Archive | July, 2021

Alley Cat Allies (ACA) Timeline of “Success” [TNR = Trap, Neuter, Re-Abandon]

30 Jul

I know I told you we would talk about the Glassdoor ACA employee reviews.  And I will.  But first, we need to talk a little more about the history of TNR.  Which, as close as I can tell, is inextricably linked to the history of ACA.  I’m saying, the history of TNR in America is pretty much the history of ACA.

A] ACA is one of the biggest proponents of TNR

They may have started TNR in the United States (see the last post) and the organization has most definitely taken the process mainstream.  On Google search, pretty much any TNR-related term brings back many results from ACA.  I looked 9 pages deep on the Google search, and the results that were not written by ACA or people directly related to it, mentioned ACA in positive terms. TNR is essentially ACA.

B] Timeline of Successes is very subjective

This timeline of successes was written by Alley Cat Allies.  I wanted to see how each project is doing currently, and what I found is a decidedly biased presentation by ACA.  Firstly, a lot of these projects actually leaned heavily on adoption to reduce cat populations.  Secondly, I found the language in each article highly subjective and politically charged.  Calling something a success doesn’t necessarily make it a success.  In fact, I would argue that following ONLY the principles of TNR made each of these projects failures.  I have taken what is on the ACA website and added my own commentary.  

Timeline from

The idea for the organization started in Washington DC in 1990.

By 1993, Alley Cat Allies had developed a set of protocols for Trap-Neuter-Return and veterinary care for community cats, also known as feral cats. These serve as guidelines for more than 4,000 humane societies and shelters.

[my insertion:  the ”feral” is not a synonym for community cats, homeless cats, or stray cats, and implies these cats are not adoptable, which is false] 

By 1998, our first office was opened in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. 

“Through natural attrition and the removal of adoptable cats and kittens, the cat population dwindled from more than fifty-four cats to six over seven years. The last cat from the colony died in 2007 at the age of seventeen.”


[Me again:  “Natural attrition” is a euphemism for the cats that left the colony and were not replaced.  Alley Cat Allies and the many biased articles touting TNR do not share specifically what attrition occurred.  It is unknown what percent of the colony died of old age, vs. more terrible fates like hit-by-car, starvation, disease, dog mauling, or the other risks posed to these strays living outside.  It is also not mentioned how many of the cats in the colony were adopted out.

Still me:

Another thing that goes unmentioned in many articles citing this “success story” in Washington D.C. is that the number of stray cats was relatively small- just 54.  We can calculate the rate of colony reduction using their beginning number and the number of cats 7 years into the TNR program:

54 at start minus 6 cats left after seven years = 48 cats had been removed from the colony

48 cats removed divided by 7 years = 6.857 cats reduced per year, about 7/yr.

It’s honestly not that great of a success in my opinion.  And I was left with many questions such as:  Were there concurrent anti-dumping laws that helped stabilize the population through zero new cats joining the colony?  Were any other laws passed that aimed to solve the stray cat problem?  Would cats be removed at the rate of nearly seven per year if the colony started out larger?  How many cats were neutered?  Were cats spayed as well?  What was the cost per cat to sterilize the cats? Does this reflect a financial deal with veterinarians, and if so is the discounted price good long-term?  How many of the 54 cats were adopted? How well was the colony tracked?  What size staff/volunteers did they have? How many caretakers of the colony were there? Were those caretakers consistent, or did the people change or decrease over time? Did any of the cats die from trauma or disease?  Is the 54 cats to 7 figure exactly accurate, or ballpark figures? 

It seems like a very hazy story with so many variables unknown that it’s difficult to attribute the complete removal of the colony to TNR, especially excluding other factors.]

Back to Alley Cat Allies Timeline:

In the year 2000, when Atlantic City’s animal control started trapping and killing cats living under the city’s famous boardwalk, Alley Cat Allies intervened and convinced the public health director, Ron Cash, to endorse a pilot TNR program. Now called the Atlantic City Boardwalk Cats Project™



In the immediate wake of Hurricane Sandy, Alley Cat Allies is mobilizing staff and volunteers to Atlantic City, New Jersey, where clean up and recovery efforts are underway at the Boardwalk after the devastating flooding there.  Specifically, we will help to assure that cats found during rescue efforts will have safe shelter until their caregivers or families are identified or until safe locations or new homes can be found.  We will also vet any injured cats, spay/neuter and vaccinate any cats that may be displaced but who are rescued, and provide supplies and volunteers to help build safe shelters and stations for the Boardwalk cats and other cats adjacent to the Boardwalk.



[It’s me:  So right off, the middle of a hurricane described as “devastating” doesn’t sound like the ideal place for cats.  And weather events and temperature are part of the TNR bargain.  Release means after the cats are castrated, they are put back where they were found–outside.  Think about all the dramatic weather forecasts in the U.S. and know that mother-nature is a constant threat to cats living outdoors.  Also, it sounds like many of the surviving cats may have been adopted, but numbers for death, adoption, and continuation in the boardwalk colonies are not provided by the article.]

ACA continues:

When the TNR effort started, there were an estimated 300 stray cats who called the Atlantic City Boardwalk-area home. Nobody knows for sure; that’s a best-guess estimate.  As it’s progressed through the years, [my sidenote:  Article written July 17, 2017, seventeen years after the initial TNR efforts began] Wildman said that population has dwindled to roughly 100. They live in 15 “colonies” spread along a two-mile span of the Boardwalk. 



[My sidenote:  For those keeping track.  The boardwalk started with approximately 300 cats and over 17 years reduced to 100.

300 initially minus 100 at the time of this article touting the TNR a success = 200 cats left the colonies.

200 cats reduced out of the colonies divided by 17 years of the TNR program = A decrease of just under 12 cats per year.]

ACA timeline continues:

In 2008 Alley Cat Allies launched a social media campaign that resulted in 208 Facebook friends and 11 Twitter followers. Today, through our online communities of nearly half a million Facebook fans and 21,000 Twitter followers, we can take even swifter action to mobilize our network to protest threats to cats.



[Here’s my assessment:  Now we’re talking actual, measurable success!  

Facebook 208 to half million 

Twitter from 11 to 21,000 

Social media growth from 2008 to 2021 (13 years) was 49,792 more and 20, 989 more, respectively

49,792 / 208 = 23938.46% increase in Facebook followers!

20,989 / 11 = 190809.09% increase in Twitter followers!

*this is the real success of the organization.]

And given the protest comment, along with the charged language, plus all the law changes implemented across the country, I think this is actually the priority of this organization.  The ACA wants to persuade, recruit, protest, and change laws to start TNR everywhere in America.

NOW the next thing I’ll talk about is the Organization as employer.

Who Started TNR & Why? [Trap, Neuter, Re-Abandon]

29 Jul

Depends on who you ask.

A brief history of TNR

courtesy of: Best Friends Animal Society,launched%20the%20Feral%20Freedom%20program.

The humane approach called trap-neuter-return emerged on the public scene in Great Britain during the 1950s and later in Denmark in the 1970s. At some point during that time, TNR began to take hold in the U.S. as well, but it didn’t become part of the public discourse until the 1990s. That’s when Alley Cat Allies eased TNR into the mainstream.

TNR evolved in the U.S. after the city of Jacksonville, Florida, became the first city to introduce it in a shelter setting in 2008. At that time, the city teamed up with local nonprofit First Coast No More Homeless Pets and, with funding from Best Friends, launched the Feral Freedom program. This program allows First Coast No More Homeless Pets to take all community (feral) cats entering Jacksonville’s Animal Care and Protective Services, so that they can be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, ear-tipped and returned to their outdoor homes. According to the First Coast No More Homeless Pets website: “This program has and continues to save thousands of cats each year from certain death at Animal Care and Protective Services, and frees up vital resources to be used on adoptable pets.” The Feral Freedom program has been instrumental in helping the City of Jacksonville to achieve and maintain no-kill status for the past two years.

An Alternate history of TNR

from: Alley Cat Allies

Our roots go back to 1990, when Becky Robinson and a friend discovered an alley with 56 feral cats, and two smaller colonies, in the Washington, DC neighborhood of Adams Morgan. With the help of the cats’ caregivers, they humanely trapped the cats, had them neutered, and returned them to their outdoor homes.

Deluged by requests for help, and concerned for cats routinely killed by animal control agencies and shelters, Robinson founded Alley Cat Allies.

A year later, she launched the Feral Friends Network to help people navigate the animal control system and connect with experienced cat caregivers for advice and assistance. Today the Feral Friends Network comprises thousands of skilled caregivers, veterinarians, rescue groups, and spay and neuter clinics in America and around the globe. By 1993, Alley Cat Allies had developed a set of protocols for Trap-Neuter-Return and veterinary care for community cats, also known as feral cats. These serve as guidelines for more than 4,000 humane societies and shelters.

By 1998, our first office was opened in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. Becky Robinson is invited to speak at the first discussion of nonlethal feral cat control at a National Animal Control Association training conference. Her participation demonstrates both the growing momentum behind TNR and Alley Cat Allies’ role as TNR experts.

Though the accounts differ in almost all respects, the organizations seem to get along. The ACA website starts it’s history with this quote:

“Beginning in the early 1990s trap/neuter/return (TNR) protocols, pioneered in this country by Alley Cat Allies, changed the fundamental paradigm for managing free-roaming stray and feral cats – collectively known as community cats.”
– Gregory CastleCEO Best Friends Animal Society

At any rate, it’s safe to say Alley Cat Allies (ACA) may have started TNR in America, and they most definitely took the process mainstream.

In my next post I will delve deeper into the organization. But I will leave you with a link and picture of employee reviews copied from Glassdoor.

Concept Discussion [Trap Neuter Re-abandon]

28 Jul

Words such as ethical and humane are difficult to define because (very divergent) personal belief-systems and personal experience color both terms.  Welfare is a provable condition, by design.  It uses quantitative parameters to ensure animal health and freedom from suffering and cruelty.

Speaking of personal experience, my 15 years of employment in veterinary hospitals (and prior to that over 1,000 volunteer hours in animal settings) influences my judgments in the following vocabulary terms.  Intentionally for propaganda, and unintentionally out of ignorance, these words are being used to persuade.  But they might not be the most accurate way to describe the reality of the situation.

Here’s what I mean. The term “feral” is overused, as is “wild” in the context of abandoned pets being left to fend for themselves.  Feral implies the cat is unapproachable (and will probably remain that way long-term).  Using wild to describe un-homed cats suggests these cats belong outside, are proficient in meeting their own needs without intervention, and cannot be tamed (and would not like it).

I would argue very few cats in colonies (or shelters, or homes) are truly feral.  Do they get amped up and scared, especially with unfamiliar people doing unfamiliar things to them, or in strange places-absolutely!  Most cats get stressed and hate travel/change.  But given time to calm down, and with some patience, would they make a good pet? Yes!  I have a big problem with the notion that some cats are “unadoptable” and must be feral forever.

I can’t tell you how many times a client was in the exam room with a growling cat in the carrier, and they told me said cat was “feral.” If I had to guess I would say at least once a week.  And I can’t tell you how many times that growling cat in a box could be taken out, handled to get vitals, and ended up tolerating the appointment–most of them.  In 15 years, out of all the cats that came into the veterinary hospital being called feral, probably 12% were actually feral, and probably just 5% of those had to be sedated to proceed with their appointment.  So the perception of feral and the incidence were drastically different.

I think feral is a loaded term that justifies abandoning healthy, potentially-adoptable cats in urban streets.  And don’t get me started on wild.  These cats are not independent for the most part.  They do require human intervention, because even actual wild cats were not living in population-dense, urban landscapes.  And genetically they differ from their wild ancestors–ever see an F1 Bengal vs. a domestic shorthair?  You can see that genetic difference in their behavior!  And most of the cats that are dumped were once pets, or they are genetic offspring of pets.

Bottom line: Roaming or stray are more accurate terms for this situation. 

Furthermore, I disagree that some cats are outside cats, and can’t be taken indoors.  Habituation and localization are real.  The feeding part of the TNR process uses these concepts to train cats to gather in a certain area at a certain time, with other cats and humans present.  The cats are trained to get in the traps.  Why not use habituation to get cats more comfortable with people and train cats to stay inside?  The cat may hate it at first.  There are strategies, products, and medications that can assist in the process.  Patience, persistence, and calm can go a long way in getting (and keeping) a cat inside.  Spend the time and effort, and in most cases it can happen.  If you don’t believe me, just look at YouTube and you’ll see about a thousand success stories.  And indoor cats are exponentially safer than the ones outside!  People who say some cats are just outdoor, and can’t be taken inside don’t have a wild cat problem, they have a priorities problem.

Throughout my research paper, I will argue there is little difference between the initial dumping of cats by irresponsible people, and the “release” part of TNR.  Just because the TNR has good intentions doesn’t make throwing cats outside the right thing to do.  The cats are neglected in both scenarios, dumping or release.  TNR is also not sustainable, and my research will show how TNR colonies maintain their original numbers or increase their numbers without death (either euthanisia or most times, hazards outside) and adoption.  Neither euthanasia or adoption are mandated in TNR.

After being involved in animal hospitals for 20 years, seeing what patients come in, I believe there are some things worse than death, and euthanasia is often a kindness.  I have seen horrible things, and was sometimes even relieved to see an animal ‘put out of its misery’ (there are reasons, that I will not describe here, that this is a common phrase).  And the procedure itself is compassionate, done by a veterinarian who loves animals so much that they completed 5-8+ years of college education, and took a job that is both time-consuming and relatively low-paid.  The process of euthanasia is also (for lack of better word) clean, meaning no messy hit-by-car, dog-mauling, human abuse, and no undue suffering like heat stroke, slow starvation, or disease process kills the animal.  It’s the poke of an IV or needle, and an injection which acts quickly on the brain and stops the heart. I believe euthanasia is much less cruel than trapping, neutering, and putting an animal back outside in the elements with all the hazards.  Before you think death is the worst thing, check out some of the 85% morbidities faced by outside cats.  Like I said before, there are worse things than death.  Why are we choosing that fate for these cats we’re trying to help?  After neuter the job isn’t complete–let’s work on adoption, education, and prevention.

Vocabulary & Sources [TNR-Trap, Neuter, Re-Abandon]

27 Jul

There is quite a bit of lingo to cover before we talk about how TNR started, what it’s mission is, if it’s implemented correctly, if it is working, and if it’s ethical. Many of these words are subjective, and carry a lot of emotion, so I tried to find legitimate sources for each word/concept I try to define here. Still, there will be disagreement that all of these are accurate to every group. I’ll do some discussion about that in the next post. Also, this page contains ALL sources for my entire research paper.



Animal Abandonment Law and Legal Definition

Animal abandonment means leaving behind an animal alone or permitting the animal to be abandoned in circumstances which might cause harm to the animal. 



a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.



Synonyms for dumping



Ethics is a system of moral principles. They affect how people make decisions and lead their lives.  Ethics is concerned with what is good for individuals and society and is also described as moral philosophy.

Many people want there to be a single right answer to ethical questions. They find moral ambiguity hard to live with because they genuinely want to do the ‘right’ thing, and even if they can’t work out what that right thing is, they like the idea that ‘somewhere’ there is one right answer.  But often there isn’t one right answer – there may be several right answers, or just some least worst answers – and the individual must choose between them.  For others moral ambiguity is difficult because it forces them to take responsibility for their own choices and actions, rather than falling back on convenient rules and customs.



 A] feral cats have had very limited (or no) interactions with humans and have reverted to a wild state.



B] A feral cat is proposed by this study to be a cat that is unapproachable in its free-roaming environment and is capable of surviving with or without direct human intervention, and may additionally show fearful or defensive behaviour on human contact.





As cats develop, there are numerous stimuli (sounds, smells, sights, and events) that, when they are unfamiliar, can lead to fear and anxiety. Habituation is the process of getting used to and not reacting to those stimuli by continuous exposure under circumstances that have no untoward consequences.




Synonyms for humane

Words Related to humane



Localization is the process during which the kitten develops attachment to particular places.



Natural attrition- 

A] a gradual reduction in the number of people who work for an organization that is achieved by not replacing those who leave


B] A euphemism for natural death or death caused by old age.


Animal Neglect Law and Legal Definition

Animal neglect or abandonment is a common type of animal cruelty where people do not provide adequate care for animals in their charge. The neglected animal may be their own pet, a farm animal, or wildlife. A neglected animal is not provided with proper food, water, veterinary care, shelter and socialization. . .  Neglect may be deliberate abuse or simply a failure to take care of an animal. 

All U.S. states have animal cruelty laws, and 46 states and District of Columbia treat some forms of abuse as felonies. Most states’ animal cruelty statutes contain provisions that address the minimum standards of care for an animal. Definitions of terms such as adequate food, water, shelter and veterinary care are also included in these provisions. 



A free-roaming cat is defined as a cat living outdoors at least part of the time. This may be a pet cat that is allowed to spend time outdoors, a lost or abandoned owned cat, a tame un-owned cat, or a feral cat.



Socialization is the process during which the kitten develops relationships with other living beings in its environment.



The earliest stages of feline development are as follows: 

prenatal; n

neonatal, from birth to 2 weeks; 

transitional, from 2-3 weeks; 

socialization, from 3-7 weeks. 

Human contact and handling are important at 3-9 weeks. 

Social play peaks at 9-14 weeks.

The juvenile period lasts from 7 weeks to sexual maturity at 4-10 months,

Cats reach social maturity at 36-48 months. 

the adult period lasts from sexual maturity to death. 

Cognitive decline occurs during the senior period.




Stray cats are socialized to humans – in most cases they were once pets who have either become lost or were, unfortunately, abandoned,




Sustainability is a holistic approach that considers ecological, social and economic dimensions, recognizing that all must be considered together to find lasting prosperity.



An animal is in a good state of welfare if (as indicated by scientific evidence) it is healthy, comfortable, well-nourished, safe, able to express innate behavior, and if it is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress. Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling, and humane slaughter. Animal welfare refers to the state of the animal; the treatment that an animal receives is covered by other terms such as animal care, animal husbandry, and humane treatment.1 Protecting an animal’s welfare means providing for its physical and mental needs.



Scientists learn about the genetics of domestication by assessing what parts of the genome are altered as a result of animals living with humans. The research team lead by Washington University compared the genomes of domestic cats to wild cats to look for specific areas of the domestic cat genome that experienced rapid changes.

They discovered that compared to wildcats, housecats have more mutations on genes involved in mediating aggressive behavior, forming memories, and controlling the ability to learn from either fear or reward-based stimuli. The cats with domestication-friendly gene mutations mated and passed those traits down from parent to kitten until there was a good-sized population of less aggressive cats.



Zoonotic diseases are defined as being common to, shared by, or naturally transmitted between humans and other vertebrate animals. Humans are infected with zoonotic agents from direct contact with the infected animals, contact via contaminated food or water, from shared vectors, and from the shared environment. Direct contact with cat feces (enteric zoonoses), respiratory secretions, urogenital secretions, or infected skin and exudates, as well as bites and scratches can result in human infections.  

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Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) is actually Trap, Neuter, Re-Abandon an Intro

26 Jul

I feel very passionate that Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) is inhumane/cruel and ineffective. It is very popular where I live in (hot) Arizona, and I just hate it for many reasons. Which I will specify in detail in these posts. I spent a disproportionate time arguing against it with neighbors on the Nextdoor app, but have decided a better use of my time would be to write a research paper on the matter. Using facts and legitimate sources, not just feelings and experiences. In this blog series, I’ll be posting some of my (yet to be edited) findings. I hope you will read with an open mind and really think about this information rationally, as I am attempting to do.

Why is there an Outside Cat Problem:

Cats are either born outside, or they had been owned and that (irresponsible, heartless) person left them outside to fend for themselves.

The cats are living in substandard conditions on the street.

In the elements, all weather (sometimes 120F here in AZ, 140 triple digit days last May-Oct), and natural phenomenon such as hurricanes or drought.

Breeding, fighting, spraying, scratching, digging in plants,

Being preyed upon, getting hit by cars, 

Eating wildlife, exchanging diseases with each other, 

Using the urban setting as a litterbox, which spreads disease and parasites.

A rescuer begins feeding.  This habituates these outdoor cats to people, gathers them in one place at a certain time, and nourishes the cats.

A live trap is set and (hopefully) all the breeding cats are collected and taken to the shelter.  Whether females are included, depends on funding. Being inside a trap is stressful to the cats, as is going in a car, being taken to an unfamilar place, being around loud, unfamilar animals and people, and getting a shot in order to be able to castrate.  It’s all very traumatic and stressful to these outdoor cats, just as it is to ANY cat.  

The toms are neutered, and it takes only minutes of a veterinarian’s time.  They do not even need to be fully anesthetized and put on gas to sustain the unconsciousness.  The sedation is much lighter, and the vet dexterously neuters each cat relatively quickly.

Spaying is a bigger job.  The queen has to go under full anesthesia, sustain unconsciousness with gas inhalant, have supplemental oxygen, and more monitoring equipment for vitals, and usually always (I sincerely hope!) a 2nd person in the room to monitor, help, and in case of emergencies.  Going fully under is a higher risk, longer procedure, and more costly as a result.  TNR programs may have the funds (and motivation) to spay, or they may not.

Honestly, all cats should have an FIV/FeLV test, a rabies, FVRCP, and the optional FIV vaccines since they are outside, and get dewormed.  At least.  These items are highly dependent on funds, and as such are usually neglected for the TNR cats.

After the castration, sometimes cats are allowed to recover in the shelter, sometimes there’s no space or time.  So the cats are dumped back outside, sometimes while still a bit groggy and disoriented.

Then the cats are outside fending for themselves in the elements.

(this repetition is not a mistake, or copy & paste error. As you can see, the cat lives are much the same post-neuter)

Fighting, spraying, scratching, digging in plants,

Being preyed upon, getting hit by cars, 

Eating wildlife, exchanging diseases with each other, 

Using the urban setting as a litterbox, which spreads disease and parasites.

Neutering will not change ingrained behavior patterns.

Cats can still spray, fight each other, and be a nuisance in neighborhoods.

Neutering cats does not change their health outcome living in a high-risk urban outdoor environment.  They can still get preyed upon, hit by cars, and the other bad ends.

Neutering does not change a cat’s diet.  They may still eat birds and wildlife depending on availability of food, food-competition, and hunting drive/instinct.  

Zoonotic disease can be passed on in this way:  A cat hunts a vole or bat.  That vole/bat was carrying rabies.  Or a raccoon is attracted to the cat food, and the territorial cats get in a scuffle with it. The cat shows signs of rabies, but it lives outside so either nobody notices or the cost is prohibitive to seek medical treatment for a cat that isn’t owned.  A dog comes by and the furiously rabid cat aggresses, or a child tries to pet the cat, or a well-meaning person tries to trap the cat to take it to the vet.  The cat bites in any of these scenarios.  You have a dog with rabies, that can spread it to other dogs, cats, and people.  You have a child bitten by a rabid cat.  You get an adult bitten and scratched and having to do lengthy and costly rabies prevention measures.  That’s just three examples.  There are countless diseases and parasites that can travel from cats to other species.

Neutering is not whole-animal health.  The cats will no longer breed, but neutering does not protect from disease or parasites. Or other health concerns.

So what has been accomplished?

An outdoor cat with a high-risk life was neutered, and now is an outdoor cat…With a high-risk life. It doesn’t breed. But people don’t stop dumping pets outside either.  The root cause of the problem has not been resolved.  So even though the TNR cats aren’t reproducing, they can still add more and more to the colony.  Without adoption and death, the colony size either remains the same, or actually grows in size.

This is just a raw outline of the procedure and problem. Stay tuned for more specific details.