What is TNR? The acronym TNR stands for trap-neuter-return, a process that allows for feral cats to be spayed or neutered (so they can no longer reproduce and contribute to the exponential overpopulation of homeless cats) and returned back to their colonies.
This is a picture of what our traps look like. Cats are baited into them with a dab of wet food. When they step on a release at the end of the carrier, the door closes. The cats are provided with newspaper to lie on and are also given food and water. Sheets have been specially sewn to fit and cover the dimensions of each singular trap so that each cat feels as safe as possible. For groups of kittens and their mothers, we like to use a drop trap like the one pictured below.
What is a feral cat and how is it different from a stray? All homeless cats living on the streets are considered strays. For a stray cat to be feral, however, it must be afraid of humans. Feral cats are cats that have never had any positive interaction with humans. Sometimes, if a kitten is still young enough, we can socialize them and they can become friendly; adult cats, however, are set in their ways. These cats are considered unadoptable.
What is a colony? While cats are not necessarily pack animals, many stray cats will tend to gravitate towards a single location if food is available to them. A colony is a group of stray cats found in a specific area. Colonies are not static–sometimes new cats will join or old cats will leave. We are currently taking care of 34 colonies with over 200 cats.
How can I start a TNR program in my area? We recommend working with other residents in your area to start a “cat committee.” It is not impossible to TNR by oneself, but there are many components to the process that make support from others helpful.
First, assess the situation: about how many feral cats are there in your area? Where are they living? Make note if there are colonies near a busy street or a children’s play area. If so, you will want to try to move the colony elsewhere over time by moving the feeding bowls further away from the area every couple of weeks.
Create an action plan for trapping and sterilizing the free-roaming cats in your neighborhood. If people in your area allow their cats to wander outdoors, encourage them to put collars and tags on the cats or keep them indoors during times that you will be trapping. It will often be evident whether or not a cat is feral based on its behavior. Work with a local or statewide TNR organization to borrow traps, find low-cost veterinary clinics, and set up appointments to bring the cats in.
The Spay-Neuter Hotline is a Phoenix-based TNR organization that can help with any TNR efforts in the metropolitan area. Their number is (602) 265-7729. Unfortunately, most places do not offer free services for feral cats. Expect to pay at least $25 per cat. The Spay-Neuter Hotline will be able to help you find low-cost clinics or events in your area.
It is best to trap the cats at night, since they are generally most active at this time of the day. Determine which colonies you will trap at and pull their dry food source the two nights before a scheduled clinic visit. If you do not pull their food source, the cats will be much less likely to enter the traps. The following night (the night before the clinic), set up your traps in obscured locations around where you normally feed. Be sure that the traps are not close enough together to where other cats can see a trapped cat; it will discourage them from going in a trap of their own. At the same time, do not set up the traps too far away from the food source, as there may not be any cats in the area.
We recommend lining the bottom of the trap with newspaper. We usually bait a trap by putting a dab of wet food at its entrance to entice the cat, and then a larger amount of wet food at its end. After a cat has been trapped, we like to cover the trap with a light sheet or fabric to make the cat feel as safe as possible. Always check for a tipped-ear before taking the cat. A tipped-ear is the universal sign used by trappers to signify that a cat has already been fixed. When loading traps into the car, it is helpful to have a van or other vehicle with a large trunk area that is not separated from the body of the car. Never put a cat in a trunk that does not receive circulation from the rest of the car.
You will need a place to keep the cats after you have trapped them. If your garage is cool enough, the cats can be kept there; if it is summertime, however, we recommend keeping the cats indoors. Provide them with some food and water and keep their trap covered as much as possible. Make note of which cats came from which colonies so you can return them to the proper place later. Cats can be stubborn and often will not accept reassignment to a new colony.
Request that the clinic clip the tip of the cat’s left ear while he or she is under anesthesia. This procedure is painless at the time and the skin will heal quickly and easily. You will find ear-tipping to be incredibly helpful for you and other trappers.
The clinics will not be able to keep the cats after surgery, so they will need a place to stay for the next 24 hours. During this time they will be sensitive to excessive heat and excessive cold. As with before, we recommend keeping the cats indoors. Provide them with food and water and continue to keep them covered.
It is best to release the cats back to their colonies at night. Once the latch of the trap is lifted, the cat will bolt out from it without any regard for the environment they are coming into. Be sure to release cats in an obscured location free of any busy streets. Ensure that this location is also within distance of the cat’s original colony, or else he or she may not find his way home.
Continue to trap cats when you can get appointments for clinics. Remember to look out for cats that already have tipped ears or cats that may be wearing collars.
How Can I Maintain a Colony?
TNR your colony and keep an eye out for any new cats that come around. These cats will likely be unaltered and might contribute to the colony’s numbers unless fixed. After the initial TNR effort, it will be easy to fix stray cats here and there. Ensure that your colonies always have food and water available. We like to give our colonies a bit of canned wet food, but this is not necessary. It will take some trial and error to learn how much to fill a dish to. If you can, feed at night and check the food levels in the early morning. This will give you an accurate indicator of how much food the cats need. During the day, birds will eat the excess cat food, so dump it out if you can. A large bird following can lead to problems down the road, including scattered and messy food, ant problems, and an excess in droppings. Be sure that you have placed your dishes in a hidden location, preferably behind a bush or shrub.
More Tips and Recommendations:
-Use only one dish for water and one dish for food, no matter how large the colony. This reduces mess.
-Weigh down the dishes with large rocks if it is a particularly windy season. If the dishes are blown from obscurity, they are often mistaken as litter and are thrown away.
-Sometimes people will throw away the dishes, even if they remain hidden. Most often it is a member of a landscaping crew who does not realize what they are. Have extra dishes available with you when you are feeding, in case the previous ones have been thrown away.
-We like to use shallow, compartmentalized dishes for our food (e.g. those that come with TV dinners). One of these compartments holds a rock to ensure that our dishes will not blow away. For water, we like to use taller dishes that hold more volume. We like to use the bottoms of empty gallon bottles, but any dish will do. Only use clear or black dishes when you can, as these blend the most easily.
-Keep an eye out for ants and other bugs.
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