1. Gather baseline statistics and assess your community.
Statistics are an invaluable measure of progress. Take time to collect a baseline of facts and figures about your organization prior to implementing your Trap-Neuter-Return program, and update them at regular intervals (at least once a month) after the program is fully implemented. You can then track the impact that Trap-Neuter-Return is having on your community’s animal services system in both the short- and long-term.
Document the following every month:
- The number of outdoor cat-related calls
- The specific concern (noise, smell, kittens, animals on property, sick animals)
- The specific location of the cats in the community
- The number of cats picked up/accepted by your organization
- The number of cats your organization adopts out
- The number of cats killed (if applicable)—specify how many were feral out of the total
- The number of cats spayed or neutered and returned to their outdoor colonies
- The number of people who contacted your organization looking for animals to adopt
- The total amount of your budget spent caring for stray and feral cats, and the amount that this care costs per cat
- The cost of spaying or neutering one male cat; one female cat; average per cat
- The percentage of employee/volunteer turnover
- The number of Trap-Neuter-Return volunteers
- Community support—in dollars and in number of participants (for all programs, not just Trap-Neuter-Return)
Assess your community.
Because every community faces unique circumstances, your Trap-Neuter-Return program will be built around the information you gather as you assess the needs, availability of resources, and potential roadblocks to success. Identify and understand the following areas before moving ahead:
What programs are currently in place for stray and feral cats? Are any feral cats in the community part of neutered/vaccinated colonies? Have they been neutered?
Use your gathered statistics and local connections to determine the appropriate approach for your organization to take. If there is already a thriving feral cat group, you may consider working with them to provide services they require, such as a subsidized neuter clinic and a volunteer pool. If there are only nascent groups, you will want to build partnerships and possibly contribute to program management. If there are no programs currently in place, you will have to build one from the ground up.
Current Level of Support
What is the general perception of cats within the community? How involved is the community with feral cats and with your organization?
Use your research on cat-related calls, as well as other avenues that might help you gauge the public’s support for feral cat related programs. These could include the success level of other groups’ current programs (funding, volunteers, supporter base) as well as any possible media coverage of feral cats (and if it is positive or negative in tone).
Are there punitive or misinterpreted laws on the books that threaten or penalize caregivers or put cats unnecessarily at risk?
These and other potential roadblocks can actually be turned in your favor as educational opportunities. Take advantage of these situations to promote the need for humane care and mediate with disgruntled groups to get to the source of and properly address their problems.
Next Step: Build your "people power"