July 5, 2016

TNR: Trap, Neuter & Release. Why It’s Key for Marion County.

It’s kitten season here in Marion County. Every day, we’re inundated with calls and emails asking for help rescuing stray cats and kittens. And, the truth is, even when it’s not technically “kitten” season we are still getting the phone calls to rescue stray cats and kittens. The number of stray cats and kittens in Marion County alone is truly overwhelming. In 2015, our municipal shelter, Marion County Animal Services, took in 3,768 stray cats. And, think about this: that alarming large number does not include the number of stray cats taken in by privately funded animal welfare organizations such as VOCAL and other local groups. So, as you can see, the cat overpopulation problem in this county is a serious issue.

With numbers this high, we cannot simply adopt our way out of this issue and every kitten season we cannot simply look away, or say that “we are too full or at capacity” to take any more cats or kittens. We have to look at the root of the problem – how do we prevent all of these cats and kittens? AND, how do we manage the cats and kittens already here? The first answer is spay and neuter. It’s that simple. The second answer is TNR: trap, neuter and release.  Most every one understands the concept of spaying and neutering animals, but there are probably a few who are not as familiar with the “TNR” concept. In a nutshell, TNR is trapping feral or outdoor cats, sterilizing, microchipping and vaccinating them, and then returning them to their original location. Now, of course, there are some more logistics that go along with the process, but in general, it’s that simple. Having a county recognized TNR program reduces and manages the feral population, saves taxpayer dollars, and most importantly, saves lives. 

Unfortunately, the biggest issue feral or outdoor cats face in Marion County is our current legislation does not recognize TNR programs. Marion County Code of Ordinance’s (Chapter 4 Section 4.2 “Proper Impoundment Period” Clause 4) states that, “Nonowned feral dogs or cats, whether or not implanted with a microchip indicating that such animal is part of any type of maintained feral cat or feral dog colony, shall, upon being taken in custody by the department be euthanized in the same manner as other wild animals, with no impoundment period.” With this current roadblock, we must continue to educate our county leadership, community members and encourage other animal welfare groups to join together in pushing to have Marion County recognize and support TNR.

Our neighbor, Alachua County has solved their feral cat problem. They have an extremely low intake rate of stray cats and it is due to having groups and resources such as Operation Catnip. Operation Catnip focuses solely on spay, neuter and return of community cats. They too agree that there are more cats born each year than there are adoptive homes. Their program has enabled Alachua County to lower their euthansia rates of feral/stray cats significantly and in turn save hundreds of innocent lives. Operation Catnip has their community’s and municipal government’s support as well as the support of tireless volunteers and veterinarians.

Here in Marion County, we have a group known as Sheltering Hands. They also believe in spay, neuter and return of community cats. They have made a huge impact in our community; without them the feral cat population would be even larger. But, this population has become so large, not one group can handle this problem. We must all work together and push for our municipal government to recognize a countywide TNR program. This is the only responsible way the population will be controlled, lives will be saved and taxpayers dollars will be saved. Join us in being #VOCAL about this issue and spread the word about the benefits of TNR in Marion County.

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