Community Cat Program











In July 2016, Pet Community Center and Metro Animal Care and Control launched the Community Cat Program, a collaborative effort modeled after successful programs in other cities which have reduced shelter euthanasia and humanely reduced the population of cats living outdoors.


The Community Cat Program uses a process called return-to-field (RTF).  The page is specifically about return-to-field procedures.  Below is a description of the process of return-to-field, as described by The Million Cat Challenge – a joint project of the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program and the University of Florida Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program, two of the most widely-recognized shelter medicine programs in the world.


“In traditional trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs, community cats are trapped and transported directly to a spay/neuter clinic, where they are sterilized, vaccinated, and ear-tipped for identification. Following recovery, the cats are returned to the location where they were trapped to live out their lives without producing any more kittens.

TNR programs have been shown to decrease colony size through attrition, and even to eliminate colonies entirely in some cases (Levy 2003). TNR can also decrease shelter intake in areas of high cat density when performed on a large enough scale and targeted in a specific population. (Levy 2003)

…Return-to-field (RTF) programs operate similarly to traditional TNR programs, with the exception that the cats have been admitted to a shelter at some point in the process.

In some cases, the shelter performs the neutering and in others, the cats are transferred from the shelter to an offsite clinic. In either case, the cats are returned to their trapping locations by shelter staff, volunteers, or partner organizations.

The growing popularity of RTF programs stems from the recognition that neuter-return is appropriate for most healthy unowned cats that are thriving in the community, regardless of whether they have entered a shelter. A combination of both community-based traditional TNR and shelter-based RTF creates the greatest opportunity to maximize cat welfare, reduce nuisance concerns, and minimize reproduction.

Community-based programs bypass the shelter entirely, reducing the cost and complexity of the process, whereas shelter-based programs provide an immediate alternative to euthanasia and potentially extend a greater reach, recruiting the participation of individuals both concerned and annoyed by cats.

… It’s important to keep in mind that no one can control whether there are un-owned outdoor cats. There are an estimated 30 million owned pet cats in the US that roam outdoors and another 30-90 million unowned community cats roaming with them.”


However, we can control whether the cats in a given area are sterilized or not, and control and reduce the population humanely.  Sterilized cats are healthier, do not reproduce, exhibit fewer “nuisance” behaviors, and protect their territory, preventing new cats from moving in.


Here’s how the Nashville return-to-field program works:

  1. If a cat that was found or trapped outdoors is brought to Metro Animal Care and Control (MACC), the finder/caretaker is asked to fill out a questionnaire about the cat at intake. The questionnaire includes information about where the cat was trapped or found, how long that person has seen the cat in the area, and other questions.  If there are any red flags presented on the questionnaire, such as the possibility of the cat being a lost pet, it is investigated by the Community Cat Program staff.  In order to qualify for return to field, outdoor cats must be:

    • Free roaming and lacking identification

    • Of a healthy weight (a good indicator that they have someone in their neighborhood feeding and caring for them) and injury-free (as determined by MACC and PCC veterinary staff)

    • Kittens under 8 weeks old do not qualify for the program. Kittens 8-12 weeks old may qualify only if a caregiver is identified. Kittens 12-16 weeks old may qualify only if there is an identified food/shelter source.

    • Efforts are made to locate a colony caregiver at the time the kittens are returned. Kittens must be returned to the exact impound location or colony site.

    • All cats that do not qualify for the Community Cat Program remain in the care of MACC and do not participate in the community cat program

  2. The finder/caretaker is given printed information about the Community Cat Program and notified that qualifying cats will be returned to the cat’s original territory after recovery from spay or neuter surgery.  The cat will also receive a rabies vaccination, FVRCP vaccination, and a left ear tip, the universal symbol of a sterilized and vaccinated outdoor cat.

  3. The MACC veterinarian determines if cats are too ill to participate in the program or if the cat needs treatment before entering the program.  Treatment options are available for many cats that present with minor and treatable wounds and illnesses.  Cats that are deemed too ill to participate are held for the mandated stray hold and then euthanized.

  4. After intake, the cat stays at MACC overnight until the the next PCC business day (surgery is performed Monday through Thursday).

  5. Pet Community Center staff pick up the cat from MACC and transfer the cat to the spay/neuter clinic for surgery.

  6. The cat recovers from spay/neuter at Pet Community Center overnight or longer if deemed necessary by the veterinarian or staff.

  7. Pet Community Center staff or trained volunteers return the cat to its original territory and leave door hangers on the homes in the area, offering free trap-neuter-return services for any other cats in the area.


The Community Cat Program was first piloted in Nashville in 2014 in two Davidson County zip codes, 37138 (Old Hickory) and 37216 (Inglewood).  The pilot program commenced in the summer of 2014.  Approximately 550 free spay/neuter surgeries were provided for outdoor cats living in the two target zip codes and any community cat that entered the shelter from those two zip codes also participated in the program.  The year before the program was started, annual stray cat intake (which includes lost/found/stray) in 2013 Old Hickory was 124 cats and in Inglewood was 87 cats.  Two years later intake in those neighborhoods was 23 (Old Hickory) and 15 (Inglewood). A reduction of 81% and 82% respectively.

The Community Cat Program is now being expanded to provide the same life-saving services to all community cats who enter the MACC shelter.  The program provides an effective, humane solution to the overpopulation of outdoor-living cats, improving the health of outdoor cats, and reducing the number of cats who must be euthanized in shelters (see here and here) and reducing unwanted behaviors and nuisance complaints about outdoor cats.

(615) 512-5001

943-B Dr. Richard G. Adams Dr
Nashville, TN 37207

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