MURRAY — For more than four decades, communities have tried to rid themselves of wild cats by capturing and killing them, according to No More Homeless Pets of Utah president Holly Sizemore.

But over the past 10 years, many communities have started a new program that spays or neuters feral cats and returns them to their colonies in an effort to stop out-of-control breeding. Known as TNRs, or trap-neuter-return programs, the measures are gaining popularity across Utah.

"It is more effective because it stops breeding and colonies are monitored," Sizemore said. "If trapping and killing them was working, then why would we see the same people coming in year after year after year?"

Last month, the Murray City Council unanimously endorsed a TNR program for its feral felines. The council allocated $2,500 to fund the effort for the remainder of the fiscal year, but animal control Sgt. Deven Higgins said he believes the program eventually will pay for itself.

Murray joins Salt Lake City, West Valley City, Taylorsville and unincorporated Salt Lake County in having a sterilization program for wild cats. Moab and St. George also return strays to their neighborhoods instead of culling them, Sizemore said.

For Murray, the cost of trapping, feeding and ultimately euthanizing an animal is about $80, Higgins said. In contrast, a spay or neuter costs between $30 and $50. During surgery, a small piece of each cat's ear is cut to mark it.

In Murray's new program, cat colony caretakers will be responsible for trapping the cats and taking them to the shelter to be fixed. Those individuals will also be responsible to monitor the wild cats and feed them, according to the ordinance. But surgeries will be funded by the city, in cooperation with No More Homeless Pets.

Many people already feed strays, and this is a good way of using natural compassion to help solve the problem, Sizemore said.

"The great thing about TNR is it not only helps the people who are caring for the cats do it responsibly, it also focuses on solving cat nuisance issues," she said.

Higgins agreed.

"It's the way to go. It's the current trend," he said. "It's horrible to do a job when you're just trapping and killing animals. People can feed them and enjoy them and be compassionate to them without creating little kitties."

All over the world, from places like Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to central Florida, scientist have found sterilization programs to be the most effective way to deal with cat overpopulation. The programs are also endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States.

In Ogden, the City Council recently tabled an ordinance that would have outlawed feeding strays. In Cache County, Logan officials are also grappling with the problem of feral cats.

Higgins said the Murray program definitely will show results in five years, and there could be improvement in as soon as one year.

If history is any guide, there could eventually be a day when no cats are homeless, Sizemore said. She compared TNR programs to efforts at eradicating wild dogs in the 1970s. Now, the incidence of dog euthanasia is down considerably compared with that of cats, she said.

"Communities resistant to this idea are going to continue wasting taxpayer money," Sizemore said.

e-mail: [email protected]