Trap, Neuter, and Release is a significant way to support LCHS while also helping cats in one's neighborhood. According to the ASPCA, TNR is the only effective and humane method of reducing community cat overpopulation. Many cats fall under the umbrella of the term "community cat," ranging from feral cats that are highly fearful of people to friendly and unowned strays accustomed to living outdoors.
Alternatives to Trap-Neuter-Release
The other methods of dealing with free-roaming cats, trap-euthanize, and trap-relocate, come with a whole host of problems. Trap-euthanize, in particular, is both inhumane and ineffective. Trap-euthanize requires the constant trapping and killing of feral cats in a neighborhood, and it never stops because of the rapid rate at which cats reproduce. As Alley Cat Allies explains, when existing cats are removed from their territory, other cats in surrounding areas are still breeding. New cats seeking territory will fill the space that the removed cats have left until the new arrivals are trapped and euthanized. Trap-euthanize perpetuates a cycle of suffering in which cats' lives cut short.
Trap-relocate, while much more humane than trap-euthanize, also has issues. When relocated into an unfamiliar location, cats are at risk of predation, being attacked by pet dogs, or being hit by cars because they don't know the territory. Trap-relocate also removes the resident cats from the neighborhood, meaning that other, likely unaltered cats will quickly fill the unoccupied space as cats in surrounding areas continue to reproduce.
The Feral Cat Situation at LCHS
Trap-relocate is the method that we have to use at LCHS because we can only legally release cats on our property. Because of the extreme stress levels that feral cats experience at shelters, our goal is to have them spayed, neutered, vaccinated for rabies, and released as soon as their stray hold ends. We release such cats to our Barn Cat program, in which they are eligible for adoption as mousers.
Why People Bring Feral Cats to Shelters
Feral cats are often delivered to shelters by well-meaning people trying to do the best thing for the cat. Such people may believe that these cats can be tamed and adopted out. While some feral cats may be tameable in a quiet backyard setting, they totally shut down in the shelter due to experiencing many unfamiliar, terrifying sights and sounds. The cats are also required to stay in the shelter for seven days for their stray hold. Due to risks of bites and scratches, we are also unable to release most feral cats into foster.
Shelters and animal control departments unable to implement barn cat programs or TNR programs may be required to euthanize any feral cats that they accept. At LCHS, these cats are at risk of euthanasia if we run entirely out of cat kennel space and aren't able to immediately have the feral cats we are holding spayed or neutered.
How to Help with TNR
People concerned about free-roaming feral or semi-feral cats in their neighborhood can help these cats and local shelters through practicing trap-neuter-release. Lee County residents interested in helping with TNR are encouraged to apply for our low-cost spay and neuter programs, SNYP and SNYP Plus. For more information, including SNYP application instructors and a list of vets that will help with TNR, visit our website at https://www.leecountyhumane.org/tnr
The Success of Paws Humane Society's Community Cat Program
While we aren't able to implement an official local trap-neuter-release program city or county-wide due to legal restrictions, Paws Humane Society has been able to do so in Columbus, Georgia, with amazing results. Erin Lucas, who leads the Community Cat Program at Paws Humane Society, shared that "since the inception of the Community Cat Program in Columbus, the municipal shelter hasn't had to euthanize any healthy cats strictly for capacity since mid-2014." The Paws Humane Society program includes "Humane trapping of community cats, followed by spay/neuter surgery, vaccinations, and the return of the cats to their communities." Community cat caregivers are required to return the cats to the cats' original territory. The program is free of charge for residents of Muscogee County, Georgia.
Lucas shared that, "In total, the Community Cat Program has spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and left ear tipped over 8,800 local outdoor/free-roaming cats. The program has saved those 8,800 cats from the possible fate of euthanasia, and it has also stopped the cycle and prevented millions of additional kitten births over the last six years in our community."
Lucas continued by offering the municipal shelter intake statistics as evidence of the program's success. "In May of 2014, there were 393 cat intakes at the municipal shelter compared to May of 2020, when there was a significant decrease to only 209 cat intakes."
Academic Research on TNR
In addition to animal advocacy organizations and local animal shelters supporting TNR, scientific research points to the efficacy of the practice. In a 2018 longitudinal study published in the academic journal Frontiers in Veterinary Medicine, Rachael Kreisler, Heather Cornell, and Julie Levy found that between 1999 and 2013, a cat colony subject to TNR experienced a population decrease from 455 cats in 1999 to 206 in 2013. The authors reported a lower rate of FIV and FELV in the colony as well. In a similar study published in the academic journal Animals, authors Daniel Spehar and Peter Wolf found that the feral cat population at the University of Central Florida's campus decreased by 85% between 1996 to 2019.
By coming together as a community to help feral cats, we can fight cat overpopulation and improve the quality of life for local community cats.