Indianapolis and Rhode Island are examples of local governments which have turned away from bans on feeding feral or stray cats. Instead, they have embraced laws regulating and supporting managed colonies of feral and stray cats.
But in the fight for humane treatment for animals, sometimes it seems as if it’s one step forward and two steps back. Apparently stray cats were getting into the garbage and making a mess. Thus the solution of starving them?
Unfortunately, yes, according to bans on feeding feral or stray cats in dozens of cities and towns like Britton, Aberdeen and Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Clermont, Iowa; Ormond Beach, Florida; Portsmouth, Virginia; Stone Harbor, New Jersey; Grand Saline, Texas; and Waukegan, Illinois The Honolulu City and County Parks Department has banned the feeding of homeless cats in all city parks.
Starving is not a humane or effective solution to overpopulation of feral or stray cats. As one observer pointed out, "I don’t like homelessness, but I don’t think starving homeless people would be humane." Nor would it end homelessness. Cats tend to live in colonies. If food is eliminated in one colony, as one animal rescuer noted, "Any policy that bans feeding of these colonies will likely disperse these cats throughout our community, and the feral cat population will increase dramatically."
Many of these counties and municipalities also rely on trap and kill as another way to try to reduce populations of homeless cats. This method simply does not work and is very costly.
The Animal Law Coalition supports Trap-Neuter-Return, a humane method of reducing feral or stray cat populations.
What is TNR?
Alley Cat Allies, a rescue group dedicated to these cats, describes Trap-Neuter-Return as "a full management plan in which stray and feral cats already living outdoors in cities, towns, and rural areas are humanely trapped, then evaluated, vaccinated, and sterilized by veterinarians. Kittens and tame cats are adopted into good homes. Healthy adult cats too wild to be adopted are returned to their familiar habitat under the lifelong care of volunteers. It is important to note that variations of TNR exist in many places-variations involving the extent of veterinary intervention, the range of official sanction, and the level of ongoing care. The one element that does not vary is sterilization of feral cats to break the cycle of reproduction."
Another advantage to TNR is that once they are neutered, cats exhibit much less nuisance behavior such as noise from mating and fighting and spraying by males to mark territory. The cats do retain, however, their ability to control rodents, a significant factor in many urban and rural areas.
TNR lowers euthanasia rates by reducing shelter intake of cats. The cats already in shelters become easier to place when they no longer compete with endless litters of cute kittens for homes.
Studies on the effectiveness of TNR
In the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA),Â Julie Levy, DVM reported on her now famous study of feral cats on the University of Central Florida campus over a period of 11 years. A program that included sterilization and an aggressive adoption program as well as TNR reduced the free roaming cat population by 66%.
The study’s conclusion: "A comprehensive long-term program of neutering followed by adoption or return to the resident colony can result in reduction of free-roaming cat populations in urban areas."
In convincing government authorities to support TNR, it is important to note despite claims to the contrary, feral and stray cats do not typically carry diseases. It has been suggested these cats should be eradicated because they spread highly contagious diseases such as rhinotrachitis, feline AIDS, and rabies. The evidence is to the contrary. Rabies is not commonly found in stray or feral cats.
In speaking at a hearing before the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission, Dr. Julie Levy stated, "In 2002, cats represented less than 4% of the rabid animals identified in the state…. Regardless, feral cat TNR programs routinely immunize cats against rabies." Dr. Levy also addressed other infectious diseases such as Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) by stating that, "A report published from the University of Florida on more than 1,800 feral cats showed only 4% to be infected with feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus, which is similar to that found in pet cats."
A study conducted by Stanford University’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) found virtually no risk to humans from feral cats. EHS also concluded, after consultation with the Santa Clara County Health Department and Stanford’s Department of Comparative Medicine, that there was a general consensus that feral cats pose virtually no health and safety risk to individuals.
The Florida study has not documented the only TNR success: The Stanford Cat Network, a TNR program on the university campus, showed a decline in feral catsÂ which numbers ranged from 500-1,500, to now less than 50.Â
As Alley Cat Allies reports on its website, in 1996 Molly Tominack began feeding a cat outside of her office on a military base. She attracted other cats to her feeding station. In time she organized several other people interested in feeding cats on the base. But Molly also began trapping the cats, arranged for their sterilization and adopting out those kittens or cats who were not feral. In the first year 60 kittens were born into colonies totaling about 60 cats. In the second year only 3 cats were born. No cats were born in the third year.
A TNR program on the waterfront in Newburyport, Massachusetts has proven so successful, there are now only one catÂ is living there instead of the 300 that present at the start of the program. No kittens have been born there in years.
A TNR program at Texas A&M University quickly reduced the feral and stray cat population by one third; no kittens have been born there for awhile.
Audrey Boag, author of Feral Friends, A Guide to Living With Feral Cats, gathered data over a ten year period from the major shelters in the Denver metropolitan area including nearby suburbs. The shelters keep better than average records on cat entries and exits. Since the advent of TNR programs in the early 1990’s, there has been a dramatic decline in the shelter intake numbers for cats.
Animal People magazine which published the study, concluded: "Return to Owner and adoption are clearly NOT responsible for the 40% drop in cats received since significant trap/neuter/return projects started in the Denver area in 1991-1992. What is happening in Denver, plain and simple, is that feral cats are no longer being born in great numbers (owner surrenders down 40%), hence unwanted litters are no longer turning up in yards, sheds, basements, etc in great numbers, and hence free roaming adult cats are no longer turning up as often (24% fewer)."
Go here for information about a study proving the effectiveness of TNR on Prince Edward Island that was published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal in 2002.Â
For more, read, "Why Feral Eradication Won’t Work", by Sarah Hartwell; Zaunbrecher, K., & R. Smith, "Neutering of Feral Cats as an Alternative to Eradication Programs," Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, 203, No 3, 8/1/93, 449-452;Â "A Model for Humane Reduction of Feral Cat Populations", by Michelle S. Chappell, DVM, published in theÂ California Veterinarian September/October 1999, about the use of TNR in San Diego; and this report by the National Pet Alliance and Cat Fanciers’ Association, Inc. calling for funding of TNR programs in Santa Clara.Â
Increasingly, governments are recognizing the value of TNR in reducing feral or stray cat populations.
A TNR program in Maricopa County, Arizona, called the "Maddie’s Pet Rescue Project" was so successful the County Board of Supervisors issued a resolution stating: "Maricopa County Board of Supervisors does hereby endorse non- lethal trap-neuter-return, when accompanied by ongoing feral cat management, as the most effective, humane method of controlling feral cat populations in Maricopa County and in so doing better provides for the welfare of these animals while better serving our communities’ public health and safety concerns."
In Hamilton, New Jersey, after 5 years of TNR the township health department statistics show an 80% decline in the number or euthanized cats. The statistics reveal fewer strays are brought to the shelter each year. Township spokesperson Rich McClellan attributed the decreasing number of cats killed in shelters to the work of TNR caregivers.
More and more state and local officials have also realized TNR not only works to reduce feral cat populations, it saves money.
One Pennsylvania study followed for six years one person who began feeding 12 feral cats. The results are as follows:
Adults: 26 – 2 euthanized, 5 kept, 12 adopted, 1 available for adoption, 6
Kittens: 86 – 4 available for adoption, 1 euthanized, 5 died, 76 adopted.
After 6 years, 4 cats need to be trapped: – 1 fertile female, 3 unaltered males.
Of the 6 TNR’s: 4 still seen, 1 dead, 1 recaptured and living in her house
The study also illustrated how one TNR program saved the state $6,600,000. There were 3,300 cats spayed/neutered under the program. Had those cats not been sterilized and the 2,200 females produced 100 kittens, there would have been an additional 220,000 cats roaming around. If the state had tried to eliminate these animals through a trap and eradicate program, it would have cost the state $6,600,000 which would include $30 per trap for several days, care and shelter for three days in the event the cats belonged to someone, and disposal.
Add to that number the cost savings from the hundreds of other individuals who started TNR throughout the state at no cost to the government.
Orange County, Florida, implemented a TNR program for two and a half years from 1995 through 1998. Previously, when they received a feral cat complaint, they sent an officer to trap the cats, held the animals for the mandatory waiting period, then euthanized them. This cost $105 per cat. By contrast, allowing volunteers to trap the cats and then providing free spay/neuter and vaccination services cost $56 per cat, a savings of $109,172 over the length of the study (2228 cats).
In New Jersey one official commented, "It’s actually more expensive to have animal control officers go out and find these cats and have them euthanized than it is to have members of these (cat welfare) groups trap, neuter and release them." According to New Jersey officials, trapping and killing a cat can cost a township between $75 and $125 each, while TNR costs about $50 and is paid for by volunteer organizations.
State and local governments have seen the benefit of TNR, and many have decided to help fund it.
In 1993 New Hampshire passed a law providing money for a network of private veterinarians to perform low-cost spaying and neutering. Euthanasia has since dropped by 75%, according to Peter Marsh, director of STOP, Solutions to Overpopulation of Pets, the Concord, N.H., nonprofit group that helped create the law. A copy of that law, N.H. Sec. 437-A.8, is in our Resources section.
San Diego launched a countywide TNR program in 1992. The euthanasia rates for feral and domestic cats dropped by 40% in the first two years.
San Francisco’s SFSPCA instituted TNR citywide, and the euthanasia rates for cats were reduced by over 70% percent in six years.
The State of Illinois has passed Anna’s law or the Illinois Public Health and Safety Animal Population Control Act. A copy is in our Resources section.
Anna’s Law provided for a program to support the spay/neuter of dogs and cats and states, in particular: "A resident of this State who is managing a feral cat colony and who humanely traps feral cats for spaying or neutering and return is eligible to participate in the program provided the trap, sterilize, and return program is recognized by the municipality or by the county, if it is located in an unincorporated area. The sterilization shall be performed by a voluntarily participating veterinarian or veterinary student under the supervision of a veterinarian. The co-payment for the cat or dog sterilization procedure and vaccinations shall be $ 15."
Like New Hampshire’s 1993 law, Anna’s law in Illinois provides funding for veterinarians to perform spay/neuter.
Also in Illinois a state law approved in August, 2005 raises $2 million a year for clinics from pet-licensing fees. There is a provision in Anna’s Law that allows taxpayers to check off on their tax return to make a contribution to the Pet Population Control Fund which provides low cost spay/neuter. There is currently pending in Illinois, H.B. 3552, that provides a tax exemption for veterinary supplies and medication used in spay/neuter or the aftercare.
Other state and local governments not only assist in funding spay/neuter for feral or stray cats but also promote managed colonies.
In Indianapolis the city and Marion County decided to repeal the ban on feeding feral or stray cats. The city and county decided to try TNR instead. The City-county passed an ordinance establishing TNR to care, protect and break the breeding cycle of unowned cats. The vote passed 26-1. This ordinance makes it legal for the city-county’s designated agency, IndyFeral, to trap feral cats, sterilize them and return them to their managed TNR colony where a caretaker provides care, food and shelter. Caregivers must register their feral or stray cat colonies. The ordinance provides standards for the care of the cats including spay/neuter and vaccinations. A copy of the complete ordinance is in our Resources section, but the pertinent provisions are as follows:
Sec. 531-205. Care for unmanaged colonies prohibited.
It shall be unlawful for a person to provide food, water or shelter to a colony of free-roaming cats, unless:
(1) The colony is a managed colony, registered with the animal care and control division or its designee; or
(2) The food, water or shelter is provided in conjunction with the implementation of trap, neuter, and return methodology as set forth in section 531-209 of this chapter.
(G.O. 100, 2005, Â§ 2)
Sec. 531-209. Managed free-roaming cats.
(a) The animal care and control division or its designee, in order to encourage the stabilization of the free-roaming cat population in the city, may:
(1) Trap any free-roaming cat in a humane manner;
(2) Have the cat surgically sterilized, ear-tipped, and vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian; and
(3) Release the cat to animal care and control for adoption or other disposition in accordance with law, or to a colony caretaker who will maintain the cat as part of a managed colony of free-roaming cats.
(b) The enforcement authority may impound free-roaming cats in violation of this chapter and dispose of the cats in accordance with section 531-731. Any free-roaming cat impounded by the enforcement authority that bears an appropriate ear-tipping indicating it belongs to a managed colony may, at the discretion of the animal care and control division, be returned to its managed colony unless illness or injury present an imminent danger to public health or safety.
(G.O. 100, 2005, Â§ 3)
Sec. 531-210. Colony caretaker responsibilities.
(a) Colony caretakers shall abide by standard guidelines devised by the animal care and control division or its designee regarding the provision of food, water, shelter and veterinary care for cats within the managed colony.
(b) Colony caretakers shall have a licensed veterinarian evaluate the health of all trapped free-roaming cats. Seriously ill or injured cats with no reasonable prognosis for humane rehabilitation for survival outdoors will be humanely euthanized.
(c) A person who violates any provision of this section shall be punishable as provided in section 103-3 of this Code; provided, however, a fine imposed for the first such violation shall not be less than twenty-five dollars ($25.00); subsequent or continued violations caretaker’s removal from management of the managed colony, or the designee’s removal from the program.
(G.O. 100, 2005, Â§ 3)
IndyFeral charges colony caregivers $20 per cat for this service, compared to approximately $120 per cat to trap and kill under the previous system.
Councilor for the 3rd District, Jim Bradford (R), said, "TNR through IndyFeral is a good program because it works to humanely and effectively reduce the feral cat population. It doesn’t cost the taxpayers anything. Considering cutbacks in public services, IndyFeral has worked out a great program that doesn’t cost the city money."
Dr. Marcie Short DVM, an IndyFeral volunteer vet who practices at Allisonville Animal Hospital, said of her support of the TNR ordinance, "From a vet viewpoint, I feel that other things that have been done, like trap and kill, trap and find homes, or trying to collect these ferals, hasn’t been successful. We continue to have a huge feral cat population.
"With TNR we see improvement in the quality of life for the animals. Since I started volunteering [three years ago] the colonies of cats we have seen are consistently healthier with fewer upper respiratory problems for instance and better quality of life."
"Before this ordinance, the act of feeding feral cats was a finable infraction; however, feeding these cats is a proven way to start managing them."
"Now people … can take care of them legally with this ordinance in place and don’t have to stay under the radar. They are both going to be there … the cats and people feeding them. That’s going to happen whether the ordinance is in place or not."
"One of the things I worry about among my fellow professionals is the concern that we’re taking money, clients and patients away from private clinics, but these are animals that aren’t ever going to get to a clinic. These are not paying patients that are going to decrease client numbers anywhere. I believe, as … vets our purpose is not to just take care of animals that have owners, but to take care of the animals that don’t have anyone. We should be taking the lead to find ways to ensure these homeless animals are treated humanely."
Brevard County, Florida has an ordinance that regulates and supports managed feral or stray cat colonies.Â Salt Lake City, Baltimore,Â Cook County, Illinois (Chicago) and Clark County, Nevada (Las Vegas) haveÂ passedÂ ordinances supporting TNR for feral cats.
In 2006 Rhode Island enacted a measure finding (1) An unacceptable number of healthy, but abandoned cats are euthanized annually in Rhode Island. (2) Due to the large number of stray and abandoned cats, euthanasia is not a cost effective, acceptable or ethical solution to the threats to public health and safety posed by large populations of stray, feral or homeless cats. Sec. 4-24-2.
The new law requires, with limited exceptions, the spay/neuter of all cats. The bill then defines owner of a cat to include anyone who feeds it for 60 days. Â§4-24-3(c In effect, Rhode Island has required those who feed feral or stray cats and manage their colonies to spay/neuter them. Rhode Island has also provided local governments can set up a system to permit those who feed and manage feral cat colonies. The Rhode Island law offers assistance, funding low cost spay/neuter programs. Â§4-24-13
Let us know if there is a local government in your area that could benefit from assistance in implementing a TNR plan to reduce and manage feral or stray cat populations.