I have worked in animal rescue for more than a decade. In the past few years, I have shifted my focus to TNR — the trap, neuter, vaccinate, return of feral, stray or community cats.

HART-NM has been able to successfully trap, neuter and release close to 800 cats in the past year in Valencia County. However, despite our best efforts, we are still getting resistance from people and the city of Belen and the village of Los Lunas.

For example, Belen Animal Control has been trapping cats and taking them to the county shelter. These cats are not adoptable or friendly. Many are sick with viruses that can be prevented with vaccines. Thus, the shelter is often faced with having to euthanize these cats for either behavioral issues (feral cats are usually very mean) or for medical issues. This is also common in the village of Los Lunas.

However, TNR can be done through a non-profit group and can be used as a tool to control colony size without euthanasia. When the cats can no longer reproduce, the colony has the potential to decline in size over time.

Spaying and neutering also greatly reduces nuisance behavior. Once the cats are fixed, fighting, yowling and other noise associated with mating stops almost entirely. The foul odor caused by unaltered males spraying to mark territory disappears and the cats, no longer driven to mate, roam much less and become less visible.

The cats, themselves, are healthier and less likely to spread feline diseases. Meanwhile, rodent control is maintained by the cats continued presence. When rodents are controlled, snakes are not attracted.

Like all methods, TNR is most effective when performed well. On a colony level, this means achieving and maintaining a sterilization rate as close to 100 percent as possible and being diligent about the cats long-term care. On a community level, TNR best reduces cat populations and nuisance complaints when resources, including trappers, spay and neuter surgeries and outreach, are targeted at sections of the community with high cat populations.

HART-NM has been providing TNR in Valencia County for a little more than a year and has sterilized more than 800 cats. These cats have been vaccinated, treated for any health issues, ear tipped (to easily identify that they are fixed) and released. While we commonly have a wait list (primarily due to lack of available surgeries) we manage to take 15-20 cats a week for surgery. We can do this based on grants, fundraising and donations.

We have also been able to identify problem areas where viruses are spreading, and we are working on setting up low-cost community vaccination clinics for private-owned pets in these areas. Getting more volunteers to help drive cats to and from the vet in Albuquerque would be a huge help.

As a community, if we work together, we can control the cat population in this county without having the shelter being forced to euthanize feral cats. They do not like euthanizing cats and the staff at the shelter gets mentally exhausted by having to euthanize so many cats.

You can learn more about HART-NM’s program at hartnm.com. To learn more about TNR look up neighborhoodcats.org.

(Shannon Brady Kmatz is the director of HART-NM)

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Shannon Brady Kmatz