Shelter – Neuter – Release: Our Shelter’s Way of Saving Cat Lives

“ When cat populations are present, the choice is not between having cats or not having cats. The choice is between having a managed community cat population, or an unmanaged one. “

– Bryan Kortis, Program Manager, PetSmart Charities, Phoenix, AZ


Dorchester County passed the Community Cat Ordinance in 2019, allowing cats to be released from shelters back into their communities. Prior to this, feral cats were euthanized, and less-than-friendly cats would sit in small cubbies waiting for an unlikely adopter.


Shelter-Neuter-Release or SNR, is a practice to manage cat populations. As an open-admissions public shelter, we take in every stray animal in Dorchester county that is brought to our doors- which includes cats of all types. With SNR we can safely get Feral and Less-Than-Friendly cats back into their community, without allowing them to breed. For SNR, our shelter takes in a feral or stray cat, spays or neuters the animal, vaccinates and ear-tips the animal and then releases the cat back into the area in which it was found.


Community Cat Complaints (And How SNR Solves Them!)


There are many reasons people prefer not to have cat colonies living within their communities. Often feral or unfixed cats can be loud- either while mating or fighting. They can be messy- unfixed cats are known to “spray” or produce a strong-smelling urine in inappropriate areas. But spaying/neutering these animals can help solve these issues. Fixed community cats are unable to mate and less likely to fight, as they no longer have the hormonal drive to do so. Fixed community cats are also 90% less likely to spray.


Most importantly, SNR manages colonies. Rather than continuing to grow in size, these groups are left unable to breed, and will live their lives far more healthier and happier in the place they call home.


Friendly, Less-Than and Feral


Every cat that enters Dorchester Paws care is first processed. During processing, cats not only receive their necessary vaccinations, preventatives and microchip, but their behavior is also evaluated. Can the cats be handled? Are they comfortable in the presence of people? Do they attempt to bite or scratch? Can they handle vet care? Behavior evaluation doesn’t stop there- we also watch how these cats behave in their kennel. Cats who hide behind their blankets, refuse to eat, or show other extreme signs of stress are not good candidates for our adoption floor. While they may eventually find an adopter who takes a chance, they may suffer in a kennel for months- in some cases even years. And the longer these cats are subjected to the stressful shelter environment, the more likely they are to become seriously ill.


Any cat that shows extreme signs of stress or aggression is a perfect candidate for our SNR program. If they do have a home, they are far more likely to find their way back to it if released in comparison to the 2% reclaim rate we have at our shelter. If they do not have a home, they are happiest living with their communities, while we are happy that they are no longer adding to pet overpopulation.


Dorchester Paws will not release cats who are known to have been living solely indoors such as hoarding cases, cats who have medical issues or spreadable diseases, or kittens under the age of 6 weeks.


Why Releasing Matters


Since the start of our SNR program, Dorchester Paws has returned nearly 400 cats back into their communities- most of which would have been euthanized under previous policies and ordinances. Not only are we giving these cats the best possible chance at a happy life, we are also making a dent in the pet overpopulation that our shelter bears the brunt of every day.


For more information, please view the compiled resources below.