Feline ‘Trap-Neuter/Spay-Return’ Policy Adopted In Riverside County

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RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA — The Board of Supervisors Tuesday signed off on resolutions authorizing the Riverside County Department of Animal Services to proceed with campaigns aimed at keeping street cats alive and out of county shelters.

“This department has taken action on many things … intended to reduce the over 32,000 animals that entered our shelter system in 2023,” agency Director Erin Gettis told the board. “These two resolutions [are meant] to reduce our intake of healthy cats.”

The first board-approved resolution proclaimed the county’s establishment of a “trap-neuter-return” policy for free-roaming, feral or stray felines.

“We will join our neighbors in the city and county of Los Angeles, who recognized that healthy stray and lost cats deserve to remain where they are without admission to a shelter,” Gettis said.

Under the policy, otherwise healthy cats who are caught on the street by residents, volunteers from non-profit animal rescues and animal control officers will be spayed or neutered, vaccinated against rabies and tagged to identify them as fixed.

After they’ve recovered from their surgeries, they will be released back to the environment from which they came. Felines with injuries or health complications that would make continued life on the streets hazardous will be impounded.

“Less than 2% of cats coming into Riverside County shelters are reclaimed by their owner,” according to the trap-neuter-return resolution. “Statistics show lost cats are 13 times more likely to be reunited with their owners through non-shelter means … more than 60% return home on their own.”

Opting for release rather than impound will “enable the department to use resources for cats and other animals who need it,” according to the Department of Animal Services.

“This approach will free critical staff time and be more economical, allowing shelters to focus more on increasing adoption rates and improving shelter conditions,” the agency stated.

More than 10,000 cats were impounded countywide last year, and a “considerable number” had to be euthanized, officials said, adding that most feral or longtime street cats are not suited for adoption.

The second board-approved resolution officially recognized the “5,000 Cat Challenge” that the Department of Animal Services initiated in February. The effort dovetails with the trap-neuter-return policy, “with the goal to save the lives of 5,000 more cats and kittens in 2024 than the total number saved in 2023,” according to the agency.

County veterinarian Dr. Kim Youngberg said the challenge is intended to spare felines from being put down “at a time when our shelters are extremely overcrowded with lost pets and strays.”

“The longer an animal languishes in the shelter system, the more at risk it is of not having a live outcome,” Youngberg said. “We are looking forward to working with our partners to meet that challenge.”

The undertaking requires coordinating with rescue organizations to augment pet adoption opportunities.

“Residents and rescue organizations are encouraged and needed to support the ‘5,000 Cat Challenge’ through involvement in activities such as adoption, fostering, volunteering, and trap-neuter-vaccinate release assistance,” the department said.

One county resident, identified only as Theresa, spoke in opposition to the resolutions, saying the county’s goal of “not accepting healthy cats will have the effect of people dumping their cats, possibly exponentially increasing the number of strays.”

“You may worsen the problem of unwanted cats in communities,” she said. “Saving 5,000 cats is akin to a publicity move to appease the animal lovers who fail to think with qualitative logic. Just because the animal doesn’t enter through the shelter door doesn’t mean the problem is solved.”

The challenge will attempt to duplicate the nationwide “Million Cat Challenge” initiated in 2014, which resulted in over a million felines across the country being spared euthanasia over a five-year span, organizers said.

Information on adoption and fostering opportunities can be found at https://rcdas.org.

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