For 151 years, the San Francisco SPCA has been steadfastly committed to improving the lives of animals in our community and beyond. Throughout our entire history, we have been continually learning and striving to apply new evidence-based findings to help animals as best we can.
In order to best serve the feral cats of San Francisco, we have changed our policy regarding unweaned feral kittens. The SF SPCA will no longer proactively bring feral moms with kittens who are less than one month old into the shelter, which is the age when they can be weaned.
We now know that we can dramatically improve welfare by leaving feral queens in their outdoor homes, with their litter, until the kittens are old enough to be separated from their mom. Just like other animals, feral moms know how to protect their babies in their outdoor habitat.
Adult feral cats are scared of humans and often terrified of being indoors. Keeping a terrified feral mom in captivity for an extended period of time to protect her kittens is not humane, and the significant amount of stress it causes can create health problems for both the mom and her babies. We see a higher mortality rate with very young unweaned kittens. The more humane option is to leave the cats in their outdoor home, until the kittens are old enough to be separated.
If a feral queen and litter are in an unsafe place or distressed, we will work with SF Animal Care and Control to intervene and shelter them.
San Francisco is not alone or even on the forefront of this change; it has been implemented in communities around the country. Our new policy is in keeping with the approach recommended by leading cat welfare organizations like the Humane Society of the United States, Alley Cat Allies, Arizona Humane Society, and Koret Shelter Medicine Program at UC Davis. (click the links to read their policies).
The SF SPCA will continue to provide free spay/neuter and medical services for hundreds of feral cats each year through Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), as well as support the committed volunteers who help with these efforts. TNR means trapping unaltered cats, spaying/neutering them, vaccinating them against rabies and feline-specific diseases, and returning them to where they were. TNR allows feral cats to live out their lives without reproducing, while reducing nuisance behaviors and creating a healthier population. Over the last 25 years, the SF SPCA has provided free spay/neuter surgeries for over 30,000 cats.
We remain unshakably committed to doing what is best for San Francisco’s animals, and we are confident this new policy provides the best welfare and outcomes for both feral queens and their kittens.