What is TNR (and V)?

August 29, 2012 at 7:02 pm 1 comment

Right now we’ve got 210,000 free-roaming cats in Hillsborough County – living outside with no identifiable owner and often good survival skills but poor people skills. They’re lost or abandoned, or the offspring of those cats, they’re already out there, and the most effective, practical and humane way any community has ever found to date for dealing with them is called TNR, which stands for Trap…Neuter…and Return (or TNVR = Vaccinate).

The men and women who do this as volunteers, with no public funding, are skilled, caring practitioners – not crazy cat ladies. We use a little food to lure the cats into humane traps and then we take them to local vets who sterilize and check them, treat them for fleas, any ear mites or other conditions, vaccinate them for rabies and often distemper as well, and then, after recovery, they are returned to the place where they were found (unless they’re in imminent danger).

During surgery, the vet notches (or “tips”) one of the cat’s ears so that anyone can see that the cat has been sterilized and vaccinated. Once they’re released, volunteers manage and monitor the colony. Of course friendly strays and young kittens are placed into foster care and adoption programs.

This community has been practicing TNR in Hillsborough County for over 10 years. Over 33,000 cats have been TNR’d with the help of the Animal Coalition of Tampa and the Humane Society of Tampa Bay and all the rescue groups working with the shelter – and this hard work directly lowers the cat euthanasia rate at Hillsborough County Animal Services, our shelter – because these cats never enter the shelter to begin with.

If we could get the estimated 55,000 households in Hillsborough County who are feeding stray cats to TNR those cats, we could really stabilize and eventually reduce the homeless cat population and all the conflicts resulting from cats’ breeding behaviors. All of the other options – catch and kill, catch and contain, or ignore the problem – are cruel, unfeasible or ineffective.

So what’s the controversy about?

Actually, there was no controversy about this practice until recently.

We’re fortunate here in Hillsborough County to have a compassionate and visionary county commission, led by Ken Hagan, who directed our shelter to move in the direction of no-kill, like Manatee County has — and 49 other communities, a list that’s growing all the time.

So the county recently hired a progressive and compassionate shelter director from Austin, a no-kill shelter, who can lead this change and save lives.

In every one of the 50 or more communities including Austin where a shelter is saving 90% or more of animals’ lives (which is the definition of no-kill), TNR is a prominent and essential part of the plan – as it is in Manatee – it’s at the top of the list if you look at their plan: Fewer cats born, fewer cats entering the shelter. The TNR groups work in partnership with the shelter.

Instead of embracing no-kill and supporting this wonderful, promising community effort to reform our shelter using the very best practices, proven to work in other communities and advocated and practiced by many veterinary schools, leaders of The Hillsborough County Veterinary Medical Society and the Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation, and two vets on the county Animal Advisory Committee, took great exception to this shift and are now trying to slow down or completely derail reform.

They’re leading a very vocal and emotional fear-based campaign based on what is often referred to as “shaky science” against TNR and all those who practice it, saying that the cats are a threat to humans. They want TNR banned. And they want to criminalize anyone who feeds an outdoor cat, which means we can’t lure them to traps in order to vaccinate and sterilize them.

Of course the reasons about why all this is happenning are speculation, but it has been said that this is simply a back-door attempt to derail shelter reform altogether. Since the 10 steps to moving to no-kill are well-defined as practiced in 50 other communities, there’s not much reason to try to impose their own untested plan on Hillsborough – which basically centers on warehousing cats outdoors.

Speculation: Is it just an arrogant display of power and money – “we’re smarter than you because we went to vet school and law school” (and BTW many of the top vet schools in the country advocate and practice TNR)?

Speculation: Are they concerned that the two clinics most involved with TNR – ACT and HSTB – are opening low-cost community pet wellness clinics, which somehow challenges the traditional veterinary business model?

Speculation: Are they trying to avoid a change in veterinarian practice models?

One wonders if they’ve ever visited a no-kill shelter or read the definitive research and writings on no-kill by Nathan Winograd. They’ve succeeded in making no-kill a phrase we dare not speak at local government meetings.

We believe they do not represent most vets in our community, who – from my experience – are completely devoted to saving more animals’ lives using the best practices available.

They’re whipping up fear of wild zombie killer cats – which I think plays on a fear of nature – panphobia, if you will — and all wild things that we can’t dominate and totally control. We humans are actually the greatest danger to wild animals and their habitat, and the very climate we share.

What is the alternative is presented by these naysayers?

  There are only 4 alternatives:

 1. ignore the problem

 2. catch and kill (we’ve tried for a century)

3. catch and contain (tried and abandoned)

4. TNR (and vaccinate)

TNR is not perfect – but it’s the best solution ever found. It’s humane and practical. As a community, we have TNR’d over 33,000 since 2006, resulting in 10,000 fewer cats being taken in (inevitably killed) PER YEAR. We get these cats fixed so they don’t multiply and everyone wins. They’re vaccinated so they don’t spread disease.

These anti-TNR folks want to trap and sterilize cats, and adopt out the ones who can be adopted out – and we’re totally in agreement there – but then they want to build a bunch of fenced-in, netted camps or outdoor warehouses, I guess you could call them, for unfriendly feral cats on county taxpayer-donated land or in people’s backyards.

It’s one of these things that sounds good in theory, so beware, but has no basis in reality at all. Who will trap over 200,000 cats? Who will feed them and care for them, and provide ongoing vet care? My vet is very busy! Who will drive out to remote county land to care for these cats on a daily basis? Who will pay to house and care for 200,000 cats, or 100,000 cats for their entire lives?

Catch and contain, their plan — has never, ever been done, anywhere – not on a massive scale like what we’re talking about here. Taking care of even a few hundred cats a year in a sanctuary costs more than a half million dollars – ask Best Friends, which runs such a sanctuary. In recent years we’ve seen three well-meaning cat sanctuaries fail in Florida, in part, because closely confined feral cats are prone to stress and disease, and we end up with hoarding. Why can’t we let them live out their lives like raccoons and squirrels and other wildlife? Or start a barn cat program for those who absolutely must be relocated?

The public will never support such a solution – those people who are feeding neighborhood cats will never give them up for relocation, but they will TNR them if educated and assisted. That’s what we can do today.

We’re all concerned that by whipping up public fear of feral cats without offering a better alternative will end up with our community cats being rounded up and killed.

Our county Animal Advisory Committee (whose meetings are televised – and we highly recommend that people attend or watch these meetings) has been asked to form a task force to write a plan for lowering our shelter’s kill rate. We encourage you to apply to be on this task force. When Manatee wrote their plan, TNR was at the top of the list. What will Hillsborough do?

We need to have a community conversation about this, based on compassion and what has worked in other communities – and we can’t let all this talk of containing scary killer zombie cats distract us from trying to save lives.

As we speak, 40 animals are dying in our shelter every day, mostly cats. If you google No Kill Communities, or check out Save90.org, the steps for changing this TODAY are well documented – and TNR is always at the top of the list. We just need the commitment and the involvement of our community to do it.


Entry filed under: Everything else.

Program To Spay/Neuter Feral Cats Is In Jeopardy Volunteer Call

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. frances  |  August 29, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    tnr works taking them to the shelter to be killed doesnt!


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