Last Friday, it was my privilege to join our Southern Utah community cat team for a trap/neuter/return (TNR) roundup in Panguitch, Utah, not far from Bryce Canyon National Park and about a one-hour drive north of the Best Friends Sanctuary. The team of staff and volunteers humanely trapped 75 cats from about 25 locations last Friday and Saturday and returned them by the end of the weekend.
Our regional TNR work is one of our long-standing Sanctuary outreach programs. It serves six counties, and in the past five years has provided free spay/neuter for about 14,000 cats. The kitties are shuttled to the Sanctuary clinic for surgery and returned to their respective colonies the following day. If you’re interested in learning more about where these cats live and how many people close by enjoy them, I strongly recommend spending a few hours helping your local community cat folks with their art of practicing TNR. And I truly do mean art. There are many subtleties to making a success of it. You’ll engage with the community and help the cats live a better life.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of TNR as a strategy for managing community cat populations, not only in rural Southern Utah, but in crowded urban environments as well.
Best Friends runs TNR programs in Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, and, in partnership with PetSmart Charities®, we staff shelter-integrated TNR operations in Albuquerque, San Antonio and Baltimore. In city after city, we see the same results following quickly on the heels of the launch of these programs, especially in communities where TNR is integrated with municipal shelter operations as was pioneered in Jacksonville (also with the help of Best Friends). There is a dramatic reduction of cat shelter deaths and a drop off in the number of community cat litters that turn up in residents’ backyards and crawl spaces. Even in Los Angeles, where there is a court injunction against L.A. Animal Services providing any support whatsoever for TNR, we are seeing a reduction in shelter cat intake as a result of aggressive TNR operations funded by Best Friends and implemented by partner organizations, such as Stray Cat Alliance, a fantastic, hardworking group on the ground in L.A.
Despite the inescapable logic of TNR as a humane community cat population management strategy – sterile animals can’t reproduce – there is still a contrary drumbeat coming from the bird conservancy community that is unequivocally opposed to TNR.
These groups advocate “removing” 50 percent of the community cat population, and since sterilization is not on their agenda, that would entail a perpetual program of catching and killing cats. Setting aside, if indeed that is possible, the ugliness and cruelty of such a plan, who would they propose implement it and how would they sell it to the cat-loving public? Cities certainly don’t have the resources to deploy hundreds of trappers who would quickly become the target of animal activists’ ire. So are the bird groups planning to do this dirty work themselves? The idea is as unworkable as it is cruel and its advocates know this, which is why their anti-TNR rhetoric never includes details of their alternative solution.
The irony here is that those who love cats and those who hate them both want to reduce community cat populations. The debate is not about desired outcomes; it is about how to get there.
No one is denying that cats are predators. They are rodent specialists, but birds are generally work rather than reward for a hungry cat monitoring its energy reserves.
However, the catch-and-kill approach advocated by those opposed to TNR was the norm for decades (prior to the introduction of TNR in the early 1990s through Becky Robinson’s creation of Alley Cat Allies). Catch and kill was entirely ineffective in reducing the population of stray and free-roaming cats, even while the numbers of cats killed in shelters soared. Catch and kill simply does not work, has never worked and will never work.
Best Friends is committed to TNR as the only humane approach to managing community cat populations and to supporting the national army of cat lovers who volunteer their time and personal resources to help in this task.
More killing is never the answer, whatever the question may be.
Best Friends Animal Society