Helping Hawaii's homeless felines since 1999

Trap-neuter-return (tnr) program

what is a feral cat?

Few people set out to become feral cat caregivers. Most often they come across feral cats by accident and follow their instinct to help. The first impulse is to feed the cats. Alley Cat Allies (ACA) advocates feeding because food and water are necessary for survival. Not feeding the cats and hoping they will “go away” is not realistic. They can’t go away, and they may starve, but they will continue to reproduce. However you became involved with feral cats, your best course of action is to start feeding and, as soon as possible, begin a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program to trap, vet, and sterilize all members of the colony. Getting feral cats to a veterinarian for spaying or neutering and a general health evaluation is the single most important thing a caregiver can do for them. This is how a caregiver turns a feral cat colony into a managed colony, whose members can live safe, healthy, sterile lives without the dangers and hardship of constant breeding.

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before you begin

   A strong determination to trap and sterilize is often a caregiver’s greatest asset because, although the TNR process is straightforward, it can be intimidating the first time. The idea of “trapping” conjures images of cats being hurt or traumatized, and no longer trusting the caregivers. This does not happen. Since ACA was founded in 1990, hundreds of thousands of feral cats have been humanely trapped, vetted, and returned to their familiar surroundings where, after a brief adjustment, they resumed their daily routine and good relationship with their caregivers. But their lives were vastly improved by this intervention. Before you trap and sterilize the colony or colonies you care for, take time to learn exactly what TNR entails. The most basic steps are in the name:

  1. Trap means to humanely trap every feral cat in the colony or colonies you care for.
  2. Neuter means to take the cats in their traps to a veterinarian or veterinary clinic that works with feral cats to be spayed or neutered, evaluated, vaccinated, and treated as needed. 
  3. Return means to care for the cats through recovery from surgery, then take them back to their established homes. The unnamed fourth step in TNR is to provide the cats with long-term care and feeding; in other words, to continue what you are already doing. There are other factors that you will hear about or encounter while practicing TNR. Familiarizing yourself with these issues now will put you way ahead of most beginning caregivers. 



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 TNR evolved from nonlethal control programs practiced for decades in the United Kingdom, other parts of Europe, and Africa. In the United States, TNR is practiced by thousands of individuals and hundreds of groups, with the help of sympathetic veterinarians. TNR is endorsed by numerous institutions and organizations, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Best Friends Animal Society, Cat Fancier’s Association, Cornell and Tufts Universities’ Schools of Veterinary Medicine, Doris Day Animal League, the Humane Society of the United States, San  Francisco SPCA, and SPAY/USA. In a growing number of communities, TNR programs are receiving official sanction and funding. The ACA factsheet “Where Does TNR Work?” lists dozens of publicly, privately, and jointly funded programs in the United States, but it cannot include them all because individuals like you start new TNR programs every day. The information needed to implement TNR may not be available to you locally, but it is easily found on the internet at or obtained by mail from Alley Cat Allies. You can rapidly learn how to manage one or more colonies of feral cats using ACA’s newsletters, factsheets, videos on youtube, and website. ACA may be able to refer you to a Feral Friend, a volunteer in your area who can help you get started.  With guidance, you can overcome almost any obstacle to implementing a humane management plan.