“Back to School: An Updated Evaluation of the Effectiveness of a Long-Term Trap-Neuter-Return Program on a University’s Free-Roaming Cat Population,” published in the journal Animals, 2019. Complete article available (open access) online here.
Beginning in 1991, free-roaming cats on the University of Central Florida (UCF) campus have been managed by way of a volunteer-run trap-neuter-return (TNR) program.
Between 1991 and 2019, this program documented 204 cats and kittens on campus, 85% of which were sterilized and vaccinated (the remainder disappeared before they could be trapped, were too young to be sterilized and vaccinated, or were euthanized due to serious health concerns).
Forty-five percent were ultimately adopted through the program. No kittens have been born on campus since 1995, and just 10 cats remained on campus at the time the article was published.
This study  provides an update to a 2003 paper in which UCF program results were documented for the period 1996–2002 . Over the course of the program’s first six years (although TNR efforts began in 1991, the first robust census was done in 1996), researchers documented a population reduction of 66%, from 68 to 23 cats.
Over the course of the program’s first six years […] researchers documented a population reduction of 66%, from 68 to 23 cats.
Measured over the subsequent 17 years, the program has further reduced the population of free-roaming cats by 57%, from 23 to 10. Adoption played a key role in population reductions, with 92 of the 204 cats (45%) recorded on campus being adopted through the program.
Considering only the 1996 census and 2019 census results (68 and 10 cats, respectively), results of this campus-based TNR program might not register as significant: a reduction of 58 cats over 23 years. Similar results have been documented where targeted, sustained TNR efforts (including adoptions, when feasible) have been implemented [3–7].
Using only the two endpoints, though, overlooks the many cats and kittens that, one way or another, arrived on campus and were quickly “enrolled” in the program — in this case, a total of 204 cats and kittens over 23 years.
If not for the TNR program, the number of cats on campus would likely be much higher. The steady decline in the campus cat population — and its eventual leveling off — suggests there’s a minimum number of cats to be expected in such an environment.
Like many university and college campuses, the UCF campus is part of a densely populated (and growing) urban area. Just as it’s unrealistic to expect an urban or suburban neighborhood to ever reach the point of having zero strays, it’s likewise unrealistic to expect campuses of this kind to be completely free of cats.
What’s clear from this study, however, is that targeted and sustained TNR efforts can make an impact on campus cat numbers — and their welfare.
Between 1996 and 2019, just 9 of 204 cats (4%) were euthanized due to serious health concerns and 2 (1%) following traumatic injury. This speaks to the general health of the UCF campus cats, and challenges assumptions often made about the health of “feral” cats.
Spehar, D. D.; Wolf, P. J. Back to School: An Updated Evaluation of the Effectiveness of a Long-Term Trap-Neuter-Return Program on a University’s Free-Roaming Cat Population. Animals 2019, 9 (10).
Levy, J. K.; Gale, D. W.; Gale, L. A. Evaluation of the Effect of a Long-Term Trap-Neuter-Return and Adoption Program on a Free-Roaming Cat Population. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 2003, 222 (1), 42–46.
Nutter, F. B. Evaluation of a Trap-Neuter-Return Management Program for Feral Cat Colonies: Population Dynamics, Home Ranges, and Potentially Zoonotic Diseases, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, 2005.
Spehar, D. D.; Wolf, P. J. An Examination of an Iconic Trap-Neuter-Return Program: The Newburyport, Massachusetts Case Study. Animals 2017, 7 (11).
Spehar, D. D.; Wolf, P. J. A Case Study in Citizen Science: The Effectiveness of a Trap-Neuter-Return Program in a Chicago Neighborhood. Animals 2018, 7 (11).
Swarbrick, H.; Rand, J. Application of a Protocol Based on Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) to Manage Unowned Urban Cats on an Australian University Campus. Animals 2018, 8 (5).
Kreisler, R. E.; Cornell, H. N.; Levy, J. K. Decrease in Population and Increase in Welfare of Community Cats in a Twenty-Three Year Trap-Neuter-Return Program in Key Largo, FL: The ORCAT Program. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 2019, 6 (7).