Sunday, January 17, 2010

Trap, Neuter, Return at Risk in California

It's almost hard to believe that California is embroiled in a fight over Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR), the program in which volunteers trap feral and unowned cats, bring them to a free or low-cost spay/neuter clinic (often a mobile one), and then return them to their colony or clowder. The cats and kittens are marked by having a notch cut into one ear at the same time so the same cats aren't trapped again. This allows them to live out their lives in peace and not reproduce. It's simple, it works, and it's spearheaded by dedicated volunteers around the country. One good place to go for information is Alley Cat Allies (

In California the complaints are coming from bird lovers who claim that too many birds are being killed by cats and TNR isn't working since more whole cats are dumped. People complain about cats being dirty, soiling on their lawns, etc.

Looking at this issue objectively, killing healthy cats isn't a solution. Killing birds isn't a solution. TNR works. There's no question about that. In my opinion, no one is looking at the real issue here: education. As fast as the volunteers can trap, neuter and return cats, that is practically as fast as irresponsible people are dumping unaltered cats in those same areas. Unaltered cats reproduce. That is the point. We need education in the homes, schools and communities. We need to stop the dumping of unwanted cats and kittens. We need to make them understand that dumping them in shelters will likely result in euthanasia although it might result in adoption. They need to take responsibility and have their pets spayed or neutered.

Only responsible, ethical breeders should be breeding animals and have done the health checks with proof of same, have shown them to have objective opinions about whether or not they're good specimens of their breed and should be bred. Responsible breeders screen potential homes and have a waiting list for owners. Responsible breeders don't place animals before at least 3 months of age, all the while socializing them properly.

How do we stop people from dumping unwanted cats and kittens, beyond educating them? In this time of economic downturn, perhaps hitting them in the wallet would make them think. If you see someone dumping cats or kittens, write down their license plate and report them. Have a fine put in place for those who dump unwanted animals of any species. Make the fine high enough to matter. Teach owners that they need to keep their cats indoors with proper environmental enrichment. There are bells on cat collars so the birds are warned but even better is providing a good home where the cats get proper attention, where they are safe from cars and other animals, where they can live longer and stay healthier.

For a look at one volunteer's experiences, I highly recommend the book, They Had Me At Meow by Rosie Sorenson, MFA MFT (

Do what you can to help educate. Be pro-active. Don't just sit there bemoaning the fact that this is happening. Help change it before this attitude against cats spreads across the country. Educate, Educate, Educate! Find ways to make this work and keep both cats and birds safe.