Grant helps animal services try to ‘Save Them All’

Visalia Animal Care Center awarded a Rachael Ray Save Them All Grant to expand its trap/neuter/release program to Farmersville, Exeter and Dinuba

VISALIA — Visalia has reduced its euthanasia rates for stray cats by 25% since 2019 and now is hoping to do the same in neighboring communities thanks to a recent grant.

Last month, the Visalia Animal Care Center, the city’s animal control facility, was awarded a $38,000 Rachael Ray Save Them All grant from the national animal welfare organization Best Friends Animal Society, which operates the nation’s largest no-kill sanctuary for companion animals. The grant is funded by a portion of proceeds from each sale of Rachael Ray’s pet food, Nutrish.

Animal Services Superintendent Amy Ruiz said the $13,000 of the funding will allow the city to expand its trap/neuter/release (TNR) program to the cities of Farmersville, Exeter and Dinuba to humanely manage the area’s feral cats.

“It’s very exciting to share the news that thanks to this grant we’ll be able to launch our Operation TNR in Farmersville, Exeter and Dinuba to humanely manage the area’s community cats,” Ivy Ruiz with the city’s Animal Services said. “Thanks to Best Friends Animal Society, we can extend our program to these areas.”

Visalia Animal Services provides animal control officers and sheltering for animals found in Farmersville and Exeter and just sheltering services in Dinuba. Through this grant funding, Visalia’s Operation TNR program will expand, sterilizing and vaccinating free-roaming, unowned cats, and then return them to their outdoor homes to live out their natural lives without reproducing.

The program targets community cats who are at serious risk if they enter shelters. About 70% of all cats in Visalia taken to the animal control facility were euthanized in 2018. Since adopting the TNR program in August 2019, the euthanizing rate has dropped to 48%.

Visalia adopted its TNR program after hearing a presentation by Dr. Cynthia Karsten, DVM who shared studies showing euthanizing cats actually increased overcrowding at animal control facilities. The problem with “removing” a cat from the equation is that it doesn’t make a large enough dent in the population, not to mention it makes those working at the shelter feel worse about their jobs, especially when it has the opposite effect on the overall population. Once a cat is in heat, it will remain in heat until it mates. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that the only way to prevent cats from making more cats is to spay and neuter them. Once a feral cat has been altered, it goes back into the population where it can’t breed but will continue to mate with unaltered male cats. Over the course of its lifetime, the altered cat will not deliver litters of babies that would have been born if that cat was never fixed.

Ruiz said the drastically reduced number of euthanasia has the added benefit of employee morale. She said prior to the TNR program, overcrowding at the facility forced Animal Services to euthanize all of the cats that could not be adopted out.

“It’s the difference between looking forward to coming to work because there is hope and dreading work because you know what has to be done that day,” Ruiz said.

Reducing litters of kittens also reduces the number of dead cats found in a community. Most of the inhumane suffering of cats occurs in kittens, which have just a 25% survival rate compared with 90% of adult cats. Sterilizing and vaccinating adult cats further reduces the risk of having sickly kittens who are more likely to be euthanized at the shelter or die out in the community. Ruiz said $25,000 of the grant will be used to start a Foster Program in Exeter, Farmersville and Dinuba where volunteers can care for kittens at home until they are eight weeks old, when they can be spay or neutered so the can be adopted out. The combined goal is to spay/neuter 272 cats between Exeter and Farmersville and 100 cats in Dinuba by February 2022.

“Thanks to this grant, we’ll be utilizing a proven solution, TNR, to save hundreds of cats’ lives,” Ruiz said. “We would like to thank Best Friends Animal Society for their support in making this project a great success.”

Best Friends Animal Society is a leading national animal welfare organization dedicated to ending the killing of dogs and cats in America’s shelters. Founded in 1984, Best Friends is a pioneer in the no-kill movement and has helped reduce the number of animals killed in shelters nationwide from an estimated 17 million per year to around 625,000. Determined to bring the country to no-kill by the year 2025, Best Friends and its nationwide network of members and partners are working to Save Them All. To check out the pet lifesaving dashboard and for more information, visit bestfriends.org.

Anyone with questions about the TNR program should contact the Visalia Animal Care center by calling 559-713-4700 or visiting www.visalia.city.

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