Anna Cabrera of the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) has received reports of stray cats entering commercial areas, private homes, hospitals, classrooms, and other places where they are less than welcome. It also turned out that these cats were neutered by some well-meaning individuals, and that their intervention actually exposed the cats—and humans—to greater risks.
So what exactly is TNR?
It’s A Community Effort
An effective trap-neuter-release program needs to involve an entire community and goes beyond the individuals who enforce it. Everyone needs to know the rules. What are the rules?
Account for the Community’s Holding Capacity
A holding capacity is an area’s available food and water supply that stray animals consume—this includes stray dogs, cats, birds, and even rats. Every neighborhood supports its share of such animals, whether the humans give the food willingly during scheduled feedings or the animals scavenge the area’s garbage. The holding capacity also includes prey animals and insects for the predator species in the same area.
Commercial areas, which have more contained garbage disposal and sanitized areas, have small holding capacities when compared to residential neighborhoods. However, it is important to note that effective garbage disposal in a village, for example, will not always effectively reduce the number of strays. Nearby areas may have less effective disposal systems and their resident strays often explore the surrounding places.
With this in mind, a neighborhood that wants to implement a TNR program may need to take note of the garbage disposal and collection schedules in their area and see how this can affect the holding capacity of their resident strays.
After this initial step, a community can then enter an agreement with an animal welfare organization, like PAWS, to set the TNR program in motion. The agreements involve the following:
Humane trapping — The strays will be trapped without pain or trauma. PAWS has traps that can be borrowed. People can also feed the cats in large cages so they can get used to being inside cages.
Humane feeding — The community has to agree to a feeding schedule to give their leftovers to their stray cats. They also need to agree to specific feeding areas within the neighborhood.
Non-taming — It is also in the cats’ best interests to stay feral and aloof from humans. This keeps them wary of strangers intent on harming them.
Other Benefits of TNR
Neutered cats mean their population doesn’t increase. In turn, this means they do not exceed the neighborhood’s holding capacity—breeding would mean they would need to share the food supply with their offspring, which would eventually deplete the resources. With the stray cats assured of a regular food supply in one area, they would see little need to forage for food in other places. Their instincts would also help them keep intruding strays out, as they would want to protect their territory.
Misconceptions About TNR and Feeding Strays
Many well-meaning people believe they can trap, neuter, and release stray cats on their own. Others believe they can do some good by feeding these cats on the street. However, both approaches do the cats more harm than good.
Feeding stray cats without neutering will increase their population, resulting in more and more cats to feed. It may also make them tamer and therefore more likely to wander into populated areas or homes where they would be viewed more as pests than pets. PAWS recommends the responsible feeding of strays—that is, only neutered cats.
Individuals who do TNR privately without informing or engaging their entire community may have their well-meant efforts misunderstood. It’s likely that the city pound will still capture and kill their neutered cats. Without a fixed time and place for feeding, the neutered cats would still feed from whatever source is available: garbage bins, other kindly souls, prey animals. Surplus food supply may attract other cats into the neighborhood.
As stated above, TNR is a community effort; everyone in a given area needs to agree on implementing the program and take an active hand in informing people in the neighborhood of it.
This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s February 2018 issue.