Kitten season and the irrationality of the anti-TNR crowd

Shelters and rescues across the country are awash in kittens. They arrive in boxes, carriers, and the arms of people who pull them out of a crawl space, garage or woodpile. The number of kittens entering shelters rises and falls with the population of unfixed, stray and community cats. The more unfixed cats, the more kittens turn up in people’s yards. It is safe to say that as the number of kittens in shelters increases, the number of kittens remaining at large increases as well.

Community cats range in disposition from super-friendly strays to full-on, born-in-the-wild ferals. In either case, if they are not fixed, they multiply. The one thing that everyone, whether community cat advocate or opponent, agrees upon, is that free-roaming cat populations should be stabilized and reduced. You would think that everyone also agrees that fixing community cats so that they can’t breed is a good idea. You would be wrong.

Despite the inescapable logic that fixing free-roaming cats in a given neighborhood will reduce the ability of those cats to reproduce, the dogma of those opposed to trap/neuter/return (TNR) protocols prevents them from acknowledging the mathematical effects of spay/neuter on population control.

The folks leading the charge against TNR are primarily those bird conservancy advocates who see free-roaming cats as an existential threat to songbird populations, despite the fact that the number-one cause of songbird decline is loss of habitat due to deforestation, urbanization and development. Cats have not been shown to be a significant threat to overall bird populations in any credible scientific study.

Whether the numbers are large or small, some cats do kill birds, and this fact shouldn’t be blithely ignored. It is one of the reasons, along with health and safety concerns for the cats themselves, that Best Friends recommends an indoor-only policy for pet cats. However, those driving the agenda of the bird groups believe that nothing short of the extermination of community cats will protect bird populations. These individuals and organizations advocate “removing” 50 percent of the community cat population, and since sterilization is not on their agenda that would entail a perpetual program of catching and killing cats.

Setting aside — if indeed that is possible — the ugliness of such a plan, who would they propose undertake the campaign and how would they sell it to the cat-loving public? Municipalities certainly don’t have the resources to deploy hundreds of trappers who would, in any event, quickly become the target of animal activists’ ire. Are the bird groups planning to do it? The idea is as unworkable as it is cruel. Catching and killing stray cats was standard operating procedure for decades prior to the rise of TNR, yet catch-and-kill policies were notably ineffective in controlling community cat populations.

One can only speculate about the mental processes of others, but it seems to be the case that bird advocates are set on an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to TNR, even if it adversely affects birds. By acknowledging that TNR is even marginally effective in moderating community cat populations, the conservancy groups would be legitimizing the existence of free-roaming cats. I suppose their logic goes that it’s better to let cat populations go entirely unchecked rather than open the door even a crack to TNR.

That is certainly the case in Los Angeles where a collection of conservancy groups succeeded in securing a state court injunction that prohibits Los Angeles Animal Services from providing any support or information to the public regarding TNR. The result is skyrocketing numbers of kittens entering city shelters every kitten season since the injunction went into effect — and, most assuredly, skyrocketing numbers of kittens remaining unfixed and at large who will grow up, reproduce and possibly threaten more birds.

This is unfortunate for both the birds and the cats.

What seems to be blindingly obvious is that conservancy groups and community cat groups don’t need to search for common ground — they have it in that they both want free-roaming cat populations stabilized and reduced, albeit for different reasons. In reality, there is only one viable course of action, and that is TNR.

Cat No-Kill 2025