The number of feral animals in the care of the Fairfax County Animal Shelter's foster care program has decreased by 58 percent since last year, according to officials at the shelter.
The animal shelter attributes the changing numbers to a program implemented three years ago: Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR). Volunteers and animal control officials trap feral cats, neuter and vaccinate them. Then, they return them to "managed colonies" of feral cats. How a managed colony usually works is that several volunteers will keep an eye on the cats to make sure they remain healthy and to remove any kittens or semi-feral cats (previously socialized, but lost or abandoned by their owners).
TNR is not without its critics. Some animal lovers argue that the humane thing to do is to put down the cat instead. While the Humane Society and ASPCA support TNR, other groups like PETA oppose it, arguing that feral cats do not have a high quality of life. The Washington Post published an in-depth article about the ongoing debate among animal lovers in the metropolitan area last summer.
The Fairfax County animal shelter is among the supporters of TNR, and officials tout the decrease in the county's feral cat population as evidence of its success.
“Trap, neuter and return works. It is a humane solution and we are thrilled that in such a short time the TNR program is showing significant results in Fairfax County,” Fairfax County Animal Shelter Director Dr. Karen Diviney said in a press release. “With the help of citizen trappers, we are able to spay or neuter these cats before they contribute to our community’s homeless cat population. TNR is saving lives in Fairfax County.”
Five things to know about the county's TNR program:
- The county implemented it in 2008 and has since trapped, neutered and returned over 1,800 feral cats to managed colonies.
- Animal control officials say that from 2008 to 2011 there was a 41 percent decrease in the number of bottle-fed kittens at the shelter.
- From 2010 to 2011, there was a a 9 percent decrease in the number of pediatric kittens (less than eight weeks old) who needed care at the shelter
- Over 330 volunteers signed up to help the program in a three-year period.
- The program is only for feral cats, who are not able to be socialized for adoption.