Picking up where I left off in the first installment of our 2025 halftime report, let’s look at some of the signature programs that have helped drive the remarkable progress we’ve made as a movement and that are helping to transform historically underserved, “off the radar” communities.
In case you haven’t been following the trend lines of shelter data, more than two cats are now being killed for every dog in U.S. shelters. Of the estimated 500,000 healthy pets who lost their lives in shelters in 2020, more than 330,000 of them were cats and many of those were kittens.
This is not a new phenomenon. Historically, animal control agencies and shelters were designed to manage stray and homeless dog populations, usually with lethal consequences. Shelters are often stressful and terrifying places for stray dogs, but as bad as they are for dogs, shelters have been exponentially worse for cats, with exponentially more lethal outcomes.
On top of that, free-roaming and stray cats — who are living in our communities as familiar, if shy faces — have been a fact of American life since Europeans arrived on these shores. The downside of this longstanding relationship is that unfixed community cats produce an abundance of kittens, who are often taken to local shelters by well-meaning folks, multiplying the population of cats in shelters and the number of cat deaths.
The good news is that we have a silver-bullet solution that has an immediate lifesaving impact wherever it is implemented. Best Friends community cat programs (CCPs) are high-volume trap-neuter-return (TNR) partnerships that are a community collaboration often operated through the animal control shelter system. Best Friends has three flavors of CCP. In one type, we embed one or two of our staff specialists in the target shelter to run and manage the program for a period of time and then transition it to local control. The second type involves mentoring local shelter staff to implement the program, and the third type is a hybrid of both.
The first group of CCPs, begun before 2016, was managed by embedded Best Friends staff working hand-in-hand with local shelter staff. The three-year run of these CCPs has been completed, with transfer to local management, and each CCP transformed that community’s relationship to free-roaming cats. Here are some stats showing the astounding success of these programs:
Community Cat save rate before CCP Cat save rate after CCP
Pima County, Arizona 51% 90%
Columbus, Georgia 54% 87%
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 64% 79%
Las Vegas, Nevada 33% 75%
Riverside County, California 32% 85%
Baltimore, Maryland 65% 82%
CCPs run by Best Friends or modeled on our programs have proven to be the single most effective and humane management tool for community cat populations. Period. In 2018 alone, more than 20,000 cats were saved as a result of our work with CCP partner agencies. In 2019, cat lifesaving improvement was 12 times greater for shelters with which we engaged on cat programming vs. other shelters. And while TNR is often the main focus, our teams also help implement, mentor and train shelter partners in all aspects of cat lifesaving, including neonatal kittens, cat foster programs, special-needs cats and more.
Currently, we have CCPs in 25 communities around the country, including Osceola County, Florida; Modesto, California; Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; Harris County, Dallas, Palm Valley, Harlingen and Santa Rosa in Texas; Aztec and Farmington in New Mexico; and Salt Lake City and southern Utah.
Without fail, the lifesaving impact of CCPs is transformative. They epitomize the community-supported sheltering that Best Friends has been advocating for years, which involves community members, the local municipal shelter and/or animal control, and various nonprofits all working together to support a common goal — caring for the cats living in our communities while humanely reducing their numbers overall. CCPs have literally made animal control officers cry at the realization that they don’t have to kill cats anymore.
I’d like to give some applause here for Maddie’s Fund® and PetSmart Charities, along with several regional foundations, whose forward-thinking grant makers have been making this lifesaving mission possible.