CHASE is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing awareness of and providing support for, animal welfare initiatives. CHASE is committed to making a positive impact on communities by reducing the overpopulation of cats and dogs and decreasing animal suffering through compassionate care.
CHASE is an organization formed for the purpose of providing veterinary care and support for animals in a variety of ways. As part of the organization’s mission, CHASE seeks to implement Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs in areas where feral (free-roaming or community) cats are in need of services. The purpose of TNR is to reduce the population of free-roaming cats using humane measures. CHASE promotes awareness and provides education in communities about free-roaming cat populations, including the benefits of TNR, and how to take care of pets responsibly so as to avoid adding to the homeless cat population. Community members who manage free-roaming cat colonies receive assistance in order to help them maintain humane conditions for the cats and to reduce conflicts with their neighbors.
TNR is a program wherein free-roaming cats are humanely trapped and transported to a veterinarian who spays or neuters the cats, vaccinates them against rabies, treats them for parasites, and crops the tip of their left ear (ear-tipping) for identification by animal control, caretakers and TNR volunteers. Cats are held overnight after their surgery for observation and then returned to their caretakers the following day. Healthy adult cats are not relocated, nor are they surrendered to shelters. Young kittens that are healthy and able to be socialized may be taken in by rescue groups and placed for adoption.
The terms “feral,” “free-roaming” and “community” cats will be used interchangeably, as all of these terms refer to cats who live outdoors and may or may not have caretakers providing food and shelter.
In May 2011, Dr. Jeffery Newman, a partner with Caring Hands Animal Hospital in Arlington, Virginia, was contacted by the Best Friends Animal Society and asked to provide veterinary support to a TNR effort in Tangier Island, Virginia. Tangier Island is a small, remote island in the Chesapeake Bay with a human population of approximately 500. Prior to May 2011, the estimated population of free-roaming cats was 525. A team of veterinarians, technicians and other volunteers traveled to Tangier Island and trapped, neutered and returned 285 cats in a week. In November 2011, the team returned to the island and another 56 cats were trapped, neutered and returned. It was estimated that approximately 85% of the island’s free-roaming cats were sterilized.
In May 2012, Dr. Newman, along with his business partners, Michelle Vitulli, DVM, and Karen Murphy, DVM, embarked upon a TNR mission to Chincoteague Island, Virginia. Chincoteague is a small island off the coast of Virginia, in the Atlantic Ocean. Along with a human population of 2,950, it had an estimated free-roaming cat population of 1,000. With one veterinary clinic on the island and a veterinarian who spends only 12 hours a week there, the cats’ caretakers needed help to spay and neuter their cats. Caring Hands Animal Hospital veterinarians, technicians, and volunteers traveled to the island and 202 free-roaming cats were trapped, neutered and returned in one weekend. A follow-up trip to Chincoteague took place in October 2012, in order to sterilize cats that were not trapped in May, or were too young to be sterilized at that time. A total of 197 cats were sterilized, vaccinated and ear-tipped at that time.
In the spring of 2013, CHASE will return to both Tangier and Chincoteague Islands to further the TNR activities – trapping, sterilizing, vaccinating and ear-tipping cats not previously trapped. CHASE will also trap previously treated cats and re-vaccinate them for rabies.
Both Tangier Island and Chincoteague Island are isolated, primarily low-income areas where there is a great need for TNR services. There was no charge for the service to local residents who act as caretakers for the cats. Trips to other areas in need of TNR services will be the focus of CHASE in the years to come.
What is TNR?
Trap-Neuter-Return, commonly referred to as “TNR,” is the only method proven to be humane and effective at controlling the growth of free-roaming cat populations. In order to be highly effective, all of the free-roaming cats in a colony are trapped, neutered, ear-tipped, vaccinated for rabies, and then returned to their territory where caretakers provide them with regular food and shelter. Young kittens who can be socialized, as well as friendly adults, are placed in foster care and eventually adopted out to good homes.
TNR has a number of advantages. The immediate result is the stabilization of the size of the colony by eliminating new litters. The nuisance behavior often associated with free-roaming cats is significantly reduced. Unneutered males are known to howl, fight and mark their territory by spraying urine, which has a pungent odor. In urban areas, the cats continue to provide natural rodent control. When TNR is practiced on a large scale, it reduces the number of kittens and cats surrendered to local shelters. Shelters benefit from the resulting lower euthanasia rates and the increased adoption of other resident cats.
In the past, the response to free-roaming or feral cats was to trap and remove or trap and euthanize the cats. Animal control departments had no other option available to them. Animal welfare advocates tried to trap the cats and place them into rescue, attempting to socialize and find homes for them. Unfortunately, the numbers of cats continued to grow, in spite of everyone’s efforts. No matter how many cats were removed, those left behind continued to breed and the area was quickly repopulated. In the unlikely event that all of the cats in a colony were removed, they were replaced by a new group of unneutered cats drawn to the source of food and shelter. The breeding continued and the previous numbers of cats returned.
In recent years, as more information and education about TNR has become available, we have seen more agencies, organizations, and individuals move away from traditional methods and toward TNR. In the last 10 years, we have seen more animal control agencies willing to try TNR. These agencies, which had previously been inundated with calls to trap stray cats, had few options for cats who were not “lost” and could be returned home, or tame enough to go into adoption programs. In the past, unsocialized cats were euthanized at the end of their stray holding period. This was difficult for animal control officers and shelter workers, as many of these cats were healthy. TNR offers the option of allowing these cats to live their lives out in their outdoor homes, without the ability to reproduce or to become a public health hazard. Animal welfare groups are finding that it is much easier to obtain public support for a program that promotes saving lives than one that results in the death of happy, healthy cats.
CHASE hopes to help more people see TNR as a positive movement – one that will continue to grow as more and more caring people see its potential. In time, we hope to see TNR become the primary method of managing feral and free-roaming cats.