top of page
  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Mattfield

Wash, Rinse, Repeat...Why Do NJ TNR Programs Keep Failing?

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

It's become an almost guaranteed cycle in New Jersey:

  1. Local cat advocates, rescuers, and TNR groups demand TNR ordinances and programs.

  2. The usual large cat advocacy groups draft and push through TNR-friendly ordinances, supported by local rescues and cat lovers.

  3. An initial surge of TNR from local groups leads to noticeable results in the first year as many colonies are fixed.

  4. After a year or more.... the unfixed outdoor cat population is back up again and the town threatens a feeding ban.

Why does this keep happening? The answer is not as complicated as you think.

Mistake #1: Making clients, not caretakers.

It's hard not to jump into action when an ordinance finally endorses what your organization has been pitching for years. Who doesn't want to start trapping and fixing ASAP?

TNR groups and towns are not making feeders part of the process and holding them accountable. In the rush to TNR, "trappers" and sometimes ACOs are setting the traps, transporting, controlling appointments, and basically doing TNR for anyone who cooperates. In the beginning, the town sees immediate progress as colonies are fixed and the easy-to-trap cats are TNRd for any feeder who allows it. Feeders continue to feed and know that they need only call the "TNR people" when things get out of control again. They do not monitor. They do not find out who else is feeding. They don't bother to trap the ones that the TNR group ran out of time to catch.

Why? You just call the TNR group if a cat gets hurt or when you have litters of kittens again.

Say your teenager refuses to clean her messy room. It's so messy that she doesn't know where to start. She also doesn't understand why she has to - after all, it's your house, she just lives there and the mess doesn't bother her.

If you jump in and start cleaning, you send two messages:

  1. The room is not her responsibility to clean and you'll always do it for her.

  2. Cleaning the room is beyond what you believe she can handle. She is not skilled enough to ever be able to clean a room the way an adult can. It's a special talent that only a few people possess.

For years, we were guilty of this approach and realized the failure as year after year, cats returned and feeders simply kept feeding when rescues could not come and fix their cats for them. Video below

Mistake #2: No implementation

Stating that TNR is allowed and making some broad strokes are all part of ordinances, but they don't lead to fewer cats without implementation.

You cannot expect people to comply with an ordinance without supporting them with a way to fix cats.

  • Where can they get appointments?

  • How are you addressing feeders who cannot afford TNR?

  • Is your shelter open admission? Do you even have a shelter? What do people do when rescues are full and cannot take kittens?

  • Are your animal control officers able to liaise and be a part of implementation of your new policy? Do they know that "we're full" or "just release the cat unfixed for now" are not acceptable answers for residents?

  • If registration of the colony is required, how do residents do it?

  • For the few people who are physically unable to lift traps, or people who do not drive, how will they be helped? If not, their cats will continue to breed.

These are just a few questions that if left unanswered, lead to a volunteer-sustained town policy that fails after the honeymoon is over.

Mistake #3: No enforcement

Sadly, there will always be feeders who refuse to accept responsibility. HLEOs and ACOs are an instrumental part of the process and sometimes their intervention is absolutely necessary, especially when cats are breeding out of control and inevitably injured and ill. Officers need to act as liaisons in the community and bring home the same message: feeding cats means fixing cats and it's the feeder's responsibility.

They also need to be willing to address situations created by trespassing. Officers can prohibit feeding on private property by unauthorized feeders, but they also need to be part of the process when the colony needs to be relocated or even removed if the situation is not safe. "We don't address cat complaints" is not an acceptable or legal answer, but is nevertheless put in writing on many towns' websites.

Let's stop forcing TNR to fail. Programs and ordinances only work when everyone buys in. If we don't insist on feeder responsibility and municipal resources, we just pave the way for feeding bans.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page