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Feral Cats and TNR

Feral cat with tipped ear
kisluvkis (Julie German) [Flickr]
Feral cat with tipped ear

Feral cats that have been neutered or spayed also have their left ear "tipped" surgically to indicate the cat is part of a colony and has already been trapped and altered.


Many people think feral cats are stray cats, animals that just don’t have a home, but ferals and straysare very different. Stray cats are homeless pets, domesticated and socialized to humans. They can be adopted into a new home and fit in well with people. Ferals are more like wild animals; either they have never been domesticated or they became feral after being on their own.

Feral cats often avoid contact with humans, although they often live in close proximity to people. Colonies of feral cats tend to form in an area where there they have access to food and shelter. The cats breed and have litters of kittens. Unneutered male cats create disturbances as they fight each other over food, mates, and territory.

Feral cat colonies have long been considered a nuisance, and local governments and animal control agencies attempted to eliminate them by trapping the cats and taking them to the local animal shelter. Feral cats rarely make good pets, so most were euthanized. But removing the cats did not remove the problem because of a “vacuum” effect. Other cats moved into the area, new colonies formed, kittens were born, male cats fought.

The answer turned out to be a program called Trap-Neuter-Returnor T-N-R. By using humane traps to capture the cats, spaying or neutering the animals and then returning them to the same area where they were found, new colonies did not form, fewer kittens were born, neutered males did not fight. Gradually this T-N-R concept has spread from places like New Yorkand Los Angelesto Chicago, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Phoenix.

Here in Tuscaloosa, the Tuscaloosa Spay-Neuter Incentive Program or TSNIP is working in cooperation with local governments and veterinarians to trap, neuter and return members of feral cat colonies in the area. Neighborhood residents help by volunteering to monitor and report local colonies.

Remember, feral cats do not make good pets. If you want a pet cat, visit your local animal shelter. June is Adopt-a-Cat Month, the perfect time to make a sweet, homeless, domesticated feline your new best friend, when you’re speaking of pets.


Mindy Norton has been “Speaking of Pets” on Alabama Public Radio since 1995.
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