The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Cat Lovers: Stop Cruel Trap-Neuter-Release

DEAR READERS: For decades now, local animal shelters/humane societies have been releasing cats considered unadoptable to fend for themselves in communities across America. This so-called TNR -- trap, neuter and release, often including a short-lasting rabies vaccination -- has been documented as not significantly reducing the numbers of local free-roaming cats that prey on songbirds and decimate wildlife. It is a cruel alternative to euthanasia because many of these cats get injured or diseased and receive no veterinary care.

Animal shelters and rescue agencies in every state fill up after every breeding season with cats and kittens needing homes. This includes those whose owners let them roam free, and then they get lost and have to fend for themselves before being rescued. Two of our rescued cats had been released, in winter, by the Animal Humane Society because they were deemed unadoptable. The AHS calls this its “Return to Field (where found) Community Cat Program,” and its annual reports document 4,374 cats being “returned to field” from October 2014 to June 2019.

I am no stranger to the emotional burden of having to euthanize healthy animals that are unadoptable, which I consider a humane alternative to TNR. But there is an alternative for animal shelters: They can build cat sanctuaries -- group-living indoor habitats with access to enclosed outdoor “catios.” The German animal protection organization ProAnimale, with whom I have consulted for decades, has pioneered such enclosures, much to the benefit of cat welfare, wildlife protection and public health. Cat feces can contain parasites and other pathogens that put people at risk when deposited in their gardens, yards, parks and playgrounds.

I am appealing to all readers with cats to keep them safe indoors, to encourage cat sanctuaries in their communities and to send donations to sanctuaries like the one where Marmalade, the last cat my wife and I rescued, is now in recovery (Furball Farm Pet Sanctuary in Faribault, Minnesota,

At this facility, the recovery rate of would-have-been TNR cats -- deemed unadoptable by animal shelters but instead provided sanctuary at Furball Farm -- is a resounding 85% who were eventually adopted out. The 15% who do not become socialized and adoptable are given permanent sanctuary.


The City of Saratoga Springs, Utah, conducted an analysis on “The Science of Feral Cats“ to help it understand and effectively address feral cat issues in the community. The report was initiated after Best Friends Animal Society called on the city to implement a TNR program. The 100-page report found that “overwhelmingly, science does not support TNR programs as an effective method to reduce feral cat populations,” and that such programs “fail to adequately mitigate the significant threat to public health or alleviate the negative impacts on wildlife that feral and free-roaming cats pose.” (Full story can be found via

DEAR DR. FOX: This is a question for you about a strange thing our dog does. We have a 22-month-old female golden retriever. She has a disturbing habit of wrapping her forelegs around blankets and large pillows, and humping them like a male dog.

We tell her to stop and put the item away, but we just don’t understand these strange actions for a female. Just curious if you’ve seen this before or have any idea what is up with this dog. -- M.M., Medford, Oregon

DEAR M.M.: This is part and parcel of the play repertoire of our canine companions -- also seen in our feline ones, though less often. Certain materials and objects can trigger sex-play in neutered animals regardless of whether they are male or female, indicating a non-hormonal aspect to this behavior.

It is often seen in puppies way before sexual maturity when they are playing with each other and one mounts the other. This indicates a reflex-like element to this behavior of clasping with the forelimbs and executing pelvic thrusts. In adult dogs we see this behavior with un-neutered male dogs mounting neutered male dogs -- which can lead to a fight -- and in neutered dogs of either sex.

There is nothing inherently concerning or “perverted” about this behavior, contrary to comments I often hear; applying our own moral standards on other species is the height of arrogance and ignorance. For more, I suggest reading my book “Dog Body, Dog Mind.”

As for your dog, boredom and a lack of physical activity and opportunity to play with other dogs may be why she is seeking these ways of self-gratifying and relaxing. A more active life outdoors -- especially during this time of the coronavirus pandemic -- is good for all of us, including our animal companions.

(Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

Visit Dr. Fox’s website at