Fall 2012 Magazine

Cover Story


By Nancy Marano

[This is the first in a series of articles on Albuquerque's various Trap / Neuter / Return projects. These programs are a true community-based, animal welfare success story.]

"When I came here five years ago, the shelter was killing 72% of all the cats who came through the door. Now it's about 11%," said Jim Ludwick, principal aide to the shelter director on management and policy issues. Ludwick is the person who got the Animal Welfare Department involved in TNR.

Cat euthanasia rates have dropped drastically due to a large, community-based effort to use Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) to control the Albuquerque feral cat population.

According to Neighborhood Cats, the recognized national experts in dealing with feral cats, TNR is the only method proven to be humane and effective at controlling feral cat population growth. TNR is not just the best alternative to managing feral cat populations - it is the only one that works. Once the cats are spayed or neutered they are returned to their territory where caretakers regularly give them food and shelter. Very young kittens who can be socialized and friendly adults are placed in foster care to be adopted.

TNR has many advantages.

  • It immediately stabilizes the size of the colony by eliminating new litters.
  • Nuisance behaviors such as yowling, spraying to mark territory, and fighting are greatly reduced.
  • The colony guards its territory and prevents unneutered cats from moving in and beginning problem behaviors again.
  • In urban areas feral cats provide rodent control.
  • If practiced on a large scale, TNR lessens the number of kittens and cats coming into the shelters. This results in lower euthanasia rates and increased adoptions at the shelters.

Ludwick began studying TNR shortly after arriving at the shelter. "At the time, the City was killing several thousand street cats each year but there was no evidence it was a successful method of controlling the street-cat population. It was adding to crowding in our catteries, at a time when crowding was a major contributing factor in the suffering and death of domestic, adoptable housecats at the shelters," Ludwick said.

He recommended a series of steps to reduce the shelter's intake and killing of street cats. "There were TNR programs in Albuquerque for 15 years but nothing on this scale," Ludwick said. "Even four years ago the number one reason for killing an animal was that someone thought it was a feral cat. Having that label was a death sentence. They might not have been feral but someone labeled them that. When a feral comes in here now, there is a much better chance it will get out alive because we have a lot more options," Ludwick said. "TNR has become the protocol for dealing with feral cats instead of killing them."

The City took steps to reduce and end the killing of street cats. The first step was ending the Animal Welfare Department program of renting out cat traps for $3.00 per week. These traps were used to capture street cats and bring them to the shelter for extermination. "Once this program was discontinued, we saw a decrease in the killing of street cats in the shelter," Ludwick said.

The City took this opportunity to start participating in the monthly TNR clinics sponsored by New Mexico Animal Friends and performed at the Animal Humane | New Mexico clinic. At that time trappers were charged $15.00 for each cat they brought to the monthly clinic for spaying or neutering. This charge wasn't bad for one cat but if there was a colony of 10 or 20 cats, it became expensive for the trapper. The City began covering the cost previously paid by the trapper. "This meant the surgeries could be conducted without charging a fee, which encouraged more trapping," Ludwick said. As the killing of street cats decreased at the shelter, trapping for sterilization increased. "The City is beginning its fourth year of a contractual arrangement with New Mexico Animal Friends to cover the cost of sterilizing street cats," Ludwick added.

As trapping volume increased, other improvements were made to the community program.

  • There is a community stockpile of trapping equipment so trappers don't need to buy equipment.
  • There is a lot of professional, high-quality advice and assistance for street cat caretakers. This might include such things as dealing with veterinary questions and necessary negotiations with neighbors.
  • Albuquerque has community mapping of hundreds of feral colonies inside the city.
  • There is coordinated trapping to deal with trouble spots. This more effectively utilizes available surgical capacity.
  • Animal activists scrutinize shelter intake records watching for cats who might have come from known colonies.
  • Records from the City's 311 help line are studied, too. These animal activists routinely help answer questions and resolve complaints.

Best Friends Animal Society adds another dimension to the programs already in place by trapping street cats; taking them to veterinarians and paying for spay or neuter surgeries. The cats are then replaced in their colonies. Best Friends representatives also monitor the 311 calls and handle problems that are reported.

Ludwick says that as the programs have become more professional, the Animal Welfare Department has begun releasing ferals who arrive at the shelter to local rescue groups. "This has further reduced our killing of the cats at the shelter. This approach has been getting more emphasis as a result of the Best Friends program," Ludwick said. "Healthy cats who are good candidates for a return to habitat are leaving the shelters and going to rescue groups instead of being killed. No cats are returned to former habitat without being spayed or neutered."

The TNR program has flourished due to changes made in Albuquerque's animal law under the HEART Ordinance. Previously, anyone who provided care for street cats could be treated as the owner of the cats. Then they were expected to register the cats and keep them from roaming freely. These rules acted as severe impediments to a successful TNR program. The HEART Ordinance dropped these regulations. Street cat caretakers are no longer considered to be owners of the street cats. The Animal Welfare Department does not release street cats into their habitat but is allowed under state law to release street cats to rescue groups for TNR.

"The shelter's involvement in TNR has developed prudently as part of a broad-based community effort which is being carried out with professionalism, reasonable oversight and the advice of nationally recognized authorities," Ludwick said. "It is one of the principal reasons why the shelter's intake of cats in the past 12 months was down 24% compared to the same period four years ago and the euthanasia rate for cats in the past 12 months was down 72% compared to the same period four years earlier."

Neighborhood Cats says, "TNR is an idea whose time has come. It recognizes there is a new balance in our urban and rural landscape, one that includes feral cats. It seeks to manage this new population with enlightened techniques that allow the cats to live out their lives and fulfill their natures, while minimizing any possible negative impact."


The Animal Welfare Department provides free spay/neuter surgeries for the dogs and cats of low-income and moderate-income Albuquerque residents. These surgeries are performed at the East Side Shelter Veterinary Clinic, 8920 Lomas NE on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Animals must be brought to the clinic between 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. They will be treated on a first-come, first-serve basis. Fifteen dogs will be accepted and an unlimited number of cats. Proof of qualifications must be presented at time of drop off. Surgery patient pick up is between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.

For further information on this program go to: www.cabq.gov/pets/programs-services/spay-neuter.

Nancy Marano is an award-winning writer who is owned by three cats, Sammy, Callie and Max. Callie and Max are new additions to the family. She is a member of the Cat Writers' Association and Dog Writers of America.

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