The Humane Way to Reduce Feral Cat Populations

Some communities work with the caregivers and county governments to give feral and stray cats their best chance to live healthy lives without reproducing.

I wonder why many of us think nothing of seeing a cat running through our neighborhoods, narrowly missing the bumper of a fast-moving vehicle.

If it were a stray dog – no matter what breed or size – most of us would step on the brake and stop traffic to try to coax the dog into our cars and our arms.

Dogs on the loose get my adrenaline going, but not cats. Why? I guess because cats can take care of themselves. It’s that kind of thinking that has led to large feral cat populations in our communities.  

Rescue groups define ferals as a cat who has lived his whole life with little or no human contact. A feral may have been a stray cat who was lost or abandoned and has lived away from human contact long enough to become wild.

Some people call them "community cats," because they form colonies and live together in our communities. Ferals settle where there is a convenient food source, a restaurant dumpster or a human who feeds them.

If there is no effort to sterilize them, the population grows rapidly. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that a pair of breeding cats and their offspring can exponentially produce over 400,000 cats in seven years. Coyotes and cars take their toll, but that doesn’t eliminate the colonies.

County governments have the option to create Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) ordinances. This nonlethal method allows colony caregivers to humanely (and painlessly) trap the cats, get them spayed or neutered, tip their ears and return them to their site.

The volunteer caretakers provide food, water and shelter for the duration of their lives. TNR is the most humane method known to effectively reduce the feral cat population. Without TNR, caregivers can be cited and fined for what they do.

February is the month when many shelters and rescues rally around Spay Day USA, offering special discounts or holding targeted dates for feral cat surgeries.

Some communities and clinics have made feral cats a priority, working with the caregivers and county governments to give these cats their best chance to live healthy lives without reproducing.

If you’re interested in helping, check your local shelters to find out how you can get involved and check your county’s stand on ferals. If there is no TNR, ask your county commissioners why not.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Paul Ray February 28, 2012 at 12:20 PM
Thank you for the article, very informative and very useful. Our prevous mobile Vet volunteered in various cities all over the south helping to neuter cats. I think it is the most humane way of dealing with them. Although many of us try and support the local no kill shelters, there simply are not enough of them to capture and contain all the feral cats.
Paul Ray February 28, 2012 at 12:24 PM
@Albert D, please stay out of politics, would not be long before that same attitude might be used against human population. I could not disagree with you more, and statistics (as well all are well aware during political seasons - myself more so professionally) LIE.
Melissa Lattman February 28, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Thank you for reading sharing your opinions! Please keep your comments neighborly and keep in mind the terms of use http://www.patch.com/terms Thanks!
Meagan Phillips February 28, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Wonderful information! Is the cat pictured up top an example of one that has been ear tipped? I've always assumed a small portion of the ear was removed but never thought how it could be identified by others. My apartment neighbor cares for an outside/stray/feral cat and his ear looks the same. It would be wonderful to know that he's already been through the process :)
Paul Ray February 28, 2012 at 05:42 PM
I was also under the impression it was the tip of the ear. But if not it would make sense, you need to have something distinctive in order to avoid future confusion.
SPCA Tampa Bay February 28, 2012 at 07:47 PM
The cat in the photo is Van Gogh, a former resident at SPCA Tampa Bay whose ear was amputated for medical reasons. I used this photo to get across the point that tipped ears are visible from a distance. Maybe not the best photo to use but I didn’t have a feral cat pic handy. The ear tip has to be noticeable enough to be seen at a distance because feral cats usually do not allow humans to get very close to them. It helps to differentiate cats that have had the surgery from those who have not. This way caregivers don’t end up bringing cats in for surgery that have already been fixed.
SPCA Tampa Bay February 28, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Hillsborough County reports that because TNR is increasing, the number of feral cats euthanized is decreasing. In 2011 the number of cats sterilized was greater than the number euthanized. For more visit www.humanesocietytampa.org
Paul Ray February 28, 2012 at 08:18 PM
That is very heartening news. I love cats and on three occasions had cats wander into our lvies and they were given complete blood tests and ful checkups before allowing them access to my home and the other cats. Twice they were diagnosed with advanced FIV and had to be put to sleep. It broke my heart; the one that was ok was with us for five years before he succumbed to oral cancel. To me each and every life among us is equal and needs to be treated as such.
Lynda February 28, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Does anyone know what the status is of the TRN ordinances in Gulfport or Pinellas County? Are any local rescue groups working to manage feral cat colonies in Gulfport?
SPCA Tampa Bay February 28, 2012 at 09:38 PM
In 2008 the Board of County Commissioners for Pinellas formed a work group to study the issues and make recommendations on possible solutions. As it stands today caregivers can trap-and-release feral cats; there are several spay/neuter clinics and shelters that perform the surgeries. County representatives have said that they will not site caregivers for doing this, however a TNR ordinance has not been passed. More info is available at http://www.pinellascounty.org/animalservices/strays-feral-cats.htm
Lynda February 28, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Thanks for the info, Nora.
Linda Hersey February 29, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Nora: Your information is so useful and helps everyone why TNR is needed for addressing the over-population of stray and feral cats. Thank you!
phyllis combs March 01, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Spca is very Lucky to have Nora thank you for helping the little ones that have no homes and no one to care for them . The care takings deserve a metal for all they do for these little ones. If you have a heart anyone please consider helping these little ones that have been thrown out to survive on thier own. Nora keep going you are great .
Shelle Berk March 03, 2012 at 01:18 PM
I live in a condo where a resident was feeding two cats for a while. We have asked for help from animal control but they seem to be too busy to help us. Now the woman who was feeding them is no longer here, and the cats are rapidly multiplying. I hate seeing them uncared for. Anyone have suggestions?
Catherine March 04, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Thank you Paul for your very heart-full contribution here and to the cats that have wandered into your life. I know as well that these wanderers can really touch our hearts and lives. Just yesterday I had to aid one to 'cross the bridge' after he'd lived with me for the past seven or so years. When he arrived on my doorstep, literally, loaded with fleas, intestinal ailments and black gunk in his ears, how could I say 'no'? Many vet bills later and years of unconditional love, a cancerous tumor in his head gave him such pain that I had to say, goodbye ... goodbye my beloved cat boy and thanks for the buckets of love that you shared.
Catherine March 04, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Folks, cats are often as loving and dependent on us as are dogs. Once a cat has been indoors, fed and otherwise cared for, to then dump it thinking 'it can take care of itself', is a huge offense. That cat has learned to expect food to be served and has not been taught to hunt. If any of you can no longer take care of your felines than don't do the love a disservice in dumping he or she, call a local ASPCA or other shelter to find your baby a home. Please. Thank you Nora for your well written and informative article.
SPCA Tampa Bay March 08, 2012 at 04:59 PM
The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners will hold a Work Session regarding the need for support of a Trap, Neuter, Release program to address the feral cat issue and to consider adopting a Mandatory Spay Neuter program. The public is invited ~ 9:30 a.m., March 20th, 2012 in the Board Assembly Room on the 5th floor of the County Courthouse @ 315 Court Street, Clearwater.
Lynda March 08, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Thank you so much for the update on how to get involved with supporting TNR in Pinellas.
Linda Hersey March 08, 2012 at 06:57 PM
Nora: We appreciate you letting everyone know about this critical meeting!
Bill Westover March 09, 2012 at 01:12 PM
The wild cat problem in this area is out of control. I see them hunting and eating baby birds and rabbits, sometimes they kill them just for sport and leave them in my back yard by my bird feeder. You bleeding heart animal lovers, have no idea how destructive the feral cats are to other wild life. You think that the cats are just eating out of restaurant dumpsters you are mistaken. I and others would like the feral cats to be put to sleep and not returned to the streets to kill again.
Lynda March 09, 2012 at 02:15 PM
One of the benefits of TNR is to establish stable feral colonies. Euthanizing feral cats does not result in fewer "wild cats". Other cats simply move into the territory and continue to breed. And "bleeding heart animal lovers" do have a very good idea how birds are affected by feral cats. The difference is we are searching for an actual solution rather than mindless killing of cats. Please do your research about the success in places which have strong Trap, Neuter, Release programs.
phyllis dodge August 01, 2013 at 03:46 PM
TNR is the only way to go. Pinellas County checks over my 6 ft fence for feeding stations. They warned me that I will be cited. There is a petition on cause 2 change.org for this meeting. We had aggressive pit bulls come through and kill about 9 ferals. Pinellas county came out to trap the cats. the dog owner was not cited just told to keep dogs secure. I will always TNR. We have got to change the ordinance now and keep JASON away from the cats he wants to kill. In my neighborhood Bill the dogs have killed 9 cats 5 opossums and a lot of raccoons and even squirrels way way more than any feral cat has killed. The birds make a mess of cars and laundry and carports, driveways with their poop which is expensive to clean and repaint.I vote for cats.


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