Trap, Desex, Return (TDR or TNR)

Feral cats. A common subject for controversy. I personally, love all cats, from the two in my home, to the giants who roam such magical places as Africa, and to the billions of poor homeless kitties who live on the streets of our planet. Known in Australia as TDR (Trap, Desex, Return) and in the majority of the rest of the world as TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return), I believe, and studies have shown, that this is the most humane and effective method of controlling, and caring for, the feral cat population.

In today's post I share with you an interview with Erica Trinder of CatRescue. Erica is passionate about changing the lives of these under appreciated kitties, and she has extensive knowledge and experience in the area. I'm proud to say I have recently been working with her on TDR projects, and it is something that has become close to my heart.

This is a two part interview, so be sure to check back next Tuesday for the second half of what Erica has to say.

What is Trap, Desex, Return (TDR. Also known as Trap, Neuter, Return)?

Trap, Desex, Return is a method of humanely trapping unaltered feral or free living cats, desexing them, and releasing them back to the same location where they were collected. TDR is a humane and more effective alternative to euthanasia for managing and reducing free living cat populations. This procedure has been proven to work by stopping the birth of new cats into the colony and letting the colony members live out their lifespan (approx 6yrs for outdoor cats).

Trap, Desex, Return begins with the trapping of feral or free living cats using a humane cat trap. The cat is then transported in the trap to the vet where they will be desexed.

Whilst under anaesthetic, many groups or indivduals conducting a TDR programme, will also choose to flea and worm treat the cat, as well as vaccinate and microchip the cat. In some instances, they may choose to have the cat tested for Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), and/or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) prior to sterilization, and possibly euthansed if the test is positive to reduce the spread of these diseases to other cats in the area. However, studies have shown that the instance of FeLV and FIV are no higher in feral cat populations than they are in domestic cats.

After an appropriate amount of time to recover from the surgery and anaesthtic either at the vet or in the home of the carer, the cat will then be transported back to the location in which they were trapped, and they will be released.

How does this benefit street cats?

Desexing has many positive and direct impacts on all cats, but especially on free living cats. It is a proven and well known fact that desexing prevents disease and injury, and promotes longevity. There are a number of illnesses that desexing prevents. But (apart from the obvious benefit of no more kittens being added to the colony), the biggest benefit to street cats is that it curbs their instinct to roam and fight.

One of the biggest threats to street cats is cars. So by reducing the cats instinct to roam (to look for a mate to breed with), this risk is greatly reduced.

Another major risk to street cats is injury from fighting with other undesexed cats (particularly prevalent between undesexed Tom’s). As even a minor injury when untreated can become a serious infection that can lead to death for a street cat. Desexing greatly reduces the instinct to fight with other cats. As the primary reason that they fight is for breeding rights.

Plus the physical toll on an undesexed female street cat from having litter after litter leads to a very short lifespan for these breeding females, as they give up just about everything for their babies, and their bodies don’t last long as a result.

For more information of the many benefits of desexing, please see:

Then there’s the benefit of colony living for a cat. For street cats, living in a colony also has many benefits as the cats within the colony form very strong, familial bonds, and they really do look out and care for each other. Many colony carer’s have witnessed with amazement the close relationships formed between cats of the same colony, witnessing much stronger bonds than we generally observe with our own pet cats. Particularly between females. It’s a common sight amongst colony cats to see 2 cats walking side by side with their tails entwined.

How does this benefit the community?

One of the biggest benefits to the community is that once every cat in a colony has been desexed and returned, the colony will not accept new members. These existing members will almost always chase off any cats that wander into their territory. And because the numbers are not growing due to no more kittens being born to the colony, the colony numbers then remain static for a period of time, and eventually will reduce to zero as the cats natural lifespans start to come to an end.

Of course there is no guarantee that someone won’t then come along and dump their unwanted and undesexed cats on the old colony site once the last of the colony has died out. Which is why CatRescue promotes legislative change in regards to mandatory desexing prior to sale of cats (and dogs) in Australia. As mandatory desexing before the point of sale in conjunction with TDR programmes hold the best possible outcome for the reduction, and hopeful permanant elimination of feral or free living cat colonies in Australia.

Desexing cats also greatly reduces unwanted, antisocial behaviours such as spraying, wandering, fighting, excessive vocalization and aggression with other cats. Once a colony has been desexed, and the colony is being managed, many locals will not even be aware that they are living right next door to a cat colony. As once desexed, the cats tend to stay very well hidden and quiet away from humans. And the only times they will come out into the open is when the feeders arrive to give them dinner.

What about the myth about street cats spreading diseases to humans? Is this even possible??

This is exactly that…a myth. There are only 2 things that are transmissible from cats to humans. And these are not easy to catch even in the most ideal circumstances.

1 is ringworm. However, if you catch ringworm, it’s probably from the garden or another human, and not a cat. As you’d have to be rubbing the cat on your body to catch it. So no one is ever going to catch ringworm from a street cat (unless you cuddle street cats that also happen to have ringworm, which is more than a little unlikely). Ringworm is a topical skin fungus, in the same family as tinea. It is not a worm. It’s transmitted via live spores. However, these spores have to be right up close and personal, as they die in the air within a few seconds. Ringworm is naturally occuring in nature. Children and those with immune suppression illnesses are more prone to catching ringworm than healthy adults. And the same goes for cats, in that young kittens are far more likely to catch Ringworm that adult cats who rarely catch it. The treatment for Ringworm for humans is a topical anti-fungal cream like Canestan which you can buy over the counter at the chemist.

The only other thing that is transmissible from cats to humans is Toxoplasmosis. I will start by saying that in the history of CatRescue (that’s over 8000 cats and kittens that have passed through our doors), we have only ever seen one instance of Toxoplasmosis. And because we primarily rescue from pounds, we see every illness and disease for cats that there is many times over. Toxoplasmosis is extremely rare in cats. It is impossible to not realise that a cat with Toxoplasmosis is anything but extremely sick. They will not pass unnoticed. So no one with an IQ over 1 is at risk of accidentally catching it without knowing from a cat. There is only one way to catch Toxoplasmosis from a cat…you have to injest their faeces. This is why many doctor’s recommend that pregnant women avoid cleaning litter trays, as pregnant women are at an increased risk if presented with Toxoplasmosis.

It is also worth noting that according to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the US, over half the world’s human population carry the Toxoplasma infection without knowing. And even more importantly to note that the vast majority of those that carry Toxoplasma got it from contact with raw meat, especially pork. So, why people panic about catching Toxoplasmosis from cats, and not from preparing dinner, is all down to myth, and has little to nothing to do with fact.

For the average human that is exposed to Toxoplasmosis, the worst that will happen is they will experience mild flu-like symptoms for a short time, then nothing more. For most, they will experience no symptoms. However, those with a weakened immune system, such as AIDS patients or pregnant women may (or may not) become seriously ill. But again, I stress, if you are concerned about catching Toxoplasmosis, then you should wear latex gloves when handling raw meat, and stop worrying about cats.

So, to re-cap…Ringworm (a fungus) and Toxoplasmosis (a parasitic disease) are the only 2 things that are even biologically possible (but very, very unlikely) to be transmissible from cat to human.**Please note this answer is for Australian feral cats only. Diseases such as rabies do not exist in this part of the world

Is TDR more effective than trapping and destroying? Why?

It’s been proven in studies done in the US and Europe in areas where TDR has become a common practice that TDR has far more positive effect on reducing the number of feral and street cats over a longer period of time. The only other alternatives to TDR are “do nothing”, or “Trap, Destroy”.

Doing nothing allows the cats to continue breeding. Of course this is not a good solution for the cats, the environment, possible wildlife, and the community. Cats breed young and often. And an unmanaged colony will likely become full of disease and death amongst the cat population.

And “Trap & Destroy” has proven to be ineffective over long or even mid-range periods. The main reason for this is that anyone coming into “Trap & Destroy” will never be invested and caring enough to trap every last cat in the colony. They will likely come 2, maybe 3 times to trap as many as they can. And then never return, leaving a percentage of cats who they couldn’t trap behind. These cats will quickly breed the colony back to the same size it was within a year. Also, many locals will sabotage attempts to “Trap & Destroy” by feeding the cats elsewhere through the night so that the cats are not hungry enough to enter the trap. As many local grow to love the cats, and consider the cats to be “theirs” to a certain extent. Right, or wrong, this is a common problem that councils who attempt this face.

Whereas when locals see a rescue group come along to conduct a TDR programme, the vast majority of locals welcome it with much gratitude, and very often are keen to help out where they can. Working with the local community is very important for long term success. Rescue groups conducting a TDR programme will ensure that feeders are feeding the cats the right food, and also that they are feeding the cats in a suitable location that is away from danger (such as busy roads), away from public areas (such as restaurants, etc), and ensure that the feeders are not leaving a mess behind. Rescue groups will help to educate the local community in responsible cat care for the colony, but also for cats in general. Often when a rescue group arrives at a colony, many of the locals will point to one home in the area who have a handful of undesexed cats as the root cause of the colony. Rescue groups will also attempt to have these cat owners agree to allow the rescue group to desex their cats whilst they are desexing the colony to ensure the colony doesn’t continue to grow from the neighbouring pet cat population.

However, the main reason why TDR has the greatest effect on the reduction of feral cats in the long term is because the group conducting the TDR programme will keep going until every last cat in the colony has been desexed. The colony will then defend itself from newcomers, therefore keeping the population static for a while, and eventually the population will start to decline as cats reach their natural death.

Remember to stop by next Tuesday for the remainder of the interview!


*Photos by me