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What happens to stray cats?

Strays are not an uncommon sight, they jump between backyards and wander onto main streets to only hide under another car. Typically, cats are animals friendly to humans; however, stray cats that eventually become feral are hostile. These adult cats, who are unsuitable for adoption are usual killed by animal control. Hence, the trap-neuter-return program in Fremont.


Illustration by Melody Zhang


By Benjamin Qiao and Praghna Palaparthy

Edited by Naomi Lin

 

Problem


Community cats, sometimes known as feral or outdoor cats, thrive in the outdoors as long as they have access to food and shelter. Community cats and house cats are the same species (Felis Catus), but community cats do not socialize with humans and like to live in the wild. Community cats are not a threat to the people except for the slight possibility of spreading diseases like rabies. However, a large population of community cats can lead to environmental damage, property damage, and increase the hunting of other animals. The problem is that multiple animal control agencies catch and kill cats for reducing the community cat populations, which is unethical and leads to more cats since it causes for more of them to move into the cleared communities.


The Program

One popular method of reducing community cats is TNR, or “Trap-Neuter-Return” program. It aims to stop community cats from reproducing to reduce their population. Originally catch-and-kill programs were used to address these issues; however, removing cats by killing or caging them led to the vacuum effect, where untrapped cats continue to breed, and other cats move into the newly available areas. Unlike catch-and-kill programs, TNR is a humane and effective way to manage the number of cats. The TNR program traps stray cats, neuters them, and vaccinates them from rabies. Then, the cat will be ear-tipped to show that it has been neutered and returned to its original home. This method is less expensive and cruel and allows community cats to live long and healthy lives while still decreasing the overall population.


According to Tri-City Animal Shelter Fremont, CA, “A recent report documented the success of a TNR program right in our backyard — the San Francisco Bay Trail. Through TNR, placement of adoptable felines, and careful volunteer management of this colony, the initial population of 175 declined by 99.4%”. This exemplifies that if other organizations continue the same process, and manage the program in a neat, and organized way with volunteering, and an elaborate plan the population of the community cats could potentially decrease by using TNR.


The trap-Neuter-Return Program is very effective as it allows community cats to live healthy lives while decreasing the population. An organization in Fremont known as Ohlone Humane Society has seen effective results from the Trap Neuter Return program, with 269 stray cats being trapped, neutered, and returned and 35 abandoned cats being admitted to foster programs in 2021. PubMed.gov states, “Of the 258 total cats enrolled in the program between 2004 and 2020, only one remained at the end of the program period. These results are consistent with those documented at other long-term TNR programs”. Out of the 258 cats in the community, only one remained showing the effective rates of the TNR program.


However, researchers found that Trap Neuter Return (TNR) in more prominent locations, Diego County, California, and Alachua County, Florida, did not reduce the feral cat population growth rate. For Fremont to see accurate results, the program will need a sufficient number (more extensive than current) of cats in a community neutered. Organizations, like Ohlone Humane Society, are offering free traps and cages for Fremont residents in order to gain help in trapping and neutering cats, then returning them to other organizations who complete the process.


TNR is also beneficial for kittens because the program decreases the number of newborn kittens, therefore decreasing the competition in shelters. According to Havahart.com, the cost of one cat joining the TNR program is half the cost of euthanizing that same cat, reducing the amount of tax dollars used on this issue. This program is also convenient for citizens to participate in. They can assist the process by following the proper directions and reporting the location of community cats. The spaying and neutering the cats go through in this program are also very beneficial for the cats, since it reduces the likelihood of certain cancers and reduces male cats’ instinct to fight, thereby reducing injuries and infections.


The Trap-Neuter-Return program has a good chance of reducing the population of community cats in Fremont. If enough cats are neutered, the program will be very successful; however, if there are not enough neutered cats, the population might stay the same or even increase. However, for this program to be successful, it needs to increase support and expand. For this to happen, the program should seek support from more organizations and enlist more volunteers. Fremont citizens can step up and volunteer to join or help by following the proper directions and reporting community cats' locations.


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