For nearly a decade Advocates 4 Animals, Inc. and other local no-kill rescue organizations worked tirelessly to persuade the home owners of a rural property to have their cats spayed/neutered. By 2008 an astoundingly high number of cats filled the outside of the home. The home owners refused to work with local rescue organizations who offered free spay/neuter services for every cat on their property. The rescue’s also offered to catch, transport and return all of the cats (or help adopt cats into homes), if the owners would allow it. Again, the home owners refused making the comment that “…They are just outside cats. Most of them get hit by cars anyway, so it doesn’t really matter if they’re spayed/neutered. They are replaceable. We have plenty.” Sadly the cats remained unsprayed/neutered and continued to reproduce year after year, litter after litter. In 2011 when the homeowners foreclosed on the home, local rescue organizations remembered the cats and quickly confirmed their suspicious that although the home owners had moved away, the cats remained. The cats were untouchable, as for many generations they had not been living with humans. Many of the young cats had never been touched by human hands. With over thirty surviving cats on the property, they were left without food or water, without shelter of any kind, without hope…until local rescue volunteers stepped forward to implement a life-saving plan for the cats.
Many people have never heard the term “feral cat”, and for those who have, only a handful understand the true meaning. A feral cat is not simply a stray cat or an outdoor cat, a feral cat, as defined by the Feral Cat Coalition, is a “…wild" offspring of domestic cats and are primarily the result of pet owners' abandonment or failure to spay and neuter their animals, allowing them to breed uncontrolled. Feral cat "colonies" can be found behind shopping areas or businesses, in alleys, parks, abandoned buildings, and rural areas. They are elusive and do not trust humans.” The key word here being that feral cats do not trust humans. They are different from a shy or scared cat as they do not want to be indoors and they do not crave the attention of humans- but they still need shelter, food, water and to be spayed/neutered. Feral cats typically live in colonies. Feral cat colonies are areas where groups (colonies) of feral cats live. This can be anywhere- an abandoned home, in a neighborhood, a park, behind the grocery store…anywhere is a possibility. Feral cat colonies can be best controlled through TNRM (Trap/Neuter/Return/Manage) programs. TNRM programs offer proven successful solutions to both humans and to the cats. The Neighborhood Cats (the feral cat experts) website states, “…the process of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) offers the greatest chance of success both for you and the cats. TNR involves trapping the cats in a colony, getting them spay/neutered, vaccinated for rabies where appropriate and marked for identification, then returning the ferals to their territory. A caretaker provides food and shelter and monitors...” Implementing a successful TNRM program is rewarding to the community, to nearby area residents and to the cats themselves. TNRM depletes the feral cat colony through natural attrition, as through spay/neuter the cats will no longer continue reproducing. Did you know that an unsprayed female cat, her mate and all of their offspring, producing 2 litters per year, with just 2.8 surviving kittens per year can total 11,801 cats in just 5 years? The numbers make it abundantly clear why TNRM is essential.
How to Follow the TNRM Method
So what exactly is TNRM (trap/neuter/release/manage)? It’s a proven successful program that brings winning results for the felines and for the community! Another great thing about TNRM is that ANYONE can do it- as long as you set a plan and you are dedicated to helping- success is right around the bend, in the form of saving lives, helping your community and feeling great about knowing you did something amazing!
The national average kill rate of healthy/adoptable animals in shelters across the United States tops 50%. The average kill rate of feral cats in pounds and shelters across the country equals 100%. Again, the numbers point to the necessity of taking action to implement successful TNRM programs across the country in our local communities. This is a grassroots effort lead by volunteers, kind citizens and 501c3 non-profit rescue organizations. In every city and in each and every feral cat colony, thousands upon thousands of lives are saved when TNRM is implemented. As individuals, we all have the power to make a difference when it comes to feral cats. With effort and persistence you too can save lives. What steps do we need to take?
Do you know of a feral cat colony in your area? Whether it is one or one-hundred feral cats living in a colony, take the following steps in this order to TNRM and save lives:
1.Educate yourself!Visit sites such as: Neighborhood Cats, Alley Cat Allies and talk with local no-kill rescue volunteers.
2.Good Communication:let local residents and businesses know your plan and inform them on how it will not only help the cats, but it will help the community as well (this is where educating yourself and speaking with local rescue organizations first comes in handy!)
3.Make a plan:Who will be helping with this project? Which volunteers will be responsible for trapping? Who will transport cats and from the vet? Do you have a holding room/building? What will you do with friendly/domestic cats? Do you have funding to afford food, shelter/huts and to cover the spay/neuter costs? Can you locate low cost spay/neuter options in your area?
4.Purchase a humane trap(you may want to consider purchasing several!). Humane traps of appropriate size for adult cats can be purchased at TSC (Tractor Supply Company) stores or at HaveaHeart.
5.Set up Feeding and Water Stations. Be sure that these stations are protected from rain and other weather elements. You will want to arrange a regular feeding schedule. Arrange for you or another individual to stop by the colony once a day to provide fresh food and water in the feeding station(s).
6.Set up shelter/hutsfor the feral cats to stay out of the weather elements (snow, ice, rain, etc.). Used dog huts can be purchased at a low cost from local yard sales or you can make inexpensive DIY huts right at home! Fill the huts with straw to provide warmth for the feral felines (be sure to view the attached video for step by step instructions).
7.Schedule your spay/neuter appointments.
8.Use humane traps to safely catch each catin the feral cat colony. When trapping the cats, have a plan and remember to be patient! For guidance/education on how to appropriately use a trap, speak with a local rescue organization. Bait the trap(s) with tasty meat products and/or with canned/wet cat food. Once the trap is set, be sure to check the traps often, to minimize stress on the felines. When you pick up the traps, please note that feral cats do not want you to poke your fingers through the trap and often times they will jump around inside of the trap. They are nervous, confused and out of their comfort zone. It is important that you remain calm when transferring the humanely trapped cats into your vehicle and heading to the spay/neuter clinic or your local veterinary office. Veterinarians will use dissolvable stitches so that follow up is not necessary following the surgery.
9.After each feral cat has been spayed/neutered by a professional veterinarian, it is time to return the cat(s) to their colony. How do you know who you have spayed/neutered and returned? Good question! Many veterinarians and low cost spay/neuter clinics will ear tip feral cats at the time of the spay/neuter surgery. Ear tipping gives a clear mark to show you and to show other concerned community members who has been successfully spayed/neutered.
Feral cats will be elated to be returned to their familiar environment. Having a managed feral cat colony saves many lives. Managing a feral cat colony requires someone to visit daily to provide fresh food and water. Again, it is important to remember that feral cats do not crave human attention- but they do, as all living-beings do, require food, water and proper shelter.
If feral cats are located in an area where they are in great danger or are unwelcome and it becomes necessary to relocate the feral cat colony this can be challenging, but it is possible. It is important to exercise great care when relocating a feral cat colony. Neighborhood Cats discusses the challenges of relocating feral cat colonies, “…feral cats are extremely territorial and have deep ties to their original homes. You owe it to them as their caretaker to do everything you possibly can to see they are allowed to remain where they live. It's a risky proposition to think their colony structure and relations will not be adversely effected, even if a relocation is carried out properly…by removing a feral colony, you've created a vacuum. If a food source remains, it's highly likely new cats will at some point move in. This is the same problem which is the downfall of the trap-and-remove approach. You're just trading one colony for another. So you might as well deal with it now…So when people first call (us) and say "Relocate!", we say not so fast and instruct them on steps they can take to implement TNR and work with neighbors. Most of the time, if the caretakers make the effort, they are pleasantly surprised at the results. Neutering the cats removes most of the crisis-causing problems, the community calms down and the cats are able to stay in their home.”
The thirty-plus un-spayed cats and kittens left to fend for themselves at the abandoned home in rural Ohio were all successfully trapped using humane traps and a lot of dedication and persistence on the part of the volunteers. All in all the effort took nearly nine months. All cats were spayed/neutered, vaccinated and tested by a local veterinarian for FIV and FeLv. Every cat was then individually assessed by rescue volunteers to determine if they were indeed feral cats or if they were shy/scared/nervous and needed some individual work with socialization. Once the determination was made for each cat, cats were appropriately placed. Feral cats were successfully relocated to a plush enclosed outdoor feral cat sanctuary in Ohio. Domestic cats were appropriately placed in experienced volunteer foster homes within local rescue organizations- where each cat received unlimited love, attention and care on a daily basis as they became socialized and rehabilitated in every way- socially, emotionally and physically. In time, all domestic cats rescued from this situation were adopted into individual, loving forever homes to call their very own.
TNRM: Trap/Neuter/Return/Manage. This one small acronym can make a huge difference in communities around the world. If you are interested in helping feral cats in your area, please visit the following recommended links for additional information. YOU can make a difference in the lives of feral cats and in your community. You can make a positive impact and you can start right now.