Reducing Sierra County’s Overpopulation of Community Cats

by Joyce Robbin Brodsky | November 3, 2020
5 min read
A colony living on the north end of Truth or Consequences eats from a communal bowl set out by a resident. SCARS is currently working to trap, neuter and release its members. Photograph by Marian Thornton of MDTCAT copyright © 2020

Sierra County Animal Rescue Society was formed in the spring of 2015 with the purpose of supporting the planned city animal shelter in Truth or Consequences. We SCARS board members recruited and trained volunteers and held fundraisers to pay for equipment, food, medicine and other supplies that were not included in the shelter’s startup budget.

Then came Covid-19. SCARS now focuses on ways to keep animals out of the shelter by donating food and helping with vet bills for those individuals who are out of work and stressed to the point of wanting to surrender their pets. One of the most important services we provide to reduce the number of pets being taken in or surrendered to the shelter is to spay and neuter owned and stray animals in Sierra County.

Sierra County suffers from an overpopulation of free-roaming cats. Often, concerned individuals provide these strays with food and water. Animal welfare agencies refer to these felines as community cats. And community cats are just that. No one individual is responsible for any single animal or group or colony. The cats are friendly-stray or abandoned cats, as well as feral (unsocialized) cats. Now, with the onset of winter, caring people feel even more compelled to shelter and protect these animals, which only exacerbates the overpopulation problem.

The Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have recommendations for dealing with this situation. TNR, as this methodology is called, means to trap, neuter and release or return to field (RTF). Individual cats are trapped, undergo spay or neuter surgeries, then they are vaccinated against rabies and, finally, one ear is clipped so that it is obvious they have been sterilized. Then they are returned to their colony, or if the animals are friendly or very young, they are vaccinated, fostered and sent to rescues as far away as Phoenix.

We estimate the number of feral colonies in Truth or Consequences alone to be over 20. In Arrey, Williamsburg and Elephant Butte, that number is likely double. Three colonies in Williamsburg, Hillsboro and Elephant Butte that SCARS has successfully brought under control numbered about 20 individuals per group. We are currently trapping in two separate areas of Truth or Consequences, but that may need to end soon with the impending freezing nights.

The importance of spaying and neutering these individuals is simple mathematics. An adult female cat can produce three litters a year with an average of four to six kittens per litter. Each litter usually has two to three females that will be capable of having two litters themselves in that first year. That original adult female, then, could increase the cat population by about 50 individuals in one year! Diseases such as upper respiratory infections and feline leukemia do take their toll, and predation by coyotes and owls do cut into those numbers as well—or Sierra County we would be overrun.


Estimated number of community cats in the U.S.: 30 to 40 million

Percentage of community cats who are spayed/neutered: 2 percent

Percentage of new kittens born each year to community cat mothers: 80 percent

Percentage of people who believe leaving a community cat outdoors is preferable to having him or her caught and euthanized: 81 percent

Percentage of people providing food for community cats: 10 to 12 percent

To emphasize the impact these community cats have on Sierra County, the Truth or Consequences Animal Shelter reported the number of trapped or captured community cats suspected of being feral that were brought into the shelter and then subsequently sent out as “barn cats” already stands at 248 for this year. This is an astounding number when you consider that SCARS, with the help of grants and donations, has paid for the sterilization of 74 community cats since July and is working with other communities and groups to help stabilize their colonies.

Stabilization comes with sterilization: no more kittens. This costs money. SCARS was fortunate enough to find an animal clinic willing to give us special pricing on spay and neuter operations and allow us to bring up to 20 animals per visit. Arenas Valley Animal Clinic, our partner, is located just south of Silver City. Our volunteers drive community cats from a gathering spot in Williamsburg all the way to Arenas Valley. The clinic performs the surgeries that day and keeps the cats overnight for observation. Then a volunteer picks them up and returns them to the same spot in Williamsburg. The surgeries and vaccinations are all paid for by SCARS through grants and donations. If the cats are owned, we do ask their owners for donations for travel expenses, and most do give something.

Starting in January 2021, the state will begin collecting funds to provide low-cost spay/neuter services in low-income, rural and other needy communities in New Mexico. These funds, which may not be widely available for a year or more, will not only support animal welfare, but also the well-being of New Mexico’s families and communities. Substantial numbers of spay/neuter surgeries in strategic and concentrated areas will reduce animal shelter intake and euthanasia rates, improve public health and safety, save public dollars and help struggling families take proper care of their pets.

Until Senate Bill 57 funds are available, the local overpopulation of community cats should be a matter of general concern. Yet no city in Sierra County or county government itself has ever provided funding for spay and neuter programs. Consequently, the T or C shelter continues to annually adopt out hundreds of unfixed cats, some capable of producing three litters each year. This practice is irresponsible, but where are the funds to prevent it?

Or should community cats be euthanized? The vast majority of Americans say no, and the shelter staff is only doing what they feel is necessary to avoid euthanizing healthy animals. Their goal is to reach no-kill status, but, to do that, they need financial support. If SCARS is to continue its work to reduce the number of community cats in the county, so do we.




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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

2 thoughts on “Reducing Sierra County’s Overpopulation of Community Cats”

  1. Thank you for a well-written and informative article on a truly national problem. Here in the most populated county (Mecklenburg) of North Carolina, several rescue groups have been following the TNR (trap/neuter/release) protocol for more than 20 years, and it is finally beginning to pay off—there have actually been just a few “silent springs” where the anticipated load of unwanted litters of kittens was surprisingly low. In recent years, studies out of the University of Central Florida and North Carolina State Veterinary College have shown that TNR is more effective (as well as more humane) than the outdated model of animal control center catch-and-kill. With the advent of free or low-cost spay/neuter clinics, continuing public education efforts and generous donors and volunteers, progress is possible!

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