The nitty-gritty details of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) are right here, guys and gals! Before I get into “Does TNR Work?”, I want to first explain something very, very important.
Many people don’t seem to understand what TNR actually is unless they participate in it. I’ve even had an argument online with a conservationist who clearly hates cats and the fact that he did not understand the facts behind TNR at all has led to this post.
But before I begin the long answers about TNR…
Does TNR Work in 2019? Yes. If you don’t get the cats fixed and just leave them alone, feeding them or not, they obviously will keep reproducing. TNR stops thousands of cats from being born. So obviously, that works.
There are definitely outside factors that can diminish the effectiveness of TNR, of course. Nature doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We’ll discuss that too!
In this post:
- TNR is Not An Outdoor Cat Movement!
- What exactly is TNR?
- Does TNR Work?
- Issues with TNR
- Against TNR? Seriously, Why?
- So Does TNR Work?
- Do Your Own Case Study!
TNR is Not An Outdoor Cat Movement!
TNR is NOT an outdoor cat movement. We don’t promote having cats outdoor running free, willy-nilly.
TNR advocates are AGAINST cat death by euthanasia.
There is a big difference between those two things.
It’s not about having cats run free. It’s about returning the feral cats (and semi-feral) cats back to their outdoor homes INSTEAD of certain death by euthanasia.
These cats we are returning to their outdoor homes are NOT being ‘re-abandoned’ outside. They were born there, lived their whole lives there, and are happy there. Because, no matter what you want to believe, feral cats are wild animals. The only difference between feral animals and wildlife is that feral animals have a tame ancestor.
The cats being returned to their outdoor homes are the feral ones in a lot of cases or half-tamed by the community they were born in. Bringing these not-fully-tame cats inside and forcing them to either conform to indoor life or die by lethal injection? That’s so wrong on so many levels.
(The fact that one crazy national animal group actually thinks death is preferable to wild animals living outside? I always knew they were off their rockers, but that was just crazy!)
We don’t return stray pets or abandoned and scared house cats back outside. We don’t return kittens outside. We find those cats homes inside. This means TNR volunteers are already taking thousands of cats off the street immediately as well as preventing more ferals from being born outside.
Whenever a cat’s outdoor home is no longer safe, we also find them barns and other places where these feral and semi-feral cats can become ‘adopted’ to live outdoors, but with shelter and care from humans. These are what working cat programs are for.
Trap-Neuter-Return is not a pro-outdoor cat movement. It is an anti-cat death by humans in shelters needlessly movement. TNR is against bringing wild, unadoptable animals into shelters for our already overwhelmed animal shelters to either try to tame or kill them, possibly also taking up space where ADOPTABLE cats will have to be killed too!
Shelters do the best they can, even high kill shelters, and no one benefits from bringing feral cats that cannot be adopted to shelters.
We don’t go and destroy populations of raccoons who live around human settlements for no reason except they are there, do we? Yes, problem raccoons are often destroyed or relocated, but not simply because they live near humans.
Wild cats have lived on the outskirts of human settlements for thousands of years, which is where our pet cats evolved from, and even after cats became domesticated, some still lived mostly wild near us. In fact, it is believed our beloved feline pets are only half-domesticated at best!
It would be a crappy way to repay an animal that chooses to be domesticated.
What Exactly Is TNR?
The simple answer to this question:
TNR stands for Trap-Neuter-Return and is the only humane method of population control for feral and community cats living outdoors. Cats are trapped, then spayed and neutered, given rabies vaccinations, and then brought back to their outdoor homes to live out the rest of their lives, free from the stress and dangers of mating.
It’s actually more complicated than that.
There are some people online who want to differentiate between TNR and TNVR (Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return) or TNRM (Trap-Neuter-Return-Manage), etc.
However, in all cases of simple TNR projects, the cats ARE vaccinated. The cats are returned then to their outdoor home where they almost always have a full-time caretaker to manage the colony. So it seems a little silly to me to be using a few extra letters for the same exact concept.
But I digress.
First, someone finds cats who are breeding.
Trapping is done usually by the community and feral cat caretakers (if they are responsible). Sometimes it’s animal control or a feral cat group who has received a call about a lot of cats in an area and they don’t have a caretaker or their caretaker didn’t get them fixed. Sometimes, it is done by the property owner or manager.
Cats caught in a trap is taken into a spay and neuter clinic, animal control clinic, or a specific rescue’s veterinarian.
First, the cats are immediately checked for a clipped left ear. A clipped left ear means the cat has already been through TNR. A cat with an already clipped ear would be revaccinated and given a health check before being released, depending on resources.
(Rabies is nothing to mess around with. Cats are not the usual danger, but they come into contact with many carrier species.)
All cats are spayed and neutered and vaccinated while they are under anesthesia. They have their left ear clipped to show that they are a community cat that has already been fixed, also under anesthesia so it is not painful.
Any cat found to have already been fixed is usually scanned for a microchip. They are then reunited with their previous owner(s) if they can find them. It has happened! Otherwise, they are given a clipped ear to show they’re fixed.
If any cat is showing signs of illness or injury, they often get lifesaving veterinary care before being fixed and released as well. Or humanely euthanized if it is best for the cat.
What about kittens?
Any kittens caught in traps too young to be fixed are brought to foster homes so they can be socialized (tamed). Any kittens over 2 lbs and 8 weeks old will be fixed, then brought to foster homes or a rescue or shelter to be socialized. (Depending on the funding and staff, of course).
Now, unfortunately, a lot of areas have very limited time and resources for some of this. They end up having to make harder decisions about the kittens after they pass the 16-week-old mark. After 12 weeks old, the window for socializing kittens successfully starts to shrink. After 16 weeks, it can still be done by it takes a lot of time and sometimes it does not work.
If they take in every single ‘maybe not’ case, then these people trying to socialize the kittens are then full and unable to take in younger, more adoptable and 100% able to be tamed kittens.
Plus, if a kitten doesn’t fully socialize? He can’t be returned to his colony after months and months away and having been partially tamed. He now needs to find a barn or a kind human who doesn’t mind a cat that might not ever bond well with her and hides from company.
It’s a harsh choice, but many rescues and shelters simply fix older kittens and return them to their outdoor homes. Not enough staff and volunteers, not enough money, not enough homes, and too dang many kittens being born!
The Friendly Cats
Not all groups are able to do this, but all of them do try to get friendly cats into indoor homes. Depending on the group, funding, and area, any cat that shows signs of being socialized is often evaluated for possible adoption.
Meowing, rolling around and rubbing on the cage, purring; all are signs of a cat that is not feral. Also, the caretaker will attempt to find homes for cats that he or she feels would do best indoors.
After a recovery period, the cats are then transported back to the original trapping site and released to go about their lives. Without kittens, breeding, and fighting for mates. Less spraying too!
There is almost always someone who is managing a colony that has been fixed during TNR. They continue to feed and monitor the cats and their health. They keep an eye out for new arrivals, quickly rescuing kittens or getting new cats fixed. They give the cats shelter, veterinary care, and food and water.
This is almost always done on a caregiver’s own time and his or her own money. We do this out of kindness and love.
Result of TNR
Since no new cats are being born and any unfixed animals dumped by humans or who happen to make it to that colony are fixed or rehomed, the colony will start to disappear as cats succumb to accidents or old age.
Caretakers often work to try to socialize some of these cats. Some even will adopt a couple into their homes. I personally will rehome any cat that wants to be an indoor cat and is friendly. Most of our barn cats are friendly. Most, however, do not want to live inside.
In a perfect world, without any outside forces, this is how it works.
Does that sound like a horrible life for a community cat to you? Yes, their lives are shorter because they can be killed by coyotes, or cars, or people, or whatever. But cats in a managed colony often live 12 or so years. Some even longer. I have a 12-year-old barn cat with me.
It is NOT more humane to kill them. When you’ve watched barn cats running around and playing in the grass during a sunny day, you would never wish to have killed them before they could enjoy life simply because their lives are shorter.
Does TNR Work?
As I mentioned above, of course it works. If all the cats are fixed, then the population doesn’t grow and slowly eventually dies out. In a perfect world, it would work without colony management because no new cats are coming in. But cat colonies do not exist in isolation.
Personal Example One:
The Evangeline Downs Training Center had all of their cats TNR’d quite a few years ago. I was told by the local cat nonprofit who organized it that they had fixed over 300 cats. THREE HUNDRED cats! By the time I had arrived there, I would estimate there were only around 100 cats. My barn had over 20, though! One single unfixed female attracted three unfixed males and away we go. THREE LITTERS in one year. When I performed the relocation of all those barn cats, only 26 of them had to be fixed before we moved them. From 300 cats to 100, with only a couple dozen needing fixed again. TNR works!
Personal Example Two:
An entire apartment complex had a major issue with community cats breeding. The local feral cat nonprofit had gone in at the owner’s request and TNR’d the whole property. They didn’t have a single new cat born in four years after that. Until the property was sold to a new owner and that owner had the cats removed (or destroyed). New cats moved in and started breeding everywhere and the problem is now worse than before.
For a collection of success stories of Trap-Neuter-Return, feel free to visit Alley Cat Allies’ research page.
Where there is a food source and shelter (and it is not always a person feeding them, sometimes it is restaurant trash or a rice field with mice and rats), cats will move in unless there is already a colony established there. Cat colonies discourage large numbers from moving into their space, but that doesn’t mean that one or two new ones won’t be accepted (or dumped).
Unfortunately, TNR is about stemming the tide of feral cat overpopulation, it is not a solution on its own. However, a huge reduction of cats being born and a caretaker to prevent cats from coming in unfixed and TNR any that may have been missed, then, of course, the colony is going to disappear.
It has been proven through cat intakes in shelters that communities that have a TNR program active reduce cat intakes AND cat euthanasia rates. Fewer and fewer cats are being born outside thanks to the effort of TNR.
Issues with TNR
TNR, by itself, is not the solution to cat overpopulation. Why? Because it doesn’t address the never-ending source of feral and community cats: people’s unfixed pets.
That is why a lot of feral cat nonprofits and rescues and shelters are opening up free and low-cost spay and neuter clinics for people’s beloved pets AND volunteers who TNR cat colonies.
A lot of times, TNR groups make an effort to get low-cost spay and neuter surgeries to the people of the community in an effort to help control the SOURCE. People lose their cats or dump unwanted, unfixed pets and ooopsy-kittens outdoors. This makes it a little difficult to stem the tide of cat overpopulation.
Other issues come about because of a loss of a caretaker to a colony.
Sometimes a caretaker becomes too ill to continue and has to pass the colony on to another caretaker and they aren’t committed to the cats. Or a caretaker dies unexpectedly. Or a million other reasons a caretaker has to eventually leave.
Or some jerk dumps off a litter of kittens or an unfixed pet, which unfortunately don’t survive as well as the community cats. Still, the ones that do survive go on to breed.
Or new property management and the cats have to be immediately relocated or they get destroyed, which simply causes a ton of unfixed cats to move into the area.
Perhaps the entire colony wasn’t able to be fixed and then the problem will start happening all over again.
Or a million other things.
TNR is only ONE part of the equation for the feral cat population problem. Spaying and neutering ALL cats, including pets, is a huge, HUGE part of the other part of the equation.
Against TNR? Seriously, Why?
Another huge deal is there are people against TNR and some of them have gotten verbally abusive and even gone so far as to poison people’s colonies, or worse.
Even IF TNR was not that effective of a solution, it is at least SOMETHING that is being done that helps. If we all did ONE thing to help the cat overpopulation crisis, either adopt a community cat inside or sterilized a colony outdoors, in one year, there would no longer BE a community cat overpopulation problem.
Please think about that before you verbally abuse someone who is actively trying to help solve a problem.
(As for those of you who poison or shoot feral cats, there is a special place in Hell for someone who actively tries to kill defenseless animals for no reason except that they exist. Please be aware, killing domestic cats is illegal in all 50 states and only 3 or 4 have laws about feral cats being legal to kill.)
There are those who say killing them is the only solution. My argument is that killing them has been going on forever, decades if not longer, and it has obviously not worked.
Sometimes, it even backfires! There have been cases where the killing of the cats has caused MORE problems for island ecosystems because the cats, rats, and birds have come to some sort of balance. One such example can be found regarding rabbits and cats on an island. Another study found that culling cats actually INCREASES their numbers.
Nature and ecosystems are very complex and often doing something to solve a problem has a very unintended consequence.
Feral cat killing has been going on for too long. It has not worked.
Some conservationists suggest using cat sanctuaries, which is an absurd pipe dream. It also is a ‘humane mask’ used to distort what they really want: feral cats destroyed. If feral cat populations are rounded up, trapped and neutered, then relocated to sanctuaries, you will still have the same problems that you have when you kill them off.
Not to mention you would need hundreds of thousands of cat sanctuaries. The government of any country does not have the budget for that. With cat sanctuaries, you would also come into the problem of illness and stressing out the cats when they’re forced to live in more crowded areas and areas not natural to their behavior.
Yes, there are some sanctuaries, but there is not enough for the number of cats living outdoors. Any TNR advocate would love to be able to have their colony in a safe, managed sanctuary safe from predation and getting hit by cars. We’re realistic, though. Not stupid.
Another argument from conservationists regarding TNR studies is that over 90% of the cats have to be neutered for TNR to work. Well, DUH! TNR isn’t fixing HALF of a colony. TNR is about fixing an ENTIRE colony. TNR volunteers and advocates always attempt to do as much of each colony as they possibly can, with caretakers who keep working at that colony UNTIL 100% of the cats are fixed.
There is a feral cat group in Canada called TinyKittens Society who has been working on a colony of feral cats, appropriately named the Happy Forest, for quite a long freaking time. Four years, to be precise. As of their website October 2019, 92.7% of the colony is fixed. 314 cats live in this colony. (So far.) Total cats in all of the colonies that they are working on? Over 600! OMG!
It is very obvious that in order for TNR to work almost the entire colony has to be trapped and fixed. TNR advocates have never denied this fact. But it is the only humane, compassionate way to control the feral and community cat numbers.
So Does TNR Work?
The simple answer is yes.
TNR, however, is not effective if it is only done once and not every cat is caught and fixed, obviously. Most of the caretakers do realize this. That is why we actively work to completely eliminate breeding populations in our colonies. We do not half-ass it. We don’t say, “75% of them are good enough.”
Caretakers actively maintain TNR’d colonies. THAT is what makes it most effective!
Compassion and kindness do NOT equal stupidity. Some conservationists’ sense of superiority is leading to willful blindness regarding TNR programs. I have no idea why they want to assume we aren’t doing anything to reduce their numbers and they actively fight us whenever a new TNR program in a community is up for discussion.
Both conservationists and TNR volunteers want the exact same thing: less feral cats outdoors. We should be working together to reduce feral cat populations. For them, it’s all cats indoors or nothing, though. They can’t see that IS our end goal. Eventually. But arguing about it isn’t going to make it happen. We refuse to kill them. But we WILL get there.
If we fix 100% of the cats outdoors, the outdoor cat population would plummet within a few years.
100% isn’t feasible when there are cruel humans dumping kittens outdoors, of course. But having a lot of volunteers managing already fixed colonies helps reduce their impact IMMENSELY.
Any time kittens or cats show up dumped at the barns, I get the kittens to a rescue and rehome the adult cats, after being fixed. No kittens were born this summer at the barns. 5 cats were taken with someone when they moved to a new barn area. We lost 3 cats that just disappeared. I have 6 that I’m rehoming.
Most of the time, TNR groups are opening low-cost spay and neuter clinics for people to get their pets done, thus actively working on the source of the cat problem, just not putting a band-aid on it!
There have been numerous cases of volunteers and nonprofits and charities and rescues and regular people going out and trapping and fixing cats. There has been a huge drop in cat euthanasia rates in shelters where there is a TNR program. There is a huge drop in cats being taken into shelters.
Do you know why killing feral cats has never worked? Because it is just delaying the inevitable. There has been no effort to help reduce the cause of feral cats. Killing them doesn’t reduce their numbers unless you completely eliminate the entire population AND hang around waiting for irresponsible people from dumping more cats outdoors, unwanted.
Do Your Own Case Study!
Don’t just take my word for it! Do your own case study. Have a feral or community cat colony in your neighborhood? TNR the entire colony. Then watch what happens.
Trap-Neuter-Return is not just a way to prevent kittens. It makes a huge difference in a cat’s life. I have watched the transformation from scared, unsure and stressed out tomcat to a sweet kitty. I have watched stressed out mama cats relax and gain some much-needed weight and turn lovable.
I’ve watched a dozen cats simply start to play and have fun when before they were too wound up to enjoy themselves.
This is my call-to-action for today’s post.
I challenge you to TNR one small population of outdoor cats. Take the kittens and friendlies into a rescue or shelter (or adopt them out yourself), get the unadoptable adult cats fixed and returned. Feed them two times a day on schedule. Watch them for at least two to three months.
They’ll blossom into happy, healthy cats! Even feral cats, while not friendly, will start to look healthier and more relaxed.
If that doesn’t change your mind about TNR, nothing will.