The “Trap-Neuter-Return” (TNR) approach has gone from an underground movement in the 1990s to an increasingly popular method of managing the nation’s feral cat population. Those who support it say it’s more humane than taking strays to shelters where most will be euthanized.
And that has touched off a cat fight.
Feline lover is pitted against feline lover. Veterinarians are divided. At least one major donor to animal welfare groups is withholding money. And this being Washington, the feral cats have a high-powered advocacy group spending millions to argue for TNR on their behalf.
The disagreement turns on a slippery question: Does the alley cat live a good life?
The Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA and other supporters say the nation’s estimated 50 million to 150 million feral felines often live healthy lives. They also say TNR has added benefits: After a cat colony is sterilized, nuisance behaviors such as fighting and yowling are reduced, and the feral population stabilizes. Feral cats can keep rats in check, too.
Skeptics, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and some veterinarians, argue the life of an alley cat is rarely pleasant. In many cases, they say it’s actually more humane to euthanize cats, rather than condemn them to a harsh life on the streets.
To make matters more complicated, TNR is the latest flashpoint in a long-running dispute between bird people and cat folks. Many wild bird groups blame feral cats for killing huge numbers of birds. A researcher at the National Zoo’s Migratory Bird Center
was charged with animal cruelty for allegedly poisoning stray cats in Columbia Heights this month.
The D.C. government formally supports TNR as a policy and the Washington Humane Society runs a TNR clinic in the city. The Maryland SPCA and groups in Fairfax County and Arlington have similar efforts. Across the country, there are about 260 such programs, advocates say.
Marc Selinger, a resident of Kensington, spent a recent weekend literally herding cats. He trapped the feral felines at an industrial park in suburban Maryland and then stacked 15 cages like Tetris blocks in his Subaru Legacy.
Selinger, a volunteer who runs the cat-rescue group Rock Creek Cats, drove into the District for the monthly TNR clinic sponsored by the Washington Humane Society.
The clinic is free for feral felines trapped in Washington. For non-D.C. cats, Selinger pays the $45 sterilization fee with donations and with money out of his own pocket.