TNR: What is It And How Does It Help Feral Cats?

Lisa Selvaggio
by Lisa Selvaggio
Trap, neuter, release: A program designed to reduce the number of feral cats living on the streets.

Millions of cats are euthanized every year in shelters because there is not enough room to house them and because no one comes to adopt them. This heartbreaking reality goes on every day, but many people are completely unaware of it. Individuals who choose to not spay and neuter their cats in order to let them reproduce contribute to this problem indirectly. Also, individuals who purchase cats from breeders or pet stores, rather than adopting them from animal shelters, aren’t helping the matter. These are wonderful kitties who are perfectly healthy, friendly, and loving but waiting for homes.

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But, on top of the millions of cats who are brought into shelters each year, there are also many who are still living out their lives outside on the streets. Entire colonies of feral cats can be found in your very own neighborhood if you look for them, and there may even be kind-hearted people who leave food out for them. But if they continue to reproduce, their colony will keep growing and they will continue to be susceptible to car accidents, diseases, injuries, predators, and abusive humans. Therefore, for those cats who are feral or for whom there aren’t any homes but are doing okay living outside on their own, the best solution is TNR.

What is TNR?

TNR stands for Trap, Neuter, Return. Essentially, a non-profit group will come in and set up traps to get feral cats. But, instead of bringing them to a shelter where they will fill up the cages and potentially be euthanized if adopters or other rescuers and fosters do not come in soon enough, these cats are simply brought to a trustworthy and experienced veterinarian to be spayed or neutered.

Related: Reasons Why You Should Spay Or Neuter Your Cat

Once the veterinarian determines that the cats are ready to be released back into their outdoor homes, they are brought back and let go. And, in order to be make it known that these cats have been neutered or spayed, one ear is clipped at the tip. So anytime you see a cat who has one ear that is clipped, you will immediately know that he is allowed to live out his life there and that he has already been fixed so that he cannot reproduce.

Why is TNR Such a Great Idea?

There is no denying that pet overpopulation is a problem and that millions of animals die needlessly in terrifying shelters because there aren’t enough homes for them or enough people and rescue facilities to care for them. While there are some noteworthy no-kill shelters, these, too, are limited in terms of the space and resources they have to care for rescued animals. And because feral cats are very difficult, or even impossible, to socialize, the best thing for them would be to live out their lives in the environment they know.

Cats are capable of being independent and living outside when they grow up feral. Before they were domesticated by humans, this is how they lived. Provided that they have a safe and relatively clean environment to live out their lives, and especially if they have people coming around to leave out food and set up makeshift shelters to help them survive, TNR is the best solution. It really does save lives while preventing new kittens from being born who would otherwise go on to reproduce and increase the population and the number of animals who suffer.

How Can You Help?

If you really want to make a difference in the lives of feral cats, you can contact a local TNR organization that can help you get some stray cats neutered and spayed. Adopting a cat, whether he is a wonderful companion you met at an animal shelter or outside, is also a way to directly save a life. And volunteering or fostering will allow you to help pets find much-needed homes. Any steps you can take that will help in achieving the goal of reducing the pet overpopulation and getting as many animals into homes through adoption rather than purchase will definitely be worthwhile.

Lisa Selvaggio
Lisa Selvaggio

Lisa Selvaggio is a freelance writer and editor, and our resident cats-pert, with certifications in pet nutrition and pet first aid. She enjoys producing content that helps people understand animals better so they can give their pets a safe and happy home.

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