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Targeted T-N-R Works!

Nakae [Flickr]
Feral cat is wary of humans.

Targeted Trap-Neuter-Return helps reduce and stabilize the feral cat population.


It is estimated that there are fifty million feral cats in the United States. Unlike stray cats that are really just homeless pets, ferals are more like wild animals. They tend to avoid human contact, although they may live in close proximity to people.

Colonies of feral cats tend to form in areas where they have access to food and shelter. Females breed and have litters of kittens. Male cats fight each other over food, mates, and territory.

In the past, local governments and animal control agencies attempted to eliminate the problems created by feral cats by trapping and euthanizing them. But removing the cats created a “vacuum effect” as other ferals simply moved into the area and established new colonies.

Last month the results of a two-year study were released, showing that the practice of Trap-Neuter-Return or T-N-R may offer a real solution to the problem of feral cats. 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.

The study focused on a five square mile area adjacent to the University of Florida in Gainesville. It included the downtown business district, several residential areas, a couple of homeless shelters, and a mobile home park. Efforts were made to involve people who lived or worked in the area to help with capturing the cats.

Over the two-year period, almost twenty-four hundred animals were spayed or neutered – just over half of the estimated feral cat population in the target area. As a result, animal control reported a seventy percent decline in the number of cats taken in from that area. At the shelter, euthanasia rates of cats plummeted to five percent of the rate before the T-N-R program began.

The study was funded by a $250,000 grant from Maddie’s Fund, a foundation dedicated to reducing the numbers of animals euthanized in shelters. The results support the belief by many that a Trap-Neuter-Return program can be successful in reducing feral cat overpopulation and the need for euthanasia, in a humane way, when we’re speaking of pets.


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