Conservation Groups Win Lawsuit to Halt Program Releasing Feral Cats in Los Angeles

Photo: © R. Sharon,

Feral cat colony. Photo: © R. Sharon,

A superior court judge has ruled in favor of a coalition of conservation groups, including American Bird Conservancy (ABC), to halt the controversial practice of Trap, Neuter, and Release (TNR) of feral cats in the City of Los Angeles, pending environmental review.


The court determined that the City and its Department of Animal Services had been “secretly and unofficially” promoting the practice of releasing feral cats to roam free in the city after they have been trapped and neutered or spayed, even though they were obliged by law to first conduct a review of the program under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).


The plaintiffs in the suit were led by the Urban Wildlands Group, and included ABC, the Endangered Habitats League, Los Angeles Audubon Society, Palos Verdes/South Bay Audubon Society, and Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society.

ABC has been an outspoken opponent of the practice of TNR, which turns cats loose so they can continue to kill birds. Scientists estimate that owned and feral domestic cats are responsible for up to one billion bird deaths each year, perhaps the single largest ongoing cause of avian mortality on the planet.


“Many bird species are already suffering from habitat loss due to urban development, cattle grazing, and agriculture on their breeding and wintering grounds, and face the specter of further habitat loss due to global climate change. Predation by cats could be the final straw that puts some species in danger of extinction. TNR is not a practice that should be officially sanctioned by any local government,” said Darin Schroeder, ABC’s Vice President for Conservation Advocacy. “Studies have repeatedly shown that TNR does not work in reducing the number of feral cats. Instead, well-meaning but misguided volunteers perpetuate the problem. Without total effectiveness in neutering the colony, cats continue to breed. Additionally the colony acts as a dumping ground for unwanted pets, often actually growing over time. TNR is simply not the solution.”


Despite denials by the City that an official TNR program existed, the judge ruled that “implementation of the program is pervasive, albeit informal and unspoken,” and ordered them to halt their actions and complete the necessary environmental reviews.


In June 2005, the Los Angeles Board of Animal Services Commissioners adopted TNR as the “preferred method of dealing with feral cat populations.” Under the CEQA, an analysis of the impacts of the program on the environment should have been completed, but never was. Yet the Department went forward in supporting TNR operations, including discounting spay/neuter operations for TNR cats, helping establish new TNR colonies on city property, and helping promote TNR programs, while refusing to accept feral cats at city animal shelters or issue permits to trap feral cats that were not going to be subsequently released.


The City must now implement the CEQA process, which includes full scientific review, assessment of alternatives, and potential mitigation measures. The public will have the opportunity to engage in the process and ensure an open, science-based approach to the issue of free-roaming cats in Los Angeles.


To view an ABC video on the problems associated with TNR, visit our YouTube channel,