Trap-Neuter-Release (Trap-Neuter-Return or TNR), also known as Feral Cat
Colony Management, involves trapping cats, spaying or neutering them, and then
releasing them into the environment. A colony caretaker feeds the cats
indefinitely. Some programs also vaccinate and/or microchip the cats. Often
feral cats are ear-tipped (the tip of the ear is cut) before released. The
stated goal of TNR is to reduce the number of feral cats and eventually to
eliminate colonies through natural attrition. However, this is not the case.
Colonies do not die out, as many TNR advocates would have folks believe. TNR is
based on perpetual colony maintenance. Despite the fact that outdoor cats do not
live relatively long lives, the colonies can easily exist for ten or more years.
Some colonies are as small as 10 to 20 cats and others can number in the
Attrition is a gradual reduction in number, often through death. Natural
attrition is natural death or death caused by old age. Many TNR advocates claim
that colonies reduce in size through natural attrition, but this is not the
case. Colonies may initially and temporarily reduce in size by removing friendly
stray cats for adoption. Those that remain often suffer and live miserable lives
in colonies. Those that do die often have been hit by cars, attacked by dogs or
wildlife, or ravaged by disease. Sometimes cats just disappear and caretakers
never know the fate of these animals.
Native wildlife has not developed the mechanisms to live alongside non-native
predator species. This causes an imbalance and can decimate local wildlife
populations. Native predator-prey fluctuations are normal and maintain an
ecological balance and biodiversity. No balance can exist between domestic cats
(an exotic species) and native wildlife in the environment.
A feral cat is an unsocialized cat. True feral cats are fearful of humans and
are not approachable. A stray cat may be a cat that is lost or who was recently
abandoned. Cats that grow up in the wild in the absence of human contact tend to
be feral. This does not mean they cannot be re-socialized; however, this does
require time, effort and patience. All cats (whether pets, strays or ferals) are
domestic animals. They are not part of the ecosystem and do not belong outdoors.
The wild is neither their natural environment nor their habitat. The domestic
cat, Felis catus, is a descendent of the European and African wild cats. They
were domesticated in Egypt more than 4000 years ago and have since become
dependent upon humans for survival. These cats are not wild and should not be
referred to as "wild cats". Wild cats include species like New Jersey's native
bobcat and Florida's native panther.
TNR does not help feral cats. Often miserable lives are simply prolonged in
these colonies. These cats may not receive regular meals, as all cats in a given
colony may not be accounted for every day. They may not have fresh water during
the colder months. Flies can quickly lay maggot eggs on their food during the
hotter months. Feral cats usually do not receive regular veterinary care because
they are very difficult to trap more than once. Therefore, rabies vaccinations
that expire put the cats at risk for contracting and spreading this fatal
disease. Cats often have intestinal parasites, including roundworms and
hookworms. They also have external parasites, including fleas and ticks. They
may have upper respiratory infections or urinary tract infections. All of these
illnesses and more are almost always left untreated in these cats after they
have been released. Many colonies are poorly "managed" and those that are
maintained at artificially high densities simply serve to spread diseases,
including fatal feline diseases like feline leukemia virus and feline
immunodeficiency virus. Some cats can never be trapped and thus never altered
and never vaccinated.
TNR does not protect wildlife. The "theory" behind TNR is that colonies will
reduce in size, thereby lessening the number of feral cats that can predate on
wild animals. The problem is that this does not happen. In fact, colonies often
grow in size because the cat food attracts neighborhood cats and colonies serve
as dumping grounds for irresponsible owners to abandon their pets. Not every cat
can be trapped and therefore not every cat is altered. Unaltered cats continue
to reproduce. TNR has a harmful effect on wildlife. Every cat has an inherent
ability to hunt. This has been extensively studied and scientifically
documented. Well-fed cats still hunt. Even if they receive regular food, they
are no less motivated to hunt. The areas surrounding colonies in Florida show
bird populations at half the normal levels. Furthermore, cats do not perform a
service by killing rodents. These cats affect the rodent supply for birds of
prey and other animals dependent upon this food source. Also, cats do not
distinguish between an introduced species of mouse and native rodents. Cats are
opportunistic, prolific killers of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
TNR does pose a risk to human and animal health. Not all cats are trapped;
therefore not all cats are vaccinated. Cats are difficult to re-trap for
subsequent care and vaccinations. Cats carry many types of bacteria and can
transmit disease through bites, scratches and fecal contamination. Cats may
defecate in the sand on beaches, in children's sandboxes, in gardens and
flowerbeds. Cats are the only species to shed the parasite, Toxoplasma gondii,
in their feces. This parasite can live for many months in the environment and
causes Toxoplasmosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
states that "Cats play an important role in the spread of toxoplasmosis. They
become infected by eating infected rodents, birds, or other small animals." The
CDC advises avoiding stray cats, covering sandboxes, gardening with gloves, and
keeping cats indoors. Many TNR advocates state that folks are more likely to
acquire Toxoplasmosis from eating or handling raw or undercooked meat or eating
unwashed fruits and vegetables; however, this can be traced back to cats who
have shed the parasite in their feces. Pigs, sheep, deer, and other animals eat
contaminated feed or soil or those fruits and vegetables are grown in
contaminated soil. Then humans eat that produce or meat.
TNR is not a humane or effective solution to the feral cat problem. There are
several companion animal organizations that endorse TNR, but that does not mean
that TNR works or is, in principle, humane. The focus for these organizations
may be more for cats and less for native wildlife. They may wish to recommend
TNR as an alternative to euthanasia, which often is the result for feral cats
brought into local area shelters. However, euthanasia may very well be the most
compassionate outcome for these cats. Nevertheless, euthanasia does not have to
be the only alternative to TNR. Many adult feral cats can be socialized and
adopted into homes, despite what TNR advocates claim. Those cats that absolutely
cannot be socialized can remain on private property and given sanctuary in an
enclosed barn, enclosed cattery, or some other structure that protects them and
keeps them separate from wildlife. At a minimum, those folks who have existing
fencing on their property may construct an enclosure using PVC piping as a
curved barrier, thus keeping cats confined to the property. This will prevent
the cats from roaming, however, wildlife may still enter (unless the top is also
fenced) and this does little to protect the cats from outdoor weather extremes
unless some other structures are available. TNR advocates often state that we
cannot socialize or give sanctuary to millions of feral cats. Likewise, we
cannot TNR millions of feral cats. In fact, out of the seventy million feral
cats in the United States not even one percent has gone through TNR.
TNR advocates often present incorrect and misleading information:
Many TNR advocates state that habitat loss is the "real" cause for declines in
wildlife. Habitat loss IS the primary challenge native wildlife faces. However,
cat predation is also a significant cause of death for wildlife. Secondary
reasons for decline should not be ignored or cast aside as insignificant. Heart
disease is the number one killer for women. Shall we ignore breast cancer
because it is not the leading cause of death?
Many TNR advocates state that humans are the reason for the death of wild birds
and mammals and not free-roaming/feral cats. Allowing cats to roam freely (and
breed uncontrollably) is human behavior. This is just one more way that humans
impose themselves on the environment. Humans have degraded habitat by inflicting
an exotic species, the domestic cat, on the ecosystem. The domestic cat is a
human artifact, and therefore its impact on nature is a human-caused impact.
Many TNR advocates state that scientific studies grossly exaggerate the
estimated number of deaths of wild animals by domestic cats. Actually, even the
most conservative estimates are in the millions nationwide. Extrapolations are
acceptable as long as representative samples are utilized. Studies may
underestimate the actual number of deaths, not taking into account prey
completely consumed, prey killed elsewhere, and prey that escaped but died later
from injuries. Just what level of predation is acceptable? How many wild
creatures should die as a result of free-roaming and feral cats?
Many TNR advocates state that having a caregiver who regularly feeds the cats
and knows their habits can significantly reduce their impact on wildlife. This
is false. Regularly well-fed cats are NO less motivated to hunt. The hunting
instinct is separate from the urge to eat. This has been scientifically proven
and well-documented. The habit of the domestic cat is to hunt. Any outdoor cat
is a threat to wildlife - day or night year-round. Colony caregivers are not
supervising the cats 24/7 and may not even be able to account for every cat,
especially in the larger colonies. In fact, some caretakers simply drop off food
and leave the site. Some ordinances require caretakers to observe the cats at
least twice per week, but there is no minimum allotted time required.
Many TNR advocates state that cats perform a service by killing rodents, but
actually they affect the rodent supply for native wildlife that need that food
to survive. Click here
for more information.
Many TNR advocates state that cats will defend their territory and not allow new
cats into the colony. This is a fallacy. A number of scientific studies have
proven this. Dr. Carol Haspell, who studied cats in Brooklyn, NY, found that,
"cats occupying a certain area do not keep others out, particularly if there is
a feeder." In a study of managed cat colonies at Texas A & M, Dr. Sara Ash
discovered that the feeding stations attracted new cats, including pets, and the
original colony members did not defend their territory. Researchers from the
Universities of Milan and Claude Bernard studied 81 cats at a public square in
Rome, and concluded that, "abundant food led to high local densities of feral
domestic cats and the disappearance of individual territories." Furthermore,
colony caretakers often relocate cats from one colony to another.
Many TNR advocates state that feral cats are no more sickly or disease-ridden
than pet cats. This is misleading because this comparison should be between
feral cats and pet cats that are permitted to roam outdoors. Indoor pet cats
live longer, healthier lives.
Many TNR advocates state that TNR is the only humane and effective method to
reduce the feral cat population. Others feel that this method is inhumane and
realize that TNR has not been scientifically proven to reduce the numbers of
feral cats. Most "evidence" that TNR works is anecdotal at best. TNR advocates
will cite reduced euthanasia rates at shelters and reduced nuisance calls as
"proof" that TNR works. Neither of these things are true indicators that the
actual population of feral cats is reducing. To evaluate properly the success of
any TNR program a specific set of questions must be answered. Often this
information is not available or not readily given by colony caretakers.
Many TNR advocates state that Trap and Remove does not work. Trap and Remove
(whether cats are euthanized, socialized/adopted, or given sanctuary) has been
proven to work when the artificial food source is removed. For TNR to work a
very high number of cats must be trapped, there should be no migrants into the
colony, and no addition of new cats through abandonment. This simply does not
happen. TNR has been around for at least 15 years and we never hear about
colonies that exist no more due to natural attrition. Often TNR advocates will
claim that Trap and Remove will not work because of a so-called "vacuum effect"
since not every cat can be trapped. In the wild, animals do move in to fill a
niche; however, the only reason domestic cats are congregating is due to an
artificial food source (a cat feeder or an improperly secured garbage dumpster).
If the food source is removed, the cats will disperse and no longer congregate.
Kind-hearted folks may want to feed these cats, but they are only exacerbating
TNR saves taxpayers money. Currently, there is a significant cost to towns
because of the large number of feral cats clogging the shelter system. This is
not necessarily true. Some towns have voted to legalize TNR, under the
impression that TNR will save them money, but this may not be the case as animal
control officers (ACOs) still must be paid for time and travel to cat colonies.
They may have to go multiple times rather than once to remove the cats. Also,
the sale of dog tags and other fees provides services for dogs and cats in
shelters. Cats are essentially "getting a free ride" because most municipalities
do not require cat licensing and registration. Cat licensing is a way to
generate income and promotes responsible ownership of companion animals.
Some municipalities have legalized TNR.
Failure in Point
Pleasant Beach, NJ - Click Here
In Burlington County, New Jersey, the townships of Beverly, Woodland,
Tabernacle, Shamong, Southampton and Springfield have passed ordinances allowing
feral cat colony management. An ordinance was introduced in title only and
passed the first reading on 8/1/06 in Burlington City. Mount Holly passed a
resolution supporting this method of so-called management. Woodland, Tabernacle,
Shamong and Southampton are part of the Pinelands National Reserve - an
ecologically sensitive area. This critical habitat hosts a multitude of wild
animals, including rare, threatened or endangered species.
The ordinances for Beverly and Woodland have absolutely no protection for
wildlife. The ordinance in Tabernacle is similar and leaves little recourse for
residents when problems arise as a result of these colonies. There seems to be
no external oversight whatsoever. However, there is some consideration for
wildlife in the Tabernacle ordinance. The ordinance includes the following
Use due consideration to avoid the taking of rare, threatened or endangered
species under the Endangered and Nongame Species Conservation Act, N.J.S.A.
23:2A-1 et seq.
The ordinance in Shamong is similar to that of Tabernacle. The ordinance in
Southampton has problems indeed, but the language is an improvement over the
others that have passed and the township has retained some rights should the
colonies create problems. However, since there is still no external oversight or
management, there is difficulty in determining the impact of these colonies.
Also, the location of the colonies has not been disclosed to the public in any
of the ordinances.
If TNR is practiced, the following three additional stipulations would minimize
the impact on wildlife, allow for proper evaluation and observation, and improve
the quality of management of the colonies: Restrict the colonies to private
property. Colonies should not ever be located on public or state land.
Disclose the locations of colonies that currently are not on private property.
Require that colony caregivers be designated as the legal owners of any cats in
Please sign our online
petition opposing TNR.