Connecting the foreign community in Okinawa

The Costs of Feline TNR in Okinawa

TNR (trap-neuter-release) in Okinawa is more expensive than people think and the costs go way beyond vet bills. Ongoing fundraising is needed.

When people think about the costs of running TNR (trap-neuter-release) programs for stray cats in Okinawa, they mostly think in terms of vet bills. True, veterinary costs are the largest expense by far and, if the vet provides services at cost, can run upwards of ¥5,000 per cat. This covers the cost of anesthetic, bandages, antibiotics, stitches and other hard expenses. It does not cover the valuable time of the vets or their well-trained staff.

The True Cost of TNR

But let’s imagine that there were an unlimited number of vets twilling performTNR on stray cats for free, at their own expense. Even then, only a small fraction of the stray cats who need fixing would manage to get neutered/spayed. Why? Because TNR programs are extremely time consuming and, in addition, there are plenty of other costs besides just vet fees.

Traps and Cages

In addition to vet fees, what hard costs are incurred in the course of doing TNR? First, at a minimum, you need a trap. Yes, sometimes, when a volunteer knows a cat colony well and is able to approach members easily, the volunteer can just pick up a cat and put her in a carrier (I’ve done this a number of times), but this is not always possible. Many cats are too skittish to allow volunteers to get close enough and, even if they will allow petting, many will not tolerate being picked up and will struggle to the point of harming the volunteer (even a cat who isn’t trying to inflict damage can do incredible harm with its claws). So, for any serious TNR effort, traps are a must. Traps are not designed to hold cats for a long time, so it is also necessary to make use of a cage or carrier box in addition to a trap. Built-for-purpose cages are the best because they have removable pans at the bottom that allow for changing of the bedding without having to open the cage door. These cages are not cheap.

Traps, cages and carriers are not cheap.

A Safe Place to Stay

Once a cat is trapped, it has to be taken somewhere secure and held there before the surgery. Often a volunteer will use a room in her house to store the cat, but, again, this is not always possible. Most Okinawans live in apartments rather than houses and only a shockingly small percentage of apartments allow cats inside (many forbid pets of any kind). Volunteers with their own houses have an advantage in this regard, but remember that most houses in Okinawa are very small and few have extra rooms where a TNR cat awaiting surgery can be stored. If a volunteer or organizer of a TNR program has her own cats (which is almost always the case), bringing a stray cat inside can be very disruptive and may trigger defensive or territorial behaviors on the part of the pet cats. Animals who have been perfectly behaved might start to scratch furniture, urinate outside the litter box (beds and sofas are a favorite choice) or even fight one another. There is also the possibility of the transmission of fleas (a very real concern) or other health conditions such as feline HIV or feline leukemia (less likely, but still a disincentive). So, it may be necessary to have a dedicated places where TNR cats can be kept before and (especially for females) after surgery.

Food and Logistics

It is often necessary to hold TNR felines for a couple of days prior to surgery. This is because of the way the surgeries are generally scheduled. Sometimes volunteers collect a cat here and a cat there, and volunteers who do this (and vets who support them) make an important contribution to TRN efforts. However, when working with larger colonies (and especially during spring or summer) keeping ahead of the wave of kittens requires an organized effort. Volunteers bring together dozens of traps and set them out at pre-planned locations where they trap dozens of cats. At a minimum, all of this requires a considerable amount of food, both to bait the traps and to keep the cats fed for the time they are being held (of course, they can’t be fed for 12 hours prior to surgery). This food is a hard cost.

In this kind of operation, the volunteers book a day of the vet’s time and the vet does nothing but TNR surgeries on the trapped cats. This often requires the use of facilities outside the vets’ clinics because a massive TNR effort would be too disruptive to a veterinary practice. Some vets (like Cherubims in Ginowan) tend to specialize in TNR and they sometimes have their own facilities to hold cats before and after surgery, but such vets are rare in Okinawa and a TNR-based business model offers such a thin margin that it is difficult to stay in business. My point is that some kind of dedicated surgical facilities (even if used on a temporary basis) are an important part of an effective TNR operation.

Ongoing Costs

When cats are released back onto the streets, they need to be released in the same place from which they were taken. This is so that the cat can easily settle back in to familiar surroundings and join a supportive colony. Dropping a stray cat in a strange neighborhood would be like taking an injured gang member from a neighborhood in Los Angeles, patching him up, and dropping him in another neighborhood controlled by a rival gang. The important thing to understand is that semi-organized colonies exist because human volunteers look after them and without such sustained efforts, it would be much more difficult to catch cats in need of TNR. Maintaining a colony means feeding the cats, controlling fleas, and treating illnesses that pop up, all of which can get expensive, particularly for colonies of dozens of cats (I know of groups who look after 80+ cats).

TNR cats often need to be held for days before surgery.

The Need for Ongoing Fundraising

TNR volunteers can and do raise money for their efforts. Some sell baked goods (I’ve done this), some collected donated goods and sell them as part of a pop-up recycle shop. Regardless of the means, a sustainable source of funding is essential to maintain ongoing TNR operations.

After TNR surgery, cats are returned to their territories.

One goal of the Okinawa Cat Project is to raise funds in support of volunteer efforts. We sell cat themed t-shirts and tote bags, sometimes online and sometimes at events. The proceeds of the sale of these goods goes toward TNR programs and cat rescue in general in the form of in-kind contributions of food, traps, cages, carriers, medicine and direct payments to vets for TNR surgeries. You can support our efforts by ordering some of our merchandise, which we can ship to any Japanese address (off base only). All contributions are gratefully received and if you send us a photo of you or your family members wearing or using our products, we’ll display them on our social media feeds as a gesture of thanks.

If you’ve read this far, we’re grateful for your interest. If you’d like to get involved, please contact us to find out how you can help.


You can read the Japanese version of this article here. 


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