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Spring will put Iowa City’s new trap-neuter-return program to the test

TNR and Colony Care Workshop

Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center — Saturday, March 7 at 10 a.m.


Susanne Nilsson via Flickr

If all goes according to plan, Iowa City residents will soon start seeing fewer stray cats wandering their neighborhoods, and the cats they do see will have a tipped ear.

The Iowa City Council passed a trap-neuter-return (TNR) ordinance in August, allowing the community to trap feral cats, drop them off at a local shelter or clinic to be spayed or neutered (and the tip removed from one ear, signaling they’ve been fixed), and then return the cats where they were found. A version of TNR has been adopted in hundreds of cities across the country, including North Liberty, in an effort to control the stray cat population and reduce the need to euthanize cats.

In 2018, the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center euthanized 96 feral cats, according to center director Chris Whitmore. The shelter doesn’t euthanize healthy cats with a chance of being adopted — only those so accustomed to life in the wild that they would not thrive in an indoor environment and/or with human companions. While some feral cats brought into a shelter can be relocated to farms, this isn’t always the most practical solution.

“We want people to trap-neuter-return the cats where the cats know where their resources are,” Whitmore said in an email to Little Village. “Trap neuter return just means that cat goes back to their home and not released where the cat would not know where the shelter, food and water are. In the past, people used to trap and try to take them to a farm and had limited success with the cats staying on the property.”

Every spay can have a massive impact on the feral cat population: female cats in their prime have at least two litters a year, averaging around four healthy kittens. Within a year, the offspring and their offspring, and so on, can lead to the birth of thousands of cats. These cats compete for resources and can be a nuisance in neighborhoods.

Iowa City residents can have cats spayed or neutered for free through the Florence Unash Program. (Unash made a donation upon her death to subsidize the spaying and neutering of dogs and cats locally.)

While Whitmore said TNR hasn’t had a perceptible impact on the local cat population in its first six months, “kitten season” — a period of time between April and October, roughly, when unaltered feral cats tend to breed the most — is a key time to trap-neuter-return.

“This spring should be a real test for this,” she said.

“Kitty condos” available at the Iowa City Animal Center are designed to give feral cats a warm, safe place to sleep. Community members may also pick up trapping cages for cats if they would like to participate in TNR. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

Community members hoping to learn more about the TNR program are invited to a workshop hosted by the Iowa Humane Alliance (IHA) Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Iowa City Animal Center, 3910 Napoleon Ln. The event is free and open to the public.

“IHA’s Community Cat Team will provide a fun and informative Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) and Colony Care Workshop in order to provide citizens the resources to become part of the solution to the cat over-population crisis,” IHA said in a press release.

The nonprofit’s clinic provided more than 3,000 spay/neuter surgeries, rabies vaccines and ear-tips for community cats in 2019, they reported. IHA advocated for the TNR program in Iowa City.

“Community cats will be healthier after TNR, residents won’t have as many cats to be concerned about, and shelters will see a decrease in kittens needing their services,” IHA wrote. “Help us stop ‘kitten season’ in its tracks!”


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