Trap, Desex, Return (TDR or TNR) - PART 2

Last week I posted the first hald of a wonderful interview with Erica from CatRescue, click here if you missed it, or read on for part 2!

Are street cats and kittens rehomable?

It’s very common to find young kittens that are easily rehomable in colonies; especially during breeding season when there are usually many kittens around. Sometimes there may even be a juvenile or young adult cat that has grown up with the colony carer around, and consequently has had enough human handling to become rehomeable with a short time in foster carer first to properly socialize the cat as an indoor, domestic cat. However, generally it’s only kittens under 12 weeks who can be removed from a colony for socialization with a foster carer for rehoming purposes. Each cat or kitten must be assessed on a case by case basis as to their likelihood of socialization for rehoming. If a cat or kitten is potentially rehomeable, this should always be considered the first option, rather than ‘desex & return’.

What sort of criticism to you face from the public?

While my experience is that the majority of the public are very receptive to the idea of TDR, there are many who instantly say “but what about the wildlife that the cats kill”? While I admit that in certain areas (such as bush land area’s) that this is a valid concern, and a factor I would always consider. However, the colonies that I have worked with have been exclusively in densely populated urban environments with little to no native wildlife. I’ve had this “wildlife” argument said to me before in a very urban factory complex where the closest thing to wildlife are rats.

But also on that subject, this then becomes a good argument for continued feeding (with cat food) of the colony.

While there may be the occasional cat who will hunt regardless of a ready food source, most cats can’t be bothered and also don’t have the skills to hunt when they don’t have to. In fact most cats will scavenge rather than attempt to hunt in an urban environment particularly. Remember, cats can easily sustain injuries whilst hunting, that on the street can lead to infection and possible death if they are a free living cat. Animals instinctively know this, and so won’t risk their lives to hunt when there’s cat food ready to eat with no effort or danger involved.

See an excerpt from a study on free living cats here.

I would definitely agree that more research needs to be done on the most effective and humane method for the management and reduction of free living cat populations in areas of Australian bush land where there is a high incidence of native wildlife that must be protected. All we know at this stage is that what we are doing (generally “trap, kill” where only a percentage are ever killed leaving the rest to breed back to previous numbers; or “do nothing”) just isn’t working for anyone…not for the cats, not for the wildlife, not for the environment, and not for humans.

Of course there’s also the minority group who think that the only good cat is a dead cat. Given there is no logic involved here, I can’t argue with such thinking. Even if I was in agreement with this school of thought, it’s simply not realistic – as per my answer to 5. Is TDR more effective than trapping and destroying? Why? This group does not have any effective solution, only emotional argument. And until they have a real alternative solution, it’s not worth the argument. At this point in a conversation with such a person, simply smile and back away quietly.

Why is TDR more of an issue in Australia than it is in the US and Europe?

Given that (white/settled) Australia is a little over 200 years old, the problem of feral or free living cats is a lot newer to Australia than it is to Europe or the US. As a consequence of not having dealt with this issue for as long, Australia is still a long way behind on this issue.

Governments and councils also know that it’s just not a popular issue, and it’s also a highly emotive issue. So they don’t want to go near the issue, and consequently council rangers are not given anywhere near adequate resources to do anything at all. However, if they do anything, it’s always “Trap, Kill” at this point. Or some forward thinking rangers will contact local rescue groups for their assistance on TDR knowing that the council don’t have the willingness to invest in what is needed for TDR, yet knowing that it’s the best solution. All the while the Australia government and councils are ignoring the fact that the problem gets worse every year. Whereas councils in the US and Europe have gotten way past this point many decades ago, realizing that they have to go against the grain of common popularity and try something different to have any hope of reducing the problem of a growing population of free-living cats. And hence the birth of TDR.

TDR programmes have no been in practice for decades in the US after first being proven in Europe. These initial studies in Europe, and later in the US have proven that TDR improves the lives of free living cats, improves their relationships with the people who live near them, and decreases the sizr of colonies over time.

A few quick facts based on overseas studies:

- During an 11-year study of TDR/TNR at the University of Florida, the number of cats on campus declined by 66%, with no new kittens being born after the first four years of operation.

- A study of the impact of TDR/TNR on feral cat colonies in Rome, Italy, also observed colony size decrease between 16% and 32% over a 10-year period.

- A TDR/TNR program at the University of Texas A&M; desexed 123 cats in its first year, and found no new litters of kittens the following year.

- Over the course of the same study, 20% of the cats trapped were found to be socialized stray cats and adopted.

*Note: There are no comparative studies conducted in Australia.

Yes, in the short term to conduct a TDR programme costs time and money. And at this stage, there is no NSW council prepared to invest in that. However, if what we are after is long term change, then TDR is the most successful proven method.

Councils in Australia certainly can adopt TDR programmes should they wish to. The following document from the DLG (Department of Local Government) website shows that the idea is at least being considered, if not yet implemented;

If/when this happens that councils decide to start conducting TDR programmes, it will be done on a council-by-council basis.

Sadly it really is simply a matter of Australia being behind the times and hanging onto dogged emotive arguments rather than proven data when it comes to TDR.

Who takes care of the street cats once they're desexed and returned?

Most colonies with TDR programmes will have either an individual or group of colony carers who will then continue to monitor the colony, and to provide fresh food and water. These carers are generally locals. It tends to start with a group of locals feeding the cats, but observing the colony growing as more and more kittens are born. At some point, one of these carers will contact a local rescue group for assistance with TDR. The rescue group will liaise closely with the colony carers to conduct an effective TDR programme. Colonies with carer’s are far more likely to be able to obtain the assistance of a rescue group for TDR. As for the rescue group, they then know that once the last cat in the colony has been desexed, they can then leave the care and management of the colony to the carer’s. The carer’s of course can always contact the rescue group if any future issues arise, such as problems with neighbours or council, or if one of the cats becomes injured and requires re-trapping for veterinary attention.

Can removing the local feral cat population have unexpected and detrimental effects?

Yes! And there is a great article outlining this. Scroll down to 'Feral Cat Friend or Foe' at this link:

A huge hank you to Erica for taking the time out of her busy life saving cats to do this interview. I look forward to working more with her in the area of TDR.


*Photos by Kim Lee