Note: This is a chapter in the Community Cat Programs Handbook.
TNR was first introduced during the 1950s in Britain, and then in Denmark during the 1970s. The practice was introduced in the U.S. around the same time, but remained largely “underground” until the formation of Alley Cat Allies in 1990. The first large U.S. city to embrace TNR as a fundamental part of its approach to animal sheltering was Jacksonville, Florida.
“Community cats are not a new phenomenon and neither is the compassion shown by people who want to help them. A new movement erupted in the 1990s when lone caregivers became community organizers along with their veterinarians. Necessity is the mother of invention and there were plenty of cats to help.
“Today there are hundreds of established and effective nonprofit groups and spay/neuter clinics with paid employees, and thousands of large-scale TNR programs. TNR brochures have been replaced with beautiful websites. Several municipal agencies have launched return-to-field initiatives. And more than 600 new ordinances and policies are in place, making TNR mainstream.”
-Becky Robinson, co-founder and president, Alley Cat Allies
Beginning in 2008, the City of Jacksonville joined forces with the nonprofit First Coast No More Homeless Pets (FCNMHP) in launching the Feral Freedom program. Under the new program, “feral” cats (the cats who didn’t make it out of the shelter alive in the past) brought to Jacksonville Animal Care & Protective Services were transferred to FCNMHP. They were then spayed or neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, ear-tipped and returned to their outdoor homes. (Today, such programs are often referred to as shelter/neuter/return (SNR) or return-to-field (RTF).) Best Friends has supported Jacksonville’s Feral Freedom program since its inception, providing generous grant funding and expertise.
In 2010, San José Animal Care and Services (SJACS) in San José, California, launched its own version of Feral Freedom. According to SJACS, intake of cats and kittens decreased 29.1 percent after four years, and the number of cats being killed decreased from over 70 percent of intakes in 2009 to 23 percent in 2014. And in 2011, Best Friends began a similar program in DeKalb County, Georgia. As a result, the save rate for cats jumped from 47 percent to 78 percent in the first year alone.
April 2012 saw the launch of the first Community Cats Projects in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and San Antonio, Texas. The Community Cats Projects were partnerships of Best Friends, PetSmart Charities, Inc.™, and local municipalities. These high-volume, three-year programs focused on specific zip codes and/or neighborhoods (generally those known to be the source of highest shelter intake) in the community, and have proven highly successful at reducing both shelter intake and shelter deaths of cats and kittens. (See “Model Programs.”)
Since then, Best Friends’ ongoing partnership with PetSmart Charities™ has resulted in four additional Community Cats Projects, a model that Best Friends continues today.
 K.L. Johnson & J. Cicirelli, 2014. “Study of the Effect on Shelter Cat Intakes and Euthanasia from a Shelter Neuter Return Project of 10,080 Cats from March 2010 to June 2014.” PeerJ 2, e646. https://peerj.com/articles/646/
Download the Community Cat Programs Handbook Basics (863 KB PDF)