Trap Neuter Return (TNR) is the only effective and humane approach to caring for feral cats. The cats are humanely trapped and taken to a veterinarian where they are spayed/neutered. They also receive vaccinations as well as an ear tip that is the universal sign that a feral cat has been spayed or neutered. The following day, the cats are returned to their outdoor environment. When the cats breeding cycles have ended, they can live out their natural lives without the constant stress of pregnancies and mating. The behavior of the cat will also improve without the hormones coursing through their bodies. Males will be less inclined to wander and yowling and territorial fighting will decrease. Territorial spraying will also diminish or cease. Females will be more calm, quiet and they will also stop spraying.
The feral cat population has sky rocketed due to cats not being spayed or neutered. It is estimated that there are between 13-24 million feral cats in the United States. TNR helps to stabilize the colony population by ending reproduction. When all of the cats in the colony have been sterilized, the population will naturally decline over time. The colony does not disappear over night, but there is a slow steady decline as the cats live out their natural lives.
Once sterilization has taken place for the feral cats, the cats benefit in many ways. The constant stress of pregnancies and mating is relieved. Behaviors improve which often means better relations with human neighbors. The cats are less inclined to fight, wander and spray. This makes the neighbors much happier. The cats also benefit from decreased competition of mating. There are fewer injuries and the cats often become friendly and more social towards each other. Also with decreased roaming the cats are safer since they tend to stay closer to their home base.
Attempts to remove or eradicate feral cats from an area and have them relocated or killed end up failing due to the vacuum effect. Once the colony has been removed, it creates a vacuum that allows room for other free roaming cats to move into the territory which does not stop the breeding cycle. There are not enough resources available in any part of our country to completely remove feral cat colonies given the millions of feral cats. The only plausible solution is TNR, which returns neutered cats to their territory and thus reduces the colony growth rate.
Other solutions that are also ineffective are adoption, relocation and cat sanctuaries. Bringing a feral cat into a home is a possibility, but the majority of feral cats cannot be socialized or the process is so slow that there are not enough caregivers to take on this huge endeavor. An unsocialized feral cat brought into a home will often be placed back outside due to the lack of progress and stress it has produced on the cat and caregiver. Relocation of a feral cat or colony is extremely stressful on the cats. It also allows the vacuum effect to be put into motion again. Cat sanctuaries are very attractive options and do provide alternatives for some feral cats. Yet there are no where near enough of these across our country to provide safe living arrangements for the millions of feral cats.
For more information on TNR please visit Alley Cat Allies.