Feral cats, by definition, are cats that are not socialized to human beings.
They are distinct from "stray" cats in that the term "stray" refers to a cat who was at one time a house-cat, and has since been abandoned, dumped, lost, or has gotten out of their home. Left unfixed, these free-roaming cats will continue to reproduce at alarming rates. Many of these cats are the descendants of un-fixed housecats that were put outside or abandoned by their owners. In this cycle, un-fixed stray cats give birth to kittens who will remain feral if not taken back inside and socialized to human beings...and will then birth more feral cats. Although the "feral cat problem" is often commonly viewed as a "wildlife" or "pest" issue, it is in fact a phenomenon originating in the domesticated cat's relationship with humans...and one that requires human intervention to mitigate.
What is TNR?
TNR, or Trap, Neuter, Return, is the most effective and humane method for controlling the stray and feral cat populations. In a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program, free-roaming cats, which usually congregate together in "colonies", are humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated against rabies (legally required in NY State) and marked (ear-tipped*) for identification. After a short recovery period the sterilized, vaccinated cats are then returned to the same place where they were captured, protected against sickness and unable to churn out more kittens!
Following the cats' return, caretakers are responsible for providing these cats with regular food, water, shelter and necessary medical attention. Thus the result that is achieved is a smaller, healthier feral cat population that continues to provide vital rodent control to the community rather than an overrun population subject to starvation and disease. Once spayed or neutered, cats will no longer perform many of the commonly known "nuisance" behaviors such as howling, fighting, mating, and spraying to mark territory. TNR also eases the heavy burden on animal control agencies by reducing the flow of cats and kittens into local shelters, helping to lessen overcrowding. In addition, shelters save costs and staff time because fewer cats need to be housed, euthanized and disposed of afterwards. For all these reasons, TNR is quickly becoming recognized across the United States and around the world as the best antidote to the homeless and feral cat crisis. Click on 'our program' to find out how you can be part of the solution! Click HERE to find out why removal is not an effective alternative.
How it works...
The goal of TNR is to take an already-existing phenomenon (feral cat colonies) and responsibly manage them into smaller, stabilized, healthy populations rather than breeding populations subject to starvation due to scarcity of resources or those subject to disease as a result of non-vaccination and those illnesses passed through fighting, mating, and birthing of kittens.
There are two basic steps, as detailed on the Neighborhood Cats website:
Step One: TNR
Free-roaming cats are humanely trapped, evaluated, spayed or neutered (sterilized) by a veterinarian, given a rabies vaccination, left eartipped for identification, and then returned to the familiar habitat of their original colony. Ideally, those that are friendly or socialized to humans or young enough to be socialized are removed for adoptive placement in permanent indoor homes.
Step Two: Ongoing Colony Management
Individuals in the community provide ongoing care of the cats, including daily food, water, and clean-up of the area, shelter, and monitoring of the cats’ health. This ongoing surveillance is vital, because it will ensure that any new cats that find their way into the colony will be removed if they are tame, or TNR’ed if they are feral. This allows the number of cats in the colony to diminish over time through natural attrition, as cats get old and die from natural causes.
Quite simply, TNR is like turning off the hose…it cuts down on the production or supply end of the issue, to the same extent (or perhaps more so) that “pet” spay neuter does. An unfixed pet cat might end up outside and have an opportunity to breed, or end up at the shelter due to behaviors normally exhibited by unneutered cats (spraying, going into heat, etc.) regarding which their human guardian may be uninformed. However, one can practically guarantee that every single un-spayed free-roaming female will be pregnant at least once if not several times over between the months of March and September in NY. That’s a whole lot of kittens being born on the street. And whether they flow into the shelter as kittens (kittens under 8 weeks old are too young to adopt out, and kittens over 8 weeks of age are seldom place-able as they are very hard to socialize as they get older, and any kitten is more susceptible to illness…so either way they are more likely to be killed) or as adults (who are less in-demand even when they are friendly, and certainly doomed if they are feral), the end result is the same…more needless deaths. The only sure way to reduce the collective suffering and to prevent the death toll from growing is to prevent the births in the first place.
TNR is also self-sustaining, in the sense that TNR’ing one colony creates a stabilized territory which will then make TNR’ing the colony next door much easier.
The left ear-tip on these cats indicate that they are neutered, rabies vaccinated,and part of a managed colony. Not only will this ear-tip save time in future trappings (so the trappers can focus instead on the unfixed cats in the area) but it will also save their lives should they ever end up at an NYC city shelter. Feral cats are not candidates for adoption and, as a result, are often euthanized at shelters and animal control facilities across the country. This ear-tip, the universal identification as a "TNR'ed" cat means that the cat can be safely released back into it's territory. Click HERE to learn more about why ear-tipping is the only effective identification method for TNR'ed cats.