Helping Outdoor Cats

  • By:  Rob Blizard

Maybe you’ve heard of trap-neuter-return (TNR) of outdoor cats but aren’t quite sure what it is. Maybe you’ve wanted to learn more but aren’t sure where to get information.

Well, there are several folks among your six degrees of separation who can provide information. While you may not realize it, many of your friends, colleagues, and neighbors are spaying and neutering outdoor cats—often in the shadows of our communities, where the cats congregate. And often without saying much about it, since some other people still believe that returning the cats post-surgery to their outdoor home constitutes the crime of abandonment.

Take Norfolk resident and software developer Linda Nichols, who cares for a colony of unowned cats in Ghent.

“I spent over fifteen years volunteering for public shelters in Hampton Roads,” Linda says. “I was aware that countless healthy feral cats were euthanized because they were not adoptable.”

Cats not socialized by a certain age are almost always not suited for being house pets. Once brought into an animal control facility, their fate is typically euthanasia.

The Norfolk SPCA advocates for outdoor cat spay/neuter as the most humane and effective approach for controlling free-roaming feline populations, who exist in every community in Hampton Roads. With TNR, community cats are humanely trapped and spayed/neutered. Cats are also given a rabies vaccination and eartip, which is the clipping of the left ear under anesthesia as a signal that the cat is sterilized. They are then returned to their territory, where caretakers provide them with regular food and shelter.

“Even as a teenager,” explains Linda, “I kept thinking that if only we could actively seek out and alter the feral cats, we would potentially save their lives and the litters of kittens they were 

producing. When I started seeing information about the TNR program sponsored by the Norfolk SPCA, it just made perfect sense to me. My goal with TNR now is the same as when I was volunteering at the shelter: to keep healthy animals from being euthanized in local shelters.”

Linda believes the biggest outdoor cat spay/neuter success story in Norfolk is the colony in West Ghent, sometimes known as “Tortilla East,” since one of the primary feeding areas is visible to many people vising the Tortilla West restaurant across the street.

“When I first moved to Ghent in the 1990s, that area was very industrial and there were unhealthy, unfed cats living all over and reproducing at a rapid rate,” she says. “There is now a stable, healthy, altered colony of community cats with caretakers to watch their numbers and ensure that they’re safe and fed regularly.”

Linda is also involved in another colony that is more out of the way, but on industrial property. She does not want to reveal the location so that the cats will be left alone and structures placed for them won’t be removed.

“The colony I care for on a regular basis in Ghent has been stable for more than six years,” notes Linda. “As of this year, the cats also have shelters that were made by the children in the local area.”

She now shares information about outdoor cat spay/neuter with other people when the topic arises and participates in the Norfolk SPCA’s practitioners group: Hampton Roads Community Cat Caretakers.

“Once people are educated about TNR and how the cats can peacefully exist in the community, they will accept and even get involved in the care for the cats,” Linda says. “It makes a better community for both the cats and the people living near them.”


Rob Blizard is executive director of the Norfolk SPCA. Visit www.norfolkspca.com for info.

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