A study from Australia that criticises TNR (to be expected from Australia where they prefer to kill feral cats by any means legal or otherwise) actually provides some nice snippets of useful information which I have converted to a list of recommendations on making TNR effective. I welcome comments of all kinds even those that strongly disagree with me. That’s fine.
- There have been very few fully reported studies in which the number of feral cats in a colony were counted at the start of TNR and then years later to help gauge the effectiveness of TNR.
- However, according to a study: “A Case of Letting the Cat out of The Bag — Why Trap-Neuter-Return Is Not an Ethical Solution for Stray Cat (Felis catus) Management”, computer modelling came to the conclusion that TNR programs need to consistently sterilize (neuter) 75% of the fertile (unsterilised) population ‘for several years’. They admit that this is difficult to achieve. ‘Difficult’ does not mean impossible. It requires commitment which is currently impossible for the vast majority of jurisdictions.
- One American council, Cedar City Council, has recently unanimously approved a TNR program to manage their community cats. The Council will be working with volunteers, the best way to make it work. Council member Ron Riddle told his colleagues that TNR is a “good idea” if 75% are spayed and neutered which he admitted was “extremely hard”. Note: “extremely hard” is not impossible.
- Of the complete studies on the effectiveness of TNR (at Nov. 2022) the changes in colony numbers ranged from a decrease of 78% to an increase of 55%. Note: an increase of 55% might not be a failure because over several years the increase would probably have been much higher but for TNR.
- It is claimed by the Australian study author that some people who support TNR agree that there needs to be high adoption rates within TNR programs. Note: this is fine, but the study author says that this helps to create a vacuum effect which undermines the TNR program. I disagree. All TNR programs will lead to a vacuum effect as the numbers decrease but this is not to criticise TNR.
- For TNR to work effectively there needs to be a reduction in the number of unwanted domestic cats finding their way onto the streets. This means less ad hoc breeding by irresponsible cat owners. To help stop this problem there needs to be mainstream education of cat owners running in parallel with TNR. This would be a 2-pronged approach: slowing up the supply and removing the end product.
- Feral cat colonies are rarely fixed colonies as there is turnover. That’s to be expected. TNR needs to be a continuous and perpetual process (exception see below) until a sufficiently high percentage of cat owners resolutely do not allow their cats to breed. There should be no careless breeding of cats. Under that scenario and with TNR continuing at the 75% rate the population size of feral cats would decrease provided TNR was carried out extensively with local authority support.
- It is certain in my opinion that may TNR program struggle to be effective because they operate in isolation and without sufficient support. TNR should encompass a multidisciplinary approach as mentioned at 6 and 7 above.
- One study: “Nutter F.B. Evaluation of a Trap-Neuter-Return Management Program for Feral Cat Colonies: Population Dynamics, Home Ranges, and Potentially Zoonotic Diseases. North Carolina State University; Ann Arbor, MI, USA: 2006” found that it would take 12.8 years for neutered colony cats to become extinct. This should not deter councils from supporting TNR as it is a long-term project, and I would say a perpetual process.
- The efficacy of a process cannot ignore the ethics of the process. Briefly, is TNR ethical? PETA sometimes (yes, they appear to be ambivalent) say that it is not. But it is, because despite the fact that after TNR the cats returned to their ‘harsh lives’, it is better than being killed by animal control in pounds. The ultimate harm that a person can cause a cat is death. A harsh life with a shortened lifespan is better than death in my view and in any case most colony cats under the care of a TNR volunteer live reasonably decent lives.
P.S. To the thought of mine that TNR was never done meaning never completed, there is a story from Nathan Winograd about the Stanford Cat Network. This is a group of TNR volunteers who over 33 years helped thousands of cats through TNR, adoption, advocacy and education.
And they have declared that their work is done. They say that there are no cats at the feeding stations within the University grounds. So TNR can totally eradicate a colony.
However, I would suggest that this is a snapshot because surely someone will come along and abandon their cat within the campus and suddenly there will be one cat and then two and so on. Until there is no careless abandonment of unneutered cats, TNR work will be incomplete.
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