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Championing Philadelphia’s Community Cat Caretakers: Trap, Neuter, and Release (TNR) Efforts

There are an estimated 400,000 stray and feral cats living on the streets of Philadelphia. The barrier between life and death for these cats often hinges on the efforts of community cat caretakers and the availability of Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programs. That’s why PAWS (Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society), the city’s largest rescue partner and provider of affordable veterinary care, works with community cat caretakers to ensure TNR support services are widely accessible, at little or no cost to them. On Wednesday, June 26, PAWS will launch a two-day TNR Triple Matching Challenge to ensure needed funds are available. Thanks to generous donors, every gift will go three times as far.

Historically, many believed the best way to address feral or community cats was to remove them from the area and take them to already-crowded shelters. This method often resulted in euthanasia, because outdoor cats tend to be under-socialized, making adoption difficult. This approach was not only deemed inhumane but also proved ineffective: removing community cats creates a vacuum effect where new cats move in, perpetuating the cycle.

Community cats, whether undomesticated, feral, or friendly strays, can live happy and healthy lives outdoors with the help of committed caregivers, and TNR is an essential component of this care. By vaccinating against preventable disease and preventing the birth of additional litters, TNR saves lives, protects the well-being of community cats, and reduces the homeless pet population—all vital to PAWS’ goal of making Philadelphia a no-kill city. As part of its commitment to providing affordable veterinary care, PAWS’ services include high-volume spay/neuter surgeries, performing over 13,000 annually, of which approximately 2,500 are for TNR.

Dozens of organizations and hundreds of individuals around the city dedicate countless hours to TNR, performing this loving and often challenging work on their own time and at their own expense. Through its TNR Voucher Program, PAWS offers free or subsidized spay/neuter and vaccinations to community cat caregivers nearly seven days a week, ensuring that the amazing people who care for these special cats are well supported in their vital efforts.

“I read about TNR on PAWS’ website, and I had a neighbor who had recently TNRed several cats in my neighborhood,” says Chryste Call (above), who has been caring for community cats in Philadelphia since 2019. Chryste has successfully trapped, neutered, and released over 25 cats. She has built outdoor cat houses on her property and feeds her community cats daily. She has even helped several semi-feral cats transform into loving indoor pets.

“The most rewarding part of TNR is when cats’ lives are dramatically improved,” Chryste explains. “Maybe they’re feral and stop roaming so a feeder can really care for them, or maybe they finally show their friendly side and end up indoors as family pets. Not finding litters of kittens in my neighborhood is the best proof that I’m doing what needs to be done!”

TNR prevents future litters, gradually reducing the outdoor cat population, and offers many additional benefits such as vaccination for rabies and other communicable diseases, improved physical health for cats as they are no longer mating or pregnant, and natural rodent control. With so many outdoor cats reproducing and in need of medical care, PAWS encourages animal lovers across the region to support its TNR fundraising efforts, helping colony caretakers like Chryste and the cats she cares for, like Creep and Morticia (right).

Chryste shares a message with folks considering supporting TNR: “Please do! There are so many unfixed cats out there, and more every day. You can help slow down the cycle, and we can use all the help we can get!”

PAWS is truly grateful to Philadelphia’s generous, dedicated, and caring community cat caretakers. If you have a community cat who needs to be spayed or neutered, please contact PAWS’ clinic in Grays Ferry at (215) 298-9680 or gfclinic@phillypaws.org; or PAWS’ clinic in Northeast Philadelphia at (215) 545-9600 or neclinic@phillypaws.org.

To support the essential work of community cat caretakers and to help PAWS continue their efforts, please visit here.