Community Cats & Trap-Neuter-Return

Community Cats & Trap-Neuter-Return

Community Cats:

  • A cat without an identified owner
  • Falling within a spectrum of behavior in regards to socialization to people
  • Having been born into the wild or as a lost or abandoned pet
  • Being routinely fed by one or more community members
  • Having a “home” within the community rather than in an individual household

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR): Trap Neuter Return is the process by which a community cat is trapped, brought to a veterinarian, vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and returned to their original location.

TNR Benefits:

  • TNR efforts can stabilize and reduce a population of cats [1].
  • TNR programs can address the needs of communities and improve the interactions between these cats and humans.
  • TNR is a humane and effective alternative to euthanasia, relocation, and/or removal of resources.
  • TNR efforts can save lives and reduce shelter intake numbers [6,7]

The Animal Rescue League of Boston (ARL) believes trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNR) is a humane and effective approach to manage community/feral cats. The Animal Rescue League opposes lethal means to address feral and community cat populations. TNR is a researched and proven process that effectively controls feral cat populations and improves cats lives and the humans they interact with [1,3,5,8]. TNR has proven to be a more cost effective and humane approach to handling community cats when compared to strategies of removal, euthanasia, and relocation [2].

ARL also promotes humane TNR programs as a strategy to protect wildlife and the environment. Although domestic feline predation primarily targets rodents, other wildlife such as song birds and other species will sometimes be preyed upon. By humanely reducing community cat populations TNR can provide protection to wildlife and lessen their impact on the environment.

The Humane Society of the United States considers TNR programs to be the “most viable, long-term approach available at this time to reduce feral cat populations [8].”


Stabilization and Population reduction:

Research has proven that the TNR process works. Over time a population of cats being managed by this process will decline [1]. The process will sterilize adult cats while allowing ARL staff to assess the health and sociability of individuals. The process also allows for kittens and potentially social adults to be removed from colonies to be medically evaluated and adopted into homes.


Addressing the needs of a community:

By implementing a targeted TNR effort, community complaints can be addressed and nuisance behaviors such as urine marking, estrus vocalizations, and reproduction can be eliminated [3,5]. While some cats will remain in the community, many young or socialized individuals will be removed from the colony and placed up for adoption. The cats that are returned will have been sterilized and vaccinated. This vaccinated population can serve as a form of rodent abatement and as a buffer from new cats entering the targeted community. A single vaccine against infectious diseases such as Panleukopenia has been shown to provide long lasting protection from such disease [4].

Humane and Effective Alternative:

Community cats in our urban and suburban environments are often a product of domesticated cats being lost or abandoned and reproducing without human socialization. By not spaying and neutering our pets and by abandonment in neighborhoods and communities, humans have created populations of under-socialized and often unadoptable cats with each successive generation becoming less sociable. Policies and practices of relocation, euthanasia, or removal of resources (such as food or shelter) have been ineffective and/or inhumane.

Saving lives and reducing shelter intake numbers:

Supporting TNR efforts allows community cats to bypass the stressors of animal shelters by returning them to their original habitats. Animal shelters are unable to provide positive outcomes for the majority of feral cats as these animals are often unsocialized and difficult to handle. Placing these cats in shelters unnecessarily causes stress and subsequent disease and can often end in euthanasia. Large metropolitan animal shelters have seen drastic declines in euthanasia and upper respiratory infections after implementing effective TNR programs [6,7].

Therefore, the Animal Rescue League of Boston will:

  1. Provide TNR services as able through community outreach efforts.
  2. Support local TNR efforts in collaboration with community members.
  3. Scan all incoming cats for microchips, to ensure lost pets are reunited with their owners.
  4. Recognize left ear tipping as the universal sign for a cat that has already been through the TNR process and continue to ear tip and tattoo during the TNR process.
  5. Assess and attempt to socialize young kittens from feral colonies in an effort to find them homes.
  6. Accept community cats socialized to humans and under-socialized kittens into the shelters to evaluate for adoption.


1.         Levy, J.K., Gale, D.W., and Gale, L.A. (2003). Evaluation of the effect of a long-term trap-neuter-return and adoption program on a free-roaming cat population. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 222,42-46.

2.         Hughes, K.L. and Slater, M.R. (2002). Implementation of a feral cat management program on a university campus. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 5, 15-28.

3.         Finkler H, Gunther I, and Terkel J. “Behavioral differences between urban feeding groups of neutered and sexually intact free-roaming cats following a trap-neuter-return procedure.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 238, no. 9 (2011); 1141–1149.

4.         Fischer, S.M., Quest, C.M., Dubovi, E.J., Davis, R.D., Tucker,S.J., Friary, J.A., Crawford P.C., Ricke, T.A., Levy, J.K., Response of feral cats to vaccination at the time of neutering dacvimJAVMA, Vol 230, No. 1, January 1, 2007

5.         Zaunbrecher, K.I. and Smith, R.E. (1993). Neutering of feral cats as an alternative to eradication programs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 203, 449-452.

6.         Edinboro, C, Watson, H, Fairbrother, A. (2016) “Association between a shelter-neuter-return program and cat health at a large municipal animal shelter.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, no.3:298-308.

7.         Johnson, K.L. and Cicirelli, J. (2014). Study of the effect on shelter cat intakes and euthanasia from a shelter neuter return project of 10,080 cats from March 2010 to June 2014. PeerJ, 2:e646,

8.         Scott, Karen C., Julie K. Levy, and Shawn P. Gorman, “Body Condition of Feral Cats and the Effect of Neutering.” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 5, no. 3 (2002); 203–213.

community cats Covid update