(The following article is from the website of Neighborhood Cats, a national resource center for feral cats. Contact www.neighborhoodcats.org for more information)
So you’ve decided you want to help the colony of feral cats behind your building or down the block and start your own TNR project. What do you do? What follows is an overview of the process we recommend. In our experience, the more you stick to it, the better your chances of success. Detailed “how to” descriptions of many of these steps are contained under the relevant headings elsewhere on the Info page.
1) Educate yourself
Learning all you can about trap-neuter-return is the first thing you should do. It will benefit both your hands-on work and your efforts to develop a cooperative working relationship with the human community in which the cats live. Remember that you are the cats’ spokesperson and the more you know, the better you’ll be able to represent them. If you live in the New York area, we recommend you attend one of our workshops on feral cat colony management, held at least once every two to three months. In the workshop, we cover everything you’ll need to know to manage your colony and implement TNR. Reading through this site is a good idea, plus check out Alley Cat Allies’ website (www.alleycat.org) where their Info Center is a virtual library on TNR.
2) Build good community relations
The importance of this step is paramount, whether the community where the cats live is a city block, a factory, a park or even a jail. A supportive, cooperative community will make your work considerably easier, while a hostile or uninvolved one will make it more difficult. Unless the cats live out in the woods or some remote setting, you must take their human neighbors into account and try to build positive, harmonious relations. TNR is about working together, not battling.
3) Set up feeding stations and shelters
There are many benefits to beginning to manage the colony as soon as possible. Once you choose a spot for the feeding station and start following a regular feeding schedule, you will train the cats to show up at a certain place at a certain time, and you’ll be able to withhold food and get them hungry when you want. This will make trapping much easier. Improving the cats’ nutrition by upping the quality of their food will better prepare them for the stress of trapping and neutering. Adequate shelter also promotes their health and assists in locating them.
4) Secure an adequate holding space for trapping and neutering
Depending on the size of the colony, trapping all the cats may take several days. A space is needed to hold the cats as the colony is being trapped, and for the cats to recover in for at least 48 hours following surgery. Between the time they are trapped and the time they are released, the cats are never out of the traps except during surgery. (The traps should be large enough to double as cages – see Mass Trapping at www.neighborhoodcats.org). The holding space must be secure, protected from the elements and heated in cold weather. It could be a basement, a garage, an extra room, a terrace or even a backyard (using a tarp, tent or lean-to). For indoor holding spaces, fleas can be a concern during warmer seasons. To minimize the risk of infestation, keep the traps covered with light cloths and either flea bomb or vacuum thoroughly afterwards.
5) Decide what to do with kittens and friendly adults
Ideally, adoptable cats and kittens will be removed from the colony and placed in good homes. Decide before you catch them who is going to do the fostering and how you’ll go about adopting them. Possibly you can work with a traditional rescue group or organization. If fostering or adopting resources are simply not available, don’t let that stop you from getting the cats neutered and halting the reproduction cycle. You’ll have accomplished a great deal of good by that alone.
6) Arrange for spay/neuter
Get a date for the spay/neuter of the cats. In New York City, no-cost services for the neutering of feral cats are available through the Humane Society of NY and, for large colonies, the ASPCA. Other low-cost alternatives exist as well. Whether working with a larger organization or an individual veterinarian, carefully follow their procedures and treat them with the utmost consideration. This will benefit both yourself and those who follow.
(Note from Jan Raffaele: Please see the list of feral cat organizations for the U.S. at www.alleycat.org.)
It is significant that this is the last step. Too often, well-meaning people trap first and think about what to do with the cats later. That’s a recipe for disaster (we know, we’ve tried it!) To ensure the long-term success of your project, and the least amount of problems for you to deal with, everything else should be in place before you put the tuna into that first trap. This is true whether you’re trapping one cat at a time, or the entire colony.
A few days after being released, the cats return to their usual routines and you to yours. Although caring for feral cats is an ongoing effort, and the dangers they face are ever present, there is a strong sense of satisfaction in knowing you’ve prevented a great deal of suffering and have given the cats a better chance to thrive and live in a way that suits them best.