Many cats and kittens without human guardians are feral cats. Feral cats have not been socialized to humans. They live in alleys, barns, outbuildings and other areas where there is shelter and a food supply.
Dixie Day Spay knows that as spring gets closer its Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program for feral cats will be getting more action from local rescue groups and people who want to provide humane solutions for the feral cats near their homes and businesses.
During its first year of operation, Dixie Day Spay Director Betti Gravelle estimates that of the low-cost, nonprofit clinic’s 2,000 plus feline surgery patients, one in 20 has been a feral cat. Other humane organizations and low-cost spay/neuter clinics in the area also provide TNR service for feral cats.
Trap-Neuter-Return programs involve the caring capture, sterilization, and vaccination of feral cats. Those who have been vaccinated and neutered are marked with an ear-tip, and cats adequately socialized to humans get adopted into homes, while the rest are returned to their colony where a human caregiver often looks after their health and ensures that they receive adequate food and shelter.
Scientific studies show that TNR policies are the most humane, effective way to manage feral cat populations, according to Alley Cat Allies, the national nonprofit organization dedicated to feral cat issues. These programs give feral cats who cannot be adopted a chance to live out their lives without posing a disease risk to humans. TNR policies also protect feral cat colonies from the minimal risk of contracting rabies and prevent these cats from spreading the disease.
“Opposition to humane control of community cats via TNR is often based on a misunderstanding of rabies biology,” says Julie Levy, DVM, Ph.D., at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Some species, such as dogs, can harbor a strain of rabies especially adapted to that animal. When this happens, the species can become a source of rabies virus that is maintained over time.
Cats have never developed their own strain of rabies. “There is no cat-adapted rabies strain that is maintained in the feline population,” says Levy. “All rabid cats are incidental victims and acquire their rabies infections from wildlife.” It’s rarely cats who spread rabies, she says, but unvaccinated wild animals such as raccoons, foxes, and bats. “Rabies will never be controlled or eliminated in the U.S. until effective programs to eradicate rabies in wildlife are carried out,” Levy says. Currently, 18 states are using oral rabies vaccines to control rabies in wildlife populations.
Trap-Neuter-Return programs are part of the solution, says Levy. “In many communities, such as Gainesville, the feral cat TNR programs are the largest provider of rabies vaccines in the community.” Even a single dose of rabies vaccine can provide multiple years of protection.
According to IndyFeral, the feral cat organization that works in conjunction with animal control in the city of Indianapolis, TNR is endorsed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, Humane Society of the United States, American Humane Association, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Cat Fancier’s Association. TNR programs are active and working to reduce animal control costs in cities such as Indianapolis, San Diego, and Maricopa County, Ariz.
Gravelle stresses that TNR is an integral part of the model of actions that must take place as a community moves toward a no-kill status for healthy companion animals. Because of this, Dixie Day Spay offers a special discount for clients who bring feral cats to the Dixie Day Spay clinic for sterilization. For feral cats that arrive at the clinic in humane traps, the cost of sterilization, a 3-year rabies vaccination and ear tip is only $25.
Because trapping doesn’t always allow for predictable scheduling, Gravelle encourages those who are trapping feral cats to call the clinic and let schedulers know that they are trapping, but in most instances the clinic can perform spay/neuter surgeries on feral cats without an appointment if the cat arrives before 9:30 a.m., Monday through Thursday.