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Feral Cat TNR

One definition of a feral is, "living in a wild state after domestication.”  The term “feral cat” is used to refer to a cat that has been lost or abandoned or was born in the wild.  A feral cat does not appear friendly when approached by humans. According to the Houston City Ordinance section 6-1, a feral cat is defined as "any homeless, wild, or untamed cat."

A feral cat colony is a concentrated group or population of feral cats. The term is used primarily when noticeable populations of feral cats live together in a specific location and use a common food source. A colony can range from 3–25 cats. Their locations vary.  Feral cat colonies can be in alleyways, parks, or neighborhoods.  Members consist of adult females, their young, and some adult males.

For a long time, "catch and kill" was a widely accepted method of managing feral cat colonies. The cats were trapped and removed from their established colony to be euthanized. While this method causes an instant decrease in the overall colony numbers, it is not effective over time. Colonies subject to "catch and kill" typically end up increasing in number back to their original size as a result of what is known as the vacuum effect.

What is the vacuum effect? Feral cat colonies, like other populations of animals in the wild, have a certain population size at which they are most stable. When the population size of a colony is drastically reduced in a short amount of time, the colony reacts by trying to return to the stable size. The remaining members of the colony increase mating activities in an effort to create more offspring and stabilize the colony population size. A reduction in size also opens the door for newcomers to the colony - other cats in the area may move in. Because of the vacuum effect, "catch and kill" has no lasting impact on the size of a feral cat colony.

A Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR) program is a program approved by the Director of BARC Animal Shelter & Adoptions in which feral cats are humanely trapped, evaluated, vaccinated, sterilized, and marked by an identifying notch in the left ear, all administered by a veterinarian, and returned to the trap location. TNR is a proven method that is both humane and effective. Cats are humanely trapped, spayed and neutered to prevent any future production of offspring, and are returned to their original colony. The colony population size remains stable. When all cats are spayed, neutered, and returned to a colony, the population size will gradually decrease as offspring are no longer produced. Because of the gradual decrease, the vacuum effect will not occur.

Once the feral cats within a colony are spayed and neutered, not only will the population size gradually decrease, but the cats will also be healthier and coexist more peacefully within a neighborhood. Female cats, prevented from having any more litters, will be healthier. Male cats will gradually lose the urge to roam and fight, and will be less prone to injury. Behaviors associated with unaltered cats, such as yowling and marking territory with urine, will disappear.

The city of Houston promotes TNR for the management of our city's feral cats, and citizens are encouraged to feed and care for feral cats as long as they are in accordance with the following three requirements.  Any citizen feeding feral cats must be actively working towards getting all cats in the colony spayed and neutered (i.e. accomplishing the TNR of the colony), must be feeding in a way that does not attract raccoons or possums, and must have the permission of the property owner/manager to be feeding the cats if the colony location is not on either their own property or on city property.  As long as citizens are in accordance with these requirements, they are encouraged to feed and care for the feral cats within their colony and can submit an application to become an official colony manager.

According to Houston City Ordinance section 6-22, "It shall be unlawful for any person intentionally to cause, suffer, or permit the maintenance of an attractive environment for the assembly of a congregation of unconfined and unlicensed stray cats or dogs by the placement of dog food or cat food," however colony managers who follow city TNR guidelines are permitted to feed feral cats "subject to a trap, neuter, and return program approved by the Director."