The tnr conversation

On February 13th, 2019, APARC held a presentation and discussion on the roadblocks we may face when starting a new Trap Neuter Release program within Medicine Hat. This is a summary of the topics covered during this meeting. For more information on participating in future TNR discussions, please email or fill out the form at the bottom of this page.

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The presentation

We began the presentation with the reason why this meeting took place. This meeting is a direct response to the public’s request for a TNR program in Medicine Hat. We would love a TNR program in the city as a way to reduce euthanasia rates for cats that come into the facility as feral or semi-feral cats.

These are primary reasons why TNR doesn’t already exist in Medicine Hat. There have been multiple attempts in the past to initialize similar programs but to no avail, usually due to one of these factors. We will be addressing these factors throughout the rest of the presentation

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The current bylaws in Medicine Hat prevents us from executing a program in the city. The bylaw states that no person may allow an animal to roam within the city. There are two bylaws that were discussed, the first was from Taber. They have a city sponsored TNR program that has the program written into the bylaw. We also discussed Calgary’s TNR program through The Meow Foundation. They are able to perform this service because the bylaw only refers to owned cats.

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Funding is also a significant aspect of the TNR program. There are many costs associated for TNR programs, most mandatory being Neuter/Ear Notching. Depending on budget, a committee would need to discuss which other veterinary expenses we would perform on a TNR cat.

There are many methods of fundraising, such as grants, university support, and private donations.

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The Meow Foundation states each cat can cost about $250 to enter into the TNR program. While our opinion is that a program inducting 100-200 cats is not adequate for effective treatment of cat populations, a pilot program of the same number of cats may be the best way to start. For this, we estimate a budget of $25,000-$50,000 per year for this pilot program.

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We require volunteer support for such a project. We listed some possible volunteer responsibilities, such as performing welfare checks, trapping, canvassing, and educating. We recommend at least 20 volunteers for start up, but it can be reduced for cat colony maintenance.

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Conservation Biology is an argument against TNR that our committee should take into consideration. Conservation biologists recognize the domestic cat as an invasive species that does irreparable harm to local indigenous plants and animals. Domestic cats kill over 200,000,000 wild birds every year, causing a reduction of many bird/small animal species populations. There are multiple pieces of legislation that some Conservation Biologists believe to restrict TNR programs, but due to the existence of many TNR programs in Alberta and lack of specificity within the law suggests there is no conflict, but even still we should consider the environmental impact of this TNR program.

The discussion

For this discussion, we answered questions about the TNR program and general questions about APARC procedures and animal welfare within the community. Here are summarized questions and answers from the discussion.

Will APARC be working with surrounding areas in this TNR program?
Yes, the only reason we wouldn’t is due to insufficient funds/volunteers in the TNR program. We understand in Cypress County there is a high number of feral cats that contribute to Medicine Hat’s roaming cat overpopulation and vice versa. It would be advantageous for all surrounding areas to participate in this program.

Anyone in council in support of this program and the required bylaw change?
PDCT responded about their past experience in initializing a TNR program in the past. They stated the program was presented to council several years ago, but there’s new members and we are unsure of any support yet. We are still in starting stages, so we have not reached out for council support, yet. As far as bylaw changes go, it should be a simple amendment to the current bylaw, which can take a few months to be amended.

Is APARC willing to work with other organizations to implement this program?
Absolutely! We are already working with PDCT for this program, and we are more than willing to open the doors to other organizations willing to participate, just so long as they also represent our values.

What about kittens? Will they be TNR’d?
We generally get lots of kittens during kitten season. But we are not worried about those as we generally have a positive recovery/outcome with kittens. Our biggest concerns are female, long haired, aggressive cats. Release of long haired poses a humane issue with TNR.

What kind of Fundraising will happen for this program?
It depends! How creative are you? We have a few promotions that we can test for viable TNR fundraising, but we are always looking for fresh ideas! We are really hoping a few grant-writers will be available to help us apply for available grants, or for full university support. Otherwise, we will be required to have more traditional fundraisers.

Is public fearful their cats will get out and then spay/neutered/vaccinated and put into a TNR program?Anecdotally, yes. But is it bad to worry about your cat getting out? We will have the same procedures for each trapped cat as a lost/found cat in case the cat is owned. At minimum all cats will be held for a required period of 3 days and we will attempt to find the owners of the animal during that time. Free-roaming owned cats will always be against the bylaw.

Are there stats/info for people who don’t know about TNR, when people go into the shelter?
We can definitely start engaging with our customers about TNR programs and how we operate. We also need to inform people that their animals need to be kept indoors and are at risk when they are let loose outside.

How can I help?
Keep an eye on our Facebook page! Aiming for the first TNR meeting in two weeks at APARC. We need your help, we can’t do it without you.

Is there going to be advertising/invitations for people not on Facebook?
Yes. We would have to have a large advertising presence both online and offline to ensure a successful TNR program.

What does APARC do to increase owner knowledge and responsibility, to help ensure they are set for success?
We educate applicants on the behaviours the dog exhibited in shelter, but we also inform the applicant these behaviors are likely to change when they leave the shelter. We evaluate applications for compatibility , such as rejecting applicants with children if the dog has presented that behavior in shelter. We also provide adopters with coupons for local trainers that may be able to assist the owners in eliminating any negative behavior.

Why can’t all the shelters come together under one unit?
We think it is possible, but there are of reasons why being separate units is advantageous. We need specialization, PDCT, SPCA, and APARC all serve different and complementary services. We do not directly compete, but we draw from the same pool of available donors, adopters, and fosters. Competition creates innovation, so we don’t mind having to get creative for our supporters. We have had joint fundraisers in the past and will continue these fundraisers in the future!

Do you take all animals in or just from Medicine Hat?
We prioritize Medicine Hat first. Space depending, we will accommodate surrounding communities.

What is APARCs future goals for adoption awareness and education on bite prevention with dogs?
Every dog we get in is a stray. We only know if the animal is likely to bite if there has been an incident with the Bylaw officer that brings the animal in, or through a report of a concerned citizen. We keep an eye on the behavior of each dog to assess risk factors. If we see any behaviors that indicates a bite risk, we can put safeguards in place if we have to. How it behaves in the shelter is very different than how it will behave in the home, though. We do work with potential adopters to meet and spend some time with the dog before adoption. During dog introductions, we educate adopters about bite risk and potential triggers. We rely on experienced fosters for dogs with behavior issues. We have very high +95% dog reclaim rates, so it is generally not a problem in our facility.

Why are cat reclaims so low?
Cats are plentiful in the wild without owners, cheap (which means the cats are not ‘valuable’ and easily replaceable for some), and cats can be lost for days/weeks before they are found and brought to the facility. Sometimes by that point the cat owner has stopped actively looking. We have faced all these scenarios in our facility.

What do I do with cats I find in the county?
Sometimes we have space, sometimes we know other organizations accepting. Sometimes everyone is full. We are asking people to go to their local council to try and get them to organize or contribute to APARC to possibly start a new facility to accommodate the additional population. Depopulation is option that we are not considering, and would like to focus on TNR, and getting TNR programs setup.

What about changing bylaws to create mandatory spay/neuter for pet owners?
We like that idea! The bylaw could place all owners responsible for sterilizing their pets or be fined. We have some experience in other municipalities that require any impounded animal to be fixed. The impound fee is used to supplement the required surgery costs, effectively acting as a low-cost spay/neuter program for impounded pets. We also think mandatory microchips is a fantastic idea for impounded animals, too!

Does APARC have records or any data of the impact of the Low Cost Spay/Neuter programs in Medicine Hat?
No. As far as we know, the organization(s) that provide these services has not released this information publicly.

Are payment plans going to become available in the future for reclaiming animals?
No. Many of the fees one must pay to reclaim the animal does not belong to APARC. Licensing and impound fees are sent to the City, and usually those are the largest percentage of the impound fee. It is also written within the bylaw the fees must be paid before the animal can be reclaimed. If someone is struggling to pay their impound fee, we do have programs, like Pet Reclaim Assistance for Low Income Families, that assists in these fees for responsible pet owners.

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