What is TNR?
TNR is the method of humanely trapping feral cats, having them spayed or neutered and vaccinated against rabies, returning them to their colony to live out their lives, and managing the health and well-being of that colony by providing food, shelter and monitoring the cats' health. TNR has been shown to be the least costly, as well as the most efficient and humane way of stabilizing feral cat populations.
What's the difference between 'feral' and 'stray' cats?
A feral cat is a wild cat, or the offspring of such an animal. A stray cat is a pet cat that has been lost or abandoned, while feral cats have never been socialized or lived in a home.
Is TNR humane?
TNR is endorsed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) as "the most humane, effective and financially sustainable strategy for controlling free-roaming cat populations" and "the only proven humane and effective method to manage feral cat colonies." The Humane Society of the United States has also endorsed "community-based Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs with on-going responsible management as the most viable, long-term approach available at this time to reduce feral cat populations." The American Humane Association is another supporter of TNR.
Does TNR work?
Through TNR, feral cats can live out their lives without adding to the homeless cat population. “It is very important to have all feral cats spayed/neutered because it is the only 100-percent effective way to prevent unwanted kittens,” says Aimee Christian, ASPCA Vice President of Spay/Neuter Operations. “Feral cats are prolific reproducers.”
Furthermore, by stabilizing the population, cats will naturally have more space, shelter and food, and fewer risks of disease. After being spayed or neutered, cats living in colonies tend to gain weight and live healthier lives. Spayed cats are less likely to develop breast cancer and will not be at risk for ovarian or uterine cancer, while neutered males will not get testicular cancer. By neutering male cats, you also reduce the risk of injury and infection, since intact males have a natural instinct to fight with other cats. Spaying also means female cats do not go into heat. That means they attract fewer tom cats to the area, reducing fighting. If cats are sterilized and live in a colony that has a caretaker, they may live more than 10 years.
How does TNR benefit West Orange?
TNR helps the community by stabilizing the population of the feral colony and, over time, reducing it. At the same time, nuisance behaviors such as spraying, excessive noisemaking and fighting are largely eliminated, and no more kittens are born. Yet, the benefit of natural rodent control is continued. Jesse Oldham, ASPCA Senior Administrative Director of Community Outreach and the founder of Slope Street Cats, an organization dedicated to feral cat welfare, notes, “TNR also helps the community's animal welfare resources by reducing the number of kittens that would end up in their shelters—TNR creates more space for the cats and kittens who come to them from other avenues.”
What is ear-tipping?
Ear-tipping is a widely accepted means of marking a feral cat who has been spayed or neutered. It also often identifies them as being part of a colony with a caretaker. Ear-tipping is the humane surgical removal of the top quarter-inch of the left ear. The procedure is performed by a licensed veterinarian, typically during the spay/neuter surgery. Ear-tipping is completely safe and rarely requires special aftercare. Ear-tipping is especially important as it prevents an already spayed or neutered cat the stress of re-trapping and, more important, an unnecessary surgery.
I don't like cats. Why not just euthanize the colony?
Eradication, the deliberate and systematic destruction of a feral cat colony, by whatever method, almost always leads to the “vacuum effect”—either new cats flock to the vacated area to exploit whatever food source attracted the original inhabitants, or survivors breed and their descendants are more cautious around threats. Simply put, eradication is only a temporary fix that sacrifices animals' lives unnecessarily, yet yields no positive or beneficial return.
Many communities have rounded up colonies of feral cats either for euthanasia or to relocate them to another area. This never works. Feral cats are very connected with their territory. They are familiar with its food sources, places that offer—shelter, resident wildlife, other cats in the area and potential threats to their safety—all things that help them survive. “Relocation of feral cat colonies is difficult to orchestrate and not 100-percent successful even if done correctly. It is also usually impossible to catch all of the cats, and it only takes one male and one female to begin reproducing the colony,” Oldham states. “Even when rounding up is diligently performed and all ferals are removed, new cats will soon move in and set up camp.”
I think the feral cats are killing birds in my neighborhood - can you stop it?
While feral cats do kill some birds, they prefer to kill rodents. Other issues, such as the decline of natural habitat and use of pesticides, have a greater negative impact on bird populations.
Why can't we bring them to the animal shelter?
Feral cats are wild animals; they're not adoptable and shelters will euthanize them, all while taking cage space that could be used to help adoptable cats. The fact is, most feral cats exhibit wild, shy or frightened behavior, and it's impossible to predict how or if they will ever acclimate to indoor life. Feral cats make up a large percentage of the four million to six million cats euthanized yearly by U.S. animal shelters. Adopting a feral is seldom the best course of action for either the cat or the prospective adopter.
While a feral cat might look exactly the same as a pet cat, they're actually very different. Feral cats survive by avoiding close human interaction. When properly cared for, feral cats are happier outdoors in their own territory—they have their own hierarchies and are able to exhibit their natural behaviors. There is very little success in adopting a truly feral cat. “When I first started doing TNR,” Oldham recalls, “I, like many first-time rescuers, tried to socialize a feral cat. He remained under my bed for over a year before I could even touch him. With so many adoptable domestic cats and kittens who are truly happy being indoors, socializing a feral cat should not be the goal.”
What about feral kittens?
It is important to trap feral kittens and, whenever possible, foster and socialize them until they are old enough to be adopted out. “Once born, they struggle to survive,” Christian says. “Their mortality rate is very high because of all the challenges of life outside on the streets." To socialize feral kittens:
Whenever possible, kittens should continue to nurse until four weeks old—this can be done in captivity.
Do not let feral kittens run loose—they can hide in tiny spaces and are exceptionally difficult to find and catch.
Confine the kittens in a dog crate, cat condo or cage with a small litter box, food, water and something snuggly to cuddle in.
Food is the key to socializing. Give the kittens a small amount of wet food by hand at least twice a day—eventually the kittens will associate your presence with food. For those who are more feral, start by offering baby food or wet food on a spoon through the cage.
Younger and less feral kittens can be picked up right away. Make a kitty burrito by wrapping a kitten in a towel, allowing her head to stick out.
Once the kittens no longer run away from you but instead come toward you seeking to be fed, held and petted, you can confine them to a small room.
Be sure to expose the kitten to a variety of people.
What do I do if I find a stray cat?
Stray cats will usually try to make contact with you, even if they are a bit fearful at first. If you find a stray cat, please take the following actions:
Check with your neighbors to see if their cat is missing.
Bring the cat to a shelter or veterinary clinic to be scanned for a microchip.
Notify all local veterinary hospitals and shelters so they can post the information in their lost-and-found resources.
West Orange Animal Welfare League, 973-736-8689
West Orange Animal Control, 973-325-4121
Check classifieds and Facebook for lost pets and run a "found" ad of your own. Make sure your description is brief so that callers will need to truly identify the cat.