Trap-Neuter-Return programs may not change every community’s cat population, but they can dramatically reduce shelter killing of cats.
Why Traditional Eradication Methods Don’t Work
The traditional approach to controlling the population of feral and stray cats has been extermination. Even friendly strays are often euthanized because the number of homeless cats far exceeds the number of available homes. Long-term studies have demonstrated the futility of such a strategy since other unaltered cats quickly replace the exterminated animals, moving in to take over the food source and resume the reproductive cycle.
Additionally, public support for lethal measures is often lacking. Cat-loving caregivers may interfere with official trapping attempts, and these methods can consume a significant portion of local animal control budgets.
Community-Based TNR Acceptance
Community-based Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs have become increasingly common and widely accepted over the last decade, with endorsement by numerous organizations such as the American Association of Feline Practitioners, the American Animal Hospital Association, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, the National Animal Control Association, and International Cat Care.
In TNR programs, community cats are trapped, usually by volunteers, and transported directly to a clinic for surgery. Following surgery, ear-tipping for identification and vaccination, cats are generally returned to the location at which they were trapped.
The benefits of TNR programs include the direct reduction of nuisance behaviors associated with intact cats, the improvement of welfare for the cats, and the gradual reduction of populations in some situations (Levy 2004). Traditional TNR programs bypass the shelter entirely, removing and returning free-roaming cats directly into the community. Like traditional sheltering programs, TNR programs may not be of sufficient scale to impact the overall population.
However, they are likely to focus on the most visible or concerning of community cats (since these would most readily come to the attention of those managing the trapping process), thus preferentially impacting the cats that would otherwise most likely be brought to a shelter out of concern or annoyance. This may explain the reduction in complaints about cats reported by some shelters concurrent with the implementation of community TNR programs (Hughes 2002).
Benefits of TNR
- Reduces birth rates and prevents unwanted litters and the potential suffering of kittens
- Decreases the population, leading to smaller community cat colonies and fewer public nuisance problems and health concerns
- Decreases undesirable behavior such as spraying, vocalizing, and fighting
- Improves the overall health and quality of life of adult cats by improving body condition and protecting against disease
- Decreases shelter euthanasia rates
- Lowers the cost of animal control
- Increases the number of cats protected against rabies
- Engages the community in public-private partnerships to improve the quality of life for residents and cats
The growing acceptance of community and shelter TNR programs suggests an increasingly common belief that cats are not better off dead than living in communities.