Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is a method of humanely trapping unaltered feral or community cats, spaying or neutering them and returning them to the location where they were collected. TNR is advocated to be a humane and more effective alternative to euthanasia for managing and reducing feral cat populations.

Advocates of TNR claim that the procedure works by stopping the birth of new cats in the colony and letting the colony members live out their lifespan, which studies show to be between two to six years. But TNR is generally opposed by wildlife organizations and conservation scientists because they feel that it enables a non-native predator responsible for the deaths of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Studies show that free-roaming cats, whether they be your own nice, domesticated, indoor/outdoor friend or feral or community type, kill a wide range of wild animals, including lizards, voles, chipmunks, birds, frogs and snakes. Domesticated cats aren’t native to North America, which leads some wildlife advocates to consider cats an invasive species.

Whatever side of the research and controversy you fall on, the fact is that there is an overpopulation of free-roaming cats that are giving birth to kittens that are in poor health, that are being injured and killed by vehicles and that, if surviving, are contributing to a growing population of nuisance animals reported to shelters and animal control departments.

The most common method of control, which in the case of feral cats is to try and save the kittens for adoption but euthanize the wild adults, isn’t working. It isn’t working because of what is called the “vacuum effect.” When a vacancy occurs in a colony, another individual from another colony will fill it, and, since all the individuals are fertile, the cycle continues. However, if the vast majority of these colonies are sterilized, there are few, if any breeders, and the colonies eventually reduce in size or ideally disappear altogether.

The current strategy of trap and euthanize subjects the cats to confinement stress, puts handlers at risk for bite injury and risks the spread of disease to adoptable shelter residents waiting their turn for a space on the adoption floor.

The SPCA isn’t taking sides in the cat controversy other than to make it clear that in the interests of all animal welfare, something must be done to reduce the population of feral and community cats, thereby reducing suffering to both cats and the wildlife they prey on. If you live in a neighborhood plagued by noisy, unsanitary and smelly community cats, you will be better off, too. In order for TNR to work, it has to be a community effort supported by Animal Control, shelters and community cat caretakers.

So, what exactly has to be done? It’s a question that animal control departments and shelter managers are bantering back and forth and experimenting with.

Some, like in Spartanburg and Charleston are seeing good results through TNR.

It works like this. A feral or community cat is trapped by Animal Control and brought to the shelter for a microchip scan. If not identifiable, rather than keep the cat confined for five to seven days at a daily fee and then euthanized for an additional fee, the cat is sterilized as soon as possible, ear tipped for future identification and returned to the area in which it was trapped.

Usually this is less costly.

Because it is sterilized, its behavior is more modest, and it doesn’t engage in the nuisance behaviors that got it in trouble in the first place. Evidence is showing that colony size is being reduced and admissions to shelters are decreasing.

If you would like to try TNR, the SPCA has a program whereby we will loan you a trap(s) for a $35 deposit. After you trap the cat(s), bring it to our Spay and Neuter Clinic, and we will perform the surgery for $40 as soon as possible and call you to pick up your cat and release it. The fee includes surgery, rabies vaccination and ear tip.

Call the SPCA at 803-648-6863.

Barbara Nelson is the president/CEO of the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare.