Your recent news report of a kitten infected with rabies in Front Royal makes this an excellent time to review the truth about cats who live outside. Decisions about the best approach for community cats, sometimes called feral cats, should be based on facts, not speculation or fear-mongering.
First and most importantly, community cats do not pose a risk for rabies to people. The last confirmed cat-to-human rabies transmission in the U.S. occurred more than 40 years ago. More than 90% of all reported rabies cases occur in wildlife, but even those are rare.
Trap-Neuter-Return, the universally accepted term for a process also referred to as TNR, is often the number one provider of rabies vaccinations in the community, and therefore an important contributor to public health. In many cases, cats would not have received even one rabies vaccination without being part of a TNR program.
There are even more positives from TNR programs in which community cats are trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, ear-tipped for identification and returned to their outdoor homes. Scientific studies show that TNR ends the breeding cycle, which means fewer cats outdoors. Thousands of communities conduct grassroots, volunteer-led TNR programs and many have adopted official TNR ordinances and policies, like Fairfax County, Arlington, and Lynchburg in Virginia. Many times over, TNR has proven to be the only humane and effective approach for community cats.
An important element of TNR is the return of these cats to their outdoor homes. It's perfectly normal for cats to live outside, as they have done for thousands of years. Cats who live outdoors are not "homeless" or "abandoned" - they have a home outdoors with their feline families.
TNR is popular because it's sound public policy. It can reduce shelter intake, "euthanasia" and calls to animal services, all of which saves taxpayer dollars. Add these benefits to its public health benefits, and it's clear to see why TNR has become – and will continue to be – the mainstream approach to address community cats.
Alley Cat Allies,