You see cats wandering outside in the neighborhood, through city streets, even sitting on the tops of cars and roofs. Although these cats can appear healthy and friendly, many homeless cats are classified as feral cats — domestic cats that are wild or their wild-born offspring that live in colonies (or a group of feral cats). Due to their lack of socialization and fearful reactions to human contact, longtime feral cats cannot be adopted out or forced to be house cats. Don’t feel sad about this as feral cats have a home in the outdoors that they are well accustomed to. But, if you would like to make their lives just a bit more comfortable (and safer), there are plenty of ways to do so, including getting involved with Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs.

What is TNR?

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), also known as Trap-Test-Vaccinate-Alter-Release (TTVAR), is a proven humane method to spay or neuter unaltered feral cats by safely trapping them, then returning them to the location where they were picked-up. Here’s a break-down of what each term represents:

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  1. Trap: All feral cats in a colony, or as many as possible, are humanely trapped.
  2. Neuter: The trapped cats are taken to an animal or veterinary clinic to be spayed or neutered, receive vaccinations, and are sometimes marked by eartipping to let people know that the cat has been through the TNR process.
  3. Return: The cats must be returned to the outdoor area where they were trapped — this is most likely where they live, their home.

What are the benefits of TNR?

Trap-Neuter-Return programs benefit the cats, their local community, and their neighboring humans in many ways. TNR helps to improve the lives of outdoor cats by stabilizing feral cat populations through sterilization of entire colonies, halting dangerous behaviors like fighting and annoying habits like spraying, and by fighting off the spread of diseases through vaccinations. Another big plus to doing TNR is that it results in fewer cats sitting in animal shelters and fewer feral cats dying via euthanized. What’s more, when a feral cat population gets under control, local communities will have fewer cat messes to deal with from feces to scattered trash from garbage cans. Additionally, with fewer feral cats around, wildlife such as small birds and rodents will have their lives spared. TNR benefits the cats and the communities in which they have made their home, so why not do what you can to help?

How can I get involved?

There are ways to get physically involved with TNR, either as an individual or through contacting a neighborhood Trap-Neuter-Return agency or program. The first thing you need to do is research U.S. feral cat programs and informational resources.

  • You can become familiar with what exactly feral cats are by checking out a dedicated cat advocate group like Alley Cat Allies for answers to all of your kitty questions. Alley Cat Allies also offers an easy to follow step-by-step guide, How to Conduct Trap-Neuter-Return, to assist you in getting started with helping control the feral cat population in your area.
  • Another excellent group to check out is the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project, which aims to save the lives of homeless cats by providing community access to educational information and high volume spay or neuter surgery in a safe and humane environment.
  • Other good sources to contact are your local animal shelters or a trusted veterinarian and ask if they participate in a TNR program so you can bring in feral cats for care. The Humane Society of the United States has a clickable map so you can easily locate a nearby feral cat organization for TNR and feral cat resources.

Get involved in other ways such as caring for neighborhood feral cats before and after TNR by providing an outdoor shelter, food and water, watching for signs of disease, and monitoring a cat colony post-surgery and post-return. You can also volunteer at your local American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) spay and neuter clinic or provide a momentary gift to keep nationwide TNR projects active such as through Alley Cat Allies’ donation page, the ASPCA’s  donation page, or via the HSUS (donation options at the top).

Green Monsters: Share your TNR experience with us to inspire others to take action and get involved to improve the lives of feral cats everywhere!

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Image source: Sharin abd rahman / Flickr