'Trap Neuter Release' Programs for Feral Cats
Being that there are an estimated tens of millions of feral cats in the U.S., you probably have come across a colony of free-roaming cats at one point or another. So, what is the solution to reduce the burgeoning population?
With municipality-run shelters overcrowded and underfunded, and the growing public outcry against euthanizing healthy cats, another solution is gaining worldwide support from animal welfare organizations, veterinarians, communities and businesses. It’s called TNR, which stands for Trap-Neuter-Return or Trap-Neuter-Release. TNR is the method of humanely trapping feral cats, having them spayed or neutered and vaccinated against rabies, and then returning them to their colony to live out their lives.
How Does TNR Work?
If you identify a colony, the first step is to check if the cats have the ear tipped — the universal sign of a sterilized cat. If the ear has not been tipped not, then you will want to seek instruction from an expert such as a local pet welfare organization that performs TNR until you are comfortable doing it on your own. The expert will teach you how to set up a trap and select the best food or bait to lure the feral cat. Once the cat is trapped, a bed sheet should be placed over the trap to help calm down the cat.
The following step is to take the cat for spaying or neutering. More cities are offering low-cost surgeries ranging from $25-50 for stray cats. This should also include rabies vaccination. A quick Internet search will list the number of low cost clinics in your area. However, be sure to make the appointment before trapping the cat.
The next part is recuperation. After the surgery, the cat cannot be immediately released outdoors. Typically the males are released in 24 hours and females are returned to the outdoors in 48 hours. To ensure proper healing of stitches and to lessen the risk of infection, the cats must remain in the cages with food and water.
How Do You Feed a Feral Cat Without Getting Scratched?
Now you’re probably wondering how do you feed the caged feral cat, and how does the cat use the bathroom? Well, I do have a proven technique! Always line the trap with newspaper. After the surgery, the clinic returns the cat to the trap with clean newspaper. Towels are not permitted as the remaining anesthesia in the cat could cause asphyxiation if the cat is napping.
When the cat soils the newspaper, open the angled side of the trap just enough to insert a pair of tongs (I like to use barbecue tongs) and pull out the newspaper. It's important, however, that your hands are gloved for protection. Once the old newspaper is pulled out immediately insert a clean sheet as far back until it touches the cat. If the cat is aggressive he will try to strike, but the angled side will only allow his paws to strike. And remember, the metal tongs should be the only object reaching into the cage, not your hand! When the deed has been done, place the bed sheet over the trap again to calm the feral cat.
Thankfully I’ve never been scratched (knock on wood) by a feral cat using this technique! In fact, I also use this technique to insert and remove shallow dishes of food and water.
After the required "hold period" has elapsed, take the trapped cat to its original home environment outdoors. Be sure it’s a safe location away from the street, set it on the ground and open up the flat side and step aside. The feral cat will dash out like lightning. Don’t worry, the cat will not turn around and strike you. They are afraid and anxious to escape.
Why is TNR Important?
Outdoor feral cats have roamed alongside people for 10,000 years in every landscape — from urban cities to rural barnyards. They are not homeless because their home is the outdoors! TNR advocates recognize this fact and this is why the cats are returned to their home, but without the ability to reproduce. Spaying and neutering is also known to reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer cats in females and testicular cancer in male cats. Just as important, it reduces noises associated with mating (yowling) and fighting.
TNR is a step forward as a less costly, more efficient and humane way of stabilizing feral cat populations. A more powerful combination is education and TNRM. The more the public is aware of the plight of stray and feral cats and the availability of low cost spay/neuter, the better chance of identifying unsterilized free-roaming cats, reducing their population, and lessening their suffering. Together we can make a difference!