Decrease in population and increase in welfare of community cats in a twenty-three year trap-neuter-return program in key Largo, FL: the ORCAT program.
The objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of a long-term (23-year) trap-neuter-return program on the population size of community cats in the Ocean Reef Community and to describe the demographic composition and outcome of enrolled cats. A retrospective study was performed using both cat census data collected between 1999 and 2013 as well as individual medical records for cats whose first visit occurred between 3/31/1995 and 12/31/2017. Medical record entries were reviewed to determine program inputs, cat outcomes, retroviral disease prevalence, and average age of first visit, sterilization, and death through 6/11/2018. Change over time was analyzed via linear regression. The free-roaming population decreased from 455 cats recorded in 1999 to 206 recorded in 2013 (55% decrease, P<0.0001). There were 3,487 visits recorded for 2,529 community cats, with 869 ovariohysterectomies and 822 orchiectomies performed. At last recorded visit, there were 1,111 cats returned back to their original location, and 1,419 cats removed via adoption (510), transfer to the adoption center (201), euthanasia of unhealthy or retrovirus positive cats (441), died in care (58), or outcome of dead on arrival (209). The number of first visits per year decreased 80% from 348 in 1995 to 68 in 2017. The estimated average age of the active cat population increased by 0.003 months each year (P=0.031) from 16.6 months in 1995 to 43.8 months in 2017. The mean age of cats at removal increased 1.9 months per year over time (P<0.0001) from 6.4 months in 1995 to 77.3 months in 2017. The mean age of cats at return to the original location was 20.8 months, which did not change over time. The overall retrovirus prevalence over the entire duration was 6.5%, with FIV identified in 3.3% of cats and FeLV identified in 3.6%. Retrovirus prevalence decreased by 0.32% per year (P=0.001), with FIV decreasing by 0.16% per year (P=0.013) and FeLV decreasing 0.18% per year (P=0.033). In conclusion, a trap-neuter-return program operating for over two decades achieved a decrease in population and an increase in population welfare as measured by increased average age of population and decreased retrovirus prevalence.