By Kerry McKeel, Best Friends Animal Society, bestfriends.org

Life on the streets can be rough for a stray kitten. But in Houston, free-roaming cats and kittens are getting a big hand up. Since 2018, Best Friends Animal Society and Harris County Pets have partnered to run a successful community cat program (CCP) that utilizes trap-neuter-return (TNR), a proactive, humane way to help Houston’s community (aka stray and feral) cats stay safe and out of shelters. Since the partnership began, the two organizations have spayed or neutered and vaccinated nearly 10,000 cats. 
Most stray and free-roaming cats are not adoptable because they are unsocialized to people, so a trip to the shelter usually means a less than positive outcome. Community cat programs keep our feral friends out of shelters by utilizing TNR, which provides for cats being humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated and then releasing them back to their outdoor homes with as little stress as possible. That way, local shelters have more room for adoptable cats. It’s a win-win solution that has had remarkable results in Houston. 
In 2017, Harris County Animal Shelter saved just 57% of the cats coming through its doors. In 2018, Dr. Michael White, director of veterinary public health in Harris County and his amazing team, embraced the CCP and as a result, the bustling urban shelter raised its save rate for cats to 94%. What a difference a year makes!
“I have to admit that a few years ago, I was not in favor of TNR programs,” says Dr. White. “But there was almost no positive outcome for cats in our shelter at that time, and I really needed a solution for saving the lives of these cats. This was really distressing for me, and it’s what prompted me to take a better look at the program and consider the pros and cons. Now, I’m a true believer and supporter of community cat programs.”
Best Friends has launched and coordinated successful community cat programs all over the country with equally impressive results. Now, after three years of collaboration, Best Friends is about to pass the reins on to Harris County Pets, but will continue hosting monthly spay/neuter clinics in Houston. Volunteers are needed to keep the program robust and help inspire other shelters and towns in the greater Houston area to start programs of their own.
Why not be a trap-and-release liaison for the crucial work of getting free-roamers to and from the place they call home? You can also offer clinic support on surgery days, do data entry or be a spay/neuter event volunteer. Please email us at houstonvolunteer@bestfriends.org to learn more about volunteering to help community cats.
One thousand cats are killed every day in Texas shelters. To achieve no-kill, we need robust community cat programs. Thank goodness Houston opened its heart to TNR. Sterilization, vaccination and a safe return home give community cats and kittens the big hand up they need to thrive.