Having lived outside for thousands of years, cats have always been a part of our natural environment. While plenty of cats have homes that allow them outdoor access, many are free-roaming cats who live outdoors and are not socialized to people (or feral). Adoption is not an option for these cats as they are fearful of humans, which is why bringing them to the shelter is not the best solution. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is a nationally recognized, widely adopted approach to caring for unsocialized cats by ensuring that they are sterilized (spayed or neutered), vaccinated, and returned to their outdoor homes. Check out the FAQs below to learn more about the benefits of TNR.

The information in these FAQ’s has been sourced by Alley Cat Allies, Community Cat Podcast, Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Wyoming Fish and Game, Association of Shelter Veterinarians, and Best Friends Animal Society.

What is TNR?

Through Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs, community cats are humanely trapped, sterilized, vaccinated, and ear-tipped before being returned to their outdoor homes. The word “Return” is a critical component of TNR as it refers to the act of returning cats to the exact location from which they were trapped. This prevents more intact, unvaccinated cats from moving into the area to consume the resources of the cat that was trapped (see Vacuum Effect). Over time, TNR helps stabilize and ultimately reduces the population of unowned cats in an area. Not only does TNR help with population control; it also helps community cats live longer, healthier lives while protecting neighborhood pets.

What are “Community Cats”?

Community cats are unowned cats that live outdoors. The demeanor of community cats ranges from friendly (social) to unfriendly (feral), although they are usually anti-social and fearful because they have limited human interaction. Community Cats generally thrive in their outdoor homes as they are skilled at finding food and shelter.

What is the purpose of an “eartip”?

The ‘eartip’ is a visual indicator that the cat has already been spayed/neutered through a TNR program.

Isn’t it unsafe for community cats to live outside?

Cats have been living outdoors for thousands of years. In fact, it wasn’t until cat litter was introduced in the 1940’s that the concept of cats as indoor pets was adopted. 

Research shows that most community cats are healthy and have fairly low disease rates. Community cats can live long, healthy lives but TNR programs improve their wellbeing.

What happens to community cats when they are brought to the shelter?

Since community cats are generally not socialized (or friendly) to people, they are harder to adopt out and will not thrive as indoor-only cats. Sheltering community cats is inhumane due to the fact that they have only ever lived outdoors. In many shelters across the United States, community cats are considered unadoptable and are euthanized as a result. While PCAS does not euthanize for population control, housing community cats makes it harder for the Shelter to allocate resources to animals that are more likely to get adopted, or those that are in need of urgent medical attention. TNR is an effective, humane way to address the overpopulation of community cats. 

Why doesn’t removing cats from an area eliminate the population?

There are many reasons that removing cats doesn’t work to stabilize or reduce the population but a big factor is the Vacuum Effect. While catching and removing cats may temporarily reduce the number of cats in a given area, it is not a long term solution. Removing cats from their outdoor habitat (often referred to as a colony) creates a vacuum that will soon be filled by nearby cats who move in to consume the resources that sustained the cats who were removed. When new community cats move into the area, they often begin to breed and populate the area with more intact, unvaccinated cats. The Vacuum Effect is not unique to cats — it is a worldwide phenomenon that has been observed in other species including coyotes and foxes.

Why can’t feral cats be socialized and then adopted into homes?

The ideal window for socializing (or acclimating cats to people) is when cats are young kittens (under 12 weeks). It is very difficult, and often impossible to acclimate adult cats who have only lived outdoors. Caged, unsocialized cats in a shelter live in a constant state of stress and fear. TNR programs are the most humane way to help the most under-socialized cats.

What about the birds?

The greatest threat to birds, and all wildlife, continues to be loss and/or degradation of habitat due to human development and disturbance (U.S. Fish & Wildlife). Additionally, between 365 and 988 million birds are killed annually by colliding with buildings (Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center & U.S. Fish & Wildlife).

According to Wyoming Fish and Game, community cats pose a threat to some native birds and rodents, but TNR will only help reduce the number of cats living in these areas, ultimately decreasing the threat to other species.