How to save & take care of a kitten and feral cats - an advocacy tool kit

Helping Community Cats Workshop Script

Guide/How-to|

Introduction

  • Share presenter’s name, organization, and background.
  • “We will be having a Q&A period at the end. Please hold your questions until then. Most questions will be answered during the course of the presentation.”
  • Provide an overview of workshop and what it will cover: the history and behavior of community cats; how to do Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR); the basics of caring for a colony; and how to build relationships with neighbors and address concerns they have about the cats.
  • Ask the group members to raise their hands in response to these questions to gauge their interests:
    “How many of you are already familiar with community cats? How many of you have trapped cats before? Is anyone affiliated with a shelter or rescue group? Are you interested in networking with others and making connections? (You should be!)”For those of you who already have experience trapping, this script can serve as a model for explaining TNR to caregivers as well as help you lead your own workshops. You can also reference alleycat.org/Workshop to find in-depth information on how to hold workshops and how to promote them, as well as the videos mentioned below that cover much of this information. Click on the links throughout the document for more information.

Community Cats

  • Show the video: All About: Community Cats
    This video provides an overview of community cats, their behavior, and the programs and people working every day on their behalf.
  • Feral vs. Stray Cats
    • Feral cats are unsocialized to people. They are timid and fearful around us. They avoid human contact. Adult feral cats usually can’t be socialized and are not suited to living indoors with people.
    • Stray cats are cats who have been abandoned by people or who have strayed from their owner homes and become lost. Stray cats can usually be re-socialized and adopted back into homes with people.
    • Feral kittens can be socialized if caught at an early age. There is no hard and fast rule on how many weeks old is “too old” for a kitten to be handled, or how long the socialization process will take. Typically, the older the kitten is, the longer it will take to socialize her.
    • Tips on how to identify the difference between feral and stray cats at alleycat.org/StrayOrFeral
  • Where do outdoor cats come from?
    • The domestic cats’ natural habitat is outdoors in close proximity to people. The species came into existence approximately 10,000 years ago when humans first began farming. Attracted by the rodents found near stored grain, cats have been living alongside us ever since.
    • Female cats can begin having kittens at 4 -5 months old.
    • Dr. Brenda Griffin of Cornell University estimates:
      “If one unspayed female cat produces two litters per year, and two kittens per litter survive to
      reproduce, and none of these cats are ever spayed or neutered, the total population multiplies
      in five years, or ten generations, to 59,049.”
    • It is estimated that there are as many outdoor cats as there are owned cats in the U.S. And, while 80 percent of cats in U.S. households are neutered, less than 3 percent of community cats are neutered—indicating the need for TNR programs.
  • Taking cats to the shelter won’t help you or the cats.
    • Feral cats cannot be adopted into homes with people, so when they are brought to a shelter they are killed—unless the shelter participates in TNR. In fact, the majority of all cats who enter shelters are killed (this includes stray and owned cats).
    • Catch and kill, and trap and relocate, won’t keep an area free of cats because of a phenomenon documented worldwide, across animal species, known as the “vacuum effect”. Once the cats are removed, other cats move in to take advantage of the newly available resources.Taking cats to the shelter won’t help you or the cats.Talking Points

How to Perform TNR

  • Show the video: Step-by-Step Guide: Trap-Neuter-Return
    This video step-by-step how to conduct Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR).
  • Talking Points and Instruction
    • TNR is a program in which entire colonies of community cats are humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, eartipped (the universal sign that a cat has been neutered and vaccinated) and returned to their outdoor home. Kittens and stray cats who can be socialized are adopted into human homes. Adult feral cats are eartipped and returned to their outdoor homes.
    • TNR stabilizes the colony’s population and improves the cats’ lives. The behaviors and stresses associated with mating—like yowling, fighting, and spraying stop. Plus, the cats receive vaccinations. TNR makes good sense, and it is a responsible, humane method of care for outdoor cats.
    • We’ll discuss Targeted TNR, one way to successfully execute a TNR program, during the ongoing care section later. First, let’s discuss how to actually do the trapping…
    • (Note: It may be useful to write out the TNR steps on a white board or flip chart so that people have a visual that they can follow as you discuss these sections.)

Create a plan

  • Communicate with neighbors – Open communication and education are important parts of conducting TNR. Many people are not aware that community cats live and thrive outdoors and that neutering improves cats’ lives—and they may have problems with the cats that can be easily addressed.If there are signs of other caregivers, such as food or water bowls, consider leaving a note with your contact information. Be clear in the note that you are there to help the cats, not to remove them. Once you’ve found any other caregivers in the area, coordinate your efforts—their cooperation could be critical for success. Make sure that they agree not to feed when you are withholding food from and trapping the cats. Try to enlist their help in carrying out TNR to get more of the community involved. It’s also important to ensure that your neighbors keep their owned cats inside when you are trapping, and that their owned cats neutered as well.
  • Count and track the cats – Plan which cats you are going to trap. You may need to use a tracking sheet. Use the Alley Cat Allies’ Community Cat Cat Tracking System, alleycat.org/Tracking, to record the number of cats and a brief description of each, including health status. Also include photos of each cat if possible.
  • Contingency plan – Plan for the possibilities of trapping an injured or sick cat who needs emergency attention, kittens and/or nursing mothers, and cats who are socialized to humans.
  • Some guidelines – Spay nursing mothers. It is unlikely that you will trap them again if you let them out of the traps. You may be able to use a mother to trap her kittens, and vice versa. If you cannot find the kittens, take the mother to the clinic as usual and then try to release her sooner than you normally would so that she can get back to the kittens. Ensure that the mother is clear-eyed and alert and when you return her, face the trap away from roads and other hazards, so she can successfully get back to her kittens.
  • Spay pregnant cats – This can be a difficult aspect of TNR for some, but it is in the best interest of the cats (especially the mother) to prevent the litter. It is unlikely that you’ll be able to trap the mother again if you let her go, so it’s important for her health to spay her while you have her trapped.
  • Establish a feeding schedule – The cats should be fed on a regular schedule. To get the cats used to coming out and eating while you are there (and help with your assessment process), establish a set time and place to feed the cats every day. Pick up the food after about 30 minutes. The feeding schedule should be in place for a minimum of two weeks prior to trapping. If you have access to traps for a number of weeks, feed out of unset traps for one to two weeks prior to the trapping day, to get cats used to seeing and walking into them. Only do this if you will be monitoring the cats during the entire feeding process to ensure that the cats—and the traps—are safe.
  • Line up a veterinarian – Make appointments for the number of traps you have. Plan your trapping session so that the cats are transported to their appointments as soon as possible. It is important to find a veterinarian or clinic familiar with or willing to learn how to work with community cats. If the veterinarian you ultimately choose has no experience with community cats, he or she can learn more about treating community cats.
  • Assemble your trapping kit – You should have one trap per cat, plus an extra one or two for good measure. More trapping kit items are listed online at alleycat.org/Trap-Neuter-Return.
  • Set up your holding/recovery area – Choose a dry, temperature-controlled (about 75 degrees farenheit), and safe overnight holding/recovery area for use before and after the cats’ surgeries.
  • Confirm the right transportation – Plan to use a vehicle that comfortably fits all the traps inside its climate-controlled area.
  • Consider bringing help – Trapping can be labor intensive and you should not do it alone. Also consider your personal safety when trapping in public places or overnight—bring your cell phone, and make sure someone knows where you will be, and what you are doing. If at all possible, bring a partner.

Trapping

  • Withhold food – Do this for 24 hours before you trap. Also ensure that no one else feeds the cats. If the clinic appointment is within 12 hours of trapping, do not feed the cats after trapping them because they should not eat before surgery.
  • Count your traps – Take a count at the beginning and at the end of your trapping session so you don’t accidentally leave a trap behind. If a cat gets into a forgotten trap, it could be in danger of starvation, injury, or ending up in the wrong person’s hands.
  • Prepare traps – Line the bottom of the trap with a few sheets of newspaper to make cleanup easier and to ensure cat doesn’t have to sit and stand on the wire bottom. Label the traps and fill in the location where you are setting the trap, so you can return the cats to the same location.
  • Baiting traps – Use tuna in oil or another smelly type of fish. The oil keeps the bait from drying out or freezing and seems to attract the cats better than other types of bait. Place about one tablespoon of bait at the very back of the trap, so that the cat will step on the trigger plate while attempting to reach the food. You may choose to put the food on a safe disposable container (such as a plastic lid or paper plate). Drizzle some juice from the bait in a zigzag pattern along the trap floor toward the entrance. You should also place a tiny bit of food (¼ teaspoon) just inside the entrance of the trap to encourage the cat to walk in. Do not use too much food at the entrance of the trap. The cat must be hungry enough to continue to the trip plate, and cats should have a relatively empty stomach for at least 12 hours before surgery.
  • Place traps on level ground – Cats will not enter a trap that is unsteady.
  • Do not leave traps unattended – This ensures the safety of the cats and prevents theft of the traps. Move as far away as possible from the trapping site, but close enough that the traps are still visible so you will know when a cat is trapped.
  • Once a cat is trapped, cover the trap – Use a large towel or sheet that covers all sides of the trap. As you approach the trap, the cat may be thrashing around trying to find a way out—remember, this animal is scared and in a situation she is not used to. Often people think the cat will hurt herself, so they let the cat out of the trap. DO NOT DO THIS! Instead, cover the trap, and the cat will likely calm down.

After Trapping and Post Surgery

  • Transport the cats – Safely transport the cats to the veterinarian’s office, clinic, or to the holding area which you should have already prepared. If you are holding the cats before surgery, leave them in the covered traps; this reduces cats’ stress and ensures the safety of both you and the cats. Do not let them out of the traps indoors. You will not be able to get them back into the traps later.
  • Hold the cats overnight – If the cats are returned to you while they are still recovering from surgery and not held overnight at the clinic or veterinarian’s office, let them recover in the covered traps overnight in the climate-controlled and quiet recovery area you have prepared. When cats are recovering from anesthesia they are unable to regulate their body temperature, which is why it is so important for the recovery area to be warm but not hot.
  • Monitor the cats – Keep an eye out for bleeding, infection, or illness. If a cat is bleeding, vomiting, breathing irregularly, or not waking up, contact your veterinarian immediately!
  • Return the cats – Ensure that the cats are fully recovered from the effects of the anesthesia. They should be clear-eyed and alert. The general rule of thumb is to return cats approximately 24 hours after surgery. You can then begin again to provide food and water at the usual feeding site.

Caveats

  • It is Trap-Neuter-Return, not Trap-Neuter-Adopt – Always keep in mind that the goal of this project is to spay or neuter and then return cats to their outdoor homes. Keeping feral cats indoors is not in their best interest—it can stress them to the point of illness. They aren’t socialized to people and don’t belong in homes with them. Their home is outside, where they live long, healthy lives with the cats and environment they’re familiar with.
  • Hard-to-trap cats – There are other methods for trapping trap-savvy and trap-shy cats, such as drop traps. You can find more information on these other methods at alleycat.org/HardToTrap and view drop trap options.

Local Resources

  • Where can participants:
    • Find traps?
    • Find low-cost neuter services?
    • Find help?
    • Make connections?

Ongoing Colony Care

  • Targeted trapping – It is best to plan to trap the whole colony, which will stabilize the population. Cats establish a territory, which keeps new cats from entering the area. By targeting one colony and trapping all of the cats before moving to surrounding colonies, you ensure that entire populations, and consequently entire geographic areas, are creating “kitten-free zones.” Find more information online at alleycat.org/TargetedTrapping.
  • Consider ongoing care for the colony, such as following a daily feeding schedule and providing shelter. More information on colony care available at alleycat.org/ColonyCare. Also use our shelter ideas.
  • Continue to monitor the colony for new cats, and TNR any newcomers.

Community Relations

  • Talking Points
    • Educate your community – Although it may be easy to interact only with people who are caring for cats, it’s important to also consider the issue from the other side. Some people may not want the cats on their property, and these community members should also be welcomed into the conversation. Alley Cat Allies encourages these people to attend this workshop so that they can
      learn about community cats and why TNR is the best approach for the entire community.
    • Mediation – There are simple steps to address community members’ concerns about the cats. The first step is always to talk with the person who has a concern about the cats. Try to get to the root of the issue and work with your neighbor to solve the problem. It’s important to explain the vacuum effect so that he or she understands that just “making the cats go away” won’t actually address his or her concerns in the long run. Remember to always stay calm and professional and focus on the needs of your neighbor. Don’t get emotional or spend time discussing the cats in particular, because your neighbor will be more willing to cooperate if you approach the conversation with a business-like tone and address his or her concerns directly.
    • Humane deterrents – There are many inexpensive and humane ways to deter cats from certain areas.
      Note: Show examples of deterrents: vinegar, citrus peels, coffee grounds, chopsticks, carpet runner, chicken wire, Cat Stop, ScareCrow, etc. and reference Alley Cat Allies’ brochure “How to Live with Cats in Your Neighborhood.” By offering to install deterrents for your neighbors, and perhaps even purchasing a more permanent item (such as a car cover or CatStop), you are showing your neighbors that you think their concerns are valid and that you want to make a good-faith effort to address them. If at all possible, ask your neighbor to sign a simple document stating what deterrents you installed or gave to them so that you have a record of your efforts in case any future issues arise.

Question and Answer Period