Model Laws

Feral Cats: Regulation of free-roaming cats


Read Commentary


Sec. 1. Definitions

For the purposes of this act:

  • Eartipping means straight-line cutting of the tip of the left ear of a cat while the cat is anesthetized.
  • Feral Cat means a cat that (i) is born in the wild or is the offspring of an owned or feral cat and is not socialized, (ii) is a formerly owned cat that has been abandoned and is no longer socialized, or (iii) lives on a farm.
  • Feral Cat Colony means a group of cats that congregates, more or less, together as a unit. Although not every cat in a Colony may be feral, any nonferal cats that congregate with a colony shall be deemed to be a part of it.
  • Feral Cat Colony Caretaker means any individual who undertakes to provide care for a feral cat colony who is approved by a Sponsor.
  • Feral Cat Colony Sponsor means any animal welfare or rescue organization that registers with the county and complies with the provisions of this ordinance.
  • Microchip means, for the purpose of this ordinance, to implant an EAID (electronic animal identification device) in an animal.
  • TNR means Trap, Neuter and Return.
  • TNR Program means a program pursuant to which feral and stray cats are trapped, neutered or spayed, micro-chipped, vaccinated against rabies, and returned to the location where they congregate, in accordance with this ordinance.


Sec. 2. TNR

The county shall condone and make all aspects of the TNR process legal. Any individual taking part in TNR activities shall not be deemed to have violated any statute unless they are reckless or negligent in their actions or violate one of the below provisions.


(a) A person engaging in TNR shall not leave a trap unattended in excess of 8 hours. If a cat is known to be in the trap, that trap shall not be left unattended.


(b) A person who engages in TNR shall have the left ear of the cat tipped, for the purpose of being able to identify whether a cat has been previously altered.


(c) A person engaging in TNR shall take the cat only to a licensed veterinarian and not perform any surgeries, give any vaccinations or any non-emergency medical treatment themselves or by any other individual that is not a licensed veterinarian.


(d) A person engaging in TNR shall not release the feral cat to any location other than where the cat was initially trapped.


(e) A person engaging in TNR shall have the cat altered, given a rabies shot, and microchipped before returning it.


Sec. 3. Feral Cat Colonies

The county shall permit the existence of Feral Cat Colonies and Feral Cat Colony Caretakers shall be permitted to care for the colonies by providing food, water, shelter, and medical care by a licensed veterinarian. Feral Cat Colony Caretakers shall be registered with a county-sponsored animal welfare or rescue organization and must comply with all aspects of this ordinance.


(a) Any animal welfare or rescue group may become a Feral Cat Colony sponsor by registering with the county and complying with the below provisions:

  1. A sponsor must be a registered non-profit with a stated purpose of promoting animal welfare.
  2. The sponsor must provide its name and contact information to the county.
  3. The sponsor must keep records of each Feral Cat Colony Caretaker, including the Caretaker's name and contact information.
  4. The sponsor must report annually to the county with records of the size and location of each Feral Cat Colony that is currently being cared for by one of their Caretaker's. They must also include any spay/neuter and microchip records for individual cat's in the colonies.
  5. The sponsor must distribute educational material to each Caretaker on how best to engage in TNR activities and care for Feral Cat Colonies.

(b) Any individual may become a Feral Cat Colony Caretaker if they register with a registered sponsor and comply with the below provisions.

  1. A Caretaker must comply with the TNR guidelines stated in § 1 a-e.
  2. A Caretaker shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that the colony population is altered, vaccinated, and microchipped.
  3. A Caretaker shall take all reasonable steps to provide the colony with food, water, and shelter.
  4. A Caretaker shall keep reasonable records regarding the size and location of the Colony to be reported to the sponsor.
  5. A Caretaker shall take all reasonable steps to provide medical attention to any cat in the colony that requires it.


Sec. 4. Education

The county shall develop a program to facilitate and promote education concerning feral cats and trap, neuter, return programs throughout the state/county/municipality. The program shall include trap, neuter, release methods as well as information on caring for feral cat colonies. The county shall work with local animal welfare and rescue organizations to develop and distribute educational information and to plan events to promote the public education program. The program shall include information on how to properly conduct TNR and make feral cat traps available for public use or rental.


Additional Commentary

A feral cat is a non-domesticated cat that lives outside. Feral cats typically live in colonies of other cats in a specific territory where food and shelter is available. Many feral cats cannot survive without the help of a human caretaker, yet the fact that they are not socialized makes it impossible for them to be adopted into homes with humans and other pets. Feral cat colonies create unique problems for the cats themselves that are struggling to survive as well as the communities who find their presence to be a nuisance.


Many counties simply euthanize feral cats that are trapped by animal control facilities. This solution however does not address the endless cycle that is created when a feral cat is removed from its territory. Because feral cats are not social, most of them are never seen by humans and will not be caught by animal control. The cats that are not caught will move into the vacant territory and take advantage of any available food. Euthanasia also does not address the problem of exponential increases in population. The New Jersey department of Animal Welfare estimates that one unspayed female cat and her unaltered offspring can produce 420,000 cats in seven years. Euthanasia is also costly, and will continue to cost money as it is a solution that does not address the root of the problem.


A better alternative to euthanasia is Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). At a minimum, feral cats who participate in TNR are spayed or neutered so they can no longer reproduce, vaccinated against rabies, and surgically ear-tipped on one ear (ear-tipping is the universally-recognized sign of a cat who is participating in a TNR program). Cats that have been altered are no longer reproducing and if all cats in a certain colony are altered there will be no increase in population. Additionally, the cats are returned to their territory so as to keep out other unaltered cats and keep the population stagnant.


By promoting TNR, a county can effectively stop the increase in population of feral cats and eventually end their presence in the community and the nuisance they create. By monitoring these programs the county can also ensure that individuals caring for the cats are doing so in a humane manner that effectively promotes population control.



New Jersey, AJR 113,


The Humane Society of the United States, Feral Cat FAQ,


Alley Cat Allies, Care For Cats,


Chicago Feral Cat Ordinance, 07-O-72,


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