If you consistently drive on Fort Worth streets, you might be familiar with the pit forming in your stomach as you pass by a dog or cat made victim to the ceaseless traffic on the city’s busiest streets.
Maybe you’ve noticed the number of animals struck by cars increasing.
Data from the city of Fort Worth shows you’re right. About 1,300 more cats and dogs were found dead on Fort Worth roads in 2022 than in 2019.
So far in 2023, more than 1,300 cats and dogs have been killed on Fort Worth’s streets.
An increase officials and volunteers attribute to a rapidly expanding population and rising costs of living.
Cats are consistently struck at a higher rate than dogs. Stray cats are Connie Stout’s passion. Over 10 years ago, Stout, co-founder of past-president Mid-Cities Community Cats, was feeding a group of stray cats in a field when she noticed that Sandra Bitz was also feeding the cats.
“I thought she was coming to arrest me!” Bitz said.
The two became friends, and through their respective nonprofit organizations, Stout and Bitz aim to reduce the number of stray cats in Tarrant County through a strategy called TNVR: Trap, neuter, vaccinate and return.
That’s one piece of the puzzle, said Chris Lirette, Fort Worth’s Animal Care & Control superintendent. The other is responsible pet ownership, he said. In summer months, children are more likely to care for animals, leading to more dogs getting loose and possibly being hit by cars.
He also points to the rising cost of living, which is forcing families to make tough decisions about who and what they can afford to feed. Those numbers are reflected in shelter populations too, Lirette said.
Inflated pet adoptions during COVID-19 also played a role, Bitz said. For her organization, Panther City Feral Cat Coalition, a lack of volunteers has constrained their ability to address colonies of community cats. Right now, the organization can’t foster any additional kittens.
That’s where teaching residents to secure a humane trap and get neighborhood cats neutered comes in, Bitz said. TNVR is a social movement that requires public education, mostly through social media and advocacy. Recently, she’s seen more individuals trapping and neutering cats on their own, she said.
“That is encouraging,” Bitz said.
TNVR offers one solution to rising cat deaths and shelter overpopulation
Stout and Bitz are both founders of Mid-Cities Community Cats, a TNVR group working primarily in suburbs in northeast Tarrant County. The TNVR method is one of the most effective ways to humanely reduce the number of feral and community cats, they said.
Stout’s husband, Joe Stout, is president of Mid-Cities Community Cats. The organizations have a track record of reducing the number of community cats in a given area.
Connie Stout has been able to trap and neuter 150 feral cats at a mobile home park in Tarrant County. Before, the colony was producing uncontrollable amounts of kittens. Most of those kittens were able to be adopted out. Today, very few kittens remain and zero cats had to be killed to reduce the population to manageable levels.
“The people that live there just can’t believe that they don’t see kittens anymore,” Connie Stout said
Mid-Cities Community Cats, along with the Panther City Feral Cat Coalition and other groups are the primary resource for TNVR efforts in the county. They utilize free surgeries provided by the Texas Coalition for Animal Protection to spay and neuter cats. However, for more complex surgeries, the organization depends on donations.
Some cities are more hospitable to TNVR efforts than others, Stout and Bitz said. Fort Worth endorses TNVR as a practice and returns feral cats who have been neutered back to their colonies when the animals are brought into shelters.
More often, cities don’t have an ordinance encouraging or discouraging TNVR, creating a patchwork of policies. TNVR advocates received a victory from the Texas legislature when Governor Geg Abbott passed a law, HB 3660, clarifying that TNVR efforts are not considered abandonment of a non-livestock animal, which is illegal under state law.
“Although it doesn’t mandate TNVR across the state or anything like that, it shows that the legislature understands the value of the TNVR program,” Joe Stout said.
To expand TNVR efforts, the organizations need volunteers and more community education, the Stouts and Bitz said.
“A lot of times people in the community have compassion, and they feed animals and a lot of people are feeding cats,” Stout said. “I don’t think that they realize that there is a way to prevent the kitten reproduction cycle.”
Responsible pet ownership key to preventing deaths
The number one thing residents can do to reduce the number of dogs hit by cars is keep pets on their property, Lirette said. He’s been working for the city for 15 years, and as Fort Worth has grown to the 13th largest city in the nation, the number of calls about stray dogs has increased.
“We have gotten more than enough to keep us busy on a daily basis,” Lirette said.
Residents can report stray dogs through the MyFW app or through the city’s call center. If a dead animal is in the road, residents can report its location through the same methods. It’s the city’s solid waste department rather than animal welfare that picks up dead animals, to prevent cross contamination with live animals.
The city is not responsible for animals hit on highways, which fall under the responsibility of TxDOT. You can report a dead animal on TxDOT roads here.
Animal shelter populations and the number of animals euthanized are especially high this summer. Lirette’s heard of more families who can no longer afford to care for animals and are forced to surrender them.
“We understand the situation that a lot of citizens are in and they need an outlet, and they don’t always have an outlet,” Lirette said.
While shelters are full, Lirette said families should consider trying to rehome their animal with a trusted friend or family member. Oftentimes, shelters can provide families free food or refer them to a rescue when shelter populations are high. If residents have to surrender an animal, they should ensure the dog is up to date on vaccinations.
The most important thing is to never abandon pets when shelters are full, Lirette said. Not only is dumping animals a violation of state law, it also exacerbates the number of animals struck and killed by cars.
“It’s about educating the people so they know how to do the right thing,” Lirette said.
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.