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Critics of Animal Care Services say our drive to humane care misses the big picture

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One of the most robust sites of public engagement is on the streets, where volunteers look after feral, or free-roaming, cats. Though once an act of civil disobedience, "Trap-Neuter-Return has been legal in San Antonio for several years now," said Norwood, "The City decided to make TNR legal by design. It's the best way to address a feral cat population — and we have a lot of feral cats in San Antonio. The best way to accomplish it is by trapping those animals humanely, getting them sterilized and vaccinated, then returning them to their colony, where they can be cared for by a colony manager." The crazy cat lady (and cat dude) have finally been decriminalized.

"One of the initiatives we began in the last year is a partnership with Best Friends Animal Society," Norwood said. "They have been excellent partners, not only in implementing TNR, but in increasing people's awareness." Funded by a $700,000 grant from PetSmart Charities administered by Best Friends Animal Society, the Community Cat Program will enable 10,500 cats within 14 zip codes in SA to be spayed or neutered over a three-year period. And though TNR saves feral cats from euthanasia, the project — like similar TNR programs in towns and cities across the country, and abroad —addresses cat over-population by accepting, rather than fighting against an historical certainty. Humans and cats have co-evolved; where there are cities, there are cats. According to TNR advocates, simply removing feral cats from urban areas doesn't work. Cats are territorial; as soon as unclaimed territory becomes available, cats competing for space in nearby colonies move in, and if un-neutered, begin breeding.

In San Antonio, Best Friends provides a full-time employee to oversee the program, and works with ACS who assist with sterilization, vetting, and the trapping process. But the main corps of volunteers belong to the several animal rescue nonprofits that form the San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition, who have trained over 3,500 volunteers in TNR. Several SAFCC members, such as the ADL and SA Humane Society, provide discounted sterilization and vaccination services. SnapUS maintains a mobile clinic that serves several neighborhoods, while SpaySA provides free spay/neuter and vaccination services to cats in the 14 zip codes within the Community Cat Program.

Local TNR programs have also received support from the SA Area Foundation. But even with the Best Friends now in place, is enough being done? "In the first half of calendar year 2012, the high-volume clinics reported 3,284 feral cat surgeries. That same time period in 2011, 2,336 —almost 1,000 more," said Nichols of the Area Foundation. "In 2011, 20 percent of all cat neuter surgeries were feral. This year feral cat surgeries made up 32 percent." Improvements are being made. Nichol's organization has a goal of neutering 6,000 feral cats a year, and is committed to TNR. "People are moving from feral cat to community cat in their speech because not all cat colonies are entirely feral. Many are owned cats that people allow to roam freely," said Nichols. "We firmly believe TNR is integral to the no-kill program, and that TNR is the only effective means of controlling and ultimately reducing the population of free-roaming cats. It's proven, and is the only thing that actually works."

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