Published in Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage, AK) on July 19, 2017
It’s important that Alaskans have the facts about trap-neuter-return, or TNR, the process by which community cat populations are stabilized and managed. Unfortunately, a June 21 commentary in the Alaska Dispatch News written by columnist Rick Sinnott obscures the truth.
In reality, decades of practice show that TNR is the most humane, effective, and practical approach to stabilizing community cat populations.
The truth about the pending proposal
In August, Alaska residents will have access to a proposal to exempt “sterilized feral cats” from the list of species currently prohibited from being released into the wild. Rather than let Sinnott’s fearmongering claims about TNR dictate public opinion, it’s time to set the record straight about what the Alaska Board of Game will be voting on in November.
The proposal that has been submitted is all about giving Alaska communities a choice. If approved, every local government would have the opportunity to decide whether it wants to implement a TNR program to manage the local cat population.
TNR dictates that cats are humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, and vaccinated.
Afterward, community cats, which are not socialized to people, are returned to their outdoor homes. Stray cats, which are socialized to people, and kittens are adopted.
The truth about TNR
Cats have lived outdoors alongside humans for over 10,000 years in virtually every landscape on every continent where people live. That’s why they’re called community cats, not because “we are all responsible for feral and stray cats,” as Sinnott writes.
There is also no truth to Sinnott’s claim that TNR establishes colonies in the areas where it is conducted. The cats are already there. Instead, TNR stops the breeding cycle and stabilizes the population.
It’s surprising that Sinnott, an experienced wildlife biologist, doesn’t acknowledge the relationship between sterilization and population control.
“The hope,” he writes about TNR, “is breeding will end and the cats will lead healthier lives.” But TNR isn’t a “hope” — it’s science.
The solution Sinnott has previously sought, catching and killing these cats, is not only bad public policy, but it has repeatedly failed. Millions of cats are killed year after year under cruel and ineffective catch and kill policies, yet feline populations persist.
This is due to the vacuum effect. Each time cats are removed from an area, new cats — either bred from survivors or from neighboring areas — and wildlife move in to fill the ecological niche. The result is a costly, endless cycle of trapping and killing.
The vacuum effect doesn’t just apply to community cats. It happens with fox, mice, possums, badgers and other mammals.
The only way to stabilize community cat populations is to spay or neuter them to stop the breeding cycle before returning them to their outdoor homes. Only TNR programs — not catch and kill policies — can ensure these cats don’t breed.
But don’t take our word for it. Ask the Humane Society of the United States; the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Best Friends Animal Society — all national advocacy organizations that support TNR.
You can also ask the animal control agencies, shelters, and local nonprofits across the U.S. that conduct TNR programs. Alley Cat Allies has tracked more than 650 communities that have adopted official TNR ordinances and policies, with many more conducting grass-roots, volunteer-led TNR programs.
The effectiveness of TNR is why the number of programs continues to grow, and why TNR is considered a best practice.
TNR is sound public policy
It’s time that Alaskan communities have the opportunity to experience the benefits of TNR firsthand. Sound public policy that benefits all members of the community — people and animals alike — is not based on scare tactics and biased claims. It is based on scientific research, practicality, and proven results.
Sound public policy enables communities to develop programs that will best address their needs. All this proposal does is give local governments the option to decide whether they want to use TNR to stabilize community cat populations.
That’s all it is. Just one more option. You’ll find, as many others have, that it is the best option.
There is significant evidence to support this regulation change proposal, but again, it is not yet publicly available. All we ask is that your readers wait to read the proposal before forming an opinion about TNR.