Case Study: Nashville Pet Community Center

Nashville, Tennessee, one of the first cities certified in the BETTER CITIES FOR PETS™ program, is home to multiple organizations working to support community cats.

A key partner is Pet Community Center, a high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter and vaccine clinic run by veterinarians, clinicians and nonprofit professionals. Since its launch in 2011, Nashville’s shelter intake has decreased by more than 50%.

In the same time frame, Pet Community Center has spayed/neutered over 19,000 community cats. Its 2021 efforts supported about 2,000 community cats, with $200,000 in subsidized community cat medical services.

Partnering with the City’s Animal Welfare Team

Since 2016, Pet Community Center has partnered with Nashville Metro Animal Care and Control (MACC) to lower shelter euthanasia and humanely reduce the population of outdoor cats.

They started with a pilot program in 2014, targeting two local zip codes. The organizations provided free spay/neuter surgeries to community cats in those areas as well as any community cats that entered the shelter from those areas.

The year before the program started, the annual stray intake at MACC from those two zip codes was 211 cats. Two years into the pilot, intake in those neighborhoods totaled 38 cats. That’s a reduction of over 80%.

RTF Keeps Cats in Communities

Based on learnings from the pilot, the groups now run an effective return-to-field (RTF) program, also known as shelter-neuter-return, that spans all zip codes in Nashville. When community cats end up at MACC, the program kicks into gear to get them spayed/neutered and vaccinated, and returned to their community colony.

Here’s how it works:

1. If a cat is found or trapped outdoors and is brought to MACC, the finder/caretake fills out a questionnaire about the cat at intake. If any red flags present themselves on the questionnaire (such as the possibility of the cat being a lost pet), it is investigated by MACC and the Community Cat Program staff.

The best option for an individual cat (given the information available at the time a decision must be made) is determined by a range of factors, including health, behavior, age, location found, time of year, caregiver status, available resources and potential impact on other animals in the shelter’s care. A cat may be chosen for RTF in the spring when the shelter’s resources are needed for kittens but kept for adoption when MACC has the capacity for care.

In order to qualify for return-to-field, outdoor cats must meet the following criteria:

  • They are free-roaming and their original location is known.
  • They are a healthy weight (a good indicator that they have someone in their neighborhood feeding and caring for them), injury-free (as determined by MACC and Pet Community Center veterinary staff), and not declawed.

Cats that may not be returned to field and instead remain in the care of MACC include:

  • Kittens under 8 weeks old.
  • Older kittens (8 to 16 weeks) if it isn’t clear there is a consistent caregiver and safe shelter in their original location.
  • Cats that don’t have a known original location, but are not adoptable. These may qualify for PCC’s working cat program.

2. The finder/caretaker is given printed information about the Community Cat Program and notified that qualifying cats will be returned to their original territory after they recover from spay or neuter surgery. The cats also receive rabies vaccinations, FVRCP vaccinations, and left ear tips (the universal symbol of a sterilized and vaccinated outdoor cat).

3. A veterinarian at MACC determines if cats are too ill to participate in the program or if they need treatment before entering the program. Treatment options are available for many cats that present with minor and treatable wounds and illnesses. Cats that are deemed too ill to participate are held for the mandated stray hold and then euthanized.

4. Pet Community Center staff pick up the cats from MACC and transfer them to the spay/neuter clinic for surgery.

5. The cats recover from spay/neuter at Pet Community Center overnight or longer if deemed necessary by the veterinarian or staff.

6. Pet Community Center staff or trained volunteers return the cat to its original territory and leave door hangers on the homes in the area, offering trap-neuter-return services for any other cats in the area.​

Support for Community Caregivers, Too

Along with the MACC program, which focuses on cats at the city shelter, Pet Community Center also supports members of the community who care for community cats.

This includes free trap loans so caregivers can bring cats to Pet Community Center, as well as low-cost spay/neuter surgery, rabies vaccination, FVRCP vaccination and ear tipping for identification.

The Pet Community Center program also offers free winter shelters, food and other supplies, as well as mentoring and resources to support community cat caregivers.

Learn more about Pet Community Center and its partnership with the city of Nashville by visiting

Want to know more? Check out our Community Cat Toolkit for an overview of community cat care, case studies, tools for citizens and more.

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