Originally Posted by joecool
Isn't that a little mean? Couldn't they find another way to mark them?
The short answer is no. The long answer is that they tried but nothing else works. Tattoos can't be read from a distance and can be impossible to see on a black cat (remember that these are cats you can't touch and generally can't approach). Additionally, tattoo equipment is expensive and very difficult to properly sterilize which would put the cats at risk for communicable diseases. (That's why you can't donate blood for a year after getting a tattoo.) Ear tags fall off and get infected, plus putting in an ear tag is not much different for the cat than eartipping and there is also the issue of expense and extra equipment. Microchips are useful because of the information they can contain but you can't tell a cat is microchipped without a scanner, so they are only useful in addition to, no in place of, an eartip. Some people do other things too...I know of a vet who shaves the cats' tails...apparently common sense isn't so common, because anyone with an ounce of common sense should see that this won't work because the fur will grow right back!
So eartipping is the universal sign for a sterilized and vaccinated feral cat. It's done under anesthesia while the cat is being s/n, takes just a few seconds and requires just a hemostat and a blade or surgical scissors (very important since finances are a major concern for all TNR operations), and is minimally painful. It is a sign that is permanent and easily identifiable even from a distance, which are the two criteria for an effective means of identifying a TNR'ed feral cat.
Since many animal control agencies now recognize that an eartip means the cat is sterilized and cared for, it literally is now lifesaving. And for the cat, an extra minor procedure means she won't ever be re-trapped and unnecessarily subjected to surgery to look for the ovaries that were removed long ago. I have seen a good number of female cats undergo unnecessary surgery because no one knew they were spayed, and this is definitely something that one must avoid.