Feral Cats and TNR

Frequently Asked Questions about Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)

Rescue Angels of Southern Maryland believes that trap-neuter-return (TNR) is the best and most humane method for handling feral cats in Southern Maryland. Here are some frequently asked questions about TNR.

What is TNR?


“TNR” is shorthand for trap-neuter-return. It is a method of caring for feral cats (also called community cats). The cat is humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, given a rabies vaccination, and then returned to its outdoor home to live out its life. A human caretaker provides food, water, shelter, and medical care, if needed.


Why is this the best way to deal with feral cats?


TNR is the most humane way to deal with the large population of feral cats here in Southern Maryland and around the country. Feral cat communities begin and grow because unaltered cats have been allowed to roam, either because owners allow their cats outside or because they have abandoned their cats. Spaying or neutering the cats allows them to live out their lives without producing more kittens.

When all of the cats in a colony have been spayed or neutered, the size of the colony will decrease naturally as the cats die.


Two other common methods for dealing with feral cats – relocation and euthanasia – do not work nearly as well. It is incredibly difficult to relocate a colony of cats. First, you need to find a space large enough to accommodate the colony. Second, the cats need to be acclimated to the new location, a process that can take months. Last, removing the cats from the original location creates a vacuum that will soon be filled by other cats. This is called the vacuum effect. The location was a hospitable place for the original colony of cats to live because there was ample food and shelter. Over time, a new group of cats will move in to that location for the same reason.


We are completely against trapping and bringing feral cats to local shelters. This nearly always ends in the death of the cat. Shelters are overcrowded, and they are not equipped to care for feral cats. They are among some of the first cats to be killed when space is an issue. We will never advocate bringing feral cats to any shelter.


Why can’t feral cats be adopted?


Some feral cats – especially young kittens – can be trapped, socialized, and adopted out as pets. We have had a lot of success adopting kittens from the colonies we are working to TNR. Some adult cats are also friendly and can be socialized to live inside with humans. It is rewarding to be able to find a feral cat a forever indoor home.


Most feral cats, though, could never live inside. They are suspicious of humans and don’t trust us. The outdoors is their home, and they are far happier living outside than they ever would be living indoors.


What is an ear tip?


While the cat is sedated for surgery, the tip of the cat’s left ear will be removed. This is called an ear tip, and it doesn’t hurt the cat. The ear tip signals to everyone – community members, animal control, and shelter staff – that the cat has been altered and is part of a managed colony. Ear-tipped cats should never be turned into the shelter. Someone has taken the time and money to have the cat spayed or neutered, and they are caring for that cat. If you see an ear-tipped cat, leave it be. Someone cares about that cat.


How can I help?


If you are currently caring for outdoor cats, thank you! The next step you can take is to get the cats in your colony spayed or neutered. If you’ve never trapped before or don’t own a trap, don’t worry! Rescue Angels can help you. We have traps that we loan out, and we can teach you everything you need to know about TNR. We even host workshops to teach community members about TNR.

We always need volunteers to help community members with their feral cat colonies. The more volunteers we have, the more cats we can trap!

UPDATE 7/27/2022: We cannot take anymore requests for TNR at this time.  We will open TNR requests again this Fall.  If you can help with any part of the process to TNR, we need you!  Please contact us to sign up as a volunteer to help us.


Watch these videos to learn how to build a simple shelter for feral cats. Link 1 Link 2

Feral cat recovering in the trap after surgery.


An ear-tipped cat.