Trap-Neuter-Return program benefits feral cats

Cat Colony in Clark Fulton neighborhood. A cat takes advantage of the food and water provided by volunteers who have taken responsibility for the colony of cats after the original caretaker passed away.

Trap-Neuter-Return program benefits feral cats

by Bruce Checefsky

(Plain Press, May 2021)    Anji Dunn and her boyfriend, Jesse Armaline, have been catching feral cats near their west side Cleveland neighborhood and bringing them to the Animal Protective League for months. To date, they captured and released more than eighteen cats from a colony of 25-30 strays. Others are wandering the alleyway after a longtime caretaker and neighbor died leaving the cats without food or water.   

   “When Kevin died there was no one there to feed the cats so we jumped in to help,” Aramaline said over the phone. “We use the Animal Protective League’s trap, neuter, and return (TNR) program. The neutered cats are returned back to the colony where they came from.” 

   Dunn and Armaline, along with a few friends, help build housing for the strays using 30-gallon plastic storage bins with holes cut out for easy access and filled with straw for warmth and comfort. The storage bins are stacked two or three high resembling a small village of cat condos. Igloo brand coolers, discarded stove and appliances, and a wooden chest with open drawers are filled with straw. The colony is located on a side street in an undisclosed area of the Clark-Fulton area. 

   Christine Dunn, Anji’s mother, explained the situation.  “It’s so sad to see all of these cats on the street. People should be more responsible. These colonies of cats are struggling to find food and water. We need to make people more aware of the TNR program.”

   Dunn called upon Jasmine Santana, City Councilwoman, Ward 14, for help in cleaning up the trash, discarded needles, and drug paraphernalia in the colony area. Santana’s response was immediate. A crew was sent to clean up the site and extra police were assigned to the area to reduce drug activity on the streets. Volunteers helped with the cleaning.

   “Anji and Jesse belong to the Onshore Volunteers Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a dedicated group of activists committed to helping defend, conserve, and protect our oceans and all marine wildlife,” said Dunn. “They brought volunteers along with them and did a great job of cleaning up the colony area.” 

   “We’re just doing what we can to help these poor cats,” Anji Dunn said.

   Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is the only proven method that is both humane and effective at controlling the feral cat population, according to Sharon Harvey, President & CEO, Cleveland Animal Protective League. She has seen a reduction of intake of stray kittens as a result of the trap-neuter-return program and recommends that people use the program to reduce the population of cats living on the streets in a humane and effective way. It’s not a quick fix, according to her, and it doesn’t remove the cats from the area, but it’s a fix that works in a lasting way. 

   Harvey estimates the Cleveland stray population at about 70,000 cats based upon the human population of the city. The COVID19 pandemic has dramatically affected the number of cats they see per week, but the number of trap-neuter-return surgeries is roughly 3000 per year. If a cat looks healthy and does not look like it needs to be fed, Harvey suggests you monitor the situation before feeding them. A lot of the cats are not truly feral based on her experiences, and more likely they are community cats where the whole neighborhood takes care of them.

   “Community cats often have an owner that’s letting them out of the house, or they are loosely owned by many households who are taking care of them,” said Harvey. “As soon as you start to feed that cat, they become dependent on the feeding. If the cat looks unfit or in need of food, then absolutely start to feed them and make sure they get to a trap-neuter-program as soon as possible.”

   Each cat that goes through the program is humanely trapped, given vaccinations, spayed or neutered, then returned to the area where it was trapped. TNR is effective at reducing the “nuisance” behaviors associated with large groups of cats, some of those being fighting, yowling, and spraying. 

   Research has proven that old methods of catching and removing cats, either by relocating or euthanasia, only increases the number of cats over time. This phenomenon is called the vacuum effect. When a cat’s territory is vacated it frees up resources for other cats to take advantage of, regardless of whether cat food is provided or not. Cats that are sterilized, vaccinated, and returned, effectively hold, or defend their territory, so more cats can’t move in. This in turn stabilizes the area’s population and makes for healthier, better-off cats.

   The Los Angeles Times recently reported that US cities might have as many as thirty-two million to ninety-million stray and feral cats roaming streets and alleyways. Many scientists, birders and wildlife managers oppose trap-neuter-release programs in general, noting that free-ranging cats are destructive predators, annually killing millions of birds and mammals, while also spreading diseases, the report stated.

   However, recently published results suggest that TNR of sufficient intensity offers significant advantages in terms of reducing population size and improving animal welfare when compared to lethal methods or taking no action.

   Dan Spehar, an independent researcher whose work is focused on community cat management, believes TNR offers other benefits in addition to reducing the number of community cats over time.

   In a paper published by the National Institute of Health last year, Spehar reported, “Over the past decade two new management tactics—return-to-field (RTF) and targeted trap-neuter-return (TNR)—have exhibited the capacity to contribute to significant reductions in feline euthanasia and intake.”

   The APL’s Trap-Neuter-Return program runs Monday through Friday with a drop off time from 8 to 9 am. Call ahead of time at 216-377-1624 to make arrangements. All cats must be transported in a secure carrier or humane trap.

   Program Fees for cats and kittens within Cleveland City limits and Cuyahoga County are $10.00. Out of county cats are $45 for males and $55 for females. The fee includes spay or neuter surgery, ear-tipping, rabies vaccination, FVRCP vaccination which prevents several deadly airborne viruses.

   TNR Clinic Coordinator Sarah Dasher said the APL does rent traps to the community. “We have several traps including Tru Catch, Tomahawk brand, and HavaHart. We also have a drop trap for when the others won’t work. Rental is $50 but $45 is refunded once the traps are returned to us,” she said. “We ask people to bring the cats to the APL. We can average about thirty to thirty-five cats a day.”

   When Ricardo Sandoval, chef owner of Fat Cats in Tremont, found out that Angela and Jesse were working with volunteers on cleaning up the cat colony and bringing strays to the APL, he wanted to get involved. Another longtime Tremont resident Connie Saltis has been at the center of organizing TNR for many of the neighborhood cats often paying for the APL services out of her own pocket. 

   “When I found out that Connie was doing this out of her own pocket, I decided to start a fund, an endowment strictly for her to tap into, to be part of the solution for helping the cats,” Sandoval said. 

   Two dollars out of every meal he sells goes to project CARE (Community Animal Retention Effort) to provide support for pet owners with the goal of helping owners retain their pets during times of hardship.

   Whether the popular bistro Fats Cats is named after his interest in cats remains unclear, but his fondness for felines is certain. 

   “I grew up with dogs but when my father-in-law died, we inherited his cat,” Sandoval said. “I fell in love with her.”

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