In 2018, numerous negative animal welfare practices came to light in Burke County. Advocates who had pressed for changes for years came forward to form the Burke County Animal Welfare Alliance to establish practices that would move the county toward no-kill.

One such need is a countywide Trap-Neuter-Return program, which several knowledgeable local cat folks can assist with. Sometimes the term, “Monitor” is added to indicate that once the colony has been spayed/neutered/vaccinated, it should be monitored by the caregiver for any new kitties or signs of illness.

For the best information on TNR, please read the Best Friends Animal Society article, “TNR for Stray Cats: Meaning, History, Statistics.” It is both short and very informative.

We have needed, and advocated for, a workable TNR program for Burke County for a long time. TNR has been proven repeatedly by dozens of recognized studies that it is the only method that works to stabilize community cat colonies.

When Burke County moved the animal shelter (now animal services) from the Sheriff’s Office to the County Manager’s oversight, and he backed the initiative to change how things operated, it was definitely a positive step for animals.

The faces of a new era in Burke County’s animal welfare efforts include a new director, Kaitlin Settlemyre, and two staff members, Lindsay Stump and Alicia Grindstaff, who were hired to run the facility and, even though the task is daunting now, they seem to be moving in the right direction, understanding that transformation is slow, but efforts must be steady and focused.

So far, dealings with animal services personnel has been pleasant and positive. Kaitlin has made the right move by engaging personnel from Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS) to provide guidance and advice on shelter operations. Another team from there is scheduled to do a full assessment in February 2020 – definitely good initiatives. Given proper backing from the county, no-kill can become reality. Local animal welfare advocates are also volunteering support.

For those not familiar with BFAS, they are internationally recognized: “Best Friends Animal Society is a national animal welfare organization dedicated to ending the killing of dogs and cats in America's shelters. In addition to running lifesaving programs in partnership with more than 2,500 animal welfare groups across the country, Best Friends has regional centers in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Salt Lake City, and operates the nation's largest no-kill sanctuary for companion animals.”

How can you help? Persistently voice support for the county’s no-kill initiative. Visit the animal services facility to meet and support the new staff. Volunteer for a support team. Not into trapping and feeding? OK, how about teaching people about community cats and TNR programs? Issuing/re-collecting loaned traps? Maybe publicizing the need for, and availability of, low-cost spay/neuter? There are so many ways – just check with animal services personnel to see what they need.

Another area is donor-supported funding. Burke County needs an approved, educational nonprofit to keep the community informed of progress and provide money for spay/neuter services. Press for a way local residents can support these initiatives. TNR works in hundreds of communities throughout the country. It can work in Burke County.

Someone at a recent Animal Advisory Board spoke out against TNR programs. Their reasoning goes against decades of sound scientific studies, plus they offered no workable alternative to Burke County’s situation, which has been high-kill for decades.

BFAS’s position:

» “With TNR, community cats are humanely trapped, evaluated and spayed or neutered by a licensed veterinarian, ear-tipped to show they’ve been sterilized, vaccinated against rabies and distemper, and then returned to their original outdoor homes to live out their lives.

» “Done properly, TNR is effective at humanely managing and reducing the population of community cats, and offers the additional benefit of reducing nuisance complaints. The surgical sterilization of cats . . . eliminates the production of the hormones estrogen and testosterone, which reduces the likelihood of various mating-related behaviors (yowling, fighting, spraying, etc.) that lead to such complaints.”

ASPCA’a position: “… unsocialized community cats are best served by focusing resources on TNRM and RTF [Return to Field] programs, distribution of exclusionary devices (such as fencing and keeping garbage cans closed) and deterrent, and public education concerning the humane management of community cats.”

Alley Cat Allies offers a complete T/N/R/M guide.

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Alice Kopacki is with Partners for Cats.

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