A humane way to fix cat overpopulation

Trap-neuter-release programs are effective, reduce unnecessary euthanasias

The author is animal-services manager for the city of Chico, and founder of The Mustang Project.

Oct. 16 is National Feral Cat Day, a day to raise awareness about the outdoor—or “neighborhood”—cats in our community. For every six people in the community, there is approximately one neighborhood cat. These cats may be fed by one or more community members, or may thrive without any human intervention. “Home” is within the community rather than in an individual household. Many are feral and avoid human contact.

In February 2012, when the city of Chico began operating the animal shelter, we took every cat brought to us, including feral cats. Many of the cats euthanized were healthy ferals. As we looked for ways to decrease euthanasia and make better use of our resources, we discovered some shelters no longer accept healthy stray cats.

Why? Because cats are 13 times more likely to go home if they’re not brought to the shelter. Turns out most “lost” cats are not really lost. They are either neighborhood cats or someone’s pet out for a walk. And when feral cats are trapped and removed, it creates a “vacuum effect,” which means that other cats, or other animals like skunks, will move into those areas. The better alternative to euthanasia is to trap, neuter and return (TNR). Studies have shown that this model actually stabilizes and reduces the cat population over time.

In February 2013, the city stopped accepting healthy stray cats—friendly or feral. At that same time, a citizens group called Neighborhood Cat Advocates started a TNR program. The group provides this service in cooperation with, and at no cost to, the property owner. The organization trapped over 700 cats its first year. These are cats that might have been brought to the shelter and possibly euthanized or, if just left alone, would continue to reproduce.

Fewer cats coming into the shelter means more resources for sick/injured cats, and orphaned kittens. More cats being spayed/neutered means fewer kittens born, as well as less fighting and spraying. This year, Neighborhood Cat Advocates has trapped almost 750 cats. And no feral cats have been euthanized at the shelter since our policy change.

TNR is a more compassionate, sustainable way to deal with our neighborhood cats. If you feed or see cats in your neighborhood, please contact Neighborhood Cat Advocates or Paws of Chico and talk to them about TNR. Cats have coexisted with humans for centuries, and will continue to do so. It’s up to us to provide positive ways to coexist with them.