Ellen Sasaki: Controlling “Neighborhood Cat” Numbers: The Case for Trap-Neuter-Return

Ellen Sasaki


You’ve seen stray and feral cats around your neighborhood, city parks, business developments, schools, and vacant lots.  And no doubt you’ve heard the tragic stories of pets abandoned in foreclosed homes or dumped by the side of the road.  Maybe you’re feeding them? 

“Neighborhood cats” live here through no fault of their own, and without human intervention, their populations increase rapidly.  Cities, animal shelters, animal welfare organizations, and individuals throughout the world agree: the best solution to controlling neighborhood cat numbers is “Trap-Neuter-Return” (TNR) because it is cost-effective, humane -- and it works.

In a TNR program, all feral and stray cats in a colony are humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, and returned to the location where they were found.  Cats’ ears are “tipped” (the very top of the ear is snipped off) so they will not be mistakenly trapped again. Once cats are returned to the colony, volunteers provide food and care, and the cats can live good, healthy, outdoor lives.  Since these cats will not produce more kittens, colony size will decrease naturally over time.    

A TNR’d cat shows off her “tipped” ear and enjoys a healthy outdoor life.

TNR saves tax dollars.  The main cost of TNR is the veterinarian bill that is often paid for by the volunteer trapper, a shelter, or nonprofit organization.  Some private vets offer spay-neuter discounts to help curb cat population growth.  Organizations including Richmond-based Fix Our Ferals strongly endorse TNR and offer affordable spay-neuter services. 

In contrast, when cats are brought to animal shelters and end up being killed, taxpayers foot a much higher bill.  Trap-and-Kill costs include staff time during the mandatory holding period to care for the cat (who if not adopted or claimed, may be put to death, even if healthy).  There are also significant costs to taxpayers for veterinary staff time, euthanasia, and disposal of remains. 

Trap-and-Kill is untenable for other reasons as well. Shelters are often so crowded with animals that their hard-working staff must take measures to control intake, such as placing a moratorium on pet surrenders. 

Cage space at shelters is at a premium.  Neighborhood cats that are brought in are generally not adoptable, and they occupy cages that adoptable cats could be using. TNR helps to lower shelter intake and make the best use of shelter resources and staff time and energy.  

Dedicated volunteers work with veterinary staff to provide affordable spay-neuter services.  

TNR is based in science.  National and local animal welfare organizations (including the ASPCA, Humane Society of the US, Berkeley East Bay Humane Society, Oakland Animal Shelter, and San Francisco SPCA) endorse TNR because research indicates this approach effectively reduces free-roaming cat populations. 

Additionally, studies conclude Trap-and-Kill may not only be ineffective in reducing cat population, but in some cases may lead to increased population growth, due to a “vacuum effect.”  Research regarding TNR and Trap-and-Kill is cited at the websites of Neighborhood Cats and Alley Cat Allies

TNR is humane. Thanks to spay-neuter, neighborhood cats and kittens have much healthier lives, free of continual pregnancies.  Colony caretakers ensure that cats are fed, get veterinary help if sick or injured, and can often find forever homes for tame cats and socialized kittens.  By definition, adult feral cats (as opposed to formerly-owned abandoned cats) can seldom be socialized and are not adoptable as pets.  TNR provides a positive outcome for these animals in an outdoor environment where, as a bonus to the neighborhood, the cats provide free and safe rodent control.  

Veterinarians at the Fix Our Ferals Spay-Neuter Center use state-of-the-art equipment.

And it’s not just cats that get better lives from TNR.  People benefit too.  In exchange for our help, neighborhood cats give us the great pleasure that comes from loving and caring for living creatures.  By practicing TNR, we set a good example for future generations, teaching children to value life, rather than disposing of lives as inconvenient “things.”  In the process, we are making our community a better, more compassionate place for everyone.     

Kitten Season 2016 is happening NOW, and organizations like Fix Our Ferals can loan traps and offer help and advice to residents of Contra Costa and Alameda counties.  Fix Our Ferals charges only $25 for spaying or neutering a neighborhood cat who also receives vaccinations, a microchip and flea and worm treatment.  Rates for pet cats are very affordable, too.   

If you feed strays and ferals, be sure to get them fixed.  If you have cats in your neighborhood or near your business, please do the right thing -- get them spayed or neutered before another litter of kittens is born!


By Ellen Sasaki, Richmond resident


Showing 7 reactions

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  • Claudia Fitzgerald
    commented 2016-03-04 15:08:23 -0800
    I worked with Ellen Sasaki for about a year and a half in Richmond. I witnessed how well the TNR process works with the feral cats I took care of. It’s a natural, non violent, and humane practice that had the outcome one would expect. The cats were no longer reproducing, lived out their lives being cared for with feeding and vet visits, when necessary, and the feral colonies reduced in size as they got older and died. It was also a heartwarming experience for me to interact with the cats on a weekly basis.

    Claudia Fitzgerald
  • Ellen Sasaki
    commented 2016-02-29 09:55:06 -0800
    Hi Bonnie — Please check out Fix Our Ferals’ tips for keeping cats out of your yard: http://fixourferals.org/home/about/faq/10-tips-for-keeping-cats-out-of-yards-gardens/
    Also, it would be good to be sure all those cats have been fixed — or you will be looking at a lot more cats, soon. If you call into the Fix Our Ferals hotline, someone may be able to locate the feeders to find out. (510) 433-9446 Leave a message. Thanks for your patience — the organization is largely volunteer supported.
  • Astrid Dahlman
    commented 2016-02-26 16:55:25 -0800
    I am just curious, Christine, what your humane solution might be??
    And how much experience do you have with TNR and helping to rehome stray cats here in Richmond, especially neighborhoods like the Iron Triangle and North Richmond and Santa Fe?
    I know I have saved 1000’s of lives from being born in addition to rehoming many. And I can assure you that the colonies that I feed late at night are not out killing birds during the day.
    If you have ideas beyond extermination or requiring all cats be kept indoors, I am sure we all (including animal control) would like to learn!
  • Roxann Kay
    commented 2016-02-26 13:23:55 -0800
    I am constantly amazed at the lack of compassion shown to domesticated animals in Richmond. So many irresponsible owners that don’t sterilize their pets, dogs running around without collars and reproducing, people who buy pets from backyard breeders, which continues the cycle. There are so many ignorant people. One day I hope America is like Germany and other European countries where a person must have training to own a pet.
  • Ellen Sasaki
    commented 2016-02-25 11:48:15 -0800
    The article that Christine Mann references does not say that TNR “does not work” as she posted.

    The research described is a computer simulation model that indicates Trap-Vasectomy-Hysterectomy-Release (TVHR) is more effective than TNR in reducing cat population over a “large area.”

    Here in Richmond, we are using TNR to successfully control the growth of small colonies, mostly in neighborhoods. We are lucky to have the resources i.e. the Fix Our Ferals Spay-Neuter Center that makes sterilization affordable, and volunteers who are willing to help neighbors trap their cats. Someday, TVHR may be shown to be the best method of cat population control. But until that time, TNR will continue to be supported by government entities, animal welfare organizations, and individuals worldwide because it works.
  • Bonnie Buchanan
    commented 2016-02-24 22:11:04 -0800
  • Christine Mann
    commented 2016-02-24 21:12:01 -0800
    As long as they live, those feral cats will be killing birds and other small animals. And apparently TNR doesn’t work to reduce cat populations, either.

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