Poll: Should Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs be used to handle feral cats?

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are cats who have had little or no significant contact with humans. These cats are used to fending for themselves and don’t do well as an indoor pet cat.

Many cat lovers have turned to Trap-Neuter-Return programs (also known as TNR) to handle the feral cats in their communities.

There may already be TNR programs running near you. However, not everyone is thrilled with TNR.

  – Photo by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez
What is TNR?

The idea behind a Trap-Neuter-Return program is to control the population of feral cats and allow feral cats to get necessary care while remaining feral.  Ideally, feral cats would be taken care of by the community that they live in- provided with suitable food, water, and shelter. Volunteers would humanely trap the cats and bring them to the veterinarian to:

  • Be spayed or neutered
  • Given proper vaccinations
  • Receive and ear tip –  removal of a part of the left ear (this doesn’t hurt the cat) to notify other members of the public that the cat has been spayed or neutered.

Once the veterinary procedures have been finished, all socialized cats and feral kittens (under 12 weeks old) would be placed up for adoption. All feral cats would be returned to the community from which they were trapped and continue to live outdoors. Sickly cats would be treated as their illness required.

What is the debate really about?

Both sides of the TNR argument agree that there is an overpopulation of feral cats. They also agree that spaying and neutering cats is essential to stabilizing the cat population. The real debate lies in the following questions:

  • Whose responsibility is the care of feral cats?
  • Can feral cats live happy, healthy lives outdoors?
  • Can feral cats live in harmony with humans and the other species living around them?
  • What do we do with cats who are not socialized enough to be adopted into homes?
The Argument Against TNR

Generally, groups like  The Wildlife Society and American Bird Conservancy (who oppose TNR) believe that TNR does not actually decrease the feral cat population. It is more of a warm fuzzy idea that doesn’t work out well in reality.

They also state that it costs far less money euthanize the unadoptable feral cats than it does to spay/neuter them and care for them as ferals. These are the answers I believe groups that are against TNR  would give to the above questions .

  • Feral cats are ultimately the responsibility of humane organizations and animal control groups. It is their job to look out for the welfare of these animals, and if need be, euthanize them.
  • Feral cats cannot live happy, healthy lives. You can’t tell people that they should keep their pet cats indoors to keep them healthy and free of disease, then say that feral cats are fine out there. Contagious illnesses like , FIV, and FeLV are spreading rapidly among feral cats causing suffering and death. These cats are also at high risk for being hit by cars or harmed by bad people.
  • Feral cats do not live in harmony with humans and other species around them. They are a nuisance and health threat to humans (possibly carrying rabies and parasites). The growing feral cat population has also caused a dangerous decline in the bird population.
  • If a cat is not adoptable, then it should be euthanized. This is a more humane treatment than allowing them to go back out onto the streets where they can suffer from disease and malice. Cats need to be kept indoors only.
The Argument For TNR

Those who support TNR like The Alley Cat Allies and The Neighborhood Cats, believe that feral cats deserve to continue to inhabit this earth with us. They emphasize that what animal control groups call “euthanizing” a feral cat is really just “killing” the feral cat because there is no medical reason for ending the cat’s life.  I believe that the proponents of TNR would answer the debate questions as follows:

  • Feral cats are the responsibility of the people in the community that they live in. Members of the community should volunteer to carry out the different parts of the TNR program.
  • Feral cats can and do lead happy, healthy lives outdoors. Having them spayed or neutered increases their quality of life. No longer worried about reproduction, they have less stress and fight less often. Feral cats have been known to live 7 years or more.
  • Feral cats have no problem living in harmony with the humans and other species around them – especially after being spayed or neutered. It is humans that have a hard time living with other species. Yes, there are populations of birds and other species declining, but it is due to human activity.
  • If a cat is not socialized enough to be adopted, it should be spayed or neutered, then returned to it’s natural habitat to live as it pleases.

We invite you to give your opinion whether the overpopulation of feral cats should be managed through TNR programs. Please vote and also leave your comments at the bottom of this page.

Should Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs be used to handle feral cats?

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This article was first published by PlayfulKitty.net on 02 June 2014.

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Irene Leggett
Irene Leggett

Instead of blaming the cats, the blame should be on the ignorant, uncaring, so-called ‘owners’ of these cats as they didn’t, and don’t, appear by MAGIC.No, in the first instance they were dumped and abandoned so blame the right species, HUMANS. Perhaps if cheaper spay/neuter options were offered or even carried out for free, this would eventually lead to less cats (or dogs) being dumped. Its time to educate the owners and stop blaming the animals. WE are the most destructive, cruel, brutal, sadistic, barbaric species that walks this earth, WE will cause our own extinction.

Ksen Pallegedara

Stephanie Michelle Cleveland If extermination of outdoor cats as advanced by birders and practiced for most of the 20th century worked, we wouldn't be delaing with generations of feral cats now. The very extapolated numbers touted by birders are testament to failure of extermination as a long term solution, and yet birders continue to advocate for it. Since it obvious that extermaintion is not effective, the only other rationale for advocating for it is killing cats for the sake of killing cats.
So, how many dead cats will satisfy you?

Shrodinger's Cat

I appreciate the comments of the wildlife rehabilitators and others who understand the damage that free roaming cats do to the environment. Cats are basically wild animals that have become adapted to living along side of people but still retain their hunting prowess. People who feed feral cats are contributors to the greatest environmental damage possible. This is because they are creating subsidized predators. In the wild there can only exist a small number of preditors who are dependant on their prey for survival. That is the balance of nature. When you feed outdoor cats, you can promote a population… Read more »

Donna Bremner

Stephanie Michelle Cleveland Stephanie I understand and respect your opinion, as I do not like what cats do to wildlife as well. However, killing healthy animals is unacceptable and cruel. The only way to put a stop to this is with an agressive TNR program. If done properly it will eventually reduce the numbers signifigantly of roaming cats. The problem is it may take a number of years for these cats to die off. In the mean time, focus needs to be on spaying and nuetering domestic cats. Somehow controling the people who insist on breeding their cats and selling… Read more »

Connie Beroza

As a wildlife rehabilitator, I have seen first-hand the harm done to small wild critters by outdoor cats. Remember that our "domestic" cat is an invasive species when it roams outdoors (an invasive species is an animal or plant which has been introduced to an ecosystem where it wasn't before, and which has a negative impact on that ecosystem — the birds, small mammals, amphibians, reptiles and insects that cats kill by the billions did not co-evolve with the domestic cat and so are not suited to survive in confrontations — the cat is a predator with an overwhelming advantage… Read more »

Stephanie Michelle Cleveland

How about birds, amphibians, small mammals and other wildlife that cats torture and kill. That's just what cats do, you can't train it out of them, they kill for play and practice, not for food. Why do you care more about the lives of cats than the suffering of wildlife?

Stephanie Michelle Cleveland

Please do not support feral cat colonies. I don't understand the callousness to wildlife on this site. Do people not realize that outdoor domestic cats kill billions upon billions of birds, frog, chipmunks, moths, lizards, snakes, and other wildlife each year? Cats kill for sport, and they often torture their victims, it is not like being put to sleep at all. Domestic cat populations are secure and not threatened, whereas many bird and frog species are in serious trouble. Do we want a world where biodiversity is viable, or do we just want to have a world full of introduced… Read more »

Stephanie Michelle Cleveland

No, domestic cats are not considered wildlife. They are an introduced feral population, like pigeons in NYC (except, pigeons don't kill native wildlife) or anacondas in the Florida Everglades. TNR is not humane to the 3.7 billion birds cats kill each year. They kill even higher numbers of small vertebrates like frogs, chipmunks, as well as threatened insects. This morning I found a frog in my yard that my neighbor's domestic cat had ripped in half. It had eaten the head and left one eye on the grass, gazing up at nothing. The frogs body was torn in half with… Read more »

Donna Bremner

How does a "Wildlife Society" preach about euthanizing feral cats. Are they not considered wildlife as well as other animals? TNR is the only humane way to deal with this problem. I understand their concern about birds, I love them as well, but we also love cats! TNR into colonies that someone will watchover and feed will eventually control the numbers. Euthanizing an animal unless it is on deaths doorstep is cruel and inhumane. That want to live just as you and I and have a right to life.

Deborah Perry

TNR definitley works. I volunteer with a Toronto rescue and the colonies have been managed very effectively.

Christine Harris

"JAVMA": “Evaluation of the Effect of a Long-Term Trap-Neuter-Return and Adoption Program on a Free- Roaming Cat Population.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 222, no. 1 (2003): 42-46.

"Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—A comprehensive long-term program of neutering followed by adoption or return to the resident colony can result in reduction of free-roaming cat populations in urban areas."


Christine Harris

"Investigation Reveals Failures at U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service"

Christine Harris

Research: TNR works. "…the publication of “Simulating Free-Roaming Cat Population Management Options in Open Demographic Environments” must be recognized as an enormously important contribution to the body of literature concerned with the management of unowned free-roaming cats in general, and TNR in particular."

Brenda Robinson

Killing should not be the go to. There is always another way, find that and use it. We ALL want to live!

Carol Ann Davies

TNR is a scandal. The fools who set this policy needs to jailed. The Scottish wildcat is meant to be in the UK not the domestic cat.

Lesley Garland
Lesley Garland

Feral cats do not belong in the UK. Both feral and domestic cats cause untold damage to the environment particularly the UK songbird population. They are also threatening our remaining true wild cat by transmitting diseases and cross breeding. All feral cats should be removed. The humanist way to remove then is to neuter all of them and allow the population to die out.

Larry Jordan

By now this should be a no-brainer. TNR does not work. There are several reasons why Hawaii is called the extinction capital of the world and TNR is one of them. Oahu alone has over 300,000 feral cats and they have a TNR program. Does that sound like a program that works? Read this article by Ted E. Eubanks: http://goo.gl/F6nRTZ

Helen Wood

Neutered cats still fight. In fact, my mother's neutered tom was constantly getting into fights with other male cats and several times needed to be treated for the abscesses so caused. It is a myth that cutting somebody's testicles off puts them in a better temper.

Helen Wood

No, it's just another stupid human interference that can cause terrible consequences. A feral colony of cats can work very well, until some plonker comes along and neuters them all, making sure there is no new generation and leaving the colony to age and die.

Just for once, humans should deal with their own issues and leave the cats to deal with theirs.

But mine is an unpopular view, because even alleged cat lovers seem to have an unstoppable urge to surgically mutilate cats and hack bits off their ears.

Mikal Deese

Trap, Neuter, and Protect cats into enclosed colonies if you want, but do not release them to continue decimating wildlife. The science tells us that unless 80 to 90% of the cats are neutered, the population continues to grow. Only a hand full of programs have ever, anywhere, been shown to actually reduce the number of feral cats. Most only address a tiny proportion of the numbers in the wild and become a convenient dumping place for more unwanted cats. These are domestic animals that do not belong in any wild environment. They do not deserve to live any more… Read more »

Mark McCandlish

I have personally seen both sides of the trap-neuter-release vs trap-neuter-adopt regarding feral cats. All of the factors described in the video above are completely accurate. Local bird populations here in the Redding area have suffered, particularly ground-nesting birds, like Quail. In one instance, a small population of four cats that were not neutered, multiplied up to twenty cats in just two or three years. An indigenous population of Quail- a flock of about sixty individuals was nearly wiped out. Over a two year period, the feral cats were trapped neutered (and depending on their behavioral attributes), about half were… Read more »

Susan Frudd

They deserve to live if there is support for them. Neutering is I think good and keeps the population down and no infected abcesses from fights. Disease is a difficult area who is responsible for the care. Along with the ferals what about many other species of animals who have to survive alongside the human race often suffering cruelty and exploitation, loss of habitat. What will be next foxes, wolves and so on. I know there is the bird issue as cats do take them but we have no right to decide life or death for them unless they are… Read more »

Paul Seligman
Paul Seligman

You’re asking the wrong question. Start with ‘should we attempt to reduce the population of feral cats? ‘

Them you can ask ‘by neutering’ or ‘by humanely killing’?

Or combine into one question with yes/no options.

As it is, the “no” respondents, including myself, may want to leave the moggies alone or to eliminate as many as possible.