Hi there, and welcome to the Helping Cats in Your Community workshop.
Greet and Introduce Yourself
Thank you for attending our workshop and caring about cats. My name is [name, and give some information about yourself.]
Get to Know the Audience
Before we get started, let’s get to know each other. Raise your hand if you,
- Are already familiar with community or feral cats
- Have trapped cats before
- Are affiliated with a shelter or rescue
- Want to network with other community cat caregivers
Goals and Overview
The goals of this workshop are to:
- Learn about community cats, their history, and their behavior
- Learn the steps of Trap-Neuter-Return, or TNR
- Learn the basics of caring for a community cat colony
- Learn how to build good relationships with neighbors and help people and cats coexist, and
- Learn about local resources
We’ll also have a Q&A session, so please hold your questions until then.
First, we’ll start with a video from Alley Cat Allies, “All About: Community Cats” which will provide an overview of community cats, their behavior, and why we do TNR.
The domestic cat we know today descended from wild cats. Evidence shows that cats began their unique relationship with humans 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, when people developed agriculture and started storing grain, which attracted rodents. Since then, cats and humans have lived side by side.
This next bit of trivia really helps put things into perspective: Did you know it wasn’t until 1946 that cat litter was invented? Only then did the notion of keeping cats indoors even become possible. And it wasn’t until the marketing of the Tidy Cat brand in the 1960s that litter boxes truly caught on, and the idea of “indoor-only” cats began to take off.
Just take a moment to think about that—it has only been in the past 50 years that cats have started living indoors with any regularity.
The bottom line is that cats have lived and thrived outdoors since the beginning, as they still do today.
You may have heard cats who live outdoors called: feral, stray, wild, alley, outdoor, barn, or neighborhood cats.
Whatever you have heard, the term “community cat” is an all-inclusive, or umbrella term which describes any cat who lives outdoors. Some of these cats will be truly feral – a term that is used exclusively to define unsocialized cats who avoid humans. However, you may encounter friendly and socialized cats outdoors, too. For this reason, we have the term “community cat” to cover all of our bases.
From here on, during this presentation, we are going to use the term “community cats” instead of “feral cats”, unless we are referring to behavior.
Stray or Feral?
Let’s talk a little bit about cat behavior. Even though the cats you see in these pictures may look different, they’re the same species- Felis Catus. The only difference is their socialization level to people.
A feral cat is not socialized, or friendly and accustomed, to people.
A socialized cat is friendly and accustomed to people. You may find socialized cats outdoors if they are lost, stray, abandoned, or if they are owned cats who are allowed to spend time both indoors and outdoors.
Knowing a cat’s level of socialization, if they are stray or feral for instance, can be helpful.
One good way to tell the difference is their body language.
Alley Cat Allies has some handy information about this at alleycat.org/StrayOrFeral.
A stray cat is a cat who is socialized and has lived with people at some point. They may approach people, houses, porches or cars. They may be vocal, meow, or “answer” your voice. They will be visible primarily during the daytime. They may be dirty or disheveled.
A feral cat is unsocialized to people. They will not approach people and will likely hide from or avoid them altogether. They’re unlikely to meow, beg, or purr. They’re more likely to be nocturnal, occasionally out during the day. They will probably have a clean, well-kept coat. (The exception to that is if the cat is ill or injured.)
And they will likely have an eartip if they have been spayed or neutered as part of a TNR program.
Because feral cats are unsocialized, they can’t live indoors with people. We don’t recommend trying to socialize adult feral cats because it requires a lot of time and resources, and frequently doesn’t work. Time and resources are better spent doing TNR and helping more cats.
You can socialize feral kittens—but we recommend only trying to socialize if they are under 8 weeks old. Before you commit to socializing kittens, be sure that you have the time and resources needed.
If a cat is stray, feral, or a kitten older than 8 weeks–they can and should be a part of your TNR efforts.
The Community Cat Population
You may be wondering: Where do community cats come from?
Let’s have a talk about the birds and the bees.
While about 80% of owned cats are spayed or neutered, less than 3% of community cats are. That means they’re breeding and having kittens outdoors. And since female cats can become pregnant as early as 4 months old, even kittens can start having kittens of their own.
Here is a video from Alley Cat Allies, “All About Spay and Neuter” which talks about why it’s important to spay and neuter cats. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiuxWWydvnc
Some community cats are abandoned or lost pets. If those cats aren’t spayed or neutered, they give birth to kittens who also add to the outdoor cat population. Some owned cats may also be indoor/outdoor cats, and could add to the outdoor kitten population if they aren’t spayed or neutered and mate with another cat outdoors.
It’s important to mention that no one actually knows how many community cats there are. Some estimates say there are as many cats living outdoors as there are pet cats—about 82 million. You might have also heard that one female cat who isn’t spayed can result in 100 to 400 new community cats after seven years, but that’s also an estimate that doesn’t take into account factors like kitten mortality, seasonal changes, and so on.
Addressing Community Cat Populations
So how do we help these cats who live outdoors?
DON’T take them to the shelter.
Feral cats aren’t adoptable because they are unsocialized to people, which means in many shelters across the nation they are killed.
[NOTE: Talk about what the policy is at your local shelter. Maybe they have a Trap-Neuter-Return or Return-To-Field program in place? Maybe they have spay and neuter assistance available? If you don’t already know what your local shelter’s policies, programs or live-outcome rates are, you can find that information by contacting them directly.]
While more and more shelters are embracing lifesaving programs like TNR and SNR (or Shelter-Neuter-Return, where shelters are involved in the TNR process), still too many lack these programs and kill cats.
TNR is the humane and effective approach to community cats. Let’s take a look at why that is.
Keeping cats out of the shelter not only saves their lives, it helps the shelter, too.
What Doesn’t Work?
First, let’s take a closer look into what we know does NOT work. Animal control agencies nationwide employ many different strategies in an attempt to control the outdoor cat population. The first one I’d like to discuss is Catch and Kill.
Catch and kill is a decades long failed scheme. It is cruel. It is inhumane. And it does NOT work. And there are two main reasons for that which I would like to point out:
Catch and kill schemes are expensive! It costs more money for an animal shelter to trap, shelter, and then kill a cat, than it does to carry out TNR. With catch and kill, when community cats enter the shelter, they become part of the general population. That means an increase in the overall shelter population, which ultimately leads to crowding and an increase in illness. (And that illness isn’t limited to the community cats, but affects adoptable animals too!). San Jose, California, documented a 99% decrease in Upper Respiratory Disease in their shelter once they implemented TNR.
High turnover and low staff morale. As anyone who works in the shelter world knows, community cats are almost always unadoptable. For this reason, they will be quote unquote “euthanized”—or killed. The burden of that killing falls to the staff, who will have to carry that with them. This inevitably leads to unhappy employees, and higher turnover.
Next up is relocation of community cats. This is something we hear about often, but let me be clear – relocation is not an effective means of managing cat populations.
Relocation should only be used as a last resort to save cats’ lives. Even when done properly, relocation is a long, time-intensive process that is incredibly stressful to the cats involved. Think about it — cats are bonded to their outdoor homes. Taking them away from their home may even put them at greater risk, as many relocated cats will attempt to find their way back and could get hurt in the process.
Trying to relocate 100% of the cats who live outside to barn homes or sanctuaries is not realistic. There are nowhere near enough barn homes or sanctuaries for this to be plausible. Sanctuaries in particular are expensive to maintain, and largely unsustainable. These should be considered as last resorts, and before placing cats in a barn or sanctuary, we strongly suggest visiting in person to make sure you are making the best decision for the cats.
The Vacuum Effect
Another reason that catch and kill schemes and relocation fail is due to a phenomenon known as the Vacuum Effect.
Scientific research has observed the vacuum effect across many species—herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores.
Simply put, the vacuum effect tells us that a habitat will support a population of a certain size. So, no matter how many animals are removed, if the resources remain, the population will eventually recover. Any cats remaining after a catch and kill effort will produce more kittens and at a higher survival rate, filling the habitat to capacity.
In short: no matter how many times catch and kill or catch and relocate is employed in an area, the number of cats will recover and return to its original size.
Here is a video from Alley Cat Allies, “All About The Vacuum Effect” which explains why catching and removing cats does not decrease outdoor cat populations. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5V0e1L87gI
What else doesn’t work?
We often hear of communities that try to enforce punitive ordinances and policies. For example, feeding bans. Many people take this at face value and believe that by removing the food source, cats will simply move on in search of another meal in another location. However, that isn’t the case. And there are a few reasons why:
As we learned on the Vacuum Effect slide, cats only live in an area because there are resources to sustain them. Although there may be a caregiver providing food now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other food sources – they are just less obvious.
Cats are bonded to their outdoor environment – it is their home! So, when the most convenient food source is removed, rather than moving on, the cats will stay where they are and instead start to scavenge for food. This may mean cats are more visible (or audible) as they try to locate food, which members of the community may appreciate even less.
And perhaps most importantly, people won’t stop feeding. The people who are taking care of the cats will continue to feed them but may start to do so in the middle of the night, desperate to stay under the radar. However, these caregivers may do less spay and neuter because they fear a fine or penalty. As we will learn, this is the exact opposite of what we’d like to happen when it comes to caring for community cats.
And finally, when all else has failed, some communities choose to simply ignore the issue altogether. And this approach does nothing to help the community or cats.
Okay! We’ve talked about what doesn’t work with community cats. So, what DOES work? Trap-Neuter-Return!
What Is Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)?
Trap-Neuter-Return or TNR is the humane and effective approach to outdoor cat populations. Through TNR, entire colonies of community cats are humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, eartipped, and then returned to their outdoor homes.
I will note that the name is very important. We are talking about Trap-Neuter-Return…not Trap-Neuter-Release. The cats are being returned to the same exact area where they’ve been living. That is their home, and where they belong.
So, for those of you who don’t know what an eartip is—which is an important part of TNR—we wanted to include some information. The cat in this picture has an eartip, which means that the very tip of her left ear has been painlessly removed during her spay surgery.
An eartip is the universal symbol of a cat who has been spayed or neutered and vaccinated. Some of you may have heard of other identification methods like tattoos or ear notching instead of eartipping, but we recommend eartips because they’re easily identifiable from a distance and unmistakable.
Eartips spare previously spayed or neutered cats from being retrapped, transported, and operated on. We know they’ve already been a part of a TNR program.
Eartips can save a cat’s life. Some communities have local laws or policies that specify that healthy community cats who have an eartip should not be impounded at a shelter, where they may be killed.
And, eartips are also visible proof for your neighbors that you are making progress toward improving the neighborhood for both cats and people.
Here’s a video from Alley Cat Allies, “All About Trap-Neuter-Return” which gives an overview of the process. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7px3hc1_1g
So, why are we so excited to talk Trap-Neuter-Return? Because it works. For many reasons!
First and foremost, TNR is effective. Research shows that TNR stabilizes outdoor cat populations, improves cats’ lives, addresses community concerns, and helps cats and people co-exist. You can find research about TNR at alleycat.org/Research.
It’s important to remember that it’s not just a few people doing TNR—it’s mainstream. More and more individuals and municipalities are understanding that TNR is the humane and effective way to stabilize community cat population. We have seen communities come together when TNR is implemented.
Here is one article I like to cite, which is about a colony in Adams Morgan, a neighborhood of Washington DC. What started as a colony of 54 community cats, through active TNR, was stabilized and eventually reduced to just 6 cats in only 7 years. Through natural attrition, that colony has since reduced to 0.
TNR also improves the lives of individual cats.
Spaying and neutering eliminates the behaviors and stresses of pregnancy and mating. Cats can have multiple pregnancies per year, starting as early as 4 months of age. In order to find and attract mates, cats may fight, yowl, and spray. These behaviors are pretty stressful for the cats, not to mention for your neighbors. TNR, obviously, eliminates the need to find a mate.
TNR also includes vaccinating cats against disease, which improves their health.
TNR is a community benefit! Neighbors and cats can coexist more peacefully.
While we can all agree that kittens are super cute, it would help communities if fewer kittens were born outdoors. Some of you may have had neighbors who are concerned about cats being outdoors, or complain about litters of kittens in the neighborhood. It’s a good idea to point out to them that TNR prevents new litters of kittens by neutering all the cats in an area, thus stopping the cycle of reproduction.
By eliminating the mating behaviors that we talked about, there are fewer calls to animal control about cats fighting or spraying or yowling. And the vaccination component of TNR means that these cats are protected against diseases like the rabies virus, which is good for public health!
The bottom line is that 9 times out of 10, it’s not the cats themselves people have problems with– it’s their behaviors. TNR dramatically reduces these behaviors and helps the cats blend into their community. For example, animal services in Arlington County, Virginia saw calls about cats go from 913 in 2009 to 47 in 2015 thanks to the implementation of a TNR program.
Not only does TNR benefit a neighborhood or community, it also improves shelter outcomes!
Animal shelters were designed with adoptable animals in mind. While community cats may sometimes be socialized to humans, feral cats are not and are therefore unadoptable. By leaving community cats in their outdoor homes, shelters are left with more room and resources to work with cats who are adoptable and who want to live indoors.
TNR also stops the cycle of reproduction– meaning that shelters will no longer be overwhelmed every kitten season, the spring and summer months when the most litters of kittens are born, which is usually an incredibly stressful time for shelters.
If you or anyone you know has worked in a shelter, you know that decreased intake is a REALLY good thing. Decreased intake means fewer healthy animals are killed – which means a happier shelter staff! Shelters then have more resources to focus on the adoptable animals- which is the point of shelters anyway! It also means that the animals who are in the shelter are much healthier due to less crowding.
One of the shelters we worked with to implement TNR achieved a euthanasia rate that was 1/10 its previous rate after just one year of TNR. Even just one year can show the incredible improvements that are possible when shelters accept TNR!
Here is a video from Alley Cat Allies, “Step-by-Step Guide: Trap-Neuter-Return” which is an overview of the process of TNR.
All right! The moment’s here! We are ready to talk through the process of doing your very own TNR project. But before we do, I want to mention one resource in particular– Alley Cat Allies’ ‘How to Help Community Cats: A Step-by-Step Guide to Trap-Neuter-Return.’ This guide has a lot of the same information we will share with you today. It is the perfect tool to have on hand as you work in the field.
You can also find it at alleycat.org/TNR.
All right! So here we go. You all ready?
You’ll notice at the top of the screen that there 5 steps involved in the TNR process, most of which is planning. As with so many things we do in our daily lives, we’ve found that a little planning can go a long way in TNR.
The first step in creating a plan is to communicate with your neighbors about what you’ll be doing. I always recommend taking the time to explain the process and benefits of TNR and answer any questions that people may have. By speaking to your neighbors ahead of time, you can gain support and maybe even some volunteers. Be sure to have information on humane deterrents with you so you can use this as an opportunity to address any concerns about cats in yards or flower beds that may come up.
The next step is to establish a feeding schedule for the cats. We recommend feeding the cats at the same times every day, ideally for at least 2 weeks. This gets the cats into a good routine, so you’ll know that the cats will appear at a certain time when you’re ready to trap. We’ll talk more about this later in the presentation, but just remember to leave about 2 weeks in your plan to get the cats on a good schedule, if they aren’t already.
We also suggest that, during the last week, you feed cats inside the unset traps with the doors secured in the open position to allow the cats to become familiar and comfortable going into the traps. This will help a ton when it’s time for the trapping to begin!
The next part of planning is to count and track the cats.
Make a note of the link there on your screen — this is where you can find Alley Cat Allies’ Colony Tracking Form on their website, free to download and print as you wish.
This document allows you to record details about each cat and their vaccination records. It’s really recommended that you use a form like this for a couple of reasons. First, it ensures that on trapping day you get each cat you anticipate. Second, you’ll have a detailed record of each colony member, including whether or not they’ve been spayed or neutered and when they were vaccinated, right at your fingertips when you need it.
The next step, scheduling the veterinary appointments, is SO important. Veterinarians generally don’t appreciate having a dozen cats as a walk-in appointment!
[NOTE: Highlight the veterinarians in your area that work Trap-Neuter-Return projects.]
You can also find feral-friendly veterinarians through Alley Cat Allies’ Feral Friends Network at alleycat.org/FeralFriends.
Feral-friendly vets generally understand that you may not catch all of the cats that you’re expecting to in one trapping session, and they can plan to leave space in their schedules for this possibility. So, if you’re trying to trap a colony of 8 cats, make 8 appointments.
If you have a veterinarian you already know and trust, but maybe doesn’t have hands-on experience working with feral cats, you can direct them to Alley Cat Allies’ Veterinary Resource Center, which has tons of information about working with and handling feral cats.
Confirm with your vet what they will be doing: Sterilization (that is spay or neuter), vaccination, and left eartipping. You will also want to confirm that dissolvable sutures will be used. You don’t want to have to re-trap the cat and take them back in to have their sutures removed! You should also confirm any special requests, like deworming and flea treatments for example, in writing and discuss whether or not the veterinarian will be able to provide medical treatment for a special case. Confirm who to contact if surgical complications occur.
Alley Cat Allies does not recommend FeLV/FIV testing for community cats. The combo test frequently yields false-positives, and is therefore inaccurate. This virus is generally transmitted through births and through fighting, both of which go away when TNR is in place. Also, FeLV and FIV-positive cats can live happy and healthy lives. Testing is an additional expense that takes away resources that could be spent doing more spay and neuter surgeries. Check out the link, alleycat.org/FeLV-FIV, to learn more.
We want you to be prepared for any situation you might encounter out in the field. So, we put together this quick list of situations you’ll want to keep in mind as you head out to trap. As a general reminder, always thoroughly check out the area before you trap.
If you encounter an injured or sick cat, they will need to be treated by a full-service veterinarian. Verify with your vet what services are available at the clinic. You can find full-service vets on Alley Cat Allies’ Feral Friends list, under the “Veterinary Assistance” section, by visiting alleycat.org/FeralFriends. Have this information handy ahead of time.
If you find cats who are socialized to people, and if you have the capacity to adopt them out into homes, that’s wonderful to do. If not, these cats can still be part of a TNR program and returned back to the spot where you found them. That bears repeating: You can TNR and return socialized cats.
If you come across a nursing mother cat, you should usually get her spayed right away and return her as soon as possible. She will continue to lactate after the surgery, and the kittens will be able to continue nursing on her. The exception is if the mother cat has really young, or neonatal, kittens—who are fewer than four weeks old. In this case, it’s best to hold off on trapping until the kittens are a bit older. Just remember that while it’s important to return the mother to her kittens as quickly as possible, if you let her go without spaying her, you may not be able to catch her again.
For this reason if you find kittens, determine how old they are first and foremost.
Kittens who are 2 months old and weigh at least 2 pounds can be spayed or neutered and returned as part of your TNR program.
If kittens are 8 weeks old or under and you have the capacity to do so, you can bring them home to socialize and then adopt them out. We don’t recommend trying to socialize kittens older than 8 weeks.
If you know there are kittens beforehand, use extra caution when trapping. You can use kitten traps, which are smaller than typical humane box traps, or manually trigger a normal trap by propping the door open with a stick that has a string attached and pulling the string once the kitten is inside—since the kitten may be too light to trigger the trap’s trip plate. However, always use a trap and never attempt to grab kittens.
The last thing I want to mention is pregnant cats. Consult with your vet in advance, and have a plan in place should you bring in a cat that is pregnant. We recommend spaying even so—it may be your only chance. Otherwise, she may continue to have kittens outdoors and avoid any other attempts to trap her now that she’s familiar with the trap. Confining a pregnant or nursing feral cat is stressful for her, you, and possibly harmful to the kittens.
Next, you’ll want to assemble your trapping kit! These are the things you’ll bring with you on trapping day. I’ll give you a minute to read over the list on the right-hand side of the screen.
Obviously, the most important item is the traps themselves. Make sure that you bring enough traps for every cat, plus 1 or 2 extra in case there are cats you didn’t anticipate.
Next, you’ll want to prepare the area where the cats will recover from surgery. It’s crucial that this area is temperature controlled, because cats can’t regulate their own body temperature after anesthesia. The room should be at least 72-75°F. Some people use bathrooms, basements, mud rooms, or even a garage if they can control the temperature.
Another option is asking the vet you’re working with if they are able to hold the cats overnight.
If your vet appointments are early in the morning, you can also consider trapping extremely early in the morning and then driving the cats directly to the vet.
Arranging transportation and finding a trapping buddy can seem self-explanatory, but planning is always the key! We recommend always bringing a trapping buddy for safety.
When considering transportation, make sure you have a big enough car– or multiple cars– so you won’t need to stack cats in traps on top of one another to make the trip. We don’t want to scare the cats or have any traps falling over.
Okay! I know that was a LOT of information about planning, so thanks for bearing with me. Now that you’ve got your plan ready, it’s time to put it into motion so you’re prepared for trapping day. Start feeding the cats on your chosen strict schedule to make sure they know what time and place to go to get food every day. This will make your trapping day much easier, because the cats will know when and where to be and so will you!
If you have access to the traps ahead of time, you can start to feed the cats out of unset traps. You can tie or prop the traps open and feed the cats inside them to get them used to the traps. This is really helpful for taking the unknown out of the trapping day, since you’ll know that the cats are familiar with going into the traps to get their food.
We recommend leaving the food down for no more than 30 minutes to an hour, so the cats get used to eating at a very specific time. This will help you on the day of trapping, because it sets the expectation in the cats’ minds that their food will be there at a certain time of the day– which is when you’ll be there with the traps. Again, even if you only have access to a few of the traps you plan to have on trapping day, set some food in those with the door secured open. This will allow the cats to relate the traps to something good (and yummy).
As mentioned previously, make sure you do what we just discussed for about 2 weeks to make sure that the cats really get used to their new routine.
And with that, we’re on to the main event- the actual trapping! (yay) Now that you’ve done such a thorough job planning and preparing, this day will go much smoother!
This is important: The day before you plan to trap, withhold food for at least 24 hours. We do this for two reasons. First, withholding food will make the cats hungry enough that they’ll more eagerly go into the trap in search of food on the trapping day. The second reason is actually the same as any pet cat going in for surgery: Cats need to have a relatively empty stomach prior to surgery because of the effects of anesthesia.
Counting the traps is something that seems simple but is really important. You’ll want to leave with the same number of traps you came with, so make sure you write down how many traps you brought so you do not forget. If you’re doing a larger trapping project, like at a large apartment complex or a park, make sure you are also mapping out where you put the traps so nothing gets lost or left behind.
Again, this is super critical and not just a matter of missing materials. If a trap is forgotten, it can be a death sentence for a cat who is trapped and left behind.
To prepare the traps, you’ll first want to put a label on each trap. This label should explain that a humane trapping is in progress and tell people not to interfere with the traps. We also recommend leaving a contact number in case anyone has questions about the trapping.
Secondly, place some newspaper in the bottom of all the traps. This makes for an easy clean-up job and protects the cats’ paws, since they may have to stand in the trap for several hours. Don’t use anything too heavy, or the trip plate might not go off when the cat steps on it.
When baiting the traps, make sure that you place the bulk of the bait BEHIND the trip plate, so that the cat has to step on the plate in order to get to the food. Usually a tablespoon of bait in the back, and about ¼ teaspoon in the front of the trap will entice the cat to come in. If you’re using bait with juice or oil, drizzle some of that liquid from the front to the back of the trap so the cats will follow it all the way through the trap. It also helps to drizzle some of the bait at least 3’ from the opening to lure the cats inside. Just don’t use too much or they won’t be hungry enough to go in.
As for what type of bait to use, people have success with all different kinds. Some use wet cat food, some use chicken, some use anchovies. Tuna in oil is good because the smell is strong and because it’s good for all seasons- in the winter it doesn’t freeze, and in the summer it doesn’t dry up. However, caregivers generally know what type of food their cats like best, so feel free to get creative. If this is your first time trapping, you can try a few different baits in different traps to see what the cats respond to. A general rule: The smellier, the better.
When setting your traps, always place them on level ground. Cats will most likely not go into a trap that’s unsteady because they won’t feel secure. The best place to put traps is near where cats are used to eating. This will make it feel like part of their usual routine and they won’t think twice about it.
A good rule of thumb is to think like a cat! Traps that are in wide-open, unprotected spots probably won’t be as attractive as traps that are partially hidden or under a bush.
When you’re setting traps out, it can be helpful to put a cover halfway or fully on the trap so you can quickly and easily cover the cats after they’re trapped. Try providing variety by leaving a portion of the traps half-covered and the other portion of traps bare. Some cats like covered areas, but some cats like to be able to see around them. Again, these are all rules of thumb, but keep an open mind, test things out, and see what works for your colony. You can always move the traps around if you aren’t having any luck in a certain area.
After you’ve set the traps, NEVER leave them unattended. Always stay with the traps, out of sight so you don’t scare the cats. When a cat gets trapped, she may begin to thrash around and fight to get out. After the trap’s door has shut, cover the trap completely. This will stop the thrashing and calm the cat down. Make sure your cover of choice, whether a blanket or towel or anything else, covers the WHOLE trap with no daylight showing through. As you can tell, the cat in this picture is pretty scared and unhappy. When his trap is fully covered with a towel or a sheet, he’s going to calm down a lot!
So, that’s it for trapping itself– not too difficult, right? Now, on to post-trapping!
If you’re trapping on the day of the spay appointment, you can take the cats directly to the clinic. If you’re trapping the day before, hold the trapped cats overnight in the recovery area you prepared before. Do not uncover the traps, and DO NOT let the cats out of the traps!
At the clinic, make sure the vet knows to eartip and is clear on which services you want and which you don’t. Here, your pre-made trap labels with your information and the cats’ information will prevent mix-ups and make pickup even easier. Tell your veterinarian to always return each cat to the same trap they were taken out of once surgery is complete. Be sure to get the cats’ rabies certificate, as well as the tag for records sake. Also, if the veterinarian is microchipping the cat—which we do recommend–be sure to get that information from the vet. Don’t forget the spay/neuter certificate!
The cats should be clear-eyed and alert on the trip to the vet, whereas afterwards —-
The cats will be groggy and disoriented from surgery. As we talked about before, you’ll have to talk ahead of time with your clinic to figure out whether they are holding the cats overnight or if you are picking the cats up and bringing them to your temperature-controlled area for overnight recovery.
Remember: temperature control is especially important during recovery.
Do a complete check when the cats return from surgery. Make sure the traps are securely fastened and they are lined with clean puppy pads or newspaper.
Follow your vet’s instructions on feeding. Generally speaking, feed adult cats 8 hours after surgery. Kittens younger than 4 months can eat right after waking up completely.
Feed and clean as needed after surgery day.
Monitor cats carefully in the first 24 hours and check often after that.
Check incisions on female cats daily.
Keep an eye out for bleeding, vomiting, difficulty breathing, or trouble waking up. If you notice any of these issues, call your vet immediately.
Ideally, you’ll be holding the cats for about 24 hours after surgery before returning them back to their outdoor homes. Alley Cat Allies recommends holding males 24-48 hours, and females 48-72 hours—with the exception of nursing moms who you should return after 24 hours so she can get back to her kittens).
While the cats are in their traps, there are things you can do to keep them comfortable:
Keep the traps covered at all times.
Line the traps with clean newspaper—changing it two times a day.
When feeding or cleaning and changing trap liners always use trap dividers—two dividers is even better. You can use the divider to get the cat to move to the back end of the trap. You may need to gently nudge a cat with the divider—remember to never touch the cat yourself!
When feeding, place food and water after cleaning to minimize spillage.
Remember to follow your vet’s instructions about feeding. It’s critical that you remove all food the night before surgery. Kittens who are younger than 4 months old may eat within a few hours of surgery because they have faster metabolisms.
And finally—always make sure all traps are fastened securely and never let the cats out of the traps.
About 24 hours after surgery, the cats should be ready for return. Check the cats’ surgical sites once more before the return to make sure they are healing properly. All cats should be awake, alert, and ready to go before you return them!
Time for the best part of TNR– the return! Some cats will go tearing out immediately when you open the door, but some need a little bit of a push or for you to slightly tip the trap. Pulling the trap cover all the way off sometimes helps these reluctant cats.
Remember to return the cats to the same place that you found them, and only release them if they’re bright-eyed and alert. If the cat is still groggy, disoriented, or not fully conscious, contact your vet.
Don’t worry if the cats don’t come back to your feeding area for a few days– this is totally normal. Keep feeding on your regular schedule, and they will return eventually.
Don’t forget this part! You need to thoroughly clean and disinfect your equipment. It’s a two-step process.
First, Clean. This means scrubbing food, paper, and feces from the trap.
Next, Disinfect. Use a 1:10 bleach/water solution. You want to leave it on the traps for 10 minutes and then rinse.
There are some other disinfectants you can use. Accel/Rescue can be left on for 5 minutes, or you can use germicidal bleach.
A word of caution: never mix or spray cleaning products near the cats, and always work in a well-ventilated area.
So, that’s it for the trapping process! But TNR doesn’t end when the cats are returned.
Continue to monitor the cats and provide food, water, and medical care when needed. If there are any cats you didn’t get on the first try, you’ll need to do further rounds of trapping until you get them all. If you’re having trouble with some hard-to-trap cats, you can check out Alley Cat Allies’ resource online at alleycat.org/HardtoTrap for different tricks to try. Some quick tips: withhold food for 48 hours or use different, more enticing bait. Some cats go crazy for fried chicken- give it a try!
The picture on this slide is a drop trap, which is a manual trap. The white U-shaped piece props up the trap, and then you pull the attached string when the cat goes into the trap area. The drop trap has a door in the back so you can transfer the cat into a regular box trap to go to the vet. If you don’t have a drop trap, you can make, borrow or purchase one.
Community Cat Colony Care
It’s important for caregivers to follow best practices for community cat colony care so that the cats are less noticeable to neighbors, which can prevent problems before they even start. You can find a one-page PDF at alleycat.org/BestPractices that’s a really helpful general guide.
Keep up with your TNR efforts. Make sure you complete TNR for the entire colony as quickly as possible. Monitor the colony and TNR any new cats you come across.
Keep it inconspicuous. Don’t feed cats on your front porch in the middle of the day, in full view of neighbors who don’t like cats. Try to feed in an out-of-the-way area at a time when there aren’t as many people around. Always keep the cats’ feeding areas neat and clean by removing any trash as soon as possible.
When providing food, as we talked about before, feed on a schedule. Then cats will know when to come and it will be easier for you to monitor the colony. If you are feeding several cats, you may need to give the cats space from each other and place food in a few spots to keep the peace. Remove any uneaten food after 30 minutes to keep away insects and wildlife. Feeding during the day, as opposed to dusk or night, is also helpful. Keep in mind that about ½ cup of dry food a day is fine for most cats. Be sure to feed in a container that has some weight to it. Do not use paper plates or something that can (and will) fly away. Some caregivers opt to build feeding stations which keep food sheltered, off the ground, in a specific location.
Always provide fresh water, which should always be available.
When providing an outdoor cat shelter, make sure it is weather-proof, windproof, and elevated from the ground. Place it in an inconspicuous location. Make sure the shelter is insulated and use straw for bedding, not hay, blankets, or other material that will retain moisture. The doorway should only be big enough for cats: about 6-8 inches wide.
Monitor the cats and provide any needed ongoing health care if you believe them to be sick or injured. You can use your tracking sheet to keep track of health information for each cat. Keep a look out for changes in behavior, eating habits, dull eyes or coats, discharge from noses or eyes, weight loss, fur loss, changes in their gait or listlessness. Be sure you have a feral-friendly veterinarian who can help you address any health issues that might come up.
Plan for consistent colony care. That means establishing a network of fellow caregivers. This way if you go on vacation, need to move, get sick, or are otherwise unable to continue caring for the cats, there will be someone who can step in.
Remember- we assured folks who are concerned about the cats and against TNR that the cats will be better neighbors because of TNR. Let’s try our best to make that happen.
Here is a video from Alley Cat Allies, “Helping Cats and People Coexist” which talks about why community relations is important, and what you can do to keep your neighbors happy and cats safe.
Community relations—or helping people and cats coexist—ensures the continuing safety of the cats and happiness of your neighbors. Position yourself as a community resource and let people know that if they have any questions or concerns about the cats, they can come directly to you. See Alley Cat Allies’ Community Relations information at alleycat.org/CommunityRelations for resources you might find helpful in networking and educating your community.
If you’ve ever been to the Atlantic City Boardwalk, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, then you might have noticed these signs. Alley Cat Allies cares for cats all along the Boardwalk, and they made the effort to place prominent signage, so everyone understands exactly what’s going on, knows the cats are cared for, and who to call if they have any questions.
It’s safe to say that being proactive with your community relations effects will save you a lot of headaches.
Know what’s going on in your community. That includes being up to date on any laws or policies that affect cats and connecting with fellow cat lovers and advocates. You never know when you’ll need an ally (or twenty!) to speak up on behalf of cats.
Educate others. A lot of friction happens just because people don’t know the facts. It’s not uncommon for people who once wanted cats rounded up and removed to change their minds once they know the cats would likely be killed in shelters, and that TNR is the humane and effective approach. Alley Cat Allies has information and hand-outs to help you educate others at alleycat.org/Educate.
Do TNR. This might seem obvious, but by doing TNR, cats and people are able to better coexist. Behaviors associated with mating stop, and there are fewer kittens born outdoors.
Follow community cat care best practices. Making sure food is picked up, shelters are provided, and the area is clean goes a long way! You will also want to keep good records on every cat. Proving that cats are spayed or neutered and vaccinated helps keep them safe and reassures neighbors.
Which brings us to… Resolving conflict. Even when you’re proactive with community relations, conflicts sometimes happen.
First, it’s important that you listen to any concerns. Try to see the situation from the other person’s perspective. Stay calm, and remember that your job is to problem solve. Even tense conversations can turn around once the person with concerns feels like they are being heard by someone who is truly willing to help.
Respond to complaints, even if they seem low-key—like if a neighbor is annoyed by cats digging in their garden. Low-key complaints can escalate, sometimes to the point where the cats are harmed or animal control is called.
Also, prompt follow through is important: if you propose a solution, like adding humane deterrents to their garden, provide the deterrents and help them set them up as soon as possible.
Troubleshoot and negotiate. There’s a solution to any concern—it might just take a little trial and error and creativity to find it. You can find some common complaints and their solutions in Alley Cat Allies’ ‘How to Live with Cats in Your Neighborhood’ resource at alleycat.org/Deterrents.
If the complaint is that cats are using a neighbor’s yard as a litter box, provide outdoor litter boxes.
If cats are snoozing on a neighbor’s porch, provide outdoor shelters that the cats can use instead and discourage them from using the porch with humane deterrents like citrus scent sprays.
There are many humane deterrent options that will keep cats away from areas they aren’t welcome. You may have many of these already!
Cats don’t like the smell of citrus, or coffee grounds. You can put these in gardens or flower boxes to keep cats away. Vinegar is also a good option.
If cats seem to be getting into trash cans, make sure the lids are secure. Bungee cords are an easy go-to for that.
There are also some minimal-cost deterrents you can try. Ultra-sonic deterrents are high-tech options that keep cats away with an annoying sound only cats can hear. There are also deterrents that use water to keep cats away. Non-toxic repellents like “Shake Away” are something you can try. Cat Scat Mats are plastic mats with flexible plastic spikes that are harmless but discourage digging.
Remember: if one solution doesn’t work, keep at it. You many need to try a couple humane deterrents before you find the one that works, or you may need to use a combination of deterrents.
[NOTE: This is when you can share resources local to your area. These might include where people can borrow or purchase humane box traps, TNR organizations, animal rescue groups, feral-friendly veterinarians, low-cost spay and neuter clinics, and so on.]
Now, I’d like to briefly mention Alley Cat Allies’ Feral Friends Network.
The Network is comprised of people and organizations worldwide that are dedicated to helping community cats. Feral Friends Network members are mentors and guides, offering whatever advice and support they can to help the cats in your community. If you are new to Trap-Neuter-Return and would like to connect with likeminded folks, or maybe even volunteer your time, reach out and introduce yourself to members near you.
You can also find local resources such as where to borrow traps, groups already doing TNR, and feral friendly veterinarians—just to name a few.
Visit alleycat.org/FeralFriends to learn more, and get a list of those working for the cats in your hometown.
If you’re currently a member of the Feral Friends Network, please know how thankful we are for your help! It truly does take a village to protect community cats.
We mentioned a lot of resources today. They are all available to view and to download at www.alleycat.org. You can also find them, along with one-of-a-kind Alley Cat Allies merchandise at alleycat.org/shop.
You can also find even more information in the Cat Care section of Alley Cat Allies’ website, including examples of outdoor cat shelters, feeding stations, and more.
Question and Answer
Thank you for attending! We’re open for Q&A so raise your hands if you have a question!