Why We Believe in TNR

It’s hard to keep track of all the acronyms that exist these days, but in the cat rescue world TNR is a big one. TNR stands for Trap-Neuter-Return and describes the process of trapping feral cats, spaying or neutering them, and then returning them to the location they came from. According to VOKRA co-founder Maria Soroski, it’s the most effective and humane way to help control the feral cat population.

When VOKRA formed back in 2000, Maria had no idea what a feral cat was, which is hard to believe for someone who is such a strong advocate for Vancouver street cats. She, along with fellow co-founder Karen Duncan, began by bottle feeding kittens that had been brought into the SPCA before branching off on their own to create VOKRA.

Maria with one of her (almost) daily catches.

“I had no idea where the kittens were coming from,” says Maria, who wondered what happened to the kittens’ moms. “I assumed they were from owned cats or that they’d been orphaned.” However, as kittens kept arriving from the same addresses, Maria and Karen started to do a little sleuthing. They soon discovered a whole world of feral cats. The mother cats hadn’t been brought in because they were wild – no one could touch them, let alone pick them up and transport them into care.

Maria discovered entire colonies, some with upwards of 50 cats. They were all the moms, dads, aunts, uncles and cousins of all the bottle-fed kittens that had come in. Thanks to the guidance of local rescuers and the resources of Alley Cat Allies, Maria quickly learned to trap and hasn’t looked back since.

VOKRA’s volunteer trappers, spearheaded by Maria, spent eight years trapping seven days a week in Vancouver and Burnaby. It’s estimated there were more than 8000 – 9000 free roaming cats in Vancouver before VOKRA came along. The number of feral cats is now down to less than 300 with the remaining colonies under control. Some of the colonies now consist solely of senior citizen cats, who pass on humanely after living a life on their own terms.

Maria stops at nothing to get cats off the streets

For cats that we can’t return to their original site, we try and find them another home – specifically a barn or hobby farm. Janet, who coordinates the barn cat placement program, says “It’s an alternative option for feral cats that are unable to be returned to their original location for various reasons.” The barns are located throughout the Lower Mainland, from Abbotsford to Squamish, and Janet often drives the cats to their new homes herself. Potential placements are interviewed in advance and the cats are guaranteed fresh food and water daily, along with a safe shelter area. In their new “jobs” as rodent control technicians they have a better life than they would out on the streets.

If the cats are young enough or semi-tame, then we’ll try to socialize them so we can adopt them to forever homes.  “We’re not scared of hissy babies,” says Maria. Armed with gloves, towels, treats, and a whole lot of patient love, VOKRA volunteers socialize kittens in their homes.  VOKRA runs workshops and provides coaching to these special families.  Fosters tell us this is an immensely rewarding part of being with VOKRA.  To watch a kitten or adult cat transform from an untrusting and extremely frightened creature to one that seeks out your affection with headbutts to your hand, and who purrs at the very sound of your voice, is a truly amazing experience.

We respond to as many calls we can and trap feral cats, tame moms protecting their kittens and tame adults that are too afraid to trust humans just yet. Sometimes this involves all-night efforts and sometimes it involves walking into an abandoned house in protective gear so as not to be eaten alive by the swarms of fleas. Whatever it takes – the fate of all cats is important to us and those who were never given the chance to live a safe, indoor life deserve the best that we can give them.

As a non-profit association we rely on the contributions of people like you. If you’d like to support our TNR program click here.


6 thoughts on “Why We Believe in TNR

  1. Where does the data for these population figures come from? I find it very hard to believe there are less than 300 feral cats in Vancouver, a city with a human population of over 600,000. Vokra’s own facebook page states that they rescue over 1,400 cats and kittens annually. The numbers don’t add up. Obviously there are far more than 300 feral cats in Vancouver. Please explain and correct this misinformation.

    • A vast majority of the cats we rescue off of Vancouver’s streets these days are tame cats that have either been abandoned or have escaped. It is very rare for us to come across a truly feral cat in the communities of Vancouver or Burnaby that are outside of managed colonies and that we’ve never seen before. A bulk of our TNR work takes place in surrounding Lower Mainland communities, such as North Vancouver and Surrey (where there’s an estimated free roaming cat population of 20,000+). Last year in the City of Vancouver we took in 20 feral cats – 6 of which were re-homed through our barn program and 16 of which were returned to their site of origin.

      • The paragraph in the article mixes cat nomenclature in a confusing way, switching from “free-roaming cats” to “feral cats” in consecutive sentences.

        “It’s estimated there were more than 8000 – 9000 free roaming cats in Vancouver before VOKRA came along. The number of feral cats is now down to less than 300 with the remaining colonies under control.”

        Lets be more clear then. Free-roaming cats includes feral cats (unsocialized cats with no owner), stray cats (socialized cats with no owner), and pet cats that are allowed to free-roam. The paragraph above suggests that you had/have a breakdown of numbers of these different types of free-roaming cats. Do you? If (and that is a very big if) there were 8,000 – 9,000 free-roaming cats in Vancouver when VOKRA started doing TNR, the question is how many free-roaming cats are there in Vancouver today? How was the original estimate of 8,000 to 9,000 free-roaming cats arrived at? Was there actual research done to substantiate this, or is it just someone’s guess? The number seems remarkably low for a city of that size.

        So most of your 1,400 rescues come from North Vancouver and Surrey, an area with a human population around 570,000, which is a bit less than Vancouver. Yet you estimate the free-roaming cat population there at over 20,000, more than twice your “beginning” estimate for Vancouver. Again, from what data are these estimates calculated? (Incidentally, if there are 20,000 cats and half of them are females (10,000) and they have only 1 litter of 5 kittens per year, and only 2 of the 5 kittens survive (being extremely conservative), the population will increase by 20,000 in the first year alone. Subtract the 1,400 you rescue (which don’t all come from this area, but we’ll be generous), plus lets say another 1,600 from other rescues (again, being generous), and the net increase is 17,000. Guesstimate that another 10% of the original 20,000 will die from car hits, coyotes, diseases, and parasites, and you still have a final net increase of 15,000 cats. How will your current method reduce the free-roaming cat population?

        It simply appears that VOKRA makes up these population numbers in an attempt to bolster whatever position they are supporting. You would do well to stick with actual verifiable numbers for which you have data to support. I submit you have no remotely accurate idea of how many free-roaming cats or feral cats or stray cats there are in Vancouver, North Vancouver, Surrey, or anywhere else you do TNR. If you keep sufficient records you should at least be able to provide an exact number of cats TNR’d and cats rescued to indoor homes.

        One last thing. The last sentence of your reply:

        “Last year in the City of Vancouver we took in 20 feral cats – 6 of which were re-homed through our barn program and 16 of which were returned to their site of origin.”

        Six plus 16 equals 22, not 20. Are you sure you know how many feral cats you took from Vancouver last year?

  2. To be clear, when we refer to “free roaming” cats we are referring to feral cats and stray cats. We are not referring to owned cats who are allowed outdoors.

    As stated in our original response, “A bulk of our TNR work takes place in surrounding Lower Mainland communities, such as North Vancouver and Surrey.” This is specifically related to TNR. The 1,400+ cats we rescue each year come from around the Lower Mainland, including, but not limited to Surrey and North Vancouver.

    Yes we made a typo in our response regarding the breakdown of feral cats from Vancouver. The total of 20 cats is correct – the breakdown is 6 re-homed through the barn program and 14 returned to site.

    The Surrey Community Cat Coalition conservatively estimates the number of feral and stray cats in Surrey to be 20,000. Unfortunately, it is difficult to accurately determine the number of feral and stray cats that currently exist on the streets in any community. Different animal welfare groups across North America use different formulas. Unless significant resources are available to do an actual count, animal welfare groups must rely on estimates.

    By ensuring cats are spayed and neutered the cat population is being controlled. If cats aren’t reproducing the cycle is broken. This is what TNR is helping to achieve.

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