PAWS Chicago News item | PAWS Chicago

Protecting Feral Cats

by Julie Mazzola | May 01, 2013

Cook County Feral Cat Ordinance Enables PAWS Chicago to Manage Community Cat Populations

In September 2007, Cook County officials passed groundbreaking feral cat legislation that has become a model for other communities across the nation, providing a legal mechanism for non-profit organizations to care for these animals through Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programs. The data now shows the tangible success of TNR in reducing the community’s cat and kitten overpopulation problem, which means fewer cats and kittens are being killed. 

Before the county ordinance, it could be considered illegal to have an “animal at large” free roaming, but feral cats live outdoors and are not socialized by humans or socialization has deteriorated over time. These cats enjoy a life with other feral cats in a robust colony hierarchy. But the traditional way that most communities across the country try to manage feral cat populations is to “trap and kill,” which means trapping the cats and taking them to Animal Control or a traditional shelter to be euthanized. 

This flawed kill-strategy does not work to reduce cat populations for several reasons. First, it does not engage the community to help. Most citizens will not trap cats in order to kill them. Second, removing cats from a colony does little to limit the population because the remaining cats continue to breed.

The county ordinance, advocated by Dr. Donna Alexander, Director of Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies control, provides for legal Trap-NeuterRelease (TNR), the most humane and progressive way to manage these colonies and control overpopulation. Cat colony caretakers will trap the cats, take them to be spayed/ neutered, vaccinated and ear tipped so that future trappers know that the cat has already been altered. TNR maintains the colony populations with cats that are not breeding, ultimately reducing the number of cats on the streets. 

Under the ordinance, private, non-profit sponsoring agencies, including PAWS Chicago, Tree House and Triple R Pets, are able to provide Trap–Neuter–Release (TNR) services, rabies vaccinations, parasite treatment, microchipping, ear-tipping, food distribution, transportation services, re-homing services, support to cat colony caretakers, and education and training. Through these services, the non-profit organizations provide a humane solution to managing feral cat colonies in Chicago by partnering with the community and reducing the costs to county municipalities for the capture and euthanization of feral cats. 

The impact to Cook County, the City of Chicago and local municipalities has been significant. Community complaints and calls to 311 are now directed to sponsoring organizations. The inhumane and ineffective ‘trap and kill’ method is no longer practiced as an accepted management of feral cats. Additionally, private non-profit agencies assumed 100 percent of the responsibility and management of feral cats, providing a significant reduction in costs and resources to the County, City and municipalities. 

In March, 2013, a progress report on the ordinance was presented to the Cook County Commissioners. 

Today, there are more than 1,000 registered colonies in Cook County that contain a population of more than 7,000 cats. However, within these colonies, once stabilized, there has been a 41 percent reduction in the number of cats in these colonies. Additionally, since 2008, nearly 18,000 feral cats have been sterilized in Cook County, more than 50 percent of whom were females who can have up to two litters a year, averaging three kittens per litter. This has resulted in the prevention of tens of thousands of unwanted, homeless kittens born on the streets. 

The ordinance was challenged in court by the City of Bridgeview, but was upheld at both the city and state level. Not only did the original ruling set a precedent when it was established, but the upheld ruling set another precedent for The ordinance has provided tremendous benefits to Cook County by creating a community of partnerships among No Kill animal welfare agencies, making services and information on feral cats to the general public widely available and easily accessible, and by dramatically decreasing kitten populations coming into Animal Care & Control agencies. It enables the proactive, responsible management of Cook County’s feral cat population by relying on resources, funding and outreach by private, non-profit community, at an estimated investment value of nearly $3 million.

“The feral cat managed care program in Cook County is extremely successful. I would attribute more than 80% of that success to PAWS Chicago through spay/ neuter and community outreach.” - Donna Alexander, Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control

 “PAWS Chicago’s Lurie Spay/Neuter Clinic has performed more than 3,000 sterilization surgeries on our community cats. The level of care PAWS provides each feral cat is unsurpassed, providing the most comprehensive feral cat medical package in Chicago, as well as providing any extra medical care the cat may require when presented. The PAWS staff is knowledgeable of the unique medical needs of feral cats, understands all aspects of Trap Neuter Release, and because of this, PAWS has been critical to the success of our community cat programs.” - Monica Frenden, Safe House Animal Rescue League

“We understand the importance of targeted spay/neutering, microchip and vaccination initiatives. We applaud the work of PAWS Chicago in using these tools to control cat overpopulation in Chicago." - Sandra Alfred, City of Chicago Commission on Animal Care and Control 

“PAWS Chicago serves as a source of information and assistance for caregivers of community cats, including by conducting workshops on TNR. For cats and caregivers sponsored, PAWS provides trapping assistance, further financial assistance, transportation to and from the Lurie Spay/Neuter Clinic, a food bank, community support for caregivers and veterinary care as necessary.” - William Gomaa, Alley Cat Allies

“PAWS Chicago has sterilized more than 4,000 cats in the past five years for Feral Fixers, enabling our organization to move toward its goal of reducing cat overpopulation and euthanasia. PAWS’ staff is always professional and caring, going far beyond the basic requirements expected of them. The quality of their work is something we can rely on with every cat we bring them.” - Tammy McAuley, Feral Fixers

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