Like many places across the United States, southern Colorado has been suffering from the effects of a population boom — a feral cat population boom, that is. As a result, shelters in the region were finding a lot of community cats in their intake areas. Most of the time, entering a shelter is a death sentence for feral cats; being unadoptable due to their wild nature, they are almost always euthanized.
But lately, a new concept has emerged: socially conscious sheltering. To put the term into a nutshell, it means that shelters and communities work together to produce the best outcomes for the highest number of animals. And at the forefront of this movement have been organizations like the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region.
As part of its commitment to socially conscious sheltering, HSPPR actively supports the TNR (trap, neuter, return) movement. It has had a thriving TNR program in Colorado Springs since late 2008 and in Pueblo since 2011. The organization typically spays or neuters between 1,000 and 2,000 feral cats every year.
“Before we started our TNR programs, we were seeing a very high volume of stray cats coming into our shelter from the community,” says Gretchen Pressley, HSPPR’s community relations manager. “We were always working to stay on top of the latest, best practices in animal welfare, so as soon as we had the resources, we instituted a TNR program to help cut down on the stray cat overpopulation in southern Colorado.”
HSPPR is an open-admission shelter, which means it doesn’t turn away any animal in need. “We measure our success of our shelter not on one single statistic, but on our ability to increase the quality of life for pets and people in our community,” Gretchen says. “We treat every animal as an individual and give each one the best outcome possible based on their respective needs. For feral cats, unfortunately, sometimes the best outcome shelters can give is humane euthanasia. We are glad TNR provides us with another humane option for otherwise healthy cats already living in colonies.”
HSPPR provides support for people who manage feral cat colonies and education about the benefits of TNR to the communities in which the colonies are located. As of 2018, the organization had 516 active cat colonies in Colorado Springs and Pueblo. In order to assist the colony managers, there is a dedicated staff member at both of HSPPR’s campuses whose job is to support the people managing feral cat colonies, loaning traps to colony managers and providing cat shelters when resources allow.
“We spay/neuter and vaccinate cats from our sanctioned colonies for free. Additionally, we work with several local cat groups to provide spays/neuters and vaccinations to their TNR cats at an extremely affordable rate,” Gretchen says.
HSPPR provides education on the benefits of TNR and how to make cat shelters to colony managers and helps start discussions with neighbors to help them understand how TNR will benefit their neighborhoods as well.
But HSPPR goes beyond TNR in its efforts to help control the cat population. It provides subsidized spay/neuters and vaccinations to cats brought in by the general public, and several times a year, the organization holds mass sterilization days, where local groups and members of the public can bring cats in to be spayed/neutered and vaccinated for free.
Community attitudes about feral cats are starting to change, too. “Whenever we are out helping colony managers or trapping cats ourselves, we carry literature on the program and are ready to answer questions about the benefits of the program,” Gretchen says. “Many people seem happy there are now options for saving more cats in our community. Unfortunately, we still encounter people who do not understand the benefits of the program and its proven success in combating cat overpopulation.”
Are HSPPR’s programs working? “Since starting our two TNR programs, we have definitely seen a decrease in the number of stray cats coming into both of our locations,” Gretchen says.
Several years ago, HSPPR received grants to target its TNR programs in Pueblo to zip codes where most stray cats brought into the shelter had been found. “Every year, we saw a significant decrease in the number of stray cats coming in from those zip codes,” she says.
TNR is an integral part of the socially conscious sheltering movement, which stresses the importance of making sure each animal brought into a shelter finds the right home — even if that home is back on the streets, now spayed or neutered and vaccinated, in a colony humanely managed by one of HSPPR’s 500-plus volunteer community cat colony managers.