Maddie's® Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell

Shelter Dogs  

Maddie's® Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell


Expanded TNR

Trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs have existed for decades. Greater community buy-in, standardization of protocols, and some very tangible successes have contributed to their expansion over the past 10 to 15 years as a humane and effective means of controlling free-roaming cats trapped in traditional TNR programs. Numerous variations in TNR program design exists, with some targeting only feral cats brought to shelters. With this approach, feral cats are neutered and returned to the areas where they were captured. In the past several years, a similar model has been suggested for the management of stray cats brought to shelters as well. While often used synonymously, feral and stray animals differ significantly. Feral cats are, by definition, unsocialized to humans. In contrast, stray cats are free-roaming cats that are owned, were previously owned (but are now lost or missing), or they have been abandoned by their owner. They may or may not be friendly to humans, and they may be fed (but not owned) by people in the community. Regardless of their origins, millions of stray cats are living outdoors with no attachment to a single human household.

Through several large studies on “community” cats (all outdoor cats in a community—both feral and stray), Dr. Julie Levy of the University of Florida has estimated that there are ~ 90 million community cats in the US, only 2% of which are sterilized, and that these cats produce over 80 million kittens annually. In contrast, estimates suggest that there are roughly 90 million owned cats in the US, but ~85% are sterilized, producing some 20 million kittens annually. While these numbers are only estimates (and may be lower), the reality does not change: free-roaming community cats are the greatest contributors to the homeless feline problem.

Redemption rates are notoriously low for stray cats, and a high percentage are euthanized. “Expanded” TNR, extending TNR to include stray cats brought to shelters, has been adopted by some shelters to save lives. Expanded TNR programs challenge the notion that “nothing is worse than living on the street” for stray, as well as feral cats.

In these programs, many stray cats bypass the shelter’s holding and adoption channels, are surgically sterilized, and then returned to the area or neighborhood from which they came. Advocates for this approach argue that entering the shelter system usually poses a greater risk of dying than living on the streets, that some of these cats are owned and will return home, and that they will occupy a niche that could be occupied by un-neutered animals. Critics argue that stray cats are apt to be hit by cars, starve, be ravaged by parasites, predate on wildlife or their return may be in violation of local ordinances. Similarly, by not giving owners a chance to recover their cats and neutering them, the owners are deprived of the opportunity to locate their cat and have a say regarding its sterilization.

Of course, not all stray cats entering a shelter are appropriate for expanded TNR. Kittens, apparently unhealthy cats, those with identification and declawed cats are some of the animals that are inappropriate for TNR, and are best handled through traditional shelter channels of holding and adoption. One of the most well established TNR program for stray cats is Feral Freedom, a program that began in Florida in 2008 as a partnership between Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services, the city’s municipal shelter, and First Coast No More Homeless Pets, a spay-neuter facility. In less than 2 years, the program increased the shelter’s adult cat live release from 7% to over 70%. This community has established a unique collaboration and the results of this program are being watched closely by humane and other constituencies.

For more information, visit the following links:

Jacksonville Feral Freedom Program

First Coast No More Homeless Pets, Inc.