In many parts of the country there has been a sea change over the past decade in the way local governments view feral cats.
In hundreds of communities catch-and-kill has been replaced with Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), a humane approach that allows sterilized animals to live out their lives in the place where they were found.
A new report by the national advocacy group Alley Cat Allies, found the number of municipalities with pro-feral cat ordinances jumped from just 23 in 2003 to 240 this year - among them, Philadelphia, Abington, Birdsboro, Lansdowne, and Upper Moreland.
In addition,, 91 counties nationwide either support TNR or condone it as a valid method of animal control, the report found
The report, authored by Alley Cats staff attorney Elizabeth Holtz, is the first comprehensive look at Trap-Neuter-Return policies across the United States. It provides a history of the TNR movement which began in England in the 1950s and migrated to this country in the 1990s and an informative look at how programs are succeeding in different communities.
The principle of TNR is to trap cats humanely, have them spayed or neutered, and vaccinated, and then return them to their outdoor homes under the care of caretakers. With no new kittens, the colony’s population stabilizes immediately and decreases over time.
“Local governments are moving toward TNR because it works,” said Becky Robinson, president and co-founder of Alley Cat Allies, which spearheaded the TNR movement in the U.S. more than two decades ago.
“For nearly 100 years the default system has been to catch and kill outdoor cats—an approach that is not only cruel but also highly ineffective, because when one set of cats is removed from a colony others move in. TNR is the only humane and effective method proven to stabilize and reduce cat populations.”
New Jersey tops the list of states with the most pro-feral cat ordinances with 58, followed by California with 33, and Texas with 29, the report says.
“This report is proof that our policies are finally catching up with our core values in this country,” Robinson said. “Americans love cats—and they don’t want millions of taxpayer dollars spent on killing innocent, healthy animals.”
Nationally, 70 percent of cats overall and virtually 100 percent of feral cats are killed in shelters.Here in rural central Pennsylvania, around Gettysburg, as I imagine it is in other rural communities, the problem is more acute.
Sadly, many of my neighbors still view cats as shooting targets at worst, or a nuisance at best. They rarely spay or neuter or provide other medical care to their animals, increasing the pressure on the local SPCA.
In 2011 the Adams County SPCA euthanized 85 percent of the cats it took in. I would wager that figure is replicated in other rural areas across Pennsylvania.
Still, polls show that most Americans do not support killing animals.
A Harris Interactive poll commissioned by Alley Cat Allies found that an overwhelming majority of Americans -- 81 percent -- believe that leaving a stray cat outside to live out his life is more humane than having him caught and put down.
In addition to local governments, two states, Illinois and Utah, and the District of Columbia, have enacted laws that support TNR, while others, including Florida, are considering bills similar bills.
More information on TNR can be found at the website.
(Photo/Alley Cat Allies)