I have recently been getting a number of questions and concerns about a new project I am working on that would formally permit and regulate Trap Neuter Return programs in Minneapolis.
Under the proposal, nonprofit groups working with individual residents would be allowed to conduct what are called “Trap Neuter Release” or “Trap Neuter Return” (TNR) or, more accurately, Trap Neuter Vaccinate Return programs in Minneapolis. The City itself would not be conducting the programs. This proposal would add an additional tool or practice and would not eliminate any of the other policies or practices currently in use by Minneapolis Animal Care and Control staff. Some TNR programs have already been operating in Minneapolis but some of the practices involved conflict with current law. I believe there will be benefits to better regulating them.
I am working on this because I believe that feral cats pose a significant health, safety, livability and environmental concerns in some areas of the city and that our current policies and practices are not effectively addressing these issues. Feral cats are clearly responsible for killing an enormous number of birds and other wildlife in the US each year. Allowing TNR programs to be well-regulated under thoughtful guidelines and with the oversight of our professional Animal Care and Control staff will help us better evaluate their effectiveness. It will also offer us a potentially effective and affordable way to address the out-of-control growth of the populations of wild cats that spread disease, kill birds and other wildlife, create offensive smells, damage property and disturb residents. It will also help us curb the sometimes unwise, although often kind-hearted, efforts of people who try to care for these cats while engaging in behaviors that actually create more problems, including attracting rats, mice and other unwanted pests.
It is my understanding that colony of neutered cats is less likely to grow. Cats are territorial. The presence of healthy, neutered animals will discourage other feral cats from moving in. Neutered cats are less likely to fight among themselves, contract disease or spread disease and spray urine. Over time, my hope is that their numbers will actually decrease, as no new kittens are born. If not spayed, females can have several litters each year. It has been estimated that if one cat had only one litter of five kittens per year, and each of her female offspring has a single litter per year, that cat would be responsible for producing over three hundred cats in just four years. Returning a neutered cat to this niche will, TNR advocates hope, prevent this explosive population growth.
One thing I want to be clear about is that the ordinance changes I am proposing will not take any current tool away from Animal Control staff. It will only add another tool into the mix. Animal Control staff will still have the authority to kill a stray cat after it has been held for the necessary time (5 days), has been checked for Identification to return it to an owner and has been an assessed to determine if it is suitable for adoption. Last year, the city took in 303 live cats suspected of being feral. Of those, 23 left the facility alive, either reunited with an owner, to another shelter or to a new owner after being adopted. Seven died while in the facility and 270 were euthanized.
Even if the law is changed to permit organizations to implement TNR programs, I don’t expect the number of cats being killed to go down immediately. Over time, however, as more cats are sterilized and returned to their caretakers, the number of feral cats being brought in may indeed go down as fewer cats are born.
TNR programs are allowed in many cities throughout North America, including St. Paul. Here is something from Project TNR, a program of Animal Protection League of New Jersey, where TNR has been being practiced for several years.
“Trap-Neuter-Return, commonly referred to as “TNR”, is the only method proven to be effective, humane and cost effective in controlling feral cat population growth. Using this technique, all the feral cats in a colony are trapped, neutered and then returned to their territory where caregivers provide them with regular food and shelter. Young kittens who can still be socialized, as well as friendly adults, are placed in foster care and eventually adopted out to good homes.
“TNR has many advantages. It immediately stabilizes the size of the colony by eliminating new litters. The nuisance behavior often associated with feral cats is dramatically reduced including the yowling and fighting that come with mating activity and the odor of unneutered males spraying to mark their territory.
“Another significant advantage to TNR is that, when practiced on a large scale, it lessens the number of kittens and cats flowing into local shelters. This results in lower euthanasia rates and the increased adoption of cats already in the shelters. For example, in San Francisco, after TNR had been widely implemented for six years, euthanasia rates for all cats, feral and domestic, declined by 71 percent. San Diego, after several years of TNR, also experienced substantially lower euthanasia rates.”
We still have a ways to go before our ordinance will be written and ready for a public hearing. In that time I am hoping to hear about all the issues and concerns people have so that we can address them as best we can. So please feel free to write to me with more questions or concerns.
So far, we have established a working group comprised of city staff, and representatives from Minnesota Spay Neuter Assistance, Audubon Minnesota, the Minneapolis Animal Care and Control Advisory Committee, Minnesota Voters for Animal Protection and the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis. This group will provide input and feedback as the details of the proposal are developed.
It’s clear to me that the current tools available to the City’s Animal Care and Control department are not effectively reducing the numbers of feral cats in Minneapolis. This has many negative consequences for wildlife and livability. I believe that Trap Neuter Vaccinate Return programs may offer a promising, affordable and humane method of reducing feral cat numbers, while also protecting public health and reducing impact on wildlife. If well regulated and operated, I think a TNR program is worth trying in Minneapolis. As with any policy I work to put in place, I will evaluate the success of this initiative. If, after a few years, it proves to have increased rather than reduced the numbers of feral cats in Minneapolis, I will advocate for ending it.
For information about the programs in New Jersey that might be a model for our’s visit http://www.aplnj.org/projectTNR.php
You can also learn more and watch a short introductory video on the subject here http://www.alleycat.org/page.aspx?pid=730