Targeted Trapping - How to Help More Cats and Organize Your Efforts
Whether you are a seasoned feral cat caregiver or a local shelter, you’ve discovered that an effective and humane approach to helping outdoor cats is practicing Trap-Neuter-Return.

Trapping whole colonies in a single geographical area or a single neighborhood allows for complete results. This is called “targeted trapping” and it is an approach Alley Cat Allies supports so that resources, staff, and volunteer time can be maximized.

Your efforts are motivated by your desire to help cats and improve their lives. Our experience has shown that volunteers and Trap-Neuter-Return groups have a need to take full advantage of their time and money. And targeted trapping fulfills that need and expands your efforts—it provides an opportunity for local caregivers or groups to help even more cats and specifically, an entire colony, in a single effort and usually in a shorter period of time.

Furthermore, there is a growing need to document the help you’ve given the cats. Keeping medical records on each cat is essential. And, logging how much time and money you and/or your group have spent on the cats is a specific way to join and become active in the growing movement to protect cats. Your action to help cats provides services all too often not offered by our current animal control system.

Your documented actions and the medical records present persuasive hard data that your measures are life-saving and counter to what is the status quo—catch and kill—in our animal control system. And, if the need should arise, you will be organized and more prepared to defend the cats and your Good Samaritan efforts.


What is Targeted Trapping?

Targeted trapping is a method of trapping, spaying or neutering, and vaccinating an entire colony at a time before moving on to the next surrounding colonies in a specific geographic location. Newcomers entering completed colonies are immediately trapped, spayed or neutered, and vaccinated.

Conducting Trap-Neuter-Return indiscriminately by spaying and neutering only a few cats in a colony and then moving on to another colony has limited effects. It certainly helps those individual cats, but does not address the overall goal of helping all of the identified members of a colony and preventing new litters of kittens in that colony. Cats who are not trapped and vetted will continue to breed and exhibit behaviors such as yowling, spraying, and roaming for mates.  

Targeted trapping brings about total positive results. When caregivers employ targeted trapping, they work “smarter, not harder.” This focused process improves the lives of all cats in the colony.

Step 1: Gather Information and Build Relationships

If you are part of an organized Trap-Neuter-Return group or a cat rescue group, then you are getting calls from the public in response to stray and feral cats. Some people are calling for your help because they are already caring for cats.

Create a database or simple computer spreadsheet and collect and record as much of the following information from callers as possible:

  • Full name
  • Address
  • Phone number(s)  
  • Location of cats
  • Number of cats
  • Who is feeding the cats, if known?
  • Property owner’s information if caller is not the property owner
  • What is the nature of the call? Is it a complaint? Is it interest in helping with Trap-Neuter-Return efforts?

You may want to solicit calls. Consider placing a classified ad in your local newspaper with a number (not your home phone) which people can call to report stray and feral cats and indicate information will be kept confidential. Enter everything onto your database or spreadsheet. Be prepared to take a lot of calls.

If you do end up fielding calls from the public, remember that you may be dealing with people who are hostile to the cats or people who do not understand the nature of feral cats. Explain Trap-Neuter-Return and that if the cats are brought to the shelter they will be killed. If the caller is interested in helping, try to gain an understanding of their commitment (i.e., feeding? trapping? transportation? financial?). If the caller is unhappy with the cats, ask pointed questions to determine the nature of the concern and work to resolve them, perhaps by sharing humane deterrent techniques.

Animal control pounds and shelters may know where the large colonies of cats are because the public is no doubt calling for help. You may want to consider contact them, depending on your level of comfort. Some caregivers have developed a healthy rapport and feel they can trust their local animal control or shelter.

Shelters and animal control may have electronic databases of calls from residents and/or intakes of animals. Call the pound or shelter and work with staff to get the best information. You may need to submit a written request, and you may not receive as much information as you would like based on privacy.

Step 2: Identify the “Hot Spots” Where Cats Reside

After you gather the appropriate information, analyze the information to determine trends.

Plot all of the information using either a hard copy map or a mapping computer program such as Google Maps or Microsoft MapPoint.

As you do, you will begin to see obvious areas or neighborhoods where residents are continually calling about cats. These are the places where you can make the most impact in the shortest amount of time. These “hot spots” are your target areas. They will also have the most dramatic decrease in animal control calls and shelter intake numbers once you begin trapping, if you are working with your shelter or local animal control.

Step 3: Create and Implement a Targeted Trapping Plan

Once you have determined the target areas, focus on one or two of them (depending on your financial and physical resources) as a starting point. Start investigating the colonies: determine where the colonies live and who is feeding them.

Communicate with neighbors about your Trap-Neuter-Return program and targeted trapping plans. You can use Alley Cat Allies’ door hangers and publications to help.

When community members understand the process and are involved, they are more likely to buy-in and cooperate with the program. Talk to neighbors about their own cats and make sure your plan involves spay or neuter for all cats in your hot spot, including those who are indoors-only and those who go outside, to prevent future litters in your target neighborhood. If their cats are already spayed and neutered, ask that they are kept inside during your trapping efforts.

Then, create a plan and schedule for the trapping, transporting, vetting, and returning of the cats. For more information on preparing for and carrying out trapping, read our Trapping Guide.

While you are conducting targeted trapping, you may receive calls for help from other areas. When people outside of your targeted area call, help them by loaning traps (if you have extra) and giving them spay and neuter information, but remain focused on your goal.

Step 4: Documenting your Progress and Success

Tracking and carefully recording your work is just as essential as trapping and spaying and neutering cats. Maintain records for every cat that is identified, trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, adopted, and returned. The better your records are, the better the case you will have in support of your contributions towards benefitting your community. Additionally, you will be more prepared if you have to defend your compassionate actions.

The number of cats in the colony will be stabilized at the end of your targeted work. Caregivers will monitor the colonies to ensure that any newcomers are spayed or neutered and vaccinated as soon as possible. Obtain testimonials from caregivers and neighbors who can attest to the effectiveness of your work and Trap-Neuter-Return in your targeted trapping project.

Targeted trapping improves the lives of outdoor cats because it puts an end to the strains of mating and pregnancy, helps them be better neighbors, and is a way to respond to citizen requests for help. It is an effective way to use volunteer resources and individual donations of time and money to improve the lives of cats.

  © 2012 Alley Cat Allies