It used to be that the only two options for dealing with stray cats was putting them to sleep or finding an adoptive home. Obviously, euthanasia is not an ideal solution—even if you don’t oppose it on the grounds of cruelty, the cost of trapping and killing animals is high. Adoption offers more hope, but local shelters often don’t have the funds to support adoption programs, and many feral cats are too wild or fearful to be good candidates.
Recently, however, a third option has emerged that’s more effective both in terms of cost and results. Known as trap-neuter-return (TNR), it is being championed locally by a nonprofit group called Japan Cat Network (JCN).
The Shiga-based JCN was started 15 years ago by two English teachers, Susan Roberts and David Wybenga, who looked around their community in Hikone City and noticed many wild cats that were sick or dying. After the pair started a TNR program, the local feline population became smaller, healthier and less of a problem for the residents.
TNR involves capturing strays, bringing them in to a vet to be spayed or neutered, and then releasing them after they’ve recovered; tame cats deemed suitable for domestication are placed up for adoption. If a cat is found to have a serious health problem, it may be euthanized.
At first glance, TNR might seem like a counterintuitive method of dealing with a population of stray or feral cats—after all, many end up right back where they started. In fact, Wybenga says one of the biggest challenges they face is convincing local people that TNR not only works, but is better than just removing the cats. “The cats need to go back for TNR to work. If we simply remove them, new cats will move into the area and the cycle will start all over again. People have two choices: sick and dying cats having kittens, making noise, and marking around the neighborhood; or healthy, quieter, non-reproducing cats, which will slowly decrease in number until there are few or none. ‘No cats’ is not on the menu.”
Many studies on the efficacy of TNR back this up. An oft-cited article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association details a study done over a period of 10 years which saw a 66 percent reduction in a stray cat population. TNR proponents argue that, over time, the lack of kittens will keep the population at a stable minimum or see it fade away entirely.
JCN expanded to Tokyo this year, where it is hoping to open a rehoming center to support local efforts. “The sheltering that we do is completely in support of those actively doing TNR,” Wybenga says. “We think that by putting our support and resources behind those working to stop reproduction, we can have a much bigger impact on the situation as a whole.”
The biggest problem faced by JCN is a lack of resources. With no national animal welfare organization to turn to, the group must get all of its funds, supplies and manpower at a grassroots level. “We have to negotiate with veterinarians, and many are unwilling to adjust the cost of spaying/neutering for strays,” says Wybenga. “Right now, there are several projects where we could easily be out trapping in low-income areas—if we had funds and low-cost operations.”
Wybenga admits the feral cat problem in Japan is still large, but he’s convinced that there are a lot of compassionate people out there who just need some help and guidance. “We’d like people to know that even though they can’t do everything, they can always do something, and they don’t have to even do that alone.”
For more information about the Japan Cat Network, see www.japancatnet.com or contact Tracey Tanaka at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).