Trap/neuter/release programs are cruel and illegal

Jackson County Animal Care and Control is considering a trap-neuter/spay-return program ("Trap, Neuter, Release" or TNR) in hopes of solving the problem of euthanasia of cats at the animal shelter (Mail Tribune, March 13). Unfortunately, this program is highly unlikely to work and is most likely illegal.

Releasing neutered cats back into someone's neighborhood or into a wild area exposes the released cats to a life of injury and disease, imposes a tremendous cost to native birds and other wildlife, and would not solve the problem of feral cat colonies. There are options that are not so cruel and do reduce the problem of feral cats.

TNR programs do not reduce feral cat populations.

Multiple independent, peer-reviewed scientific studies in prestigious journals such as Conservation Biology and Wildlife Professional have proven that TNR programs do not reduce stray or feral cat populations, and thus do nothing to reduce the harm that uncontrolled cats inflict on birds and other wildlife protected by state and federal law. The American Bird Conservancy provides an excellent summary of these studies in their publication "Trap, Neuter, Release: The Wrong Solution to a Tragic Problem" (

This report also documents the serious disease issues at feral cat colonies, including parasites, toxoplasmosis and rabies. These afflict the cats themselves, and threaten other animals and human health.

For these reasons, numerous veterinary and animal care organizations oppose TNR, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians and the Association of Avian Veterinarians.

TNR programs threaten native birds and wildlife.

Federal researchers estimate that domestic and feral cats kill 2.4 billion (yes, billion) birds annually in the lower 48 states, and are a major cause of serious bird population declines. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is on record opposing TNR programs. A letter from USFWS to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection about a proposed TNR program for cats concludes, "The Service strongly opposes domestic or feral cats "¦ being allowed to roam freely within the U.S. due to the adverse impacts of these non-native predators on federally listed threatened and endangered species, migratory birds and other vulnerable native wildlife." This letter cites additional publications documenting the harm caused by feral cats, including from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (

The proposed "trap-neuter/spay-return" program is illegal.

These kinds of programs violate state laws intended to prevent cruelty to animals, and federal law intended to prevent harm to wildlife:

  • Oregon's animal abandonment statute states that a person commits the crime of animal abandonment if the person —¦ leaves a domestic animal or an equine at a location without providing minimum care (ORS 167.340);" and —¦ it is no defense "¦ that the defendant abandoned the animal at or near an animal shelter, veterinary clinic or other place of shelter if the defendant did not make reasonable arrangements for the care of the animal." Thus, releasing a neutered cat into the loving arms of someone who would responsibly care for the animal would be legal; but otherwise returning it to wherever it was found would clearly constitute abandonment.
  • The federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibits harm to migratory birds (see the letter from USFWS to New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection cited above, specifically about a proposed TNR program for cats). Deliberately releasing cats — neutered or not — into an area where they might be a threat to birds that migrate would be prohibited. Further, the federal Endangered Species Act prohibits an agency, municipality or person from taking action that would lead to harassing, injuring, or killing threatened or endangered species. Deliberately releasing cats — neutered or not — into an area where they might be a risk to threatened or endangered species would be prohibited.

Euthanizing cats at the animal shelter is controversial, but there are other options that are more humane and likely to work than TNR programs. USFWS and the American Bird Conservancy recommend several options (listed on the websites above), including a TNR program that requires the animals be adopted and kept indoors or otherwise enclosed in a way that prevents harming threatened and endangered species, migratory birds and native wildlife.

Re-abandoning spayed or neutered feral cats in someone else's neighborhood or in the forest may satisfy the goal of ending euthanasia of cats at the animal shelter, but if the goal is legally to provide more humane treatment of cats, birds and other wildlife, then TNR is simply not an option.

Gretchen Ousterhout Hunter is a retired farmer from Eagle Point.

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