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Community benefits of desex and return

Summary of advantages of desex and return:

  • better long-term population control
  • greater cost effectiveness
  • minimal cat behaviour problems
  • increased cooperation between residents and cat management authorities
  • satisfaction for cat carers
  • improved cat health

 As demonstrated in the previous sections, desex-and-return provides better population control than cycles of killing:

Colonies remain stable over many years provided the occasional successful immigrant is trapped and neutered ... before it breeds. Hence a properly supervised neutered colony can provide better long-term control of cat problems compared with repeated culling of an ever-reforming colony." (6)

This result is achieved at lower cost to the community. For example, Orange County in Florida calculated that it cost $83 per cat less to desex and return than to impound, hold for the required 5 days, and then euthanase. Over a 10 year period, the county saved over $650,000 as a result of desex and return (11).

Research by UFAW in London showed that in the first year of operation, desex and return was more expensive than trap and destroy. However, because maintenance costs after the first year were minimal, only desexing the occasional immigrant, desex and return became cost effective after 1-2 years (1). In contrast, trap and destroy costs continue indefinitely.

Desexing and the existence of stable colonies alters cat behaviour and minimises problems:

"Neutering the toms will reduce spraying, fighting and caterwauling, and stop the pungent smell of tomcat urine. Neutering the females will stop the production of kittens. The group will remain together, particularly if based on a family, and only unneutered toms will tend to wander away ... It has been found that cats in a neutered group show less aggression and more affection towards each other. They also become more tame and more friendly towards the feeders, thus giving the feeders more satisfaction in their task." (1)

When authorities adopt a heavy-handed approach and destroy cats, they cause ill-will and distress in the community. The desex-and-return programme, on the other hand, is based on cooperation and positive interactions between residents and authorities:

Through community involvement, the program allows the county's animal service employees and citizens concerned about the cats' welfare to view each other with a new perspective and understanding rather than as adversaries ... The establishment of the feral cat program was done without a change in the county code through the persistence and teawork of concerned citizens and county officials. Thus, the Orange County program is a testament to the ability of communities to effectively approach their companion animal overpopulation problems through a collaborative effort among the citizens, government, and volunteer organisations to promote increased animal welfare." (11)

Caring for cat colonies can be particularly beneficial for people in institutions, as for example in the case of the hospital in Louisiana:

"The positive effect of pets on institutionalised people is well established, but the keeping of pets if often impractical in an institutional setting. Many of the patients at GWLHDC have long regarded the cats as pets, and feeding and watching the cats is a regular daily ritual with many of the patients." (5)

The same can also apply to elderly people in residential care:

"Caring for free-roaming cats can be of psychologic benefit for lonely elderly adults, because it allows them to perform meaningful tasks, provides an outlet for affection, gets them outdoors, helps prevent depression, reduces social isolation, and provides companionship and the opportunity to nurture." (4)

In a more general survey in Hawaii, benefits to carers included the opportunity for nurturing and enhanced feelings of self-esteem (8).

Finally, cats benefit from being able to live out their lives in a stable social group and from being healthier as a result. Everyone benefits!