controlling feral cat populations

TNR: What Is It?

Trap-Neuter-Return, or TNR refers to a method of attempting to control feral cat populations by humanely trapping community cats in box traps, having them spayed or neutered (and vaccinated against rabies), and then returned to their original environment once they have recovered from surgery. TNR cats are also commonly eartipped, which indicates to others that they have been neutered and vaccinated. If young or friendly (“adoptable”) cats are recovered during the TNR process, they may be transferred to a foster home or shelter to be put up for adoption. While vaccination isn’t a requirement, it is considered best practice, and you will often see the term “Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return” or TNVR instead. Regardless, the idea is that the size of the colonies will decrease over time as its inhabitants are unable to reproduce.

TNR has been gaining traction and popularity, and with good reason. Its proponents argue that it is far more effective (and humane) than the catch-and-kill approach of old. In addition to the obvious cruelty of killing homeless cats, doing so only creates a vacuum in that environment, which new cats will soon discover and fill as they look for available resources. Shelters are largely underfunded and overburdened, and simply cannot take on the additional strain of more homeless cats, many of which have had limited human interaction and are very difficult to adopt out.

There are also advantages to the TNR approach from a behavioral perspective. Once the possibility of mating is reduced or eliminated, nuisance behaviors associated with mating, such as fighting, yowling, spraying, marking territory, and even roaming in search of a mate, noticeably decrease. Some argue that the cats are healthier overall once they are fixed and vaccinated, and as an added bonus, because the cats remain in their environment, they continue to keep rodent populations in check. Finally, many TNR programs include long-term care of the cat colonies as part of their protocols.

So does it work? Best Friends Animal Sanctuary cites several case studies that make a good argument for its efficacy. Communities that report a successful outcome after implementing TNR programs include:

• San Francisco, California
⁃ An initial population of 175 cats was reduced by 99.4% over 16 years of targeted TNVR efforts.
• Louisville, Kentucky
⁃ In Jefferson County, admissions of cats to the Louisville Metro Animal Services declined by 42.8% over an eight year period and 94.1% fewer cats were killed over the same period.
• Chicago, Illinois
⁃ From 2007 to 2016, a neighborhood TNVR program reported average population reductions of 54% from initial population levels, and 82% from each group’s peak level.

You can read additional success stories at Best Friends Animal Society. While each TNR program is different and each colony/community has its own unique needs and dynamic, Alley Cat Allies is the first organization to publish standards for TNR, which are available here.

To find out more about your community’s TNR efforts, contact your local humane society. In our area, that is the Dakin Humane Society. If there are no current TNR efforts underway in your area, you may want to consider starting one. Alley Cat Allies provides helpful information on getting your community involved in a TNR effort.