How Much Does Turnkey TNR Really Cost?
Many residents want "turnkey" service where the local government performs and funds all phases of TNR.
So just how much funding is needed in a New Jersey town or city to satisfy the TNR needs of residents who are feeding cats? This is a complicated question as we can't even get an exact head count of how many cats are on the streets. We approached this question with a combination of research, public records, reconnaissance, trapping, knocking on doors, and talking to residents in small focused areas. The area in which we were able to obtain the most data was
Bayonne, which also happens to have recently funded TNR and contracted with a vendor.
The city we selected for this exercise is by no means unique. This could be any town in NJ, but Bayonne provided a location that we could use nearby to PFA's clinic. The residents in the areas we canvassed were willing to talk to us and most were not opposed to TNR.
Bayonne's program is contracted with a TNR vendor for $25,000 annually. While the services provided are not yet officially defined by the city, we have been informed by residents that the program is requires residents to drop off cats in traps on a scheduled date and pick them up after surgery.
We did some investigating just to see how far $25,000 will go in a city, even assuming that people will comply with a model that requires them to trap and transport to a central location.
50 Feral Fix recipients in two different locations were studied and assisted by us in trapping to give us an idea of Bayonne's typical cat situation. Both areas consisted of a trapping perimeter defined by the area between two avenues and two cross streets, i.e. a "city block." (see below)
Next, we (with assistance from our voucher recipients) canvassed areas and also visited at different times to determine just how many cats and feeders seemed to be the average in any given block of Bayonne. The results were not vastly different from any other town in which we've trapped. In both areas, a typical city block had:
Roughly 20 cats
1-2 regular feeders and multiple occasional feeders (only when cats show up)
Common composition of adjacent deep backyards behind multiple dwelling units or townhomes
Consistently sized "city blocks" where cats roam through yards between avenues and cross streets
Mix of dog owners, cat feeders, multiple family and single family homes
Our voucher program has shown us that using People for Animals' discounted vet rates still amounts to roughly $100/cat as some cats require additional medical attention in addition to the $80 vaccine/fix package.
Bayonne's allotment of $25,000 (more than most towns) covers surgery alone of only 250 cats per year. It does not cover any costs of municipal employees or transportation, which are part of the program.
250 cats/year divided by 52 weeks/year yields less than 5 cats per week for the entire city of Bayonne.
Going back to our "city block" with 20 cats:
Let's take the middle two "city blocks," 2 blocks wide by 40 north-south, shown in yellow here. This is nowhere near every neighborhood with unfixed cats but we are trying to ballpark a conservative number.
If every one of these city blocks has even 15 cats being fed, that adds up to 1,200 cats in just a small central section of Bayonne (in yellow above). Some blocks may have many more cats, or indoor-outdoor unfixed cats. This is not far fetched, given the density of homes in NJ cities.
4-5 cats per week fixed will simply not work to control the population if this is the only program that people use. Even one block would take over 3 weeks to fix. In that time, countless litters of kittens are born in locations where people do not have appointments and are waiting to be scheduled. In that time, residents in multiple locations could have been trapping and bringing cats to PFA just 15-20 minutes away, but instead, they will be waiting for appointments while cats mate, get injured and birth litters.
But that's not all....
Every resident with whom we chatted in our travels was offered vouchers and asked if they'd like our help in fixing the cats they feed. Here were the typical responses, which we hear from people in virtually every town, small or large, when we canvass:
"I don't feed all of the cats, only certain ones that I think are fixed."
"The city should be trapping these cats. I won't trap or transport."
"I don't like cats and there are too many here."
"I think there is a program where you call the town and 'they' come get the cats fixed."
This is not unique to Bayonne--most people we meet who feed cats who have not fixed them express that the government or third party should be trapping, transporting, and fixing their cats.
So just how much would "full service TNR" cost?
To get some ball park numbers (and of course to fix some cats), Kathy and I spent three weekends in one area, trapping for 12 hours each Sunday and vetting, transporting and holding the cats ourselves. While we always get our cats, to get our results would require high end trapping equipment to be purchased by the town and maintained, a holding area, at least one large vehicle for transport, and full time employees paid overtime to trap in order to fill appointments. Because feeders near each other tend not to feed on a schedule, trapping would need to be done 24/7 in order to find a window where cats would be hungry and walk into traps.
Here are some rough and very low-balled estimates of what it would cost to give people the desired model of municipally funded and performed "turnkey" TNR:
Dedicated large SUV for transport/trapping - >$8,400/year lease not including gas, insurance, mileage, or maintenance
Holding area - assume rental of a small climate controlled space for $2000/month - $24,000/year
24-hour trapper/transporter - assuming $18.77 Amazon driver wage in NJ and working straight time, 3 shifts - $159,019/year (12 federal holidays off)
Trapping equipment, 30 traps @ $130/each - $3,900 (does not include specialty traps)
Bait, food, trap covers, pads, supplies for caring for cats in traps - $80/week or $4,160/year
Employee to monitor, feed, clean cats in traps before and after surgery 3x/day (assume Walmart hourly rate of $17) - 40 h/week x 52 weeks/yr x $17/h = $35,360
Total estimated operational costs for full "turnkey" TNR by town: $234,839
Plus 1,200 reduced cost surgeries/medical @ $100/cat: $120,000
Grand total for "turnkey" TNR by town: $354,839
If residents feeding cats expect their towns to perform TNR of all cats being fed by residents, the costs are quite high. There are more residents who do not feed cats who would not support such an allocation of funds.
Wouldn't it make more sense to reserve these funds and services for people who are physically unable to trap, and reserve free surgery appointments for low-income residents?
Cities that are allocating funds for TNR are not in the wrong for doing so, but unless they hold able-bodied people responsible for handling their own TNR and reserving the funds for those who are physically unable to trap, their programs will always be outbred by fed outdoor cats, who breed much faster than the annual budget refreshes.