TNR Week: Haves and Have-Nots

Sun, Sep 12, 2010

Animal Welfare


Guest post by Peter J. Wolf

For many of us, spoiling our cats is something we’ve raised to an art form—an inalienable right, even. From gourmet organic foods to luxurious memory-foam beds, our feline friends seem to be living the easy life. And, as Moderncat readers know all too well, many of them are.

Feral cats, on the other hand, don’t have it so good. These cats are generally unsocialized, and afraid of people—having grown up with little or no human contact. Many are the offspring of unsterilized stray and abandoned house cats. And, unlike their spoiled relatives, feral cats too often find themselves ignored, neglected, and reviled. Or worse. Because many of these cats lack the social skills that would make them easy adoption candidates, they are routinely killed if brought to a shelter. In his book Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America, Nathan Winograd, Director of the No Kill Advocacy Center, writes, “there is no other animal entering a shelter whose prospects are so grim and outcome so certain.”

Feral Cat Photos by Troy Snow

The Need
Estimates of the number of feral cats vary widely. Some suggest that there are nearly as many unowned cats as there are owned cats in the U.S.—which would put the figure at about 90 million. But Merritt Clifton, of Animal People, an independent newspaper dedicated to animal protection issues, estimates the population of feral cats in this country at no more than a quarter of that. Either way, the numbers are considerable.

Thankfully, these cats have their supporters. Surveys indicate that 8–12% of Americans—about half of whom don’t even own pets—regularly feed stray or feral cats. But unfortunately, their commitment to the cats’ welfare often ends there: at the food bowl. Feeding them is only the first step! In order to reduce the number of homeless cats, it’s absolutely essential that we break the breeding cycle. This is where TNR comes in.

Feral Cat Photos by Troy Snow

Enter TNR
Trap-Neuter-Return, or TNR, is an approach for compassionately reducing the feral cat population. TNR begins with the humane trapping of the cats, after which they are sterilized and given a general health check-up (and in some cases, vaccinations) by a local veterinarian participating in low-cost spay/neuter services. In addition, each cat has its left ear “tipped” (removal of about 3/8 of an inch from the tip, done under general anesthesia) so that he/she can be easily recognized as sterilized. The cats are then returned to the area where they were trapped, and cared for by “colony caretakers”— volunteers who agree to provide the cats with food and water.

Caretakers keep a close eye on their colonies, monitoring for new arrivals, or “trap-shy” cats who still require sterilization. And they also watch for kittens, an all-too-common occurrence in the early days of a TNR program. Julie Levy, DVM, PhD, one of the country’s top researchers on feral cats, estimates that 82% of the kittens born each year are born to feral cats. [1] The lucky ones—Clifton figures perhaps as many as 28 million of them—are snapped up by caretakers while they are young enough to be socialized, and eventually become part of the pet cat population by way of adoptions. (Who knows, maybe that spoiled house cat of yours has a more interesting history than you thought!)

If cats are simply removed from a particular location, it’s likely others will take their place—this is called “the vacuum effect.” Managed colonies, on the other hand, are generally stable, and—with vigilant monitoring and care—will gradually decline in size. Done properly, TNR can be very effective at reducing the population of homeless cats.

Feral Cat Photos by Troy Snow

This week we will feature videos and other useful resources from Alley Cat Allies, the leading cat advocacy organization in the US. This video from Alley Cat Allies gives a brief overview of TNR (if you can’t see the video below in your email, please click here to watch it on the site):

Literature Cited
1. Levy, J.K. and Crawford, P.C., “Humane strategies for controlling feral cat populations.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2004. 225(9): p. 1354-1360.

Feral cat photography by Troy Snow.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin



33 Responses to “TNR Week: Haves and Have-Nots”

  1. 1
    Cathy McGeary

    Our newest kitty, Yoshi, is a TNR cat. My vet participates in the program. Yoshi and his sister were trapped and brought in my vet at the age of around 11 weeks old. Unfortunately, his sister was already ill and did not survive. But the vet thought the male might be young enough to be adopted, even though he was very afraid of humans. I had recently had to put my favorite 15-year-old cat, Purrthos, to sleep due to diabetes complications. (I’d been giving him shots twice a day for the past 7 years.) My vet thought if anyone would have a chance of giving this little male kitty a home, it was me. I wasn’t planning to adopt another cat for a long time after losing Purrthos, but I hesitantly said yes.

    Yoshi is now six months old and is an absolute sweetheart, and a welcome addition to our home! I’m so glad the vet brought him into my life.

  2. 2

    For any readers in Pensacola, Florida, the organization Jury_Duty Spay & Neuter provides low-cost spaying and rabies shots for people monitoring feral cat colonies.

  3. 3

    HUGE props and thanks for this week’s presentation, Kate! As a longtime ACA supporter, I know that cats cared for via TNR/managed colony thrive and are an asset to their communities, providing rodent control plus beauty and pleasure to many who see them. Detractors notice that cats’ presence becomes unnoticed to a great degree, as roaming, spraying, caterwauling, and mating behaviors disappear after the cats are spayed/neutered and innoculated, and can count on regular food and care from the caregivers. Hopefully your presentation will garner additional interest in helping feral cats! ;)

  4. 4

    Sounds like a good program except for the part where they cut part of the cat’s ear off. Why is it necessary to disfigure the cats? Please, there has got to be a better way!

  5. 5
    Barb B

    Let the truth be known, Kate. You are doing a wonderful job of telling it. The more people who understand how to handle the feral population, the better. It cannot be ignored. The best and most humane way is the TNR method. Kudos to you and Peter, too, for furnishing everyone with the correct information.

  6. 6

    Thanks very much for this article. I am currently feeding and trying to earn the trust of a feral cat and her kittens that I sometimes see at the end of my driveway near the dumpster. I have all my life fed and taken care of feral cats having grown up in a rural area. However I now live in a suburban area in Orange County right next to a large field with coyotes. I emailed Alley Cat Allies for more information on how to help “my” cats and others. I always aim not just to provide food for these feral cats but shelter and love and a home.


  7. 7
    Laurella Desborough

    Well, I have only two comments about this TNR practice. It leaves the cats out in the environment where they are continuously preyi8ng on native wildlife, from tiny geckos to baby rabbits to native songbirds. This is simply wrong. Feral cats are likely the most problematic of invasive species animals in the US and world wide. Furthermore, feral cats are still subject to being killed by coyotes, by disease and accidents, so they do not have a “quality life”.

    Frankly, I do not know why one NEVER reads about TNS, Trap/Neuter/Secure wherein the feral cats are trapped, vetted and then placed in a secure facility designed for cats. I have seen such facilities and the cats are happy in their indoor/outdoor facility where they not only receive their daily food, but receive any necessary vet care. TNR is a stop gap measure that makes the cat care takers feel good…but doesn’t do much for the cats OR the native wildlife.
    TNR needs to GROW UP and become TNS!!!!

  8. 8

    Lise, the cat is under sedation when they get an eartip and it doesn’t seem to cause discomfort for them afterwards. TNR is really the only effective and economical way to reduce feral and stray cat populations. It amazes me that trapping and killing cats is still legal in this country. We are not living in China for God’s sake when are these innocent cats going to stop being blamed and hated for not having a home. I must say that the majority of people are still not fixing the cats they feed and often will only start considering trapping and fixing them after they have had kittens. It’s extremely frustrating for me and other rescuers to see sick and dying kittens on the street when people could have avoided that if they would have only fixed them in time. TNR needs to become a household term so when people start feeding cats they will instinctively know to fix them right away. Shelters and rescue groups will then stop being overwhelmed with kittens every year and many more will be able to find homes. It all begins with feeding the cats responsibly, so DO NOT FEED AND LET THEM BREED!

  9. 9

    Kudos also to Kate for mentioning Nathan Winograd’s book. I also urge people to go onto his website and read the truth about what happens in animal shelters and how they have deceived the public into thinking killing homeless animals is a neccessary evil. It is NOT. Please subscribe to Nathan’s free e-newsletter from his website. He has helped shelters stop the killing by following his proven no kill equation. You will have to read it for yourself but once you do you will never think about the subject the same way again I promise you! He also has a no kill blog, that is extremely informative and eye-opening.

  10. 10


    Nobody’s suggesting that TNR is an ideal solution, only that it’s the only HUMANE solution.

    Regarding the impact of cats on wildlife, you bring up an important point–one we’ll get into later this week, in fact. For now, I’ll just note that most of the scientific claims made by people opposed to free-roaming cats/TNR are littered with glaring omissions, contradictions, and bias. Unfortunately, government agencies and the media all too often regard these assertions as the indisputable truth.

    I’ve spent the past nine months or so sifting through many studies on the topic of free-roaming cats, making my findings available via my blog, Vox Felina ( As I’ve noted on the blog, there are legitimate issues to be debated concerning free-roaming cats (e.g., regarding the efficacy, environmental impact, and morality of Trap-Neuter-Return). But attempts at an honest, productive debate are hampered—if not derailed entirely—by the bogus claims so often put forward by opponents of free-roaming cats/TNR.

    And finally, regarding TNS–as you point out, it’s certainly preferable to TNR. Unfortunately, there are far too few sanctuaries out there to make a significant impact (you may be interested in my post on the subject:

    Peter J. Wolf

  11. 11
    Luisa de Argentina

    Hi, I´m from Buenos Aires, Argentina, I would like to tell you that there are many cats and dogs aswell (people leave them in open areas like parks, streets, etc. but up to now there is no a firm legislation on what to do with them. I see them constantly, some people adopt the, but others are still on the street, speciallydogs, theysuffer more than cats and I suffer because I see them on those conditions. Luisa from Argentina (South America)

  12. 12


    There is not enough resource and funding to build and maintain such facilities that you mention to secure all the feral cats in this country. In fact in our area, there are not enough farms to keep all the feral cats in our community as barn cats. In short, your idea is impractical. As Peter mentioned, sometimes these sanctuaries become death-traps for cats, although they start out as well-intended facilities.

    As for the quality of life of feral cats, I have relocated feral cats when I felt that their situation was not safe, living in a strip mall where one side was the train track, another side was a Jiffy Lube and the opposite side was a fast-food drive-thru. Luckily, there were only three cats to relocate to a farm in the country.

    The “quality of life” of all creatures living outdoors is precarious, not just for feral cats, this includes wildlife, too. In fact, some humans have very poor quality of life as they get old and sick, compared to a young, healthy, TNR feral cat. In most instances, feral cat colonies are well looked after by their human caretakers.

    I have to agree w/Peter regarding feral cats and wildlife. It’s a cop-out excuse to blame cats on the dwindling population of native birds and other wildlife. There are other causes that need to be closely examined. Sadly, cats are an easy target.

    Right now, TNR is the only practical and humane solution to the feral cat population in our community. It’s all done by caring volunteers on their time and their dime.

  13. 13

    Lise, Ear-tipping a TNR cat is not disfiguring. It shows that the cat is loved by someone who is caring for it’s well-being. It’s the only visible way for anyone to know that a cat has been spayed/neutered, rather than going through anesthesia and then finding out later the cat was already fixed. Other methods have been examined to indicate that a cat is spayed/neutered, but ear-tipping is the safest and most visible method. In fact, I’ve adopted-out an ear-tipped cat when I didn’t realize at first that the cat in my humane trap was tame/friendly.

  14. 14

    i’m going to try to snap a picture to send in. lately our area has been progressing a great deal with regard to the management of feral cats. our local animal control facility has started working with animal welfare groups to keep from euthanizing all of the feral cats that are trapped as a “nuisance” and brought in. they try to find their caretaker, they talk to the parties involved…explain feral cats and TNR, try to make suggestions that might make living with them easier. there are also some “barn cat” programs, where ferals that need a new caretaker are fixed and adopted out to farmers as mousers. in any case, if they can’t find the cat’s original caretaker, they try to find a new one. we took in several unclaimed “ear-notched” cats this way back in February. one turned out to be socialized, and he’s inside with us now. 2 others were truly feral, and they’re living in our back yard. they’re not stuck in the yard…they can come and go as tehy please, but they rarely leave the yard, because they’re happy there. anyone who subscribes to the overly broad generalization that all feral cats live miserable lives has never seen my ferals. many evenings i look into the back yard to see one cats that we call Nut sprawled out on her back sunning herself, or another that we call Nibbles batting at gnats in out kitchen window. they have a safe place and a better life than many socialized pet cats do. i’ve been trying to get a good picture of Nut sunning her belly as a good example of this, but i’m having a hard time.

  15. 15

    On the ear-tipping: It’s painful at first, I’m sure, but once healed I don’t think the cat notices. After all, most feral cats end up with chunks missing from their ears due to fighting and mating. At least this is a one-time cut, under anesthesia, that is properly cleaned. Plus, once fixed, the cats fight a whole lot less. Females no longer go into heat, so they don’t receive mating injuries. Males are not as aggressive and territorial with each other. As several others have already pointed out, ear-tipping is the easiest way to quickly identify if a cat has been fixed. If a tipped-cat is trapped, they can be released right away and not go through the stress and pain accompanying neutering. In my personal experience, the ear-tipping has also saved cats from being picked up by animal control. Animal control knows the cat is neutered, and thus less likely to be aggressive or diseased. Most places that neuter feral cats (our local Humane Society does so for free) also give the cat a rabies shot (often required by law). A neighbor, who hates cats, reported a local ear-tipped feral had “attacked” his 4 year old daughter. Of course, animal control had to come out… but were not required to pick up the cat for quarantine b/c she had her ear-tip and we were available to tell Animal Control she was recently neutered. Animal control knew she’d received her rabies shot and was not a threat. The ear-tip saved her life.

  16. 16

    The people against TNR never have any practical solutions they just want to complain about cats going after wildlife which has been highly exaggerated by the anti-feral cat crowd. So much of the feral cat population lives where people are since that is where their food sources are. Wildlife including birds have already been killed off by a large degree by urban sprawl and contaminated environments but it’s the cats that are often and wrongly blamed instead. Once you read more about the anti-feral and stray cat group’s mission they not only promote the killing of feral cats but strays also which many times are lost or abandoned cats. Thank goodness most people don’t subscribe to their kill mentality. There are millions of free-roaming cats you cannot put them on these supposed sanctuaries who would pay to operate these places? And like another person said they often become death traps since the large numbers cats are housed together.

    Once again, to solve this we need to use something that is economical and effective and that is trap-neuter-return. It has been proven to work better than anything else it just has to be done on a wide scale to have the most impact.

    It’s upsetting to hear about TNR being “controversial” since I believe this is also overblown. The “controversy” usually comes from misguided bird lovers and people who have always hated cats. If there should be a controversy it SHOULD be wasting hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars every year killing millions of feral and stray cats which has shown not to have any longterm effect on reducing their numbers. The trap and kill method is also horribly cruel since there is no quick and painless death at the shelter no matter what people say.

  17. 17

    Laurella Said:
    TNR is a stop gap measure that makes the cat care takers feel good…but doesn’t do much for the cats OR the native wildlife.
    TNR needs to GROW UP and become TNS!!!!

    So Laurella how many feral cats are you willing to shelter yourself? How many facilities have you made a significant donation to in order to care for them?

    It does not make me “feel good” to return feral cats to their communities… but the relief of not having half a dozen new litters every other month in my neighborhood is astounding. In my urban neighborhood these cats are more likely to be the target of “native” wildlife (like raccoons) than making prey of it. I have a small group of cats that I spend a great deal of time catching, paying the small fee that a local group charges for speutering, I feed them, get them their rabies shots as much as possible and provide shelter for them based on alley cat allies advice. I have 8 cats in my house all rescues.. including one of the ferals I grabbed young enough to somewhat socialize. The shelter I volunteer for is overflowing with the throw aways that are not feral.

    You make it sound like there is an abundance of shelter for these cats.. when you build one let me know, I’ve got about 30 cats you can move in.

  18. 18

    Wendy, THANK YOU for all you do not only for the cats but for your community. There are three choices on how to approach the feral and stray cat issue. One is to ignore it and let the cats continue to breed, starve and overwhelm shelters and rescue groups. The second is to trap and kill some of the cats and let the remaining ones breed which solves nothing, OR start aggressive and comprehensive TNR programs for communities which along with colony management (meaning fixing any new cats that come along) this will eventually result in their numbers decreasing over time. Besides stopping the breeding and preventing new litters every year, TNR eliminates behaviors associated with unfixed cats such as fighting, spraying and yowling. The cats and communities DESERVE an effective, economical and long term solution and TNR is the answer. People who feed cats just have to be educated and motivated so they will fix the cats they are feeding. There are so many cats out there and the only conceivable way to reduce their numbers is to get the people who are feeding them to also do the fixing. I’ve been involved with rescue and TNR for over 20 years and I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t see for myself that it works better than anything else at reducing the numbers of cats. One thing communities can do to get the word out about TNR better and reach more people is to do TNR workshops. People can then learn how to successfully manage feral and stray cat colonies so they will get the cats fixed in time. Read more about these workshops on the Neighborhood Cats website:
    I believe Neighborhood Cats still sells binders with instructions on how to do TNR workshops. They are very knowledgeable and helpful so if you have any questions just email them at the address on their website.

  19. 19

    Stephenie is correct in that it costs tax-payers money to catch-n-kill, rather than TNR. Our local animal shelter said that it costs them $100 to trap and euthanize each feral cat. And it is estimated that we have close to 195,000 in our community. That is why our county supports TNR and provides free spay/neuter service to trapped feral cats, which is paid for by “animal friendly” state license plate. Out of all the options to control the feral cat population, TNR is the best choice, humanely and economically.

    As for organizations like the American Bird Conservatory and Audubon Society blaming cats on the diminishing population of migratory and native birds, here is a link to an article about how 10,000 migratory birds were trapped by blinding lights during a 9/11 tribute, which clearly indicates was caused humans and not by cats:

  20. 20

    Out of curiosity… what kind of food are all of these TNR cats getting fed? If any of it is from factory farms how can you argue that it the the HUMANE solution?
    Cats are predators, if they live, something else (lots of something elses) must die!

    Also, just because an activity is less destructive than another, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a problem too.

  21. 21

    Clem, I have a colony of feral cats at a local high school that I feed everyday and TNR at my own expense and time. The food that I provide to the cats is Costco brand Kirkland dry cat food, which is the best dry cat food after researching the topic.

    Humans are predators, too. If we live, then something else must die. I’m not sure what you are getting at with your comments about cats being predators and what they are fed. And what exactly is your issue with TNR?

  22. 22

    I have a ferel cat that I adopted from in front of my work 6 years ago. She lives in the house (I live in the country), she is well fed and well cared for and of course, spayed. But, because she had no human contact until she was about 4 months old, to this day she will not let me touch her. Over the years, she’s pemitted me to walk a little closer to her as each year passes and now, I can walk within 6 inches of her without her taking off. Maybe next year I’ll get to touch her but, no matter what she does, she has a loving, caring home for life. So, if you are not avid about holding or petting your cat, you can still adopt a ferel cat just don’t expect to touch them before they are senior citizens.

  23. 23

    Clem, what on earth do you suggest we feed the cats which are carnivores? Soy and vegetables? While you are making silly comments about what the cats are fed we are out there fixing them and helping to solve the problem.

    JD, I know lots of people who feed their ferals the Costco Kirkland brand. They say it is the most nutritional dry food for the money. It can attact ants more than other brands so they use something called diatomaceous earth and sprinkle it around the bowls on the ground. It’s non-toxic and is great for getting rid of the ants. They buy it from Earthworks Health on the internet.

    Thanks again for all you do for the kitties!

  24. 24

    Stephanie, I use the moat-technique to keep the ants away. I buy different sizes of cake pans from the thrift stores for like a $1 to $2 each, the larger size holds the water and the smaller one holds the food in the water moat. It has worked really well this summer to keep the ants off the food. I’ll have to look into the diamaceous earth product you mentioned, though. Thanks!

  25. 25

    JD and Stephanie,
    First of all, yes, of course cats are carnivores and should be fed such a diet (however we humans are omnivores and most of us don’t actually need to eat any animal products at all). I have formally feral housecats myself, they eat meat but I don’t.

    Many folks who practice TNR claim that one of the reasons for doing it rather than trap-and-remove (and possibly euthanize) is that it is inhumane to euthanize/kill an otherwise healthy animal. But isn’t that exactly what is being done to the chickens or other animals that are being fed to the cats? Why are their lives less valuable? It is not even a 1 for 1 trade – several must die so that one might live.
    This, of course, leads to the conclusion that there really is no such thing as ‘no-kill’.
    And that is my issue, many TNR practitioners claim it is the only “humane” solution and embrace the “no-kill” ideology – when in fact, neither is wholly true.

    The whole real point of practicing TNR over TR or TNS is because you don’t want to kill CATS and you don’t have enough money and space to take full responsibility for them all yourself. Other animals really don’t seem to matter as much – at least that is how it appears.
    Of course we humans destroy a great deal of life all around us, but that doesn’t mean every “lesser” evil is irrelevant. Native wild creatures can thrive in my backyard if I give them a chance – and part of that is by keeping them safe from my cats (which are not humane killers).
    Choosing what lives and dies is indeed a subjective value and a difficult personal decision many of us are not well prepared for. Please do not make it sound like TNR is the true and only moral high ground – it is simply not the case.

    Oh, and by the way, there is NO SUCH THING as the VACUUM EFFECT! Read a wildlife management textbook. Animals do not go to an area to live just because none of their kind is there – there is something that is attracting them there (like people feeding them). TR (and possibly kill) does have the ability to take care of the feral cat problem much more quickly and efficiently than TNR and is used in areas with endangered species.
    If you want to work for a real long term solution, spend your time and money finding and helping all of those cat owners out there who do not fix their cats first – otherwise there will always be a source for new ferals.

  26. 26

    Clem, I TNR and I also volunteer every weekend at a low-cost feline spay/neuter clinic to help low-income pet-owners, fosters, and feral trappers. Like you, my goal is to save the world from too many cats through spaying/neutering. Every chance I get, I educate people on the importance of fixing their companion animals, esp. cats. I have even paid for spaying/neutering of other people’s pet cats.

    I’m a vegetarian by choice, animals eat what they can get. Unfortunately, there is no vegetarian pet food that is affordable, I most certainly would feed to my dog and cats. Sometimes practically takes over fantasy, I would love to TNS but it’s not cost/time-effective. And yes, I keep all my housecats indoors.

    I hear people in Haiti are eating cats b/c there is no other source of food, and as you know, cats are prolific breeders. I don’t judge them as much as I am a cat-advocate, the people in Haiti need to survive. Like you say, “It is not even a 1 for 1 trade – several must die so that one might live.”

  27. 27

    Clem, You had so much to say, I forgot to reply to your other comments. I admit that TNR does not solve all the problems with the feral cat population, but it is the most cost-effective and humane choice right now out of all the options that you mention, i.e. catch-n-kill or trap-neuter-secure.

    If the public believes the money and resource could be spent on your other two options, then I think that would be happening. In fact, catch-n-kill has been implemented without success, as there will always be a food source for the cats, whether it is from wildlife or human; hence the VACUUM EFFECT. Unless the area is isolated, like on an island, you will never be able to kill all the feral cats in a given population to get rid of them permanently

    I started feeding and TNR a colony at a local school b/c the cats were there first. Not because one day I decided to leave food out for any cats that come along. The stray cats from the surrounding neighborhood were attracted to the food left behind by the students at the school. It is difficult to control the behavior of the kids by telling them to pick-up their trash, if you ever have teenagers of your own.

    The most practical solution then was TNR those cats on my own time and my own dime. It would cost the county $100 to catch-n-kill every cat. (An estimate of 195,000 feral cats is living in my community.) And obviously, I do not have the property for TNS, as my neighbors would start to complain.

    However, I have relocated ear-tipped cats that were living in an unsafe area to a farm in the country, owned by a fellow-trapper. But real estate is valuable here, and there is not enough land available to secure all the feral cats in this country.

    Regardless of the “no-kill” movement, spaying/neutering is the most cost-effective solution to preventing unwanted and unadoptable companion animals. This is especially true for cats, as people will spend more on their dogs than on cats. As I have mentioned in my previous post, I volunteer every weekend at a feline spay/neuter clinic, educate people on the importance of fixing there pets, and even pay for the service myself on behalf of low-income cat-owners.

    At least we both can agree on your last comment, “If you want to work for a real long term solution, spend your time and money finding and helping all of those cat owners out there who do not fix their cats first – otherwise there will always be a source for new ferals.”

  28. 28

    Oops, grammatical error, it read “their pets” not “there pets” in the 6th paragraph, 5th line.

  29. 29


    I agree with you as far as spay and neutering pets and am glad you help others out! I think the cat overpopulation problem would be better dealt with if we figured out how to get nearly all (ideally all) pets fixed first.

    However, I think it is debatable whether or not TNR is the best and the “most humane solution” – Most humane for whom?

    Many of us agree that we wouldn’t let our pet cats roam outdoors unattended – why? Why is it ‘good’ to treat these unowned cats differently? (especially keeping in mind that many ‘feral’ cats in colonies are or become tame)
    – of course, my answer is that I do not think it is humane to let domestic animals roam free (even feral domestic animals).

    Many cats hunt, to what extent is debatable, but we did breed them to have a strong hunting drive. Many cats do hunt whether or not they are hungry (I know mine do). Have you ever seen a cat hunt? I doubt they mean to be cruel but it certainly appears like a terrible way to die! Is allowing a free roaming cat to, even if only occasionally, kill a bird or even ‘just’ a mouse or a lizard a humane thing to do? Wouldn’t live-trapping or even quickly killing a mouse in a snap trap be more humane?
    As sad as it is to have to put a cat down, I think it is more humane to quickly put it down than to allow it to cause slow and painful deaths (and it may die that way too). Especially considering that it is an exotic predator and native animals are not well adapted to their hunting style.

    I know it is not the cats’ faults that they are there, but why do other animals have to suffer? It isn’t their fault either.

    Is “the public” really so opposed to catch and kill? (I’ve seen the ACA surveys and have talked to many people) I actually doubt it. If you do not shove it in their faces, many people just don’t really care one way or the other. There are many of us animal lovers who are OK with it. I derive no joy from it – but see it as the ‘most humane’ way to deal with an unowned feral cat. [I have already taken 3 ferals into my home -and helped others get adopted – but have no room for more.]
    Catching and euthanizing a cat causes no more pain than catching and anesthetizing them for surgery.

    Does that make sense how “most humane” is debatable in the case of TNR?

  30. 30

    Trapping and removing cats can be just as effective (and I would argue more than) as trapping, fixing, and returning cats. Well, if you remove the cat, it is not there any more!

    If you look at Dr. Levy’s study on the ACA website, you will see that most of the reduction in the cat colony’s numbers was due to cats being REMOVED. That is where you see most of the dramatic reductions in numbers of cats in TNR colonies.

    Fixed cats are less territorial – new cats may move into an area regardless of a colony’s presence and even if they don’t, they are still out there. Once you start feeding a colony of cats, you have just INCREASED the carrying capacity of that area for cats.
    If you don’t get greater than 80% of the area’s cats fixed (not just in an individual colony), the (possibly fed) unaltered cats can easily make up for everyone else. Many people don’t realize just how important that is! Again, if you have just a few irresponsible pet owners in the area, they too can make up for all of your TNR efforts.
    In these cases, you are probably better off doing nothing rather than TNR.

    Is TNR really the most cost effective? How many times have I heard TNR practitioners ask for money – and not just from private individuals? What if you add up the REAL value of EVERYTHING that goes into TNR. What if we allowed animal control to immediately euthanize unowned feral cats (no more holding costs)? That may even result in people keeping better track (proper ID) of their pets so they don’t accidently get killed. I know it sounds harsh, but we don’t live in a perfect world.

    Sadly, unlike us, most people are rather indifferent to the plight of cats and the other creatures that share our world with us. If they don’t see it, they just don’t think about it.

  31. 31


    The real question then is TNR vs trap-n-kill. What would the community allow and what would they pay for? All feral cats that are turned over to any shelter are immediately euthanized, but animal control will not go out and trap-n-kill feral cats b/c it is costly.

    In my community, it costs $100 per cat for municipality to trap-n-kill, while it costs very little to TNR b/c it’s all done by volunteers with their own time and money, like myself. I don’t ask people for donation to support my TNR efforts, but I have received contributions. (People and businesses will donate to causes they strongly support.) Otherwise, the food, surgery, vaccines are paid for from my pocket. That’s how I choose to spend my time and money even if greater than 80% sterility in my colony maybe difficult to achieve.

    If there were volunteers out there willing to spend their time and money to trap-n-kill feral cats, then such programs would exist. But I don’t see that happening b/c the majority of the public believes that feral cats should be given their chance to live even if their existence maybe miserable. Patients in the ICU who are barely hanging on to life do not have much to live, but society doesn’t decide to put them down b/c their outcome is poor. Who are we to make the decision to kill a healthy cat b/c it may end-up with a painful and slow death? We could apply that same idea to humans, too…look at all those pitiful people in Haiti, dying slowly and painfully.

    As for cats killing birds and other wildlife, you need to read the articles written by Peter Wolf, which examines the mis-information on this subject at His writing on this controversy is very in-depth. I cannot summarize his analysis in just a couple of sentences, but there are definitely a lot of unscientific studies published on the negative aspects of TNR and cats killing birds, which only perpetuates the myth and stereotype of feral cats.

    I agree that TNR is not the perfect solution to the feral cat population, but it is the most practical option over TNS or trap-n-kill. How do you know that if you remove the cats through killing or relocation, that other cats won’t invade that same territory? If there is a food source from trash, human feeding, or nature, then there will be outside cats taking-over the same territory. Even if there is no caregiver putting down food, there are other food source. I started TNR b/c the cats were there first, living on an existing food source, i.e. food and trash from the high school students. I was certainly not putting down food to attract cats or to seek more work in my life.

    I personally believe that our society would NOT accept killing of free-roaming cats. In China, they kill domestic cats to sell the fur to other countries for use in fashion. And as you know, Americans feel very strongly against the Chinese government for supporting that type of industry. Can you imagine if the public found out that their own government is killing feral cats for no reason other than to rid them of their presence? I don’t think it would by OK.

    You say that we are better off doing nothing rather than TNR. However, I feel differently as Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”

  32. 32


    I guess I need to clarify some of my statements.

    When I asked what is the real cost of TNR, I meant, what is the value of establishing and maintaining a TNR cat? How many hours per week do you spend taking care of each cat, how much does the spay/neuter cost (and if it is subsidized, how much is the real cost), how much does the food cost? I think you will find it is more than $100 per cat.

    As a real life example, wildlife biologists find it much more practical to manage deer by manipulating the environment and hunting than by trapping and sterilizing them. If you put out food for them, say in a suburban backyard, they will congregate in greater numbers and eat more of your neighbors’ plants while they are there!

    Again, if you don’t catch a high enough percentage of your cat population, you are effectively not accomplishing anything as far as controlling the problem is concerned. In fact, if you accidently are feeding some fertile cats, you may be making things worse! If you don’t watch your ‘feral’ cats eat every last bite of the food you put out, how do you know other animals, like raccoons, opossums, foxes, and rats aren’t eating that food too? Raccoons are major rabies vectors. If your cats are tame enough to let you watch them eat, doesn’t that mean they aren’t ‘true ferals’ and therefore should be adopted out?
    Other feral cats may immigrate to an area whether or not a colony is there.

    If you did nothing –with the ferals-, you would be saving all of that money – which you could put towards the ultimate source of feral cats – people’s pets (which I think we agree on). The feral cat population would be limited by the local carrying capacity if you did nothing (I’m not saying that is the optimal level, but their population growth does have limits if resources are limited).
    I do not advocate doing nothing – but the idea that doing “anything is better than nothing” is not true.

    Also, there are people who volunteer to trap and remove cats. But because of occasional death threats and specific groups of people (like ACA) they rarely widely advertise their activities. I’ve talked to a number of people who really don’t care one way or the other (as long as it is humane). Granted, that is not a formal survey, but the surveys I’ve seen that indicate the public is pro-free-roaming cats asked leading questions. There are many reasons to remove free-roaming cats, not just because a person ‘doesn’t like them’- I actually like cats.

    While the overall impact of cats on wildlife may be debatable, I was trying to point out their impact on a very individual level – the same scale as TNR proponents use to justify TNR (because it matters to each individual cat). If saving each individual cat’s life is important, shouldn’t the individual birds and other creatures’ lives matter as well? If several animals must die so that one cat can live… doesn’t really seem logical to me.

    I realize that many people who practice TNR have invested large amounts of time, money and love into the cats they try to help. For many of them, the cats are essentially their wild pets. It would be very hard to accept it if they were told that their efforts aren’t doing anyone else any good and may possibly be doing some harm.

    The only reason I see for a person to practice TNR is because the practitioner loves cats (above other creatures) and can’t afford to keep them all as pets on their own property (or can’t find homes for them all).


  1. [...] on the SFSPCA?) is adding to her ink with a special tattoo marking her as a proponent of TNR, or Trap-Neuter-Return. TNR is the most effective and humane way to deal with the cat overpopulation problem. Love this [...]

Leave a Reply