What is TNR?

Trap, Neuter, Return, or TNR, is the most effective tool we have to control the population of unowned community cats living outdoors. Because these cats have lived their entire lives outdoors, they are not appropriate to be brought into a shelter or live as indoor cats. Instead, TNR programs humanely catch, vaccinate, and fix these cats, then return them to their home. 

These programs are the most effective and humane way to manage neighborhood cats, as they minimize the population while keeping the cats in their natural habitats. Neighborhood cats can joyfully coexist with people in an area, as you can see in this video from Alley Cat Allies.

How TNR works

Trap, Neuter, Return is just what it sounds like. Cats are humanely trapped by animal welfare staff or volunteers, then brought to a veterinary clinic. There, they are spayed or neutered, vaccinated for rabies and sometimes other diseases, eartipped, then returned to their original home once they recover from surgery. Eartipping refers to removing 1 cm from the top of the ear in a straight line, providing a quick visual indicator that a cat has been fixed. 

TNR is used worldwide and here in northern Nevada

Across the country and world, TNR is considered the best practice. Credible animal welfare organizations such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) support TNR, and groups nationwide work to provide TNR to their communities.

There are several local organizations with TNR programs in northern Nevada, many of whom work together. The Nevada Humane Society and the Animal Rescue Group of Northern Nevada each have a program. Options Veterinary Care provides feral cat spay and neuters on Fridays. The SPCA of Northern Nevada will be starting a TNR program soon in partnership with Options Veterinary Care. Keep an eye out for updates on this exciting new community program!

Why does the catch and cull method not work for neighborhood cats? 

Culling, or eliminating the population altogether, does not work. This is due to the Vacuum Effect, which is when the population of cats is temporarily reduced by elimination, but then rebounds when other cats move into the area and begin breeding. When there is a vacuum, or an empty space, nature will fill it. Catching and killing feral cats only perpetuates a never ending cycle of eliminating groups as they appear. 

Most people agree that cat sterilization is a better, and more effective, method than euthanasia. A 2017 Harris Interactive poll found that 84% of respondents believed their community should adopt sterilization as it’s cat control policy. 

TNR is the most favorable option that animal rescues and shelters have to manage a homeless cat population.

Benefits to the Community

When stray cats are fixed, we can all benefit. TNR programs significantly reduce the population of stray cats in an area over time since they are no longer reproducing. Kittens and adult cats who are social enough can be put up for adoption, immediately reducing the amount of cats in a colony. Additionally, male cats will mark less and all of the cats will fight less as a result of spay and neuters. 

It also saves the community’s financial resources. TNR saves the tax dollars that would otherwise be used on government efforts to euthanize these cats. Most TNR programs use donations, not taxes, and supporting these programs will cost everyone less down the line.

Benefits to Cats

Stray cats are able to live out their natural lifespans with TNR. They are returned home after being fixed and vaccinated, so they can still enjoy their lives outdoors without adding to the homeless cat population or spreading disease.

Cats who go through TNR programs are also less likely to suffer preventable deaths. In a recent study published by Frontiers in Veterinary Science (of which one author is our board chair, Dr. John Boone) free-roaming cat populations managed by a TNR program experienced 31% less preventable deaths than if no action was taken. 

Because cats that go through TNR are brought to a vet, they receive medical care that they would not have received otherwise. They can be treated for any issues, and returned to live full lives.

Using TNR

If you see a colony of cats around and can see that none of the cats are eartipped, do not catch and bring them into a shelter. Instead, seek out a TNR program near you and work with them to bring the cats in. Answer any questions they have about the colony, and follow their instructions on how to proceed.

Supporting TNR

Advocate for TNR in your community by working with and supporting organizations that offer TNR programs. By donating, volunteering, and helping educate our community about the benefits of TNF, we can protect and coexist with our feline neighbors while naturally and humanely reducing their population.


Written by Ana Hurt

Living With Neighborhood Cats FAQ

Learn more about what you can do if you have a colony of neighborhood cats living in your area.

If yes, click on the button below!

Learn more!

Alley Cat Allies

tFor more information, check out Alley Cat Allies, a leader in the national TNR movement.

Go to page.