There is a feral cat in my neighborhood, It will not come near anyone, but will eat food if placed out for it.

Someone mentioned a program called "Spay and Release". It seems like the idea is to capture the cat and have it neutered or spayed and then turn it loose again. I can understand having a cat fixed, but I don't understand why releasing is a good idea.

Am I misunderstanding? Is this really a good idea? If a cat has already been spayed and released, do they just keep getting captured and spayed?

  • There are some really good answers below, but there is still room to expand and consolidate with a new answer. Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 13:03

3 Answers 3


Feral cats tend to stick to specific areas, and may form loose colonies with other local feral cats. These colonies can range in size from a handful to dozens of adult cats, and, in the absence of concerted spay and release efforts, the size of the colonies tend to continue growing.

Larger populations of feral cats in neighborhoods can become a real nuisance, with issues including noise (particularly when one or more females go into heat), food raids (garbage cans being tipped over, unguarded food snatched, etc.), and waste (gardens make good substitute litter boxes).

When local cats are viewed as pests and nuisances, the likelihood of abuse from the human residents increase. These cats are at risk of deliberate poisoning, getting shot, trapped in inhumane ways, or even torture.

The idea behind spay and release is that you are allowing the animals to live out their lives in a way that gives them at least some chance of happiness, while putting a stop to the cycle of breeding to avoid more cats being born into the rather harsh conditions most feral cats put up with. The gradual reduction in numbers reduces the pressure from the local environment on these animals, largely by making them less of a nuisance.

People actively involved in spay and release programs frequently feed the feral cats in their neighborhood. Their houses or businesses therefore tend to be areas where the local feral cat population will converge. This makes it easier to keep track of which cats they've already captured and had "fixed", so if one is accidentally recaptured, they simply release it immediately instead of bringing it to the vet (unless they decide to bring the cat in for other medical reasons).

If a cat that has already been fixed is captured/recaptured, a veterinarian will be able to ascertain this prior to committing to surgery.

As thkala mentioned, there are issues with finding homes for feral cats. Simply put, they tend to make horrible pets.

My mother was active in spay and release with the local cats in her previous neighborhood, and the people who owned the house prior to her made a habit of feeding the neighborhood cats. Over time, all but one of the local cats disappeared (presumably dead). When she finally moved to a new house, she caught the remaining feral cat, and brought it with her (fearing that it had become overly dependent upon her providing food, which was not something she could guarantee the next owners of the house would continue).

She still has this cat. It lives in her basement, and hides in a storage area. It does come out to interact with the domesticated cat they also have, but my mother almost never sees her (and when she does, it is just a quick glimpse as the cat runs and hides).

Very few people want an animal like that living in their house, and therefore finding a home for individual animals, let alone an entire colony, is almost impossible.

Many areas have charitable organizations dedicated to supporting the costs and logistics of spay and release programs. These programs may offer live animal traps, assistance in finding local veterinary offices that will assist with spaying, or even vouchers to get the procedures done at a reduced cost. Individual veterinary offices may also support the practice with discounted rates or other services.

It is worth a quick search in your area to see if there are any spay and release organizations nearby.

  • Outstanding answer. Some of my friends are involved in spay/release locally and they get help in the form of traps and medical assistance from local shelters and vets. But none of them have ever tried to domesticate these cats. Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 17:50
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    My mother worked with a local agency to spay/release all of the feral cats in her small town, and the same agency also helped take in the small kittens, because they had the greatest chance of being domesticated and rehomed, and it worked out quite well.
    – user53
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 17:51
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    Very good answer, you might want to include 'Eartipping' as part of your answer. Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 18:25
  • @JamesJenkins I don't feel I'm knowledgeable enough about eartipping to include it. We've never had to do it, because the colony we've worked with was small enough for it to not be necessary, plus I don't understand how eartipping allows one to avoid trapping individuals. We just put out the traps, and released any that were caught multiple times (they learned pretty quickly what happened if they went in the trap, so re-catches were rare), since we knew the individuals on sight.
    – Beofett
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 19:40
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    @Beofett eartipping doesn't prevent trapping altered individuals, but it tells the trappers (without having to transport the cat, or the vet to need to anesthetize it) that it's been altered already.
    – Zaralynda
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 22:23

While capturing a cat is relatively easy, keeping it is another thing altogether:

  • There has to be a potential owner available.

  • The animal itself should be relatively tame.

The purpose of such programs is to reduce the number of reproductively active animals in the streets, eventually reducing the number of stray animals itself.

As far as recapturing an animal goes, any qualified vet should be able to tell that it has been already neutered and release it immediately, rather than attempt to neuter it again.

  • 2
    Yes, this. Placing a cat as a pet when possible is better, but there are many many more ownerless cats than there are prospective owners or shelter slots. This is better than nothing for the cat, and helps with the population growth. Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 16:21
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    Feral cats also do not make good pets. They are domestic animals that have been in the wild long enough that their wild instincts and habits have reemerged. Keeping a feral cat as a pet could be dangerous.
    – user9
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 16:23
  • Yes, this exactly. It's an alternative to leaving the cat unspayed and wild, not an alternative to finding it an owner. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 13:17

Your question has been mostly addressed, but just to touch on the question of recapturing cats that have already been altered: Often, when a cat is spayed/neutered under a program such as this, their ear is notched (a small piece cut from the tip of the ear) so that it's easy to visually ascertain that a cat does not need to be recaptured. For example

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