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  • Writer's pictureBeltsville News

Kitty Post: Why Trap, Neuter and Return? By Sallie Rhodes

Updated: Jul 10, 2022

The implementation of a Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR) strategy helps stabilize the free-roaming community cat population at a specific location (I.e., the “cat colony”). As time passes after TNRing a colony, the cat population decreases.

Beltsville Community Cats (BCC) uses humane strategies, including TNR, to reduce the number of community cats in neighborhoods throughout Beltsville. These cats are also vaccinated to protect against transmissible diseases. The tip end of the cat’s left ear is cut off to show that the cat has been sterilized. Young kittens are placed in foster homes where they are socialized to people and living indoors. At three months, these kittens are sterilized, vaccinated, microchipped and combo tested before being adopted into forever homes. Adult cats that live outdoors can take months or even years to socialize. Unfortunately, BCC simply does not have enough foster homes to take adult cats into foster care and BCC does not have the ability to relocate these cats as they are very difficult to move to a different place or colony. The difficult of doing this is evident in BCC’s statistics. BCC has sterilized almost 900 cats since March 2019, preventing significant overpopulation in Beltsville.

Most Beltsville residents understand and appreciate that feeding and looking out for community cats leads to a healthier community cat presence. Many residents appreciate the predatory nature of community cats which helps reduce or eliminate the populations of rats, mice, moles, and squirrels. Well-fed cats may still hunt, but they tend to pick off the weak, old, sick or injured members of the pray species. Studies have shown that returning a community cat to its colony ultimately helps keep the community and the urban environment cleared of rodents.

Studies have shown that when a feral cat is permanently removed from its colony, another cat will almost always move in to fill the vacancy. If five cats are removed, another five will move in to take their places. Even if ALL cats are removed, more cats will often move in and replace them. This phenomenon, called the ‘vacuum effect’, does not occur simply because the cats are being fed. It has more to do with the opportunistic nature of the animals living in a suitable environment. Conservation studies have shown that a similar “vacuum effect” happens with dogs, racoons, groundhogs, and other wildlife when they are removed from an area.

If you see an unaltered community cat in your Beltsville neighborhood, please contact BCC at (240) 444-8353 or email us at

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