LifeLine Animal Project isn’t your average animal welfare organization. We take a holistic approach to improving the standard of care for animals in Atlanta through management of the county shelters, adoption programs, spay and neuter clinics and community outreach efforts.
Since taking over management of DeKalb County Animal Services and Fulton County Animal Services in 2013, thousands of lives have been saved and adoptions have been increased by 150%!
Over 16,000 homeless animals enter our shelters each year. Our goal is that all healthy and treatable pets leave our shelters alive and find loving homes. It is a huge, continual effort to find homes for thousands of pets. Are you IN?
Catlanta is modeled on Neighborhood Cats, which also opposes the euthanizing of any feral cat simply because he or she tests positive for the FIV or FeLV virus. We believe if the cat shows no active signs of ill health, they should be released back into their colony regardless of the test results. In fact, because we know we will release asymptomatic feral cats no matter what, we don't test in the first place. The reasons for these policies are many:
1. First and foremost, we don't euthanize positive, asymptomatic cats because we believe they have as much of a right to live as any being. Euthanasia is defined as the mercy killing of a suffering being, not imposed death for purposes of convenience or concern about possible future consequences. Too often, when it comes to feral cats and other animals, euthanasia is resorted to as a solution to whatever may be the problem- no place to house them, too expensive to treat, etc. In our view, such actions demonstrate a lack of respect for life and ultimately cause damage to us all. When euthanasia is eliminated as an alternative, other solutions are found.
2. Initial test results are not always reliable, but with ferals, life or death decisions are often made based only on the first test. Reliability issues differ depending on whether FIV or FeLV is in question and what kind of test is being used.
For FIV, most veterinarians use the ELISA (Enzyme Linked Immunoabsorbent Assay) test, which detects whether FIV antibodies are present in the blood - not whether the virus itself is present. As a result, the test is completely unreliable for cats under six months of age who may have received FIV antibodies from their nursing mother, but may never have been exposed to the actual virus. For adult cats, because of the recent introduction of the FIV vaccine, there is now the possibility a positive test result means a cat has been vaccinated, not infected.
For FeLV, again the ELISA test is almost always the initial test used. In contrast to FIV, the FeLV ELISA does not detect antibodies, but whether the antigen of the virus is present in the blood. In other words, a positive test result indicates the presence of the actual FeLV virus in the blood. But, the test is extremely sensitive and is prone to false positives from improper handling. In addition, a cat in the early stages of FeLV infection can still fight it off. The disease does not take permanent hold until it enters the cat's white blood cells, which only another type of test, the IFA test (Immunofluoresence Assay, also known as the Hardy test) can determine. The IFA test must be performed at a lab and is more expensive. Consequently, if a cat appears otherwise healthy, a positive ELISA test should always be confirmed with an IFA test. Only if other severe pathological symptoms of FeLV are present should an initial positive ELISA ever be relied upon alone.
Given these facts, the practice of killing cats based on a one-time test inevitably leads to the death of animals who were never infected in the first place or who would have successfully fought the infection off given enough time.
3. FIV positive cats have been known to often live long lives and may never get sick. The mortality rate is higher for FeLV positive cats, who usually contract the disease as kittens. A study showed most die by the age of two to three years old (33% at 6 months, 63% at 2 years, 83% at 3.5 years.) Still, while they are alive, they can live symptom free if properly fed and sheltered.
4. Euthanizing positives is ineffective colony management. Removing a positive cat from a colony does not eliminate the risk of infection to other cats, who have likely already been exposed to the virus, anyway.
5. The primary cause of infection relates more to proper colony management than to a particular positive cat or cats. In our experience, colonies with lots of sick cats are ones that are poorly managed - poor nutrition, inadequate shelter and/or unneutered animals. These conditions lead to weakened immune systems and susceptibility to disease. Indeed, some veterinarians believe it is rare for a healthy adult cat to ever catch FeLV. The best way to prevent the spread of disease is thus not by killing individual cats, but by improving the quality of food, making sure the cats have warm, dry shelter in winter and getting them neutered.
Neutering helps for a couple of reasons. The primary means of transmission of FIV is deep bite wounds and neutered cats tend not to fight. FIV can also be transmitted by an infected mother to her kittens if she was exposed to the virus during gestation or while lactating. On rare occasion, FIV can also be passed on to females through infected semen. Neutering eliminates both kittens and sexual intercourse and removes these means of transmission, too. With respect to FeLV, kittens are the ones most susceptible to infection due to their undeveloped immune systems. Neutering, again by ending the birth of new kittens, eliminates this possibility.
6. Testing is a waste of resources. The literature shows the prevalence of FIV and FeLV positive test results in the feral population is low - and the same as in the domestic population (about 4 percent for FeLV, 2 percent for FIV.) So to identify six positive test results means paying for the testing of 100 cats. Even at a low cost of $12 per cat, that adds up to $1200 or $200 per positive cat. And even then, it doesn't mean the six positive cats actually have the disease, will ever get sick, or will ever transmit it. At a time when there is a crisis in feral cat overpopulation, the money should go towards neutering and proper colony management, not a dubious investment in testing.
7. It isn't true that you are responsible for all the cats that die if you release a positive. This is the "guilt trip" which is the primary argument of those who still favor testing and euthanizing if a feral cat tests positive. First of all, we have knowingly released FIV and FeLV positive cats and have yet to see a colony wiped out or any empirical evidence to support the "guilt trip" theory. As mentioned, a well-fed, well-managed colony is going to have strong immune systems and a natural resistance to the viruses. But even assuming the released cat does transmit the virus and another cat does get sick, this is not your responsibility. TNR does not mean creating a world without risk for feral cats - it's about improving the situation, not about making it perfect. The disease was present before you came along. By getting the cats neutered and implementing a managed colony, you've vastly improved the quality of the cats' lives and no one should criticize your decision to let the animal return to his family and not euthanize him because of a test result.
Myth #1: They prey on wildlife.
Truth: Habitat destruction and pesticides are the main cause of diminishing wildlife. Also note that raccoons and birds of prey diminish wildlife.
Myth #2: If people stop feeding the cats, they will go away.
Truth: Cats are very attached to their own territory/neighborhood. If people stop feeding the cats, they will not move away. They can go for weeks without food and will survive on meager food supplies and continue to reproduce in their neighborhood.
Myth #3: Trapping and removing will solve the problem.
Truth: Any species exists in an area for one simple reason: the area provides an environment conducive to that species’ needs. Cats are no different, so if all the cats are taken away, new cats will move into the area and breed up to capacity. Therefore, a community has only two choices – either live with a neutered/vaccinated colony that does not reproduce, or live with an unspayed/unvaccinated colony that continues to reproduce.
Myth #4: Feeding cats helps them, even if they aren’t spayed and neutered.
Truth: Feeding cats without spaying and neutering only makes the problem worse! Studies show that the more a colony is fed, the more it grows and reproduces, meaning more cats will be born—only to die of disease, freezing weather, predators, and car tires. In addition, the colony often grows so large that neighbors call animal control, resulting in most of the cats being killed. However, a few cats will always be left to continue to breed and quickly start this sad cycle all over again. Please act responsibly towards the cats and spay/neuter any that you feed.
Solutions are most effective when several are implemented at the same time!
Do the cats pose a health risk?
A Stanford study found virtually no risk to human health or safety from feral cats. Similarly, research at the University of Florida found that feral cats and owned cats share similar health status, confirming that the cats do not pose a risk to public health or to other cats. People sometimes worry about rabies, but this is unjustified. Cats are not natural carriers for rabies. There has not been a single human death from rabies attributed to transmission from a cat in the USA in over thirty years. Also, as part of a TNR program, cats are vaccinated against rabies and then provide an immune barrier between humans and wildlife in the community. Furthermore, the British Medical Journal states that: "contact with cats, kittens, cats' feces, or cats who hunt for food was not a risk factor for infection. . . for toxoplasmosis.” The study concludes that eating undercooked meat is the primary risk factor in contracting toxoplasmosis.
Are feral cats dangerous?
Feral cats are naturally wary of people and will not approach humans they do not know. Feral cats will not attack anyone unless they are cornered. Never touch or corner any animal you are not familiar with. Parents and caregivers should teach children to not approach or touch any unknown animal.
The feeding area is messy.
The #1 complaint about cats is actually about the people who feed them! Cat caregivers should keep the cats’ feeding area neat and free of leftover food and trash. Paper plates cause litter and complaints, so use only plastic or stainless steel bowls that will not tip over or blow away. Never put food directly on the ground. If others are feeding the cats, coordinate a schedule so that the above guidelines are met. If you are unsure of who else is feeding, leave a polite note with your phone number or email address.
The feeding area attracts insects and pests.
Caregivers should feed only dry food since wet food attracts unwanted guests such as raccoons and possums. Food should never be left out overnight. It's best to feed in the morning and remove the food after one hour. Make certain that any leftover food is removed before nightfall. If it is inconvenient to remove any leftover food, feed the cats only what they will eat within an hour or two and no more. Pour out the water bowl, and refill it with fresh water daily to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in it.
There are too many cats around!
Ensuring that all of the cats are neutered will allow the colony to decrease rather quickly. It’s also very important to move any feeding stations and shelters to an area where the cats are not seen. They should be in an inconspicuous place that is easily accessible for the feeder. They should be painted colors that blend in with the environment. The cats should not be fed at peak hours to help them maintain a low profile. The more people see cats, the more people will lodge complaints.
Cats are sleeping under my porch.
If cats are sleeping under a house or in a shed, they are seeking a warm, dry, safe, shelter from the elements. A shelter could be provided for the cats ONLY if you live in a single residence dwelling. If the cats live in community housing or commercial areas, do not provide a shelter because it will draw unwanted attention to the cats. Meanwhile, physically block or seal the location the cats are entering with chicken wire or lattice when you are sure the cats are not there.
Cats are getting into my trash.
Cats and many wild animals are opportunistic scavengers. This behavior can be reduced by providing a regular food source at a set time in an out-of-the-way location, during daylight hours. Keep trash properly covered and secured to avoid attracting raccoons and possums, in addition to cats.
Cats are hanging out in my yard.
There are many ways to make your property less appealing: 1) Neutering cats curtails the urge to roam, 2) Routinely use a repellent to keep cats out of the area, such as Repel Away From My Garden, Havahart Cat Repellent, and Reppers (can be used around the edges of the yard, the top of fences, etc. and can be purchased at garden centers, home improvement stores, pet stores, or online), 3) Use motion-activated water sprinklers, such as The Scarecrow, to repel cats, 4) Ultrasonic devices, such as Cat Stop Automatic Outdoor Cat Deterrent or Yard Control Cat Repeller, Model P7810, emit a high-frequency sound annoying to cats, but not perceptible by people (be sure to match device to size of area to be covered), 5) Household items and herbs that repel cats include cayenne pepper, citrus peels, coffee grounds, pipe tobacco, citrus-scented sprays and oils of lavender, lemon grass, citronella, peppermint, eucalyptus, and mustard.
Cats are digging in my garden.
Use one of the repellents listed above. You can also create a physical barrier to digging: gardens and flowerbeds can be protected with Cat Scat plastic mats that can be purchased online and pressed into the soil. Heavy plastic carpet runner (pointed side up) also works. Cover exposed ground in flower beds with attractive rocks. Branches from a thorny plant, like the rose of Sharon tree; wooden or plastic lattice fencing material; or chicken wire can be placed over the soil. Pinecones, wooden chopsticks, skewers, or plant stakes can be embedded into the soil every eight inches. Place an outdoor litter box for the cats in an inconspicuous place (pine straw and peat moss works well).
I can smell cat urine.
Neutering the cats is the best way to eliminate the offensive smell and their desire to spray-mark. In the meantime, eliminate the smell of cat urine by spraying the area thoroughly with white vinegar.
Cats are making a lot of noise, fighting and yowling.
These are behaviors associated with mating. The solution is to humanely trap and neuter the entire colony. Once cats are neutered, the hormones leave their system within three weeks, and the behaviors almost always stop.
Cats are walking on my car.
Use a car cover to protect the car from cat prints. Shelters and feeding stations should be moved away from the area where cars are parked. The cats will follow the food and shelter. Cats like a high platform from which to view the world. Provide a table, create a platform in a tree, or provide a shelter that cats can lie on top of, as well as inside – anything that gives them a higher vantage point. Sometimes in the winter cats will lie on a car hood for warmth. Provide shelters with outdoor heating pads (available online for doghouses) to keep them warm and away from cars.
The cats might have fleas.
If fleas are a problem in your area, have the clinic treat for fleas when the cats are neutered. Revolution works well and can sometimes be reapplied if you are able to touch the cats while they are eating. Another option for ongoing flea control is Capstar, which can be put into the food. Change the bedding material in the cats’ shelters regularly.
OK, I have spayed and neutered the colony, but new cats have shown up.
The food supply must be decreased so that there is only enough food for the existing members of the colony. Then, as the colony size decreases, so must the food supply. Decreasing the food supply in an unneutered colony will only leave the new kittens without food.
Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is the method of humanely trapping feral cats, having them spayed or neutered, vaccinated for rabies and then returning them to their colony to live out their lives. TNR also involves a colony caretaker who provides food, adequate shelter and monitors the cats’ health. TNR has been shown to be the least costly as well as the most efficient and humane way of stabilizing feral cat populations.
Through TNR, feral cats can live out their lives without adding to the homeless cat population. Furthermore, by stabilizing the population, cats will naturally have more space, shelter and food, and fewer risks of disease. After being spayed or neutered, cats living in colonies tend to gain weight and live healthier lives. Spayed cats are less likely to develop breast cancer and will not be at risk for ovarian or uterine cancer, while neutered males will not get testicular cancer. By neutering male cats, you also reduce the risk of injury and infection, since intact males have a natural instinct to fight with other cats. Spaying also means female cats do not go into heat and therefore they attract less tom cats to the area and reduce fighting.
Feed only once per day to accustom the cats to being fed at the specific location and exact time of day at least one week prior to trapping. Cats must be hungry to enter the traps, so withhold food for at least 24 hours prior to trapping. This is standard humane trapping protocol and will not hurt the cats. Sometimes a cat will not go in a trap unless food has been withheld for several days. A cat can go for weeks without food. Do not feed the cats until you have trapped them.
Select a quiet location that is not easily visible to the passerby but where you can observe the traps from a distance. Aiming to trap while raining is ineffective as cats will not roam away from shelter. Make sure the trap is clean after each new cat has been trapped to spread any disease. Make sure kittens are at least 2 pounds (8 weeks) so they can be fixed. Please check with the clinic, since the weight requirement sometimes changes, depending on the vets working with us at the time.
Place the traps on a flat surface in a shady area at the trapping site so it won't rock or tip. Insert thick layers of newspaper or a towel to disguise the bottom of the trap and absorb urine and waste.
Place two tablespoons of bait on the newspaper at the back of the trap behind the trip plate. Place about one tablespoon in the middle, and one tablespoon at the opening. Quietly set and cover the traps, and leave the area, but keep the trap in distant view. The cats are unlikely to enter the traps if you are nearby. You might want to use binoculars to keep an eye on the cats and traps. If you are trapping in your yard, you can go inside. In public areas, traps should never be left unattended. People will release a trapped cat, and most cats will not let themselves be trapped a second time.
Trapping a feral cat may take some time, possibly many hours. Make sure the cat is securely trapped before you approach the trap. If you approach the trap too soon, you might frighten the cat away.
If you are having continued difficulty trapping a cat, please email us a request for assistance in trapping hard-to-trap feral cats.
Make sure the entire trap is covered with a towel before moving it. Covering the trap calms the frightened cat and lessens its risk of injury, and prevents the spread of any disease between cats at the clinic. It is normal for the cat to thrash around inside the trap. If a cat has hurt itself, do not release it, but let the vet examine its injury at the time of spay/neuter surgery. Never let the cat out of the trap before it has been fixed.
Check the cat for an ear tip (a V-notch, or a missing tip). If it has one, the cat has already been fixed, so release the cat and re-bait the trap. Do not put your fingers near the wire mesh. Do not leave any food out if you plan to trap in the following days. Only when you are finished trapping for the week should you leave food and water.
Hold the cats overnight in their trap in a basement, garage, spare room, or covered porch where it is dry and warm. Do not leave cats in traps outdoors when cold or exposed to heat or sun. If you have pets, make sure they cannot get near the cat in the trap. Place cardboard and newspaper underneath the trap to absorb any urine. Cats cannot eat any food 8 hours prior to surgery.
Place cardboard and newspaper under the traps in your car. Do not put the cat in your trunk if it's very hot. Most people can fit 2 traps on top of each other in the back seat.
After surgery, carefully feed the cat by slipping some food under the door while watching the cat so it does not get out. Allow the cat to recover overnight in the same trap, still covered. Feed the cat as much as possible before releasing it. All cats should be held 24 hours after surgery. Cats who were pregnant should be held 48-72 hours after surgery. Although you might think cats need more time to recover, they are very resilient and they will recover better if released quickly. Many cats will not eat inside the trap and are under a great deal of stress. Do not keep a cat in a cage longer than 48-72 hours.
Replace soiled newspaper. You can use any small, non-breakable dishes for feeding.
Relocating cats will endanger their lives. Less than 50% of relocated cats survive the relocation. Releasing cats in a different area constitutes animal abandonment and is a crime in the state of Georgia. Release the cat in the same place you trapped it. Pull off the cover off the trap for a few minutes for the cat to reorient itself to its surroundings, then release. It is not uncommon if the cat stays away for a few days. Keep leaving food and water out. Living outside is what they are used to, and they will be much happier that way. Do not try to tame them. They are better off wild with a healthy dose of fear regarding people, which will keep them alive longer. If you can catch kittens between 4-12 weeks old, they can usually be tamed. Older cats are almost impossible to tame and will probably never be adoptable animals. Most rescue groups are always over capacity, and skittish cats are extremely hard to find a home for, take up shelter space, and prevent other tame cats from being saved.
LifeLine Animal Project is committed to improving the standard of care for animals in the community. LifeLine's Community Cats Program is one of the first and largest organized feral cat programs in Atlanta and a great example of how lives are being saved.
The program is dedicated to humanely controlling feral cat colonies by providing neighborhoods with the resources and support they need to manage feral cat populations. This widely-accepted, humane method of controlling feral cat populations is called TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return). TNR is a comprehensive method where entire feral colonies are humanely trapped, then evaluated, vaccinated, and neutered by veterinarians. Then the cats are released back into their neighborhoods. With the goal of making Atlanta no-kill, LifeLine has approached the overpopulation problem with a number of different solutions.
The Community Cat Program assists neighborhoods by:
To date, LifeLine has helped sterilize more than 35,000 feral and stray cats in over 21 counties.
We have all seen homeless cats who hang around neighborhoods and businesses in our community. Many of these cats are “feral” or wild because they have had no human contact. They cannot be tamed as pets. They usually live in groups known as feral colonies. "Stray," "feral," or “community” cats are homeless cats that sometimes join these colonies and produce feral offspring. An estimated 25,000 feral cats each year were ending up in Atlanta’s shelters, where the only option was euthanasia. The taxpayer cost in the Atlanta area to trap and euthanize these cats is about $3.5 million annually. TNR has changed this by providing a better way.
The goal is to humanely decrease the number of feral cats until there are no more community cats. TNR is much cheaper than euthanasia, and it is the ONLY effective method to reduce unwanted animals. Most cats will not survive relocation attempts, and new cats often move into areas that were previously populated with a feral cat community to fill the vacuum. It is also important to note that the relocation of cats without a containment period and a proper caretaker is considered animal cruelty and a crime in the state of Georgia.
Utilizing the LifeLine Spay & Neuter Clinics, LifeLine has sterilized more than 35,000 feral cats through TNR. Additionally, LifeLine has facilitated the TNR of an equal number of cats at independent vets. LifeLine's Community Cats program operates a trap loan program, provides trapping instructions through the process, distributes donated cat food to managed colonies, and maintains data on more than 600 feral colonies in greater Atlanta. Over 300 requests for information or assistance are handled monthly by LifeLine’s staff and volunteers.
Our Community Cats program is a resource, not a rescue. We will not remove cats from your property.
We will provide you with the tools and support you need to effectively and humanely manage these cats.
To request assistance with trapping feral cats, please fill out this form below.
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