The CATalyst: Stats on Cats

Steve Dale, CAT FANCY writer and syndicated newspaper pet columnist, provides a weekly cat news roundup. This week, he shares statistics on feral cats and stray cats, and how groups get them healthy.

Alley Cat Rescue (ACR) is all about saving cat’s lives, with education and support of feral cat trap, neuter and return (TNR). They’ve actively worked to support TNR programs in Mexico, South Africa and the United States, where they are based.

I believe that if you want know how to throw a baseball, ask a pitcher; if you want to learn about unclogging pipes, ask a plumber. ACR thought if you want to know how TNR is really going in the trenches ask people who do it.

ACR surveyed people 120 TNR groups in 37 states. The survey reveals some interesting notions about TNR, and what it’s like – for better or worse – for feral cats in the real world.

You can find all the results of the feral cat rescue survey here. Below, you’ll find some of my comments on the findings.  

“Most (96%) of the TNR groups practice neuter-before-adoption for the stray cats they place in homes.”

“Stray cats” by definition means pet cats without a home, through escape or abandonment. They differ from feral cats, which require a great deal of love and patience to socialize when brought home. So much, that many owners might give up. Many adoptable cats are in need of homes. June is the American Humane Association’s Adopt-A-Cat month, a great time to adopt friendly formerly owned cats and young kittens alike.

“One quarter of the groups report that their colony cats are 6 to 8 years old. Thirty-five percent report their cats are between 9 and 12 years old, and over 14% report feral cats 13 years old and some even older.”

Overall, cats are safer indoors; no cars can hit them, no birds or prey or coyotes to stalk them. Indoors, cats live longer and generally healthier lives. Still, this data supports previous studies with the notion that feral cats really do quite well, especially when supplemented with food.  

“Ninety-six percent of the groups provide rabies vaccinations to feral cats; 64% provide distemper; 11.76% provide feline leukemia shots; 62.18% deworm feral cats; 63.87% provide flea treatment.”

It’s encouraging that over half of the TNR groups offer flea product and deworming. Cats are rarely vectors for the disease, however, one (of many) TNR program advantages is public health. Ninety six percent vaccinating against rabies is a high number, but still not acceptable – that number must be 100%.

“One third reported that there were 26 to 30 kittens in each colony before TNR; 42.86% said there were 0-5 kittens in colonies after TNR.”

No surprise to those of us who understand TNR – overall – TNR works.

“Sadly 61.34% said their local animal control agencies do NOT offer TNR and 36% said animal control agencies had trapped and killed whole colonies in their areas. And as expected with trying total eradication, 27.73% said cats moved back into these areas where they were all trapped and killed, most within 2 to 3 months after the cats were removed.”

This needs to change. For decades, the trapping and killing formula simply hasn’t reduce population numbers, and is also costly. There is a price – a dollar and cents price and ethical price – to euthanizing perfectly healthy animals.

“Nearly all the groups (82.35%) educate the public about feral cats and TNR-65% say this has been “somewhat” effective, with 17.65% reporting their outreach programs to be extremely successful.”

Education takes time – after all, as noted, some animal shelters still endorse the old ways.  

“Working on TNR with local city/government: Only 15% found working with local city/government easy to deal with. Sadly 57% reported that it was “difficult” trying to work with their local wildlife groups.”

I bet readers of this column “get it” more than some local government agencies or wildlife groups. If we’re all on the same page, and TNR more cats, the populations will diminish and the number of reports of cats killing wildlife will drop.

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