An unprecedented community effort is taking major action to curb Tucson’s pervasive tide of homeless animals.

The Pima Alliance for Animal Welfare (PAAW) voted Thursday to move forward with an aggressive campaign to raise awareness about the nearly 35,000 animals who wind up in local shelters each year. Thousands of those animals continue to be euthanized due to a lack of money for the ones with special needs.

In addition to increased marketing efforts for shelter animals, the alliance on Thursday also voted to start a large “community cat” program that will trap free-roaming local cats, and spay and neuter them. Once they’ve had their surgeries, the cats will be returned back to where they were trapped so they can continue to roam free.

The program has an ambitious goal of trapping and releasing more than 1,000 cats per month. That effort is expected to make a significant impact on controlling crowding among the cat population in local shelters, since one fertile cat can have three litters a year, with four to six kittens in a litter.

The broad local alliance includes more than 50 representatives of animal-welfare agencies, among them the Tucson area’s two main shelters — the Pima Animal Care Center, 4000 Silverbell Road; and the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, 3450 N. Kelvin Blvd.

Having both the county shelter and the Humane Society at the table working together and sharing data is a huge step for the community, said PAAW chair Barbara L. Brown, who is vice president of program services and community initiatives at the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona.

Brown said Tucson has a significant problem with the number of cats and dogs that are dropped off at the Humane Society and the county shelter, often with heartbreaking stories. While both shelters are doing their best to accommodate those animals, PAAW is taking the extra step of trying to prevent so many homeless animals from existing in the first place. In addition to an education campaign and community cat program, PAAW’s other immediate plans for local animals:

• Embedding animal welfare into existing social service programs like Meals on Wheels and Inferfaith Community Services to help people who are struggling to take care of their pets for economic and health reasons

• Holding a massive annual community adoption event with representation from all the shelter and rescue organizations

Those in attendance also talked about future ideas of improving resources to help people find pet-friendly rental homes and apartments, and finding affordable ways to pay for their pet’s medical expenses, since expenses and living arrangements are two reasons people relinquish their pets to local shelters.

PAAW’s mission is to “engage all Pima County citizens, agencies and organizations in spay-neuter efforts, responsible breeding, conscientious pet ownership and community awareness to achieve our vision.”

The group, which began meeting late in 2012, has received support from the PetFinder Foundation, which enabled it to synthesize shelter data with the help of a team from the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah has provided the group help from consultants who are working with county officials to improve the flow of animals in and out of the county shelter.

An excess of stray animals in the community affects everyone, noted Dr. Francisco Garcia, director of the Pima County Health Department, which has jurisdiction over the local shelter. And those animals deserve food, shelter and humanity, he said. “They may be four-legged residents, but they are still residents of this community,” Garcia told the group.

The Pima County Animal Care Center takes in about 25,000 animals a year.

Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at or 573-4134.