Trap-Neuter-Return: The Best Approach for Feral Cats

Cats have lived outdoors alongside humans for 10,000 years. They can thrive in every landscape, from the inner city to rural farmlands. Feral cats are members of the domestic cat species, but are not socialized to people. They live in groups called “colonies,” and unless they’re neutered, the colonies grow. But what if there were no new kittens?

Alley Cat Allies endorses Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) for feral cats. TNR involves humanely trapping outdoor cats and taking them to a veterinarian to be vaccinated and neutered. Cats who are friendly toward humans and young kittens are adopted to good homes. Adult feral cats are ‘eartipped’ for identification—while under anesthesia, the tip of their left ear is clipped. They are then returned to their original colony site. The colony’s population stabilizes—no more kittens!

Hundreds of communities have embraced TNR. A new Alley Cat Allies Law & Policy Brief shows a tenfold increase in the number of local governments that have adopted pro-TNR policies within just the last decade.

“Local governments are moving toward TNR because it works,” said Becky Robinson, president and co-founder of Alley Cat Allies. “For nearly 100 years the default system has been to catch and kill outdoor cats—an approach that is not only cruel but also highly ineffective, because when one set of cats is removed from a colony others move in. TNR is the only humane and effective method proven to stabilize and reduce cat populations.”

Washington, D.C.’s DC CAT program is a great example of a community coming together to embrace TNR. In 2004, the D.C. Department of Health approved a proposal from Alley Cat Allies to establish a TNR program. During the first year, more than 1,400 cats were neutered and vaccinated. Due in a large part to the program’s success, Washington Humane Society officially embraced TNR in 2006, and D.C. passed a law supporting TNR in 2008.

If you’re interested in hands-on care for cats and need advice, you can access a list of Feral Friends—organizations, veterinarians, and individuals in your area with Trap-Neuter-Return experience—at

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