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Why Trap Neuter Return Works

By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views

This post is in response to Tuesday’s article which negates the benefits of Trap Neuter Return, a program I deeply support. To see why The Wildlife Society and others are against TNR, click here.

According to a national survey conducted for Alley Cat Allies by Harris interactive, more than 80 percent of Americans believe that leaving a stray cat outside to live out her life is more humane than having the cat caught and killed. Emotions aside, TNR is obviously better for cats, good for humans and cost effective.

Photo from Alley Cat Allies

“TNR improves the lives of feral cats, improves their relationships with their human neighbors, and decreases the size of colonies over time,” says Becky Robinson, president of Alley Cat Allies. “Published scientific studies conducted in multiple countries as well as decades of hands on research attests to that fact.”

We All Benefit
With TNR, cats’ lives are improved because they no longer undergo the strains of mating or pregnancy. After the cats are neutered they no longer display behaviors associated with mating, such as yowling or spraying, so they become better neighbors.

It’s Costly
“The cost for picking up and simply euthanizing and disposing animals is horrendous, in both the philosophical and the economic sense,” says Mark Kumpf, National Animal Control Association President in a NACA policy statement embracing TNR.

Best Friends
Since writing Pet News and Views, I’ve been hearing from wildlife professionals, birders, and others that feral cats wipe out native bird populations.

“Wiped out is not only an extreme statement, but untrue,” says Laura Nirenberg, Best Friends Animal Society legislative analyst for the cat initiative. She also is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and the founding director of Wildlife Orphanage, Inc. “What seems to get overlooked is that while many species of birds are prey animals, there also are predatory birds that hunt native bird species, in addition to other prey species such as rodents.”

Following are studies given to me by Best Friends Animal Society that shows how TNR reduced numbers of outdoor cats:

ORCAT Project
According to the Grayvik Animal Care Center, approximately 350 stray/feral cats live in the Ocean Reef Club, an exclusive island community just south of Miami. ORCAT (Ocean Reef Club Animal Trap neuter release) is a program that was established by Ocean Reef’s homeowners in 1993 to care for the cats. Since its inception, this TNR program has reduced the community cat population from around 2,000 to 350 cats.

Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association
A dissertation by Felicia Nutter, published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association (2005), evaluating TNR management programs found that a controlled study of TNR and non-TNR colonies showed that within the first two years, all TNR colonies decreased in size by an average of 36 percent, and one went extinct. Within the same time period, all non-TNR colonies increased in size by an average of 47 percent. After seven years, all TNR colonies had five or fewer cats, while the non-TNR colonies continued to increase in size. Immigration into both TNR and breeding colonies was consistent but occurred at low levels in both.

Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery
A study that appeared in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, by Sheilah A. Robertson (2008), concludes that TNR, when done correctly, has been shown to reduce cat populations, and that it needs to be practiced on a larger scale with government support combined with education programs.

“If the goal was to truly minimize the negative impact from free-roaming cats on wildlife, then curtailing population growth through TNR should be a worthy endeavor for those concerned with perceived predation problems,” says Laura. “That doesn’t appear to be the case. Unfortunately, the only acceptable option for many of the opponents of free-roaming cats would be to criminalize TNR. For decades towns and municipalities have been trapping and killing cats, yet the problem of free-roaming cats continues to exist.”

“Given the undisclosed bias and guestimations surrounding studies and scientific models, there is one thing we know for sure, and that is that lethal control has not worked,” says Laura. “It seems that energy and resources would be better used to develop a viable plan that does not offend the public’s conscience.”

I totally agree with Laura’s statement and would love to see everyone reading this contact their congressional leaders to ask them to support TNR efforts.

For information on how TNR works, please check out the websites of Best Friends and Alley Cat Allies. (Next week I am reporting on two women who are studying the attitudes of people who don’t spay/neuter their pets.)

22 comments to Why Trap Neuter Return Works

  • Patrick M. Donovan

    The basic issue is simple: “The question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But, can they suffer?” (Jeremy Bentham, philosopher and animal rights activist; 1748-1832.) Thanks for sharing the positive side of TNR.

  • [...] Why Trap Neuter Return Works    Keep an Old Dog Young [...]

  • Thanks for reading Patrick, I think TNR is the only way to go.–Michele

  • Mike

    I’m sorry, but this statement is farcical at best:

    “Wiped out is not only an extreme statement, but untrue,” says Barbara Williamson, spokesperson for Best Friends Animal Society. “What seems to get overlooked is that while many species of birds are prey animals, there also are predatory birds that hunt native bird species, in addition to other prey species such as rodents.”

    First, these predatory birds (such as the Cooper’s Hawk in my neighborhood) are a NATIVE species. Cats are not. Second, hawks successful attack rates are around 10%. This, coupled with a broad territory, makes their impact on the native songbird species negligible. Also, Cooper’s hawks tend to prefer Starlings, which is fine by me and any other birder I know!

  • Michele,
    I too support TNR. I think it is the best solution for a problem created by humans. This is of course, as we all know not the fault of the cats. The studies that you share here on this post show that TNR is the best way to reduce the feral cat population over time.

    Just yesterday I was reading about the Tasman Island feral cat eradication project. (Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service). It seems that years ago the lighthouse keepers had cats as pets, but when the lighthouse became automated and the people left, they abandoned their cats. The population grew and then people were concerned that the cats were killing of the seabirds. There are no more feral cats on the island after a year of baiting and trapping. I understand the concern about the birds, but it still makes me sad that the cats must suffer because humans were careless.

    Thank you for the posts about TNR. It is always good to get people discussing and thinking about solutions.

  • One of the major forms of destruction against birds is man! We use pesticides, mow down trees and other natural habitats to make way for houses. So, I think we are mostly at fault–not feral cats.–Michele

  • Trap, nuter and return is the only way to go. Kill,Kill, Kill is not the answer. Life is life and a cat’s life is important.

  • Thanks Michele, I agree with you about humans killing more animals and birds with all the pesticides and cutting down trees so many animals are left without homes.

  • I appreciate you for presenting both sides of the argument. There are cities that have been authorized to shoot stray dogs, and there is no discussion of a TNR policy in those cases. Another problem created by humans for which the animals suffer.

  • Mike, your point about the success rate of Cooper’s Hawk brings up a good point: what is the success rate of cats—which, I hasten to point out, cannot fly?

    Regarding the alleged impact of cats on birds, aggregate predation figures such as those routinely used by the American Bird Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others, can typically be traced to small—often flawed—studies, the results of which are subsequently extrapolated from one habitat to another, conflating island populations (where the presence of cats can have dire consequences) and those on continents, combining common and rare bird species, and so forth.

    For example, the figure most often cited by USFWS—39 million birds killed annually by rural cats in Wisconsin alone—was actually derived from a study of four urban cats and one rural cat in Virginia. As science, it’s garbage (and for reasons beyond its sample size of one).

    It’s an interesting twist on science, actually—instead of striving for increased certainty, the goal is to create an enormous—but essentially meaningless—“estimate.” In other words, this isn’t about science, but about marketing. Such figures are routinely “sold” to a mainstream media (including, unfortunately, the New York Times, Washington Post, and others) and public generally unfamiliar with the larger context.

    Something else you touch on: predators—cats included—tend to prey on unhealthy birds. Mortalities from non-predatory events, on the other hand—such as those resulting from building collisions, wind turbines, and the like—tend to include healthy and unhealthy individuals alike.

    As to the native/non-native issue, I think that’s nothing but a red herring. Were scientists to learn that cats were in North America tens of thousands of years ago, would you change your position? I rather doubt it.

    Peter J. Wolf
    http://www.voxfelina.com

  • Madeline C Baxter

    Killing is not the way to go. Our animals are like our children.

  • Madeline, I consider my cat, Earl, to be one of my sons.–Michele

  • Thanks Amy, It was somewhat difficult. I have been sitting on this for a while. Like many of my readers said, this problem is caused by humans, and we should take responsibility and care for all creatures humanely.–Michele

  • Ela

    Peter J. makes an excellent point. I once read that cats mostly prey upon rodents, which is why humans domesticated cats in the first place, and that birds they do manage to catch are usually very young, very old, injured or ill. I own indoor/outdoor cats. We also have many visiting cats as well as several bird feeders and birdhouses and a sizable bird population. Our cats rarely manage to kill a bird. Of course, the babies that fall out of the nest or leave before they’re ready to fend for themselves (both of which the parents ignore) are those typically done in by the cats. But is this a kinder fate than a slow death from starvation or exposure?

  • Natalie

    I always have our pets neutered.

  • Jill

    Thanks Michele…

  • I am so glad, that trap neuter and return is being done more often. Where I live they still do not do this unless they are farm cats. Education is the key to keep this going and expand to different areas. Thanks Michele for the post.

  • Mike

    Sorry Peter, but I never mentioned anything about preying on “unhealthy” birds. I’m not exactly sure where you got that from, but please don’t try and add words to my statement. As for that, the fact is Hawks don’t target unhealthy birds. They are opportunistic hunters, and will go after any chance that presents itself. However, I would like to thank you for pointing out that cats can’t fly! May I be so bold to point out that birds can, and often do, walk (and even eat! Gasp!) on the ground? But, since you are so observant, I’m sure you’ve noticed that!

    As for the success rate of my neighbors cats, I can tell you that it’s fairly good. Just last year I chased off one of my neighbors cats after seeing it attack a bird. After chasing it away, I discovered the bodies of a fledgling sapsucker, and its mother (that had obviously been trying to protect it), that it had just killed. Each year I have had to dispose of at least 8 birds killed by the neighbors cats. This does not include at least two nests of wren’s, and one of chickadee’s which were entirely wiped out by the cats as well. (I won’t even go into rabbit’s nests, as I was talking about birds). When I find a bird killed by a hawk, it has been stripped clean. Nothing remains but the bones and some feathers on the wings. Even if I have missed them the 90% of the time they have missed a bird, the fact is that the cats are not a native species, and are not hunting them for food.

    As for your this comment… “As to the native/non-native issue, I think that’s nothing but a red herring. Were scientists to learn that cats were in North America tens of thousands of years ago, would you change your position?” Really? You are going to try and engage me, and use my “native species” statement as a jumping off point for a rant, and then you present that as an argument? That is how you choose to disregard the non-native issue? A “what if…”? That, is the most pathetic argument I have ever read! The fact is, they are an introduced species. As soon as you find a study that says otherwise, please post it here! And, please don’t tell me I need cats for rodent control. I will be just fine with the hawks, skunks, owls, and foxes taking care of the rodents.

    I agree with Madeline that our animals are like our children. I know my dogs are. In that context, I question why I am left to deal with my neighbors “children”? I have pointed out to my neighbor that it is against the law for ANY companion animal to be roaming free, and even presented to her a document from our city attorney stating such. Cats, just like dogs, have to be contained in a fenced area, or taken out on a leash. All I have been met with is a laughable defense of “cats need to be free to roam, it’s in their nature!”. Now I am left to deal with dead animals, feces in my yard (which almost killed one of my dogs), and a horrible stench in my flower beds. I would assume any responsible parent would take care of this on their own. Now I am going to be forced to deal with it by the only alternative presented to me: trapping the cats and taking them to the county shelter.

    @ Ela: These baby birds that couldn’t fly were more than likely fledglings. The babies always leave the nest before they are able to really fly. Some may be lucky enough to land in a tree after leaving the nest, but most end up on the ground. During this time they are still watched, and fed, by their parents. It may take them days before they are able to fly well enough to get off the ground. So your cats are, most likely, killing perfectly healthy young birds that are in no danger of starving or dying of exposure. Of course, there are always a few birds that fall from a nest. Again, they will still be watched and fed by the parents. The easiest thing to do is place the young bird in something resembling a nest, and hang it close to the original nest. The parents will care for it right along with the others.

  • Henriette Matthijssen

    All my pets have been spayed/neutered~

  • Thank you for this helpful post. I have done TNR in my neighborhood, and the number of stray cats has been greatly reduced.

  • Eva Rivera

    I have done TNR and see the benefits. I hope you win a Pettie.

  • Chi Mcbroome

    I voted for this article to win best Pettie!