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The traditional approach to controlling the population of feral and stray cats has been extermination. Even friendly strays are often euthanized because the number of homeless cats far exceeds the number of available homes. Long-term studies have demonstrated the futility of such a strategy since other unaltered cats quickly replace the exterminated animals, moving in to take over the food source and resume the reproductive cycle.
Additionally, public support for lethal measures is often lacking. Cat-loving caregivers may interfere with official trapping attempts, and these methods can consume a significant portion of local animal control budgets.
Community-based Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs have become increasingly common and widely accepted over the last decade, with endorsement by numerous organizations such as the American Association of Feline Practitioners, the American Animal Hospital Association, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, the National Animal Control Association, and International Cat Care.
In TNR programs, community cats are trapped, usually by volunteers, and transported directly to a clinic for surgery. Following surgery, ear-tipping for identification and vaccination, cats are generally returned to the location at which they were trapped.
The benefits of TNR programs include the direct reduction of nuisance behaviors associated with intact cats, the improvement of welfare for the cats, and the gradual reduction of populations in some situations (Levy 2004). Traditional TNR programs bypass the shelter entirely, removing and returning free-roaming cats directly into the community. Like traditional sheltering programs, TNR programs may not be of sufficient scale to impact the overall population.
However, they are likely to focus on the most visible or concerning of community cats (since these would most readily come to the attention of those managing the trapping process), thus preferentially impacting the cats that would otherwise most likely be brought to a shelter out of concern or annoyance. This may explain the reduction in complaints about cats reported by some shelters concurrent with the implementation of community TNR programs (Hughes 2002).
Simply removing and destroying a small fraction of community cats and leaving the majority unvaccinated and free to reproduce is unlikely to enhance public health. In contrast, cat management programs that include spaying, neutering and vaccination of community cats against rabies, are likely to immunize the cats that have the highest interaction with residents and thus reduce the risk of human rabies exposure.
In the history of feline rabies in the U.S., there is yet to be a single report of a cat with a tipped ear (the mark used to identify cats enrolled in Trap-Neuter-Return programs) being infected. Cats diagnosed with rabies are predominantly unvaccinated strays and pets. In Oklahoma, OCS administered 966 rabies vaccines during the 2016-2017 academic year.