Feral Cats, TNR & Cat Fancy Magazine

Max outside
The past couple of weeks brought two pieces of upsetting news, and their convergence prompted this blog. You see, a new report on the impact of cats upon wildlife extrapolated old statistics mixed with new suppositions to paint felines as the devil incarnate–not a new situation by any means (witness the dark ages of black-cat-witchery). Many of my cat writers colleagues and blogpaws friends have addressed these concerns in well written posts, and frankly, I wouldn’t have felt the need.

Except that I also learned that Cat Fancy magazine, first published in 1965, has been sold. 

My earliest bylines as a “pet journalist” were with Cat Fancy. I got my first book contract because an editor read and liked a couple of my Cat Fancy articles. The magazine gave me my first “assignment” (rather than me submitting a query)–I really thought I’d arrived as a writer! But now Bow Tie is poised for change and Cat Fancy readers and contributors together hope this next “cat life” will be even better for all involved.

Sadly, at the moment things aren’t looking so good for the current Cat Fancy (and other Bow Tie) contributors. Many of them are owed a boat load of money for completed and published work, but since the new owner didn’t purchase the debt, chances are my colleagues won’t ever get paid. That’s suck-isity on a huge scale. Right up there with the sucky attacks on cats.

The last article I wrote for Cat Fancy (below) concerned feral cats. In the olden days (dang, that was 9 lives ago!) I was proud to be a contributor and wish only good things for the current editors and contributors now in furry limbo. I pray the TNR program also continues to thrive.


The un-owned cats of America caterwaul from alleyways, give birth in woodpiles, and slink beneath dumpsters eking out a meager existence on the scraps of civilization. Nobody knows how many live homeless and unloved, but wherever cats gather, controversy soon follows.

Many “solutions” have been tried, and opinions abound regarding the best way to deal with un-owned and feral felines. In the last decade, a small army of dedicated and caring cat advocates including the Feral Cat Project (which lists several success stories!) has come to believe that TNR is a viable and ethical answer.

Defining TNR

TNR stands for “trap-neuter-return,” a program designed to control and decrease the numbers of roaming felines. Trapped cats receive a health exam to identify very sick cats, which are euthanized. Healthy kitties are sterilized and vaccinated, to prevent reproduction or illnesses such as rabies.

Friendly adult cats and tame-able kittens are adopted while the feral (wild) adults live out their lives–sometimes a decade or longer–in the managed colony. The removal of one ear tip identifies these cats as managed. The caregiver(s) monitor the colony and provides food and shelter.

In The Beginning…

TNR first appeared in Europe, and became better known once animal welfare societies in Great Britain began advocating the approach more than 30 years ago. Louise Holton, an early proponent, first learned of TNR in the mid-1970s while living in South Africa. “I fed colonies of cats in Johannesburg,” she says. “As soon as they started talking about TNR it just made sense to me, and I trapped my colonies and fixed them through the Johannesburg SPCA.”

It took longer for the idea to reach America. While working in animal protection, Becky Robinson noticed feral cats in downtown Washington, DC at around the same time that Holton relocated to the area. Animal welfare organizations offered no help. “I was pretty shocked when they said I should bring cats in for euthanasia,” says Holton, now with Alley Cat Rescue.

“We intended to spay and neuter,” says Robinson, “but we ran into all kinds of roadblocks. It was crystal clear that this had to be addressed.”

Believing education was the key, Holton founded Alley Cat Allies (ACA) in 1990 as an educational resource for humane methods of feral cat control. Today, Robinson is the National Director of ACA.

The TNR concept gained national attention in 1995 when Joan Miller of the Cat Fanciers Associationpresented a talk on cat lifestyle diversity at the AVMA Animal Welfare Forum. The next year she and Dr. Patricia Olson (then affiliated with the American Humane Association) co-coordinated the first National Conference On Feral Cats in Denver. Presenters offered a variety of views, and came to the conclusion that national coordination was necessary. “Alley Cat Allies began to grow more rapidly after that,” says Miller.

Hisses And Purrs

Not everyone supports TNR. “Pro and con is an easy way to categorize,” says Dr. Margaret Slater, a veterinary epidemiologist from Texas A&M University and author of Community Approaches to Feral Cats. “But almost everybody has a gradation of views. Nothing is black and white.”

The most common objections focus on protection of the cats themselves. People argue that as a domestic species, it’s our responsibility to keep cats safely confined. But feral cats can rarely be tamed or easily contained.

Relocating them becomes difficult when sanctuaries fill up. When cats are removed from an area that offers shelter and food, others quickly move into that niche–a “vacuum effect” that argues for maintaining the colony in its original location. Even if trap and kill programs weren’t expensive and ineffective, most Americans dislike the notion of treating cats as vermin.

As an introduced or “exotic” species, critics such as the American Bird Conservancy argue cats should be removed from the environment to protect native wildlife, particularly endangered species. Cats cause the most problems where ecosystems are already in the most trouble such as on island ecosystems where any predator is a problem. TNR is not a good choice in these fragile environments.

But proponents argue that for the most part, cats hunt more rodents than birds, and usually only catch sick, old, or very young birds. “Cats get blamed for a lot of things, but it’s almost never just cats,” says Dr. Slater. For instance, rats also are an introduced species, and quite good predators of many birds. Robinson adds, “A bulldozer on a spring day probably does more damage [to the ecosystem than a feral cat in his entire life.” Even critics of TNR often support the programs in situations such as barn or city cat colonies since no endangered species are at risk.

Looking for Common Ground

Alley Cat Allies and other educational resources have made great strides in educating the public about feral cat solutions. How much TNR has grown isn’t easy to determine, though, because most programs involve volunteers and little tracking information is available. “The really big comprehensive and oldest programs are primarily in the Northeast and West Coast,” says Dr. Slater, “but it’s pretty spotty. You can make any statement you like because there’s no data to support or refute it.”

There is common ground. People on both sides of the TNR fence agree that owned cats should be sterilized and identified, and safely confined in some way. “Rather than fighting over TNR, we need to think about how to turn off the source of cats,” says Dr. Slater. “There’s always going to be more cats if we can’t turn that faucet off.”

Feral cat programs have impacted our world in an intangible but perhaps even more important way. TNR demonstrates that all cats have a value, even those that can’t be touched. We as human beings now recognized our ethical responsibility toward these community cats and that they should be cared for and treated humanely.

“TNR changes public attitudes about the value of cats,” says Miller. “That message is enormous.”


Learn more about TNR in Ellen Perry Berkely’s marvelous books Maverick Cats and TNR: Past, Present & Future (sadly, out of print but available used).

 I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!

35 thoughts on “Feral Cats, TNR & Cat Fancy Magazine

  1. The selling of Cat Fancy is sad news. I worked for the family-owned CATS Magazine when it was sold in 1996, and it wasn’t long before it was relocated halfway across the country and an entirely new staff was responsible for it’s content and design. It was no longer the same publication as the new staff was not knowledgeable about cats, and the love and dedication to the species was painfully obvious. In a very short time CATS Magazine ceased to exist. Amy, I believe you were a contributor at the time so I’m sure you remember. I wish I could believe that the next “cat life” for Cat Fancy will be better, but I’m skeptical.

    • Yes, I remember that, Carole. PriMedia bought up a bunch of the pet magazines including CATS and Dog World and the whole focus changed. Before those two magazines had more of a “show cat/dog” focus which differentiated them from the “pet focus” of the other magazines. My contributions to the pet press had always been focused on care/health/behavior which applies to pets as well as pedigree/purebred animals. Then PriMedia sold both magazines to Bow Tie and yep, CATS magazine went away not too long after that. Dog World stayed viable until it was shut down just this past year, sort of the “canary in the BowTie mine” that predicted what’s just happened.

      We’ve not heard enough from the new owners to really know what to expect. But I’m a glass is half FULL kind of person, or try to be. It’s encouraging that the magazines were bought–rather than simply shut down. Paws crossed…

      • Thank you, I had forgotten the name of the company. I remember hearing they sold to the publishers of Cat Fancy, but I thought it was just the subscriber base. It makes sense they eliminated one of the two, because once the focus of CATS was changed it became too similar to attract a different set of subscribers. My paws are crossed with yours because I still enjoy reading a printed magazine.

  2. It is pieces like this one that have made me NOT write about the horrific press that cats are getting right now, you have covered everything.
    Now, because I am honest, I used to love Cat Fancy (a few years ago)…I had ceased my subscription because in my opinion it had turned into mostly ads…..(as is happening with many print publications now). It is sad and I understand how you feel having been first published there. Sadly, it is just another example of how the ereader craze is destroying “tangible” print products.

    • Caren, I agree with your comment re: the advertisements. My very first assignment for Cat Fancy was about FeLV when the first vaccine came out, and it ran just over 3000 words–that’s unheard of today! The articles rarely go longer than about 1500 words (most are shorter) to make room for the ads…they have to, in order to pay for the paper and mail cost. With postal fees rising, that’s another issue. Digital is cheaper and has the added value (for publishers) of embedded links and being able to track reader interest with analytics to better sell ads.

  3. omg just read the comments….I worked for Primedia (briefly in 2001 and part of 2002 when they purchased Intertec publishing) I sold Classified ads for 4 of their publications (all auto related)……in the Spring of 2002 a large number of us were let go due to “downsizing”…….

    • Wow, small world. It was shortly after Primedia bought CATS and Dog World that they staged THE GREAT PET DEBATE (why a cat/dog was the better White House pet). I was tapped to argue the “cat side” on the Today Show (with Bryant Gumble & Katie Couric) while a colleague from Dog World argued the dog side.

    • It is a small world. Primedia also bought Shutterbug, a publication I worked for prior to CATS. That one they left in the same location with all the same staff, and it’s still around today. For a while it seemed like they were gobbling up everything they could get their hands on.

      • Yes, seems to be a trend. “Ah, this magazine is successful so let’s get this one and this one and this this this…” and then they divest of the ones that don’t make it. And somebody else starts the whole process again. That was sort of when the print magazine bubble burst (parallel with the ‘net grab-n-gobble’ that splattered when it stopped.

      • I probably should have said print media, the print cat magazines. Come to think of it, non-cat media, including the online newspaper I write for, has devoted a good amount of ink/bytes, i.e. the New York Times, which has published both positive and negative articles.

        • As I’ve said before, whatever the media/venue, it’s all about generating more eyeballs on the page. And sensationalism sells. So the more eyebrow-raising, hand-waving HOLY CRAP! type reportage is what gets the most traction, not only with the initial release–but also the responses both pro and con. That’s the gift that keeps on giving, and they’ll ride this wave until the next HOLY CRAP! item comes along.

          • So, so true–and sad–about the media. In addition to the article you posted here, I have seen many cat-related organizations respond with excellent information in defense of TNR. Unfortunately, for the most part they’re preaching to the choir.

    • I have noticed this odd trend lately, that cats seem to rule everywhere: they *own* the internet, pet cats are ever more popular, even Monopoly has jettisoned the iron for a cat. And yet the cat haters are out in full force. Not a coincidence? Einstein’s equal and opposite reaction: The more love, the more hate?

  4. Amy – I actually wrote a very compelling post about the demise of the print world a couple of weeks back and had not considered Cat Fancy as being the next victim of our times… While I could not live without the benefits of technology, I am deeply saddened by this trend. The ability to write well is a skill, and one that is now being minimalized by Internet publications.

    I have been a fan of Cat Fancy for as long as I can remember and it is a bittersweet moment for me – my first published article with them will appear in this April’s issue on the subject of spay/neuter. I never dreamed it would be both my first and last opportunity to work with them…

    But what I find more perplexing is the overall statement of our times – we get a handful of magazines at our house, for example, Vogue, because it was part of a free deal from a credit card we have and we wanted the subscription for Dan’s youngest daughter. It comes every month and each issue weighs about a pound – it is nothing but advertisement after advertisement (full pages ads nonetheless) and barely an ounce of substance in the publication. How (or why) do these types of magazines survive, yet those that began with substance and credibility have to fall by the wayside…


    • Great post, Deb, thanks for sharing. And I don’t know how some of the “advertorial” mags survive other than they do get lots of $$ to send to their subscription list. We used to get both the Dallas Morning News and the local Herald Democrat. I read both cover cover each morning…saving the funnies for dessert. *s* We dropped the Dallas paper last year when the price went up again. Kept the local paper, since I write a weekly column there. But the economy forces reluctant decisions.

  5. Thanks, Amy, for writing such a good blog entry. As a TNR volunteer and feral kitten rescuer, I also bang the drum in my newspaper column advocating the place these shadow kitties hold in our society. Try as we might, we will never be able to convince everyone about the value the felines have as vermin-killers on the farms raising our food. I can’t imagine a world without cats.

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  7. Hello Amy!

    Just saw your tweet and had to stop by and say hello and comment. Wow I learned about the sale of Cat Fancy through your tweet as well. Not surprising given that it’s very costly to run a printed piece. With Internet, there are thousands of sites for cats and every subject under the sun. Now everyone is a “writer” and the casual tone is now preferred to correct grammar, etc. Nothing wrong with that concept as obviously it brings readership. But alas, it’s a signal of change and if one does not adapt to changing formats, style and medium, companies or brands become extinct. For a printed publication to stay alive, it’s all about the plethora of ads.

    My passion is feral cats and black cats, hence I started a blog /neighborhood effort turned nonprofit. http://www.riverfrontcats.com. Your article is excellent! May I ask when it was published? You raised an excellent point and I wonder if any organization is now tracking TNR efforts across the country. This would be valuable data to further educate the masses about the effectiveness of TNR and TNRM.

    I believe the TNR opponents are very few. Just look at the popularity of cat videos, and of course the more recent addition of a “cat” for the newest game token in Monopoly. This was a worldwide contest! It beat out the diamond ring–that was my second choice. Unfortunately the nonTNR individuals have cleverly used sensational headlines to attract media attention. Well cat advocates are more professional. But we are gaining momentum. The trick is to get published in non pet publications/medium to educate the masses! That’s the goal of our nonprofit. Education is key.

    • Thanks so much for visiting the blog and commenting–of course I know about http://www.Riverfrontcats.com what an awesome success story! (and work in progress…it never ends).

      Education is key. One of the challenges of getting the word out beyond “preaching to the choir” is the shrinking markets, even in mainstream non-pet press. Opponents are very good at using hand-waving attention-grabbing headlines and I think the cat advocates can do better, and also garner some positive attention. The article was originally published (I think…) in 2006. I hope that tracking TNR efforts has improved since then, and suspect Becky Robinson (Alley Cat Allies) would have that information.

  8. Alley Cat Rescue recently conducted a national survey of feral cats groups: “This survey proves that Trap Neuter Return (TNR) works and that many groups and individuals volunteer their own time and their own money to control and stabilize the nation’s feral cat population..”
    • Most feral cat groups provide spay/neuter services to “owned” cats as well as offering TNR services for ferals. This of course PREVENTS future colonies from forming.
    • Most (96%) of the TNR groups practice neuter-before-adoption for the stray cats they place in homes.
    • If you need proof that many cats can live long lives in colonies: One quarter of the groups report that their colony cats are 6 to 8 years old. Thirty-five percent report their cats are between 9 and 12 years old, and over 14% report feral cats 13 years old and some even older!
    • Another good indicator as far as rabies and other health issues are concerned: 96% of the groups provide rabies vaccinations to feral cats; 64% provide distemper; 11.76% provide feline leukemia shots; 62.18% deworm feral cats; 63.87% provide flea treatment.
    • One third reported that there were 26 to 30 kittens in each colony before TNR; 42.86% said there were 0-5 kittens in colonies after TNR.
    • 71.42% said they had relocated some cats in their colonies — this means an immediate drop in numbers of cats in colonies, something that Alley Cat Rescue has experienced many times with our own colonies.
    • Sadly 61.34% said their local animal control agencies do NOT offer TNR and 36% said animal control agencies had trapped and killed whole colonies in their areas. And as expected with trying total eradication, 27.73% said cats moved back into these areas where they were all trapped and killed, most within 2 to 3 months after the cats were removed.
    • Nearly all the groups (82.35%) educate the public about feral cats and TNR—65% say this has been “somewhat” effective, with 17.65% reporting their outreach programs to be extremely successful.
    • In response to “working with animal control,” this answer was split between most saying this was “difficult,” a little less reporting “somewhat successful” and 21% reporting “positively.”
    • Working on TNR with local city/government: Although only 15% found this easy to do, I think that is a positive indicator that we are moving in the right direction.
    • Sadly 57% reported that it was “difficult” trying to work with their local wildlife groups.

    We have come a long way since I started on this mission to promote TNR in 1990. Back then there was only a handful of forward-thinking groups and individuals working on implementing TNR in America. Today ACR found nearly 700 groups and we will be working on identifying more in the future.”

      • Thank you Amy! I also want to thank the Cat Writers for all their support for TNR and feral cats over the years. The Cat Action Trust, formed in 1977 to help England’s feral cats, and where I first learned about TNR which helped me implement TNR in South Africa and then in the U.S. had this slogan printed on buttons:
        Ferals Need Friends.
        And that applies more so today, as those anti-cat folks have turned the cat into an environmental scapegoat.

  9. Thank you, Amy, for providing your readers with some valuable perspective on TNR. I agree that Ellen Perry Berkeley’s books are must-reads for anybody interested in the subject.

    While you pray for TNR to thrive, others, as you know, are doing whatever they can to put an end to it.

    The most recent attack (which you elude to in your opening paragraph) came just last week from a team of scientists at the Smithsonian and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, whose work was picked up by the mainstream media throughout the country and even internationally.

    I won’t take hijack the discussion here with details of the numerous flaws with this “study,” but do feel compelled to point out that this work has very little to do with science or conservation at all; framing it in such terms is merely a Trojan Horse. At its core, this was an agenda-driven effort to undermine non-lethal methods for the management of free-roaming cats.

    Oh, and it was funded with our tax dollars.

    (Readers interested in a critique of the paper are encouraged to visit my post from last Friday: http://www.voxfelina.com/2013/02/garbage-in-garbage-out/.)

    Keep up the good work, and I hope we cross paths (finally) at an upcoming conference!

    Peter J. Wolf

    • Thanks for posting the link, Peter. I encourage readers to check out the information and get involved in some form or fashion to help.

      Peter, will you be at Western Veterinary Conference by chance? That’s my next big trip…and then BlogPaws in May. Appreciate you visiting the blog here!

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  11. Only just found this, but it explains why I never got paid for my part of the Cat Bible BowTie contracted me to write.

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