Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is now the official method to control community cats in the country and all municipalities must work in order to properly implement it.
In August 2017, after almost a decade waiting in Congress, Law 21.020 on Responsible Pet Ownership* was approved and passed in Chile.
This law went through several processes and mutations. It was initially made for the control of potentially dangerous dogs. Over the years new issues were included to the text, most of them related to responsible pet ownership.
The final law introduced several items such as a national identification and registration plan, the promotion of neutering as a tool for population control and the prohibition of “euthanasia” in healthy animals (culling) and as a measure of population control.
Although Latin America is used to the presence of stray cats on the streets, there are very few mentions about cats in the law. In Chile, as in many countries, cats are not recognized, nor mentioned. There are no figures, records, information or anything similar, although as in many countries the reality of cats is one that deserves all the attention.
At present, concepts such as community cats, feral cats and colonies, for the vast majority of the public are something totally unknown or nonexistent.
Regulations on the Responsible Pet Ownership Law
The fact that the law left several gaps concerning cats opened the possibility to include stray cats, cat colonies and TNR in the regulations.
The Law, although quite poor in its wording and content, was explicit in postulating that, in order for it to be implemented, regulations** were required. The drafting of these regulations fell into the hands of two government agencies, the Subdere (Sub-secretariat for Regional Development) and the Minsal (Ministry of Health).
The opportunity brought by the Law has allowed the introduction of a regulation where TNR is mentionned as the method for unowned cat population management. The part of the regulation concerning stray cats and TNR has been drafted by the technical team of the Sub-secretariat for Regional Development.
The regulation includes several articles concerning cat colonies and TNR
Definition of a cat colony
Article 1 – Definitions
d) Colonies of cats: Group of animals of the feline species without a direct responsible holder , living in a territory that may have a variable length. Within a population management plan, a colony can be associated with an address or location, it can be controlled through the TNR method and its variations, and it can be followed up over time by the local authority.
Definition of TNR:
Article 1 – Definitions
r) TNR (trap-neuter-return) or niche control method: Population management method oriented to the control of niches, mainly of colonies of cats with no responsible holder, it can also be applied to canine dog populations without a responsible holder or Community dogs. As its acronym in English indicates, it consists of trapping or retaining an animal, neuter it and vaccinate it, then return it to the place of origin, once it is in conditions for it; it includes a monitoring of follow-up of that group of individuals.
Article 40, included in section 3 on “Population control of community dogs and cats in colonies”
Art 40 – About the colonies of cats. For the population control of the specimens belonging to a cat colony, the TNR method or niche control will also be used.
The provisions of the first paragraph of the preceding article shall apply.
In the act of catching colony cats, only trap-cage should be used, being the animal manipulated inside for purposes of being evaluated and anesthetized for immediate
sterilization. A mark will be made on the left ear, with a straight cut so the cat can
be identified as a neutered cat.
The postoperative period, in the corresponding cases, will be at least twenty-four hours and the cat will also be vaccinated against rabies. The return must be, necessarily, in the same point where the cat has been trapped.
Key people did understand the necessity to recognize the existence of the colonies, and the need to make them visible and to promote their management following an ethical and effective method.
People involved were aware that such management was possible through the municipalities taking into account the progresses that several NGOs such as Felinnos Foundation and Fundación Vínculo Humano Animal had already made in this matter.
Verónica Basterrica Wijnands from Fundación Felinnos says: “The work in the future is enormous and of high responsibility. It is necessary to educate, to inform, and to demonstrate that in fact TNR programs are the only possible way. Work needs to be done to put an end to bad practices by individuals, NGOs, veterinarians and authorities that do not have the necessary knowledge to perform certain procedures. And all stakeholders will have to understand that although there are many reasons why TNR should be implemented, the welfare of the cat should always be considered first”.
Claudia Ruiz Montecino from Fundación Vínculo Humano Animal insists on the importance of education to successfully implement TNR programs in Chile: “Education is vital, emphasizing that harmonious coexistence between cats and people is possible, with real examples to demonstrate this fact. Information about the method has to be published and shared to show its positive results for everyone: cats, wildlife, community, administration, etc”.
The two organizations have been working seriously, with a height of view, seeking to generate real changes for the good of cats, the rest of the animals and the community, before the regulations were adopted.
They are grateful but equally aware of the responsibility they are carrying and hope that the conservationist world will become more flexible and open to collaboration and will understand that the culling of animals has never been and will never be a solution.
* Law Nº 21-020 on “Companion Animals Responsible Ownership”, published in the Official Diary on the 2nd August 2017.
** Regulations on the implementation of the Law Reglamentos Ley 21.020
Pictures © Verónica Basterrica Wijnands