Shelter Neuter Return (SNR) can be inhumane

NEWS AND COMMENT – SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA, USA: Shelter Neuter Return (SNR) is a fairly new method of dealing with friendly domestic cats who have been picked up by neighbours because they are apparently without an owner and taken to a shelter. The shelter does not find a new home for these friendly cats but they make sure that they are spayed or neutered and return them to a homeless urban environment where they are endangered.

It’s an extension of the “no kill” policy that some shelters have adopted. It is controversial as you can imagine because although the domestic cats taken to them are not killed by the shelter (euthanised) they are put back where they came from which is a dangerous environment. The policy is dressed up as an alternative to TNR which as you know stands for Trap Neuter Return (or Release).

San Diego animal shelter kitten
San Diego animal shelter kitten. Photo: K.C. Alfred
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

But, of course, TNR refers to feral cats which live in the wild, either the urban environment or genuinely in the wild. And feral cat colonies are often cared for by kind volunteers. So taking feral cats back to where they came from after being sterilised is sensible especially when they are fed and looked after to a certain extent.

But is it sensible to, in effect, reject a domestic cat who has been brought to a shelter because that’s what it is? The policy of SNR is so controversial that in San Diego, USA, an attorney, Brian Pease, who represents the Animal Protection and Rescue League and the Paw Protectors Rescue has written to the president of the San Diego Humane Society, Gary Weitzman, who runs SNR, demanding that they cease the process.

The letter demands that the Humane Society, “Immediately cease from releasing friendly, adoptable cats back to the street and that any and all plans to start releasing friendly, adoptable cats be cancelled.”

It is a letter before action in that if the San Diego Humane Society do not change policy and abandon SNR, legal action will be commenced. In San Diego the Humane Society has taken over animal control responsibilities. They instigated SNR which is described as a pilot programme. As mentioned, cats brought to the Humane Society shelter are checked over, spayed and neutered, vaccinated and then returned to the streets. They are treating the cats as if they are feral but these are domesticated cats, friendly and perfect for rehoming.

Records indicate that 718 cats have been through this process. They’ve been logged as “stray” and listed as “return to habitat”. Of cats listed as “return to habitat”, records indicate that 30% of them were brought to the shelter in a carrier with a note saying that they were friendly and able to be handled and petted.

The attorney, Brian Peace, claims that it is illegal to release friendly adoptable cats in the same way that you release feral cats. He’s probably referring to illegal abandonment. In effect, the shelter is abandoning domestic cats which can be rehomed and should be in homes.

Gary Weitzman has said that they will keep SNR and that they are encouraged by the results. In other words the pilot scheme is going well according to him and, “We will be officially launching this program in the next few months and are confident it will lead to the best outcomes for community cats.”

The problem with his statement is that these are often not community cats. These are domestic cats which just happened to be picked up by somebody and taken to the shelter. I don’t know whether they check for microchips. Perhaps they do but the turnaround is very quick according to one lady who had dropped off a domestic cat but was told three days later to return to pick him up to release him on the streets. The cat was noted as friendly. The woman was upset. She said, “I can’t believe you did not give them time to be adopted”.

She was told that this was a community cat and that they would thrive in the community rather than being confined to a home. The woman said in response, “They aren’t feral or community cats! They are starving!”

Weitzman says that there are an estimated 300,000 community cats in the county and that it is critical that they evolve matters to deal with them. His evolved method is to turn away cats because that is what they are doing. It is a way of avoiding killing them at the shelter.

Comment: the problem is that Gary Weitzman has mixed up community cats with true domestic cats and it is no doubt cruel to not try and rehome domestic cats but to send them back to the streets from where they have been saved by kind people and taken to his shelter.

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