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3 Secret Horrors of Some Trap-Neuter-Return Programs

3 Secret Horrors of Some Trap-Neuter-Return Programs

Trap-neuter-return programs are the only demonstrably effective method for reducing populations of feral cats and have prevented the suffering of millions of cats who would be born on the street with a bleak future. But perhaps it’s time for the humane movement to take a hard look at some of the rather surprisingly dark practices that have become quietly accepted by many humane agencies.

1. Spaying Full Term Cats: Feral cat clinics will spay mother cats who are full term, many of whom are as little as one day away from giving birth. So on Tuesday morning, five kittens would have arrived into the world and rescuers would do anything to keep them safe. Yet on Monday afternoon, at a high-volume “quick fix” clinic, those same five kittens will be cut out of the womb and placed in the garbage. Is this what we as a humane movement really hope to set as a benchmark for progress?

If a medical doctor were to abort a full term baby one day away from the mother’s expected delivery date, both the mother and the doctor would be brought up on murder charges. Yet some, and I emphasize the word some, factions of the humane movement regard any kitten in the womb as fair game.

2. Surgery Without Pain Reliever: Anyone who has ever had his/her pet cat spayed knows that the cat comes home with special care instructions that include limited mobility for several days and pain reliever for at least 2 – 3 days. Yet feral cats who are spayed are frequently given no post-op care.

They leave the clinic in a dirty metal trap and receive no pain reliever whatsoever. The next day, or sometimes that same night, the trap door is opened and they’re sent off to return to their colony. As a trapper myself, I always insist on 48 hours of pain reliever for the female cats I have altered and each rests in the trap (with food and water and a tiny litter box) until they have had time to recover. Particularly here in New England where the temperatures can be well below freezing, this extra step seems so obvious, yet, in my encounters, I’ve found that most trappers don’t ask for pain reliever because it costs a few dollars extra and they seem to buy into the illogical myth that the cats “don’t feel it.”

3. Running Tame Cats Through the Program: Temperament testing is a tricky thing. I’ve spent many nights on the laundry room floor with a closed trap beside me as I gently speak to the cat inside. It takes time, slowly working up to touching its cheek with the eraser-end of a pencil through the bars, searching for any hint of interest.

Does the cat turn to sniff the pencil? Will he sniff my hand it I put it near the cage? Will he respond to slow blinking (a non-verbal indicator cats use to indicate that they mean no harm to one another)? Will he rub his cheek against the cage?  Though it’s not always possible to distinguish between a terrified tame cat and a truly feral cat because they will behave similarly in a trap, it is possible to pick out the ones who have clearly been pets at one time and who respond to typical cues for affection. Yet, more often than not, this step is not a part of TNR programs.

Charlie loves the basket

Michael Henderson of Kansas recently shared some beautiful photos of his cat Charlie who was run through a TNR program.

“Our dear cat Charlie was a victim, as I call it, of the neuter and release policy of several shelters in Kansas City, Kansas,” Michael explains. “The little guy, not even three months old, had been neutered, with his left ear unnecessarily clipped to show that he had been through the program. A friend of ours spotted him cowering among some trash on an overpass. She turned around and called to him, and he jumped into her car.”

Where Do We Go From Here?

There’s a quiet consensus among some people in the humane movement that these are the topics we’re not supposed to talk about it, the information best kept from the public eye because people simply wouldn’t understand. And, yes, I for one simply do not understand.

I am a trapper. I care for multiple colonies 365 days a year (see photos of some of the feral cats we care for here) and many of my closest friends are also cat trappers. This is not an indictment of the practice of trapping feral cats, but an introspective look at some of the ‘accepted’ casualties of the mission to reduce cat overpopulation.

Is it too much to ask that we don’t spay full term cats? That we don’t cut into cats without any post op pain reliever? That we don’t toss tame cats back out to fend for themselves?  Some will say that we’re too busy to do the right thing. It takes too much time to temperament test cats. It costs too much money to offer pain reliever to the spayed females. It’s okay to abort ready-to-be-born kittens with beating hearts and fully formed mouths ready to be nourished by their mothers because that helps ‘cut’ the population and that is our ultimate aim.

Perhaps it’s time we start this dialogue on how we can make improvements to our mission, to set forth the highest in humane standards in every aspect of our work. If not, have we really earned the word “humane”?

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272 comments

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4:00PM PDT on Apr 17, 2014

TNR isnt perfect. Nothing is. The arguments you cite, however, are less than persuasive.
1. While it sounds cruel to eliminate kittens in utero, consider the alternative: allowing these unwanted kittens to be born, to join the already countless unwanted kittens on the street- if they even make it that long. The fetuses have less developed brains, and less developed pain responses. If I have to choose between eliminating a fetus, and condemning a born kitten to suffering, I'll pick eliminating the fetus. If I had to choose between saving a neonate and a several-week old kitten, I'd choose the older kitten.

2. Yes, it is unfortunate that not all TNR programs can afford pain medication, or keep postop cats confined to administer such medication. However, you must again consider the alternative: not neutering the cat at all. The pain of birth and/or infection is far greater, so again, the seemingly "cruel" practice isn't.

3. "Charlie" sufferend not because of TNR, but because of an irresponsible owner. If you have a cat, keep it indoors, and have it neutered. If "Charlie" had been kept indoors, or if his owners had neutered him, this would never have happened.

Don't make TNR harder. Feral cats have enough strikes against them as it is.

8:51AM PST on Mar 5, 2014

Important article; Thank You!

8:50AM PST on Mar 5, 2014

&
The areas that the adopters live in have not enough abandoned (FERAL OR NOT) cats and kittens and dogs and puppies to meet their needs & the adopters’ homes are safe, suitable, every animals has rules, for all to live together, and is trained to meet them & will have no more than 2-cats or Kittens & 2-dogs or Puppies per adult person,

8:49AM PST on Mar 5, 2014

I dislike the programs that ship trapping, neutering and Vet. Care and for adoption abandoned (FERAL OR NOT) cats and kittens and dogs and puppies to other areas where there are adopters waiting to adopt them NEGATIVE AFFECTS- ON OUR ENVIRONMENTS, ON THE trapping, neutering and Vet. Care and for adoption abandoned (FERAL OR NOT) cats and kittens and dogs and puppies in the same areas needing adoption, making sure those adopters do not give up on the cats and kittens and dogs and puppies they adopted &making sure the adopters home is safe, every animals has rules, for all to live together, and is trained to meet them and not over-populated. I mean are they able to return the cats and kittens and dogs and puppies they adopted to the same CMI that delivered them to them?? I also LOVE the fact that those trapping, neutering and Vet. Care and for adoption abandoned (FERAL OR NOT) cats and kittens and dogs and puppies will have homes. Thus, I am not against shipping trapping, neutering and Vet. Care and for adoption abandoned (FERAL OR NOT) cats and kittens and dogs and puppies, if and ONLY if:
The CMIs & other transportation are running through Solar or Wind or Bio Diesel power & provide comfortable ride for them,
If the adopters no longer can or want to have the shipped abandoned (FERAL OR NOT) cats and kittens and dogs and puppies, the same delivery locations are also return locations.
&
The areas that the adopters live in have not enough abandoned (FERAL OR

8:47AM PST on Mar 5, 2014

For those saying Some Trap-Neuter-Return Programs need time to make the programs running like they should, WTF?!! We should allow the article's and other problems hurt and kill tons of cats and dogs?!! It should all be worked out BEFORE INACTING THESE PROGRAMS AND THERE MUST BE LEGAL ACCOUNTIBILITY!!

8:44AM PST on Mar 5, 2014

I cannot disagree with the negative facts of releasing trapped, fixed and Vet. Cared for abandoned cats and kittens and dogs and puppies back to outside and left for people to feed them, brought up by PETA, environmental & birding organizations: they will suffer without being adopted, they need further Vet. Care, these animals abandoned to the outside do not have the skills to exist outside, can and are be and being killed from automobiles and Etc., if public and organizations feeding these abandoned animals was good enough then they would not be starving in the first place, greater wild cats and dogs equals more eaten birds and thus, unbalanced environments. Minimally, the organizations doing this should be legally held responsible for working with ALL available adoption groups and creating cats and dogs sanctuaries for un-adopted abandoned cats and dogs (but still available for adoption at any time), the lifelong Vet. Care and feeding, if they cannot get adopted, of these animals they throw out, instead of kill.

8:44AM PST on Mar 5, 2014

As a PETA, Earth & Beings Rights, Organic & Vegan & Inventor person who has adopted and Cesar ‘The Dog Whisper’ Millan trained most, for all to live well together, all of the animals, I care for, organized campaigns and protest for Earth & Beings Rights and have participated in convincing the dean to allow us to trapping, neutering and Vet. Care and for adoption abandoned (FERAL OR NOT) cats and kittens at a local college that was going to exterminate them. I live in a county where they are doing this. This is one of the hardest issues for me to find the sides I agree with. I obviously agree with trapping, neutering and Vet. Care for abandoned (FERAL OR NOT) cats and kittens. I obviously also agree with any organizations or people working to trapping, neutering and Vet. Care for abandoned (FERAL OR NOT) cats and kittens working with other organizations or people able to get them adopted. It also brings about one of the other hardest issues for me to find the sides I agree with, the programs that ship trapping, neutering and Vet. Care and for adoption abandoned (FERAL OR NOT) cats and kittens and dogs and puppies to other areas where there are adopters waiting to adopt them, but that will be discussed in proceeding posts (wish I could find The Care2 article that talked about it). I cannot disagree with the negative facts of releasing trapped, fixed and Vet. Cared for abandoned cats and kittens and dogs and puppies back to outside and left for people t

2:53PM PDT on Sep 30, 2013

http://shelterreform.org/blog1/2012/03/04/the-calgary-no-kill-model/

6:10PM PDT on Jul 14, 2013

You want to know the solution to all the complaints made here-Spay and Neuter your pets in the first place and don't abandon for any reason.
I T-N-R and late term spays are done, there are just too many kittens and adult cats that need homes adding more doesn't help. No one enjoys doing this but the numbers need to go down and these kittens are humanely euthanized.
So remember before you complain first find out the truth, next get involved and finally preach, plead and help pet owners to get their animals spayed and neutered.

12:46PM PDT on Jun 5, 2013

Instead of complaining - do something useful and demand changes be made. Get out there and volunteer to feed the colonies. Donate a few dollars every paycheck for pain meds for the cats, post-surgery. I think these people are doing a wonderful job. I don't like the thought of aborting full term kittens but there must be a good reason they're doing it.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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