Published on The Huffington Post, October 16, 2014.

Americans love cats, and they want to see them protected. That’s why every year, more people become advocates and stand up for cats, and more cities embrace trap-neuter-return (TNR). What was once viewed as a radical new concept practiced by a small group of devoted caregivers is now the mainstream approach to community cat care in America. TNR has officially come out of the alleys and onto Main Street.

For decades, the standard practice for community cats — also known as feral or outdoor cats — was simply to round them up and kill them in shelters. This cruel policy proved to be an endless cycle that failed to stabilize community cat populations. Trap-neuter-return has revolutionized community cat care by creating policies that protect cats — who can then live out their lives without reproducing. In a TNR program, community cats are humanely trapped and taken to a local veterinarian to be neutered, vaccinated, eartipped — to show that they’ve been neutered and vaccinated — and then returned to the location where they were trapped. The reproduction cycle immediately stops, which means no new kittens. TNR effectively stabilizes and reduces the community cat population, and it’s supported by many humane societies, animal care organizations, and cities and counties throughout the country.

Every year, Alley Cat Allies helps communities develop policies and ordinances that support TNR and programs to protect cats. Recently, Alley Cat Allies worked with Delaware City, Delaware, to create an ordinance that officially endorses TNR. The ordinance’s straightforward language and clarity of the role that caregivers play makes it a model for other cities seeking lifesaving policies for cats. In January, Buffalo, New York, also passed a TNR ordinance with help from Alley Cat Allies. Their ordinance is simple and effective and encourages residents to get involved. These two progressive cities have joined over 430 other cities and counties in America with positive TNR ordinances and policies on the books.

Passing ordinances that protect cats is valuable but only part of the story; the caregivers and nonprofit organizations practicing TNR every day are the backbone of the movement. Today, Oct. 16, is National Feral Cat Day®, and over 500 groups and individuals are holding events to raise awareness of community cats and ways the public can get involved to help. It’s an opportunity to reach a wider audience and spread awareness about community cats and promote TNR while recognizing the people who care for cats every day. This year’s National Feral Cat Day® theme is “TNR: From the Alley to Main Street,” recognizing the mainstream growth and acceptance of TNR. The National Feral Cat Day® website features a map of the registered events, and it’s easy to see how much support there is for TNR from coast to coast and internationally.

With the popularity of TNR ever increasing, the need for affordable spay and neuter services grows as well. So Alley Cat Allies joined forces with the Humane Alliance to create a new curriculum to add to their intensive training for private veterinarians in high-volume spay/neuter clinics. This new curriculum will give veterinarians knowledge and training in services for community cats that they can add to their day-to-day practice. By making more TNR-trained veterinarians accessible, communities will have additional medical support to bolster their TNR programs. The growing demand for these kinds of services shows that TNR is now widely accepted as the best practice for community cats.

Trap-neuter-return is growing because it reflects American values and our volunteer spirit to step up and lend a hand. But despite the incredible spread of TNR, cats are still being killed every day in shelters, based on outdated policies that simply don’t work. Find out where your community stands. Is there a pro-TNR ordinance or a local group already doing TNR, or is your town behind the curve? If you find that your community could do better, help is available at