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

How to Start a Trap Depot

Guide/How-to| Community Change, Trap-Neuter-Return

A trap depot is a centralized resource that owns multiple humane traps and lends them out exclusively for Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) of community cats. Trap depots can be nonprofit organizations, spay/neuter clinics, Trap-Neuter-Return veteransanyone can start a trap depot! These valuable community resources allow both beginners and experienced trappers to initiate or expand their trapping without having to invest in traps of their own.

Not every area has a trap depotthat’s why we’ve put together these instructions to help you start one. Whether you are an individual or part of an organization, you can loan traps and help cats in your community. Explore this section for step-by-step instructions on how to set up your own trap depot, loan traps safely, and expand Trap-Neuter-Return in your area.

Step-by-Step Guide to Starting and Operating a Trap Depot:

1. Program Set-Up

Before you can start loaning traps, you have to get organized. Here are some steps for preparing your program before your first borrower comes to the door.

Acquire Traps

To start a trap depot, the first thing you need is traps! If you don’t already own traps or you need more, you’ll need to start thinking about how many traps you need, what type of traps to buy, and how you’ll fund these purchases.

Purchasing multiple traps can be expensive, so you may also want to consider pooling resources with other local caregivers. Network with other trappers and caregivers who you know, and request a list of Alley Cat Allies’ Feral Friends Network members to see who else is caring for cats in your area. Other options for acquiring traps are to hold a fundraiser and seek donations, or to ask local hardware stores if they will donate a trap to your program.

There are many considerations to keep in mind when deciding what type of, and how many, traps to buy. Trap depots vary in size depending on how large of an area they serve. Consider the needs of your area when deciding how many traps to buy. The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region in Colorado recommends buying 10 traps for every 200 community cats you expect will be trapped using your traps each year.

For brand and model recommendations, as well as other advice on buying traps, review our Traps and Humane Animal Equipment page. We recommend learning about the different types of traps before buying a large number of them. Our Traps and Humane Animal Equipment page will help you ensure that you’re purchasing appropriate and safe traps for the number and size of cats you and your borrowers will be trapping.

Identify Your Traps

Once you’ve invested in traps, you’ll want to make sure they don’t get lost or stolen. Clearly number each trap with a permanent marker or a tag to distinguish the traps from each other and make them easier to track. You will record this number when the trap is checked out and returned.

Next, mark each trap with your organization’s name and contact information. This information is especially important so that people other than the trapper can contact you in case anything goes wrong.

To identify our traps, Alley Cat Allies uses laminated tags. Each tag lists our name, contact information, and a brief explanation letting passersby know that the trap is being used for humane Trap-Neuter-Return and that the cat is not being harmed.

Laminated tags are best, but packing tape can also make tags more resistant to water. There is usually a flat metal plate on top of traps that would be a good place to tape a tag.

Here is a sample trap tag.

TIP: Hui Pono Holohohona, a group supporting TNR in Hawaii, spray paints its traps bright yellow to identify them. Consider spray painting your traps’ back doors (or front doors if they are single door traps). You can easily sort and group large numbers of traps when you can quickly distinguish one group’s traps from another’s traps.

Join the Feral Friends Network

A trap depot is only useful if people in your area know about it! If you’re not already a member, apply to join Alley Cat Allies’ Feral Friends Network. When people from your area contact Alley Cat Allies for Trap-Neuter-Return help, we’ll send them your way!

Other ideas for getting the word out:

  • Notify your local veterinarians, animal shelter, and TNR groups. Make sure to give them your phone number or email address so borrowers can contact you. Ask if they’ll post a flier in their building and put your information on their website, blog, or social media pages.
  • Put up fliers around your neighborhood or areas where you know there are community cats, or post on local listservs.
  • Tell your friends, so they can help spread the word.

2. Equipment Tracking

We recommend keeping a master list of all your traps and any other equipment you may loan out. While the trap loan form (covered in the next section) is an agreement for both you and the borrower regarding guidelines for trap use and return dates, keeping a master list provides you with an at-a-glance assessment of how many traps you have in stock.

Keep a spreadsheet that lists:

  • The borrower’s name and contact information
  • The identification number of each trap borrowed
  • The date of the trap loan
  • The date the traps are due back

View Alley Cat Allies’ equipment tracking spreadsheet for an example. Our spreadsheet identifies the traps with both numbers and letters indicating the type of trap.

3. Trap Loan Procedures

Now that your trap depot is up and running, follow these important steps to make sure your trap loan goes smoothly, and to help you keep track of your traps.

Provide an Overview of TNR

When borrowers call or email to request a trap, this is a great time to make sure they know the steps involved when planning to conduct Trap-Neuter-Return. For example, it is very important to make appointments for spay and neuter before actually trapping a cat. Trapping can be easy and some people are already experienced, but you must make sure that everyone borrowing a trap knows how to use it safely. Here are a few ways you can help your trappers prepare:

  • Hold a monthly workshop on the basics of TNR, including the timeline, a demonstration on how to set and bait traps, and what to do once they’ve trapped the cat.
  • If you can’t teach your own class, direct potential trap borrowers to attend a workshop or training session with a local TNR group, or virtually attend one of Alley Cat Allies’ webinars.
  • Demonstrate how to use the trap to each person checking one out, covering the same information one-on-one as you would in a workshop.
  • Provide materials like our Trapping Kit, available in our shop, to each trapper.
  • Direct trappers to our step-by-step Trap-Neuter-Return guide and other online resources for helpful videos and detailed instructions.

Create a Trap Loan Form

We recommend having a trap loan form for borrowers to fill out. Include spaces for the borrower’s name and contact information, the date the traps were loaned, the date they are due back, the traps’ ID numbers, how much their deposit is, basic agreements about how the traps will be used (and not used), and a signature. This can be a good time to ask the borrowers to provide identification, which will allow you to confirm their name and address, and make sure you don’t loan traps to anyone who has previously broken the trap loan agreement.

Signing a trap loan form ensures that borrowers agree to the rules of your trap loan program and are aware of any consequences of breaking those rules, such as forfeiting their deposit. Your agreement should also serve as a release form, to protect you from any liability for any injury resulting from the trap. Keep one copy for yourself and give one to the borrower, and make sure to update your equipment tracking master list.

The trap loan form also ensures that both parties agree on how the trap will be usedsolely for the purpose of Trap-Neuter-Return of community cats. It also clearly states the date when the traps will be returned, and the condition of the traps upon return. It’s important to clean and disinfect the traps between each use (see below for information on how to clean traps), so that new cats won’t be able to smell the previous cat and to keep the trap depot area clean. Either require borrowers to clean and disinfect each trap before returning it, or make sure to do it yourself between each use.

Read our trap loan form to see a sample and make sure you have all your bases covered.

TIP: The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region in Colorado recommends using very clear wording in your trap loan agreement that the trap is a loan and not personal property of the person borrowing it. Make sure that the staff loaning out traps emphasize this as well.

TIP: Ed Boks, executive director of Yavapai Humane Society in Prescott, Arizona, says the shelter requires information on the colony managers responsible for caring for the cats, to make sure they are properly trained. This also helps ensure that the people renting the traps are only using them for TNR.

Set a Return Due Date

It’s a good idea to set a due date for when borrowers are required to return the traps, so that other people don’t have to wait months to check them out. Have a conversation with the borrower to learn when their spay/neuter appointments are, so you can base your due date on the date of the appointment. The borrower will need time for the cat to recover before returning her to her outdoor home, and to clean and disinfect the trap. A good rule of thumb is to make the due date at least one week after the day of the surgery.

Make sure to include the due date on your trap loan form, so there is no confusion about when the trap is expected back.

TIP: A tip from the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Regionif you ever run low on traps, try crosschecking your spreadsheet with the date of borrowers’ spay/neuter appointments to see if there are any traps still out that may not actually be in use. If they’re past their due date, start making phone calls to get traps returned.

TIP: Use your phone’s camera to take photos of traps you’re loaning out, and their numbers, so you have an easy way to reference what you loaned and when. Delete photos when traps are returned.

Hold a Deposit

For most trap depots, there is no daily rental charge for borrowing traps (it’s free to borrow the traps), but it’s usually a good idea for trap depots to require a deposit to replace the trap if it is lost, stolen, or damaged. The easiest way to handle the deposit is to ask for a separate check for each trap. When the borrower returns the trap(s), you simply return the check(s).

Deposit amounts vary by organization and cost of the traps; they range from $20 to $75, and it’s up to you and your organization how much to hold for the deposit. Alley Cat Allies requires a $60 deposit per trap. Include the deposit amount per trap on the Trap Loan Form so there is no confusion.

Audrey Garrison, president of Gulf Shore Animal League in Manatee County, Florida, says her group is careful not to loan out traps without receiving a deposit. “If someone is unable to provide a deposit, we generally assist them with the trapping so that we lose as few traps as possible,” she says.

Be Available for Follow-up Questions!

Sometimes, even with all your instruction ahead of time, borrowers may have a question once they leave with the traps. Make sure all borrowers know the best way to reach you if they have questions about the use of the trap, or to request to borrow the trap for a longer period of time.

TIP: Create a link on your website or Facebook page to Alley Cat Allies’ page on TNR and safe trapping guidelines.

4. Trap Return

After you loan out your traps, all you have left to do is check them back in when borrowers return them. Review this checklist to make sure everything is squared away:

  • Confirm the trap identification numbers with your equipment tracking master list to make sure you’ve received all the traps you lent.
  • Mark that the trap has been returned with the date of return on the correct trap loan form. This will help you keep track of the trap’s last loan in case you can’t find it.
  • Test the trap to make sure it still works properly. If the trap is in good condition and no parts are missing, return the deposit check to the borrower.

Repairing Traps

It’s critical that the traps that you are loaning out are in good shape. Defective traps can be ineffective, which can reduce success rates and negatively affect TNR efforts, and can even be unsafe for cats.

The best way to make sure your traps are working properly is to test them before and after using them, as well as before and after loaning them out. Make sure that the trip plate still works to shut the trap’s front door.

If one of your traps is damaged and can no longer be used for trapping, you may still be able to use it for “baiting.” You can permanently remove the back door and use the trap to feed cats so that they become comfortable with the traps. This will only work if the traps can be in a location where they can be in place around the clock.

If you need information on how to fix a broken trap or need a replacement part, contact the trap’s manufacturer.

“Our traps are dependable, rugged, and maintenance-free,” says Greg Smith, owner of Tomahawk Live Trap Company. “But just in case you need replacement parts such as a lost rear door, they are now available with free shipping from our website at”

If a returned trap is damaged, you may consider cashing the person’s deposit check to cover your purchase of a replacement trap. Central Oklahoma Humane Society says that when a trap is returned so badly damaged that it must be replaced, it deposits the check for that trap the same business day that the trap is returned.

Cleaning Traps

After testing the traps, make sure they’re clean. Different groups use different methods of cleaning traps. One method is to first wash the traps with warm, soapy water, and then then spray them with a mild, diluted bleach solution (about 10 percent bleach and 90 percent water) and rinse them very thoroughly with warm water to remove all bleach residue.

Some trap depots use pressure washers to clean their traps.

TIP: The Nobody’s Cats Foundation in Pennsylvania uses a do-it-yourself car wash when cleaning a large number of traps. They also require trap borrowers to clean traps themselves before returning them.


After testing the traps, make sure they are clean and disinfected. Then, it’s time to store them. You may have a large closet where they can be stored, or you may store them in a garage, shed, warehouse, basement, or other storage unit.

TIP: “I would advise that a trap depot, in order to keep from losing a large number of traps, keep traps in a secure location with a limited number of staff having access, and that paperwork is kept up-to-date,” says Audrey Garrison, president of Gulf Shore Animal League in Manatee County.

After cleaning and storing your traps, there’s nothing left to do until next time!