Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), the humane approach to addressing community cat populations, works. It saves cats’ lives and is effective. TNR improves the lives of cats, addresses community concerns, reduces complaints about cats, and stops the breeding cycle. TNR humanely controls the feral cat population, reduces unwanted behaviors and minimizes health issues associated with unaltered and unvaccinated animals, and protects them, other animals, and our community from the deadly rabies virus.
In a Trap-Neuter-Return program, community cats are humanely trapped (with box traps), brought to a veterinarian to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, eartipped (the universal sign that a community cat has been neutered and vaccinated), and then returned to their outdoor home. where they are.
You may have heard the expression “nature abhors a vacuum.” It refers to the phenomenon that when a space is emptied, nature will fill it. Once you understand this reality, you’ll know why killing cats (or otherwise removing them) from a given location is doomed to fail.
The idea that removing cats will not lead to a decrease in cat populations across time may feel counter-intuitive, but it is grounded in a well-documented concept in biology known as the Vacuum Effect.
Understanding the Vacuum Effect is vital to save lives. So, what is the Vacuum Effect? Let’s start with the basics.
The Vacuum Effect occurs when a portion of an animal population is permanently removed from their home range. These animals may have been killed or removed by people, a natural disaster, or any other means. The result is a temporary dip in population levels. To be clear, any such population dip will only be temporary. The initial population lived in that location because there were resources such as shelter, food, and water. Once emptied, this still resource-rich habitat—the vacuum—inevitably attracts other members of the same species from neighboring areas. They move in to use the same resources that sustained the first group. Both the new individuals and any remaining members of the original population then reproduce. What’s more, they reproduce at higher rates to fill the habitat and take advantage of the available resources. Before long, the area fills back up to capacity again, as if the animals were never removed at all.
The Vacuum Effect occurs across many species, including foxes, mice, coyotes, voles, possums, and badgers. Of course, it also occurs for cats.
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