Luna Cat

A young local girl holds her cat, Luna, before Luna was spayed through the Pet Amigos program. 

Española Valley Humane Society Special Projects Director Ben Swan wants more people to know that feral cats — or community cats, as he calls them — don’t cause problems if they are spayed or neutered. 

Swan calls them community cats because, although they typically avoid people, someone is almost always making sure they are fed. 

“It’s a community issue,” he said, “and the community can solve it.”

For the same reason, Swan refers to the organization’s trap, neuter and release (TNR) operations as “trap, neuter and return.” 

Because “they are returning to the area where there are people who care for them.” 

Brice Lee and Kayla Bostic, two staffers at Española Humane, loaded 10 animal traps into a van Dec. 20, along with wet cat food and litter pads. They drove less than a mile to a property on Corlett Road, where they heard from local Pearl Delgado about four feral cats they could attempt to TNR. They were hoping to find seven or eight cats instead. 

Lee and Bostic had permission from Delgado to be there. In fact, they were going to be back in two days to pick up her own pet cat, a white and gray one named Luna, to transport back to the clinic to spay as well. Lee greeted Delgado outside her home.

“I’ve been on the phone with the school all day,” Delgado said while her granddaughter chased Luna around their porch.

Lee had brought a small kennel and some paperwork in preparation for their return on Wednesday to pick up Luna. Delgado was given surgical consent forms and instructions on when to stop feeding Luna the following day. 

Delgado looked over the papers, thanked him and said, “Good luck!”

Approaching the adjacent property, where the feral cat colony was based, Bostic and Lee noticed, regretfully, that there was dry cat food out. It would make it harder for them to trap cats that had recently eaten. Regardless, they had a plan to entice the cats: wet cat food with gravy. 

“The stinkier, the better,” Lee said, spilling a short trail of the stuff into the trap. 

They set the 10 traps around the property, along walls and fence lines in the vicinity of where the cats are regularly fed. To keep the area clean, a litter pad goes down, then a metal trap with a cover — to calm anxious cats. Once the cat enters the trap, it will step on a metal plate to get to the can of food waiting inside, triggering the door to close behind it. 

Trapping animals requires meticulous attention to when and where traps have been set, otherwise an animal could suffer in one that’s been forgotten. 

By the time Lee and Bostic finished setting all of their traps, one had already caught a cat. 

Pet Amigos

Swan helped to develop a TNR program at Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society, where he worked from 2010 to 2017. 

“People are more used to it here, but before, in Santa Fe, there were a lot of misconceptions,” Swan said. “People would chase us away, afraid we’d kill the cats!” 

He said their goal with TNR is to work with the community to care for and control feral cat colonies, which do not grow if they are managed.

Complaints regarding the nuisance of feral cat colonies — or neighbors who take in too many cats — have received attention from the Española City Council this year. Councilor Peggy Sue Martinez invited Española Humane to a City Council meeting in November to talk about Pet Amigos. 

“The program itself is something that our governing body needs to have buy-in with, and support as much as we can,” Martinez said in a recent phone call. “Pet Amigos reaches further into the community, and the people they serve, love their pets just as much as the rest of us do.” 

Martinez said city attorneys are considering a possible ordinance that would restrict the number of pets that each household can have, with input from Animal Control Officer Albert Benavides. She said it might be ready for a vote in January 2022.

The TNR services are just one part of the Española Humane outreach program called Pet Amigos, launched officially in July 2019. Through Pet Amigos, staff canvass neighborhoods to find underserved pets and their owners, then they return with pet food and supplies or vaccinations to administer on-site. They can also transport pets to their clinic for spaying and neutering services free of charge and even supply people with (human) food and connect them to more services.

In its first six months, Pet Amigos workers were responsible for spaying or neutering 404 dogs and cats, delivering almost 1,000 pounds of dog and cat food and installing 22 dog houses and three fences.

At the start of the pandemic, however, the Pet Amigos program was put on hold. The organization restarted its program in October. 

That month, workers surveyed residents in the Santo Niño Mobile Home Park, figuring a spay/neuter rate of less than 30 percent. By Nov. 2, they got it up to 36 percent, the goal being 70 percent.

They also found Baby, a brindle-colored Shepherd mix who had just given birth to a litter of puppies that all died from parvovirus. Baby was in heat and causing fights among the five male dogs pursuing her, so the Pet Amigos team connected them all to medical services, shelters and dog food.

Swan said the program works when it can facilitate trusting relationships between these communities and the organization.

“We’re there to help and support,” he said, “not to come in and take animals or punish anyone.”

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