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Spaying and neutering pets is crucial to ending euthanasia in shelters. For pets with an identifiable owner, like a pet parent or shelter, the procedure is the owner’s responsibility. But for free-roaming cats, or community cats, that's a problem because nobody owns them.
41% of cats in U.S. shelters are euthanized — that’s 1.4 million cats every year. And since more cats than dogs are euthanized, homeless kittens and cats are more at risk of euthanasia. Many of those kittens and cats are from free-roaming cats.
Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is a proven method to help save cats’ lives. The process is simple: free-roaming cats are humanely trapped and taken to a clinic for spay/neuter surgery. They receive an eartip — a small snip of the tip of the left ear — as an indicator they’ve been fixed. Many clinics will also vaccinate the cats at the same time. Then, they’re returned to the area where they were found.
TNR is known to prevent hundreds of thousands of litters each year, yet many misconceptions about the process still exist.
Myth: Community cats are a nuisance, even after TNR
Fact: Fixing cats stops bad behaviors
Any cat — whether feral, stray or owned — who is not spayed or neutered is likely to engage in unwanted behavior. For example, an unfixed female cat may cry loudly at night when she’s in heat. An unneutered male may spray unpleasant smells to mark his territory.
These behaviors either disappear or greatly diminish after cats are fixed, making them much better neighbors.
Fact: Fixed cats roam less
Spaying and neutering can also reduce a cat’s desire to roam. A cat who roams less is less likely to be seen wandering your neighborhood.
There is still a chance these cats may appear in your garden or yard, but there are ways to deter them from stepping on your property.
Myth: TNR puts unhealthy and suffering animals back on the street
Fact: The majority of community cats are healthy and disease-free
One study found that of more than 100,000 cats brought to spay/neuter clinics, more than 99% were healthy enough to safely undergo the procedure.
Fact: TNR improves the cats’ health
Spaying female cats protects against illnesses, including tumors and infections. Neutered male cats don’t fight each other over potential mates, preventing bite wounds and other fight-related injuries. Many TNR programs also vaccinate cats to further protect their health.
Myth: Eartipping is cruel
Fact: Eartipping is painless
The universal sign of a spayed or neutered community cat is an eartip. While a cat is anesthetized for surgery, a veterinarian or veterinary technician removes a quarter-inch tip of the left ear. The procedure is swift and painless.
Fact: Eartipping prevents unnecessary surgery
An eartip means a fixed cat can be identified from a distance. This efficient identifier can save the cat from being unnecessarily trapped and possibly operated on again.
It also enables the people who care for the cats to quickly identify new felines who need to be trapped and fixed. It’s the only identification method that works.
Myth: TNR will never stop cats from killing wildlife
Fact: Cats are natural-born hunters, but the best way to protect wildlife is to have fewer community cats in the environment
If enough cats in an area are fixed and can no longer reproduce, their overall population will decline over time.
Fact: The extent to which community cats hunt wildlife is under debate
Some conservationists blame cats for billions of bird and small mammal deaths per year while many cat advocates claim these figures are extremely exaggerated.
When enough cats are fixed and their numbers gradually drop from natural causes, both the cats and the birds win.