Trap-neuter- release (T.N.R.) is a program that has been utilized in the United States for decades after its initial success in Europe. T.N.R. is the humane approach to controlling feral cat overpopulation, where feral cats are trapped, neutered, or spayed, and then returned to their original habitat.
T.N.R. is a community-based program where concerned citizens trap free-roaming cats in their neighborhoods and bring them into a clinic to get them spayed or neutered. The cats’ ears are then “tipped” to designate that this particular feline has already been treated. The cats are then returned to the exact same spot that they were picked up, so that they can live out the rest of their natural lives. In an ideal situation, a caregiver will also provide food, water, and shelter for these cats.
Before the T.N.R. program, feral cats were captured and turned into animal shelters, where they were likely put to sleep. This practice still exists in many areas. Catch and kill may temporarily reduce the numbers of feral cats, but it doesn’t solve the problem in the long term. Cats are living in a certain area because there is an available food source and some sort of shelter. These feral cats breed prolifically, and more cats will move in to take advantage of the natural resources and shelter available in this location. So, trap and remove doesn’t work to curb the number of feral cats in a community.
How T.N.R. Helps Local Cat Populations
By stabilizing the cat population, feral cats will naturally have more space, shelter, and food, as well as fewer risks of disease. After they are spayed or neutered, cats living in outdoor colonies tend to gain weight and live healthier lives. Spayed cats are also less likely to develop breast cancer and will not be at risk for ovarian or uterine cancer. Neutering male cats can also reduce the risk of injury and infection, since intact males have a natural instinct to fight with other cats.
T.N.R. also helps local cat populations by stopping the breeding cycle of cats, improving the lives of the cats, while preventing reproduction. T.N.R. provides a life-saving and effective solution for feral cat colonies. Here’s how T.N.R. can help:
- Stabilizes feral cat colonies. Colonies involved in T.N.R. diminish in size over time. T.N.R. stabilizes feral cat populations by ending reproduction and by removing socialized cats from the colony.
- Improves the lives of feral cats. Cats live healthier, more peaceful lives after T.N.R., relieving them of the constant stresses of mating and pregnancy. Mating behaviors like roaming, yowling, spraying, and fighting come to an end. The cats are also vaccinated against rabies, so they are less susceptible to infectious diseases.
- Meets the needs of the community. When residents understand that something is being done to control the cat population, they usually embrace having a T.N.R. program. The cat population stabilizes so there are no new kittens, cats become quieter and generally better neighbors.
- Protects the lives of the cats. The number one cause of death for cats in America is being killed in shelters. When cats are neutered, vaccinated, and returned to their colonies, they can live out their natural lives.
- Works where other methods fail. Catch and kill doesn’t work because the feral cats just keep having more kittens, and new cats move in when others are removed. Adoption is not an option for most feral cats since they cannot interact socially with humans. Relocation also has the same shortcomings as the catch and kill method.
What You Can Do to Make an Impact
A feral cat community needs a caretaker in charge of a T.N.R. program. This is an individual or group of individuals who manage the feral cat community. The caretaker keeps watch over the cats, providing food, water, and shelter. They also provide spaying or neutering, and emergency medical care through the T.N.R. program. Some shelters and rescue groups even give out free or low-cost spay or neuter coupons to colony caretakers.
If you are already feeding local community cats, you will most likely find yourself overwhelmed by kittens – unless you take action to get the cats spayed and neutered.
If you’d like to get involved, contact local shelters or welfare groups to see if a T.N.R. workshop is available in your area. Start by helping the cats in your own community. Catch and release cats after being educated about T.N.R. and learning how to properly trap a feral animal. Also, it is important to trap community kittens and, whenever possible, foster and socialize them until they are old enough to be adopted.
To trap a community cat, use tuna, mackerel, sardines, or salmon as bait. Do not use canned cat food. Then, transport the trapped cat to your veterinarian for spaying or neutering immediately upon capture. To help reduce anxiety, place a sheet or towel over the trap so that the cat feels more secure. Make sure to ask to have the cat’s ear “tipped”— the tip of one ear is snipped during surgery to help future rescuers identify the cat (this procedure is painless and risk-free).