365 days ago – May 25, 2017
By Joy Smith
That’s the date I first visited this shelter. At that time every cage was filled; most of them with 2 cats or a litter of kittens. Traps and transfer cages were sitting on the floor waiting for space to be vacated so the cats could be moved to a cage. To wait out their mandatory stray hold. Then leave through the back door. In a plastic bag. To make space for the wave of cats and kittens who would be coming in the next day.
In 2017 74% of the cats and kittens that came in through the front door of this shelter left through the back door. 1,131 cats and kittens were euthanized here in 2017.
In 2016 79% were killed. 1,371 cats and kittens never had a chance to live. In 2015 86%, nearly 9 of every 10 cats and kittens who came in were euthanized. 1,431.
That’s 3,936 lives in 3 years. Adorable purring kittens. Pampered house pets who owner had died and no one in the family wanted. Frightened ferals whose only crime was being left intact to wander the streets in search of a mate to continue the cycle of homeless kittens being born. Born to be brought to this shelter. To be killed.
I left that day – my head spinning with the magnitude of the work to be done; my arms anxious to get around all these animals and provide safe outcomes for them.
Today, just 365 days after that first visit I have a very different story to tell. A much better one.
For the first 4 months of 2018 – January – April – 88% of the cats in this shelter went out the front door! Yes, 257 cats and kittens have a chance at a life. And that includes the feral cats – also known as community cats.
Let me tell you how we are accomplishing this incredible turnaround and hopefully inspire you to be part of the ongoing solution. Because our work is just beginning.
In 2017 we did some transfer programs for the adoptable cats but the sheer volume of kittens and ferals made it a challenge to have a significant impact immediately. Especially without much needed resources of funds and a local high volume spay/neuter clinic.
In December, we decided we couldn’t wait any longer – 2018 needed to be a new day – a new year for cats in Yuba County. So, along with the staff we started a grass roots effort to make a change. I say grass roots because nothing was really different than when I first visited in June.
We still had no local access to high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter
We still had little to no funds. We still had an archaic culture of trap and kill as a way to control community and feral cats. A method that we know is no longer works.
But we couldn’t wait any longer. Cats were dying while we waited for a magic solution to come along. So we rolled up our sleeves and went to work. Each day a challenge to find a solution.
We started by clearing the shelter on December 22nd. A Christmas present to the cats and to the staff here at the shelter. They could spend their first Christmas in a long time without the knowledge of having spent their Christmas Eve killing cats weighing on their mind.
At the beginning we started coming up with ways to address the main categories of cats.
Highly adoptable cats – Thanks to our very fantastic partners we are transferring cats into adoption programs at other shelters. Shelters like San Francisco SPCA and Humane Society of Silicon Valley. As well as shelters in our region, including our own shelter FieldHaven. We have transferred dozens of cats into highly successful adoption programs – and continue to do so. We are even working on connecting with the ASPCA as they transport cats from Los Angeles to Oregon and Washington. We can meet at locations along the I-5 corridor to transfer. Yes, you may hear of cat deals going down in truckstop parking lots soon!
Medically Challenged cats are transferred to FieldHaven where we provide them with the medical care to give them a 10th live to bring them back to health so they can be adoptable. Or to provide hospice and comfort care for the last days of their life.
Recently, when a young, battle scarred and fractured orange tabby wandered into Jeannette’s bathroom at 4 am we started the O’Malley Fund in partnership with Marysville Veterinary Hospital. He received life saving surgery and is now recovering in a foster home. The O’Malley fund continues on to help other shelter cats that need immediate life-saving treatment or surgery beyond what the shelter budget can bear.
Kittens are going into FieldHaven’s foster program. We have a pool of volunteers who are on standby to come pick up those very fragile neonates and transport to FieldHaven; kittens who are sometimes only hours old.
Feral/Community cats are the biggest challenge. Until we can get all the communities of Yuba to fully embrace and adopt a culture of TNR (trap, neuter, return) and RTF (return to field) we are doing what we can day by day, cat by cat.
Thanks to a generous donation by FieldHaven volunteer and the generosity of Country Corner Veterinary Hospital we are spaying and neutering every feral/community cat that comes into the shelter. Some of these cats are adopted out as barn cats but we are just now launching a Return to Field approach. Putting the cats back where they were living so they can go back to their life, without producing more homeless kittens. We are looking forward to increasing the RTFs. If RTF is not the best solution for a cat we will find another avenue for getting that cat out of the shelter. One that does not include euthanasia unless that is the best decision for humane and quality of life reasons. Each cat is spayed/neutered, vaccinated and ear-tipped before RTFing.
Our funding for all programs here is very limited but we are determined to forge ahead. We are applying for grants and donations to fund our efforts and so we can continue the life-saving.
Working with the staff here at the shelter has been so inspiring and rewarding. I have personally watched the shelter staff evolve from being defeated, discouraged, disheartened to enthusiastic, optimistic and grateful.
How would you feel coming to work every day knowing you are going to have to pick 4 to kill?
2 adorable, playful kittens, the lap kitty that could’ve been your grandmother’s faithful companion. Until she passed away and no one in the family wanted her and 1 frightened, shy, pregnant community cat. BTW, she only counts as 1 euthanasia even though she was near term with 5 kittens.
That was happening each day, every day.
But it’s a new day here at Yuba County Animal Care Services
We have set the bar very high with an 88% live release rate – nearly 9 of every 10 cats coming in through the front door are leaving through the front door. We hope to achieve 90% by year end. The first four months of the year are always the easiest; with a break in kitten season and the winter weather keeping many community cats under cover there is lower intake. May through September is our highest volume for intakes.
It gives me pleasure to announce a few steps forward to help us in our quest to not only maintain but improve upon that 88% live release rate. To a day when only cats are euthanized for humane reasons.
FieldHaven is opening a low-cost/high volume spay/neuter clinic within the next few weeks. It’s not local to the shelter here but it is a huge step up from what we currently have.
FieldHaven has entered into a partnership with the City of Marysville to start a TNR program. Community cats will be trapped, transported to our spay/neuter clinic then returned to their home – the location where they came from. Marysville will become first Yuba County city to be community cat friendly.
We are making improvements at the Yuba County shelter. Portals from the Million Cat Challenge will help provide better, safer more comfortable housing for the cats; reducing stress which reduces shelter illness and allows us to more adequately assess their behavior. Think of yourself stuck in the middle seat of a 9 hour airline flight. You have no idea why you’re there and where the flight is headed. And by the way, there’s a porta-potty right next to you. Then someone comes along and says “are you happy today?”. That’s what it’s like for a cat stuck in a tiny cage. These portals will double the space a cat has – and allow his bathroom to be in a separate room!