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The ABC’s of TNR

Written by Nicole Plegge

Controlling and Protecting the Feral Cat Population in Madison County

Just because a cat lives in the wild and not in our home doesn’t mean we can’t give it the care and compassion our feline friend deserves.

For the past two years, Metro East Humane Society’s Trap Neuter Return (TNR) program has helped give feral cats the healthiest life possible, and at the same time, helped humanely control the growing community cat population in Madison County. In fact, in 2018 alone, 277 cats were spayed or neutered through this life-saving program.

In this post, program coordinator Ali Hillard explains the TNR process and shares how it’s benefitting cats and humans alike.

Why is TNR so important here in Madison County? What are your main goals?

In Alton right now, there’s a huge number of feral cats that aren’t spayed or neutered and just keep reproducing. Madison County can never get to a point where we’re 100% no-kill until everyone gets on board with TNR and we can get more cats fixed to prevent the overflow of kittens.

How does the TNR process work?

It’s actually pretty simple. We have a supply of humane feral cat traps, and when a caretaker or resident reaches out to us about cats they’ve been watching, we set them up on a Sunday night. We put some wet food in the trap, we cover it up, and we just wait until they’re caught.

Once cats are trapped, we bring them to MEHS where they get spayed or neutered, vaccinated, treated for fleas, and microchipped. We also tip their ears so the public knows they’ve been fixed. The following day, they get released right back into their colonies.

TNR extends the life cycle of each and every cat we trap. When cats aren’t fixed, female cats end up producing litter after litter after litter, and if they aren’t spayed, they can end up with infected uteruses or certain cancers. Spay and neuter alone helps them tremendously, but with vaccinations, we can also protect them from the various diseases and illnesses they can pick up outdoors and transfer to other cats.

Wouldn’t be better if the cats were adopted into loving homes instead of released back into the wild?

That’s the biggest concern we hear from the public. The reality is the majority of these cats have never had human contact. They’re scared of people, they don’t like to be touched. When you force a cat that’s spent its entire life outdoors into a home, it’s a bad remedy, and it’s not going to work for the cat or the adopter.

That said, if it’s a kitten that’s young enough to be socialized or a cat that’s friendly enough to go through the adoption program, we’ll 100% make every effort to help them find a family.

Another program we have under TNR is our Barn Cat Program. We take cats from Madison County Animal Control who are marked wild and find them barn homes when we can.

Because of our rural area, there are a lot of people who need mouse hunters. Like our TNR cats, they’re spayed and neutered, but these cats end up at a certain property instead of being released into a cat colony.

How does TNR actually help businesses and homeowners in Alton?

A lot of people who are against TNR think returning cats to the community means they’re going to be nuisances or bothers. But feral cats want nothing to do with people, and we need them to help control the rodent issues in urban areas. Really, there’s no better mouser than a cat! If a cat colony disappears, the rodent population skyrockets. Because people are beginning to understand the importance of the program, we’re saving hundreds of cats’ lives a year!

How can the public get involved with TNR?

TNR is a pretty fun process, and we’re always looking for new volunteers who can help trap and transport. But even just calling us at 618-656-4405 and letting us know about a cat colony is a big help. We also need donations like towels, newspapers and food to help with the process, and financial gifts to assist with surgery and vaccination costs. If we don’t all work together to help these cats, the overpopulation cycle will be never-ending.

To learn more about TNR and how you can get involved, visit the TNR page at



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