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What is a community cat? 

A community cat is a member of the domestic cat species, but they are not necessarily socialized (friendly) toward humans, and often avoid contact with humans.  Community cats are cats who may never have had contact with humans, or whose contact with humans has diminished over time. Community cats survive on their own outdoors, often living in groups called colonies, wherever they can find food and shelter; these resources may or may not be actively provided by humans. Community cats cannot be adopted from animal shelters because they are fearful of people, and do not like being confined in an indoor home. Community cats are sometimes called: feral cats, stray cats, street cats, alley cats, barn cats, wild cats, etc.

What is Trap-Neuter-Return? 

Trap-Neuter-Return, or TNR, is the humane, effective approach to community cats.  Cats are humanely trapped, brought to a veterinarian to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated against rabies, and eartipped, and then returned to the outdoor home where they were trapped.  No more kittens are born, the population stabilizes, and behaviors associated with mating (such as spraying, yowling, and fighting) greatly decrease or are eliminated.

What is an ‘ear tip’? 

An eartip is the universally accepted method to identify a community cat that has been spayed or neutered and vaccinated. Eartipping is the removal of the top ~3/8 inch of a cat’s left ear, done while the cat is anesthetized for sterilization surgery. Since community cats avoid humans, it is useful to be able to see – from a distance – that a cat has already been spayed or neutered and vaccinated; eartipping is the most effective way to do this. An eartip is a unique identifier to cats that have been through a TNR program. If you see a cat with an eartip, it always means the cat has been through a TNR program, and never anything else. For more information, visit

Where do community cats come from?  

Domestic cats have lived outdoors near people for thousands of years. Community cats are the offspring of these cats, or of unneutered pet cats who are lost or abandoned. Without socialization at a very young age, kittens born outside will become very wary of humans; they will continue the cycle of growing up and reproducing to create more community kittens. Female cats can begin producing kittens as early as five months of age, and can have litters two to three times per year.

Why can’t I just leave the cats alone? 

Kittens will continue to be born, and the mating behaviors will continue to occur. TNR is the best approach for community cats. Cats are humanely trapped and taken to a veterinarian to be spayed or neutered. Female cats are spayed, which results in no more litters of kittens, and no yowling when the cats are in heat. Male cats are neutered, which greatly decreases or eliminates mating behaviors like spraying to mark their territory, fighting with other male cats over territory and mates, and roaming in search of mates. The population is stabilized, and the cats become healthier and less noticeable as those mating behaviors are greatly reduced or eliminated.

Why shouldn’t I just trap and remove the cats? 

Attempting to trap and remove cats rarely works to reduce or eliminate cats from an area. Community cats live in an area because the resources – food and shelter – are there to support them, whether or not these things are provided by a human caregiver or not. If one group of cats is rounded up and removed, cats born from the survivors of the removal attempt, or cats from surrounding areas, will move in to take advantage of the newly available resources.  This is called the vacuum effect. Additionally, community cats are not socialized to humans and are therefore not adoptable, so when they are brought to shelters they are usually euthanized. Even no-kill shelters are not able to place community cats in homes.

Can’t the cats just go somewhere else?

Relocating community cats is almost never a viable option. There isn’t another good place for the cats to go. Attempts to relocate are time-consuming and stressful for the cats, and there is no guarantee that the cats will stay in the new environment. The best outcome for the cats is to be trapped, neutered, vaccinated, and returned to the location where they were caught – their outdoor home.

Can I bring trapped community cats to the Humane Society of Washington County to be adopted? 

No. Community cats are not socialized to humans, and cannot be adopted into homes. The cats wouldn’t like living confined indoors, and you wouldn’t want a community cat indoors either! Unsocialized community cats who are brought to a shelter are euthanized. Even no-kill shelters are unable to place community cats in homes. The best thing you can do for these cats is have them altered and returned back to the community.

How do I trap a community cat?

Please visit Alley Cat Allies’ webpage for instructions on how to safely trap community cats for TNR: They also offer monthly webinars about Trap-Neuter-Return, and past webinars can be viewed at any time:

What is HSWC doing about the overpopulation of community cats?

Within the last several years, HSWC has committed to growing our TNR program with great success. In late 2019, we strategically planned to ramp up our efforts even more with a stretch goal to TNR 600 community cats in 2020. We achieved our goal and in 2021, soared beyond that by TNR'ing 945 cats! Based on feline reproductive models, those surgeries will prevent the unwanted birth of approximately 2,480 kittens this year alone. Consequently, there will be fewer unsocial and unwanted cats entering the Humane Society and fewer animals euthanized. 


2018: 109 TNR’s

2019: 373 TNR’s

2020: 600 TNR’s

2021: 945 TNR's

For more information on HSWC's TNR program, please email

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