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By: Reagan Johnson, Feline Pathway Coordinator
The Humane Society of the Treasure Coast is committed to helping end pet homelessness and overpopulation. We are the only no-kill, open-admission animal welfare organization operating in Martin County. These are statements we make proudly, but what programs do we have that make them a reality?
One of HSTC’s newest life-saving programs has quickly become one of our most critical -- our Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return (TNVR) program. This program is for unowned, free-roaming outdoor cats living in the community. While previously these cats lived outdoors breeding endlessly, constantly adding to the overpopulation problem in our community, now they are able to come to HSTC to be spayed/neutered and vaccinated before being returned to their outdoor homes, which helps end the cycle of cat overpopulation.
After a five-year pilot program in Martin County showed that this program could make big impacts, the Martin County Board of County Commissioners finally voted to implement a TNVR ordinance for our county, which took effect in November of 2017. Prior to our TNVR ordinance being passed, these cats had very few positive outcomes available to them. The cats would be trapped and brought to the shelter, and then most had to be euthanized due to ordinance and a lack of places for them to go.
HSTC isn’t the first to come up with a TNVR program, though! TNVR programs have been established throughout the country and the world over several decades, and they’re making huge impacts in the communities that embrace them. An 11-year study at the University of Central Florida in Orlando showed colony stabilization, improved health, and a 66% reduction in the number of free-roaming cats over the course of the study. These programs are helping cats live healthier lives, while also preventing more kittens from being born outdoors, and ultimately reducing the number of cats living outdoors.
In HSTC’s first eleven months of being able to utilize TNVR for free-roaming cats, 199 cats were saved. At the time, HSTC was working exclusively with Martin County Animal Services on this program. Animal Services would trap the cats and bring them to the shelter, HSTC would provide them with surgery and medical care, and Animal Services would return the cats home. This was the case for our second year of the program as well, with another 201 cats saved.
In 2020 (despite it all!), HSTC was able to start working more directly with caregivers in the community who provide care for free-roaming cats. We established a trap depot, which allows caregivers to rent humane cat traps from HSTC, and we can now book surgery appointments directly with caregivers. This outreach allowed us to save more than double the cats saved in the previous year – 431 cats in total were saved through HSTC’s TNVR program last year!
Local caregivers and trappers are absolutely instrumental in getting community cats in to the shelter for these services. HSTC loves getting to know and work with our local caregivers!
Patty Homan is one of those caregivers, and is a pillar in our TNVR community. Patty currently cares for 8 colonies, totaling 66 cats. She’s been feeding her original group of just 3 cats for 8 years now, and got started in TNVR when she was introduced to another local feline hero, Daria Weber, whose work made the initial five-year pilot program a possibility. Patty and Daria have helped save over 150 cats in Port Salerno alone.
Patty wants everyone to understand that “TNVR improves the health of free-roaming cats. And with kittens removed from the colony, there is a stabilizing effect. You only have to see their happy faces to know it’s both a blessing and a miracle to be able to help in this way.”
Patty works with many local caregivers to get cats fixed through our TNVR program, and she helps to make sure they always have food for the cats as well. “ELEV8HOPE, a local charity in Port Salerno, has been instrumental in providing cat food that I distribute to the feeders” she says, following up with “Please let us know if we can help. I hand out a flyer from the shelter that explains about the program but we can't be everywhere. We need the community.”
If you’re interested in donating food for community cats, you can make donations to ELEV8HOPE or directly to HSTC.
HSTC is very proud to now be able to offer TNVR services for cats not only in Martin County, but for our neighbors in Saint Lucie and Okeechobee Counties as well. Our continued commitment to growing this life-saving program has secured us substantial grant funding, which will allow us to continue this effort to impact even more animals and the people that care for them this year.
All TNVR appointments for both trap rental and surgery are by appointment only! If you care for free-roaming cats and are interested in participating in TNVR, or if you’d like more information about the program, please reach out to us at MartinCountyTNVR@hstc1.org or 772-600-3222.