Cats are counting but not multiplying

HSHV celebrates 10 years of Trap-Neuter-Return

Since 2007, the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV) has sterilized over 11,000 free-roaming cats in their Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program. Cats get trapped, fixed, vaccinated for rabies, and ear-tipped to signify that they’re sterile.

“Every cat in my neighborhood has a tipped ear now,” says Rodney Taylor, volunteer cat trapper for over 10 years. “People used to bring me buckets of sickly kittens. Now the cats are healthy and they’re not having babies anymore.”

Rodney and Vicky TaylorHow does TNR work? Cats who are living and thriving outdoors are humanely live-trapped either through HSHV’s Community Cat Program or by a community volunteer, then taken to HSHV’s Veterinary Clinic for sterilization, vaccination, medical treatment if needed, and ear-tipping for identification. The cats are returned to their original habitat where typically one or more caretakers help feed the cats and provide outdoor shelter for cold weather. The population is stabilized, then declines over time.

One TNR caretaker or “true believer,” as she calls herself, recently reported that the feral cat population on her property dropped from 20 to six because of HSHV’s TNR program.

It’s hard to estimate how many kittens HSHV’s TNR program has prevented, but cats can have as many as three litters a year averaging 4-5 babies each, and kittens can breed as young as four months old. From Taylor’s perspective in Augusta Township, he says it’s obvious TNR has helped decrease the numbers, as he sees fewer and fewer “Free Kittens” signs on the road every year.

“When I started at HSHV, we were euthanizing about half our animals – many perfectly healthy feral/outdoor living cats,” says Tanya Hilgendorf, HSHV’s President and CEO. “It was horrible for our staff and toxic to the organization. Since 1896, HSHV’s purpose has been to respect and protect animal life, so being the community’s exterminator for any healthy animal also went against our mission. We also learned it made little sense for the community. Taking in animals surviving perfectly fine on their own and killing them did not just waste life, it wasted time and money. It had no lasting positive impact. The cats brought in year after year came from the same areas.”

“People just dump cats they don’t want, and then they have kittens,” says Karen Frazier, who’s also been trapping cats for nearly 10 years. “TNR stops the overpopulation of kittens.”

The number of stray and abandoned kittens coming in to the shelter has dropped 36% since HSHV started the TNR program.

In recent years, there’s been a backlash against TNR from critics calling cats an invasive species. Yet cats have lived outdoors for most of history; only when cat litter was invented in the 1950s did indoor cats become mainstream.

“And let’s not forget that cats’ population problem was caused by humans—those who today let them run loose unsterilized, either to roam or because they are no longer wanted. They reproduce. Their off-spring reproduce. And so on,” says Hilgendorf. “We know, and studies prove, that TNR is the only strategy that works.”

For nearly a century, animal shelters exterminated outdoor cats only to create a vacuum. Populations rebounded continually; neighboring cats moved in and bred back to the location’s capacity. TNR has been scientifically shown to stabilize and reduce population over time, saving municipalities money and eliminating a variety of nuisance issues.

Taylor says people around him don’t mind cats, as they chase off mice. More and more communities and businesses have appreciated them, too, adopting “working” outdoor cats for natural pest control.

[See recent articles on “Working Cats” in California, Colorado, Minnesota, Pennsylvania. HSHV has a working “barn cat” adoption program; free to those who qualify.]

“As with nearly everything we do, TNR ‘takes a village’ to be successful—including people like Rodney and Karen and many extraordinarily kind-hearted volunteers and community members. It started with our commitment to being true to our mission, even in the face of some loud and bitter opposition, and investing resources into sterilization instead of euthanasia. Which, by the way, works out to nearly the same financial cost,” says Hilgendorf. 

For more information on HSHV’s TNR program, see www.hshv.org/tnr. To help prevent overpopulation and save lives, sign up to volunteer at www.hshv.org/tnrtraining. To adopt a free, sterilized and vaccinated barn cat, see www.hshv.org/barncats.

 

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All images and photographs are courtesy of HSHV staff and Jeffrey E. Roush of Two Cat Studios.