Introduction to Stray and Feral Cats & Trap- Neuter-Return-Management (TNRM)
Cats wandering in alleys, behind restaurants, apartment complexes—whever there is a food source and shelter. Community cats, located in both rural and urban area, can be free-roaming cats (owned, abandoned, or stray) or unsocialized(feral) cats. All are considered domestic cats with varying degrees of domesticity.
Stray cats, often abandoned or lost pets, were once a companion animal and have the best potential to be re-socialized and placed in an adoptive home.
A feral cat has had little to no socialization to humans, cannot be handled and is unsuited to an indoor home.
These cats may have been born to a domestic house cat who was lost or abandoned and has thrown off the effects of domestication in their need to survive. They can also have been born outside to a stray or feral mother. The extent of their wild temperament is dependent on their age, the amount of human contact. In general, adult feral cats, while dependent on humans for food and veterinary care, are not generally suitable to living indoors with humans. Their defensive behavior is misunderstood as aggressiveness. In fact, these cats shun human contact and pose no threat.
It simply means that they are unsocialized and should be treated and respected as such.
The Need to Control Cat Overpopulation
The urgency of controlling the population growth of stray and feral cats is simply unquestionable. These cats, in addition to intact domestic cats, are undeniably responsible for the overwhelming flood of cats and kittens entering our shelters. During kitten “season”, from April to October, shelters are forced to euthanize tens of thousands of friendly, healthy, adoptable adult cats and large numbers litters of incoming kittens. In 2011, an estimated 15,000 cats were euthanized in Philadelphia shelters.
A Solution to Overpopulation – Trap-Neuter-Return-Management
“Nothing kills more cats than overpopulation,” states Alley Cat Allies, a national group that advocates Trap-Neuter-Return-Management (TNRM) to control the feral cat population. TNRM is becoming the national standard across the United States and is already the standard in the United Kingdom. TNRM is a humane, non-lethal method of feline population control in which cats are humanely trapped, then transported to a veterinarian where they are spayed or neutered and vaccinated. Their left ear is tipped so people will recognize that the cat has been sterilized and vaccinated. Unfortunately, true adult feral cats are rarely sociable and are not suitable as indoor pets. These cats are returned to their original environment where caregivers provide them with food, water, shelter, and medical care as needed. It is a more effective long term solution than trap and kill.
Alternatives to TNRM?
Do Nothing: Common sense dictates that whatever the actual level of risk is, a vaccinated, sterilized, fed and monitored cat will always present less threat to another animal.
Remove all feral cats from the environment (Trap & Kill): Aside from being inhumane and expensive, this approach is not a solution. It is impossible to catch ALL cats in an area. Nor would there be the resources to do so. Even if possible, the vacuum effect arises when feral cats are removed from an environment. Other cats will move in to take advantage of the food source that is available. They will quickly fill the space from which the cats were removed. These new, usually unsterilized cats will breed to the capacity of the site.
Catch & Tame: With the exception of young kittens and some reverted domestic cats, this approach is not realistic. Adult feral cats cannot be socialized to humans to the point where they are able to find homes as pets. For reverted domestic cats that could be tamed, the time and effort that goes into re-socializing, while worthwhile, can be prohibitive. Even with very young kittens, taming can take several weeks or months of intensive socialization work. While every possible effort should be made to remove all adoptable cats and cats who can be resocialized, it is more important to spay and neuter to the entire colony first.
Relocation: Feral cats taken to a shelter will be euthanized. Feral cats are wild, they are not socialized to humans, they are afraid of people. Their temperament prevents them from being placed for adoption. Even if you were to find a place to take them, can you do a proper relocation where you confine the cats for a period to get them used to the area (2 month imprint time is the general rule). Relocation should be practiced ONLY in rare and extreme conditions.
Benefits of Managed Colonies
There are many benefits to having managed colonies in our communities. The rodent population in these areas would be out of control if it were not for the cats. In controlling the rodent population, the cats are also halting the spread of disease. Managed colonies also teach compassion for cats, non-violence and tolerance for others, reports Alley Cat Allies. Removing and placing friendly cats and kittens from feral cat colonies usually reduces the colony by 50%.
Studies have proven that once a colony is stabilized (spayed and neutered), its members prevent other free roaming unaltered and unvaccinated cats from entering into an area. In addition, altering cats eliminates many nuisance behaviors including spraying and the loud yowling noises made by intact males fighting over a female in heat and/or territory.
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
The reality is that stray and feral cats are part of our communities like the birds in the sky and squirrels in the parks. It’s important to recognize that if a cat is truly feral, then the most compassionate choice might be to allow them to live outdoors. Trying to domesticate them would be no different than trying to make a squirrel or a raccoon a household companion – you might succeed somewhat, but never fully and only with a great deal of time and patience. Moreover, you would not be permitting the cat to live in a manner that suits them best. Many well-meaning people, convinced they are “saving” a feral cat by bringing him indoors, end up condemning the poor creature to a life of hiding under the bed and being in constant fear.
Reprinted in part with the kind permission of Castaway