHNM in 2011 and 2012. At the conclusion of the present study, the AHNM-targeted TNR program was ongoing; however, attempts to obtain more recent feline intake data from AHNM were unsuccessful.
Colonies of free-roaming cats were enrolled in the CCP as they were discovered. Colony information, including location and the surgery records of individual cats, was entered into an internal BFAS database. Colony information was updated throughout the program as cats were trapped, sterilized and returned; however, records pertaining to the number of cats at each colony site upon entry into the CCP are incomplete [34
]. Consequently, an assessment of the changes in colony size over the course of the program was not possible. In addition, welfare outcomes for cats returned to colony sites were not specifically recorded, precluding analysis. The fates of cats returned to colony sites as part of RTF programs likely warrants further investigation.