Landmark vote is a huge win for cats in the city of Los Angeles

I don’t know how Los Angeles cat lovers celebrated National Cat Day this year, but I’m pretty sure the champagne corks were popping on December 8! And I’m not talking about the New Year’s Eve, buy-it-by-the-case stuff with the plastic corks. Yesterday was a day for the fancy French champagne — the bubbly you save for a special occasion.

On Tuesday, after nearly 11 years of legal, political and financial wrangling, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to approve the final environmental impact report (EIR), which is by far the biggest hurdle allowing the city to move forward on the long-awaited Citywide Cat Program. The program includes a robust trap-neuter-return (TNR) program coordinated by L.A. Animal Services (LAAS) and funding for 20,000 community cat spay/neuter surgeries annually, in addition to funds already allocated for residents’ pets.

Of course, we know that targeted TNR programs are the most effective way to manage community cats, and these programs are operating all over the country. So why the fancy champagne for Los Angeles? Well, since 2010, the City of Los Angeles (the second largest city in the country) has been prohibited by a court injunction from any involvement with TNR. And the terms of the injunction were very broad, to the point where LAAS staff couldn’t even refer residents to TNR groups or describe what TNR is. The injunction was part of a lawsuit brought by people concerned that TNR might have a negative impact on local wildlife, and that the city needed to conduct an EIR before implementing its TNR program.

If you’re thinking what I’m thinking — that sterilized free-roaming cats would have less impact on wildlife than free-roaming cats who were out there making more free-roaming cats — then not only do we agree, but the results of the EIR agree with us as well.

The EIR concluded that the proposed Citywide Cat Program will have no significant environmental impacts and, in fact, it is the best way to control the free-roaming cat population. Yesterday morning, the city council officially certified the EIR (all 716 pages!), agreeing with its findings and approving the program.

To really appreciate how big a milestone this is, consider some of the challenges that L.A. has faced in recent years. Although the city council has voted repeatedly to make its six-shelter system no-kill, that ambitious goal has remained out of reach, largely because of the injunction. Since 2017, more than 90% of the dogs entering LAAS have made it out alive, and a 90% save rate is the benchmark for no-kill. But today, only 83% of cats are leaving the shelters alive. And this is despite the heroic efforts of LAAS staff and leadership.

To give even more context to all of this, beginning in 2013, Best Friends opened a kitten nursery at our Mission Hills center, pulling approximately 3,000 newborn kittens from LAAS annually. But saving the lives of fragile kittens takes a huge toll, both financially and emotionally. And the kittens just keep coming. Last year, intake of young kittens was up 20% over 2018, exceeding 13,000. Obviously, this approach is unsustainable. A far more effective approach would be (again, obviously) to “turn the water off at the tap” by spaying and neutering more community cats.

This is the approach that L.A. has now committed to. It’s one that enjoys strong public support across the country and is proven to be incredibly effective. In addition to making TNR an official LAAS policy, the agency’s staff will now be able to help residents interested in having community cats sterilized, refer them to TNR groups when additional assistance is necessary, and offer educational materials that explain best practices. So you see just how huge this is.

We are enormously grateful to the L.A. City Council — as well as LAAS, the Bureau of Engineering and the Board of Animal Services Commissioners — whose commitment, diligence and dedication to public service have made the Citywide Cat Program possible. And we’re incredibly grateful to the thousands of residents who responded to our action alert and online petition, encouraging their elected officials to vote in favor of the program.

Tuesday was a great day — not just for community cats and the Angelenos who care for them, but for the city’s wildlife, which we all want to protect.

Although approving the EIR is, by far, the most important step in moving L.A. to a robust TNR program, our work isn’t done. The next step is for the judge to lift the injunction and then to continue to support the city in implementing the revised, targeted community cat program. You can help in this effort by joining our 2025 Action Team in L.A. or starting one in your community. Go to bestfriends.org/actionteam to find out how.

October 29 will always be National Cat Day but from now on, December 8 will be another cause for celebration by cat lovers in Los Angeles, and all over the country, and a day that we celebrate the hard work and dedication of animal lovers everywhere.

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