You’ve seen them—these cats. The ones who live in your neighborhood, your community, perhaps even on your doorstep. They really don’t “belong” to anyone, and they may not even be tame or approachable, but they are always there. Some have called them “shadow cats.” We call them “community cats,” and they come from many places.
Some are truly feral—born wild and untouchable, cats who want no part of human society but who still depend on the kindness of people for their welfare. Others are strays or lost pets who have banded together with other homeless cats in a social organization called a “colony” in order to survive.
These colonies of neighborhood cats are often managed and cared for by community caregivers and can lead happy and healthy lives in the managed colony so long as they have been sexually altered and have their basic needs provided for. The designation for this process is “TNR”—Trap, Neuter, Return. It involves trapping unowned cats, spaying or neutering them to prevent further reproduction and returning them to the place from which they came.
Programs implementing this strategy of unowned cat management generally always include a rabies vaccine as a part of their protocols as well as what is known as an “ear tip”—the surgical removal of a small piece of the left ear as a visual sign, observable at a distance, that this individual has already been neutered.
The cats are then returned to their colonies where continuing care, including food, water and shelter, is provided by their community caregivers. Trap/Neuter/Return is a humane and effective way to manage unowned cat populations, and TNR is locally implemented and supported in the Chattanooga area by Wally’s Friends, the Cat Clinic, and other organizations. There are also national groups such as Alley Cat Allies which can provide more information and resources if you wish to become involved in helping the cats in your community.