How to Perform TNR
You've made the decision - you're going to get the feral cats in your life fixed! Now what? Often people reach for the first trap they can find, but that's a mistake. Doing a TNR project well requires planning and preparation. Taking the time to think it out will make the process easier for you and the cats and help you avoid the pitfalls that can happen when you've got a feral cat sitting in a trap and aren't sure what to do next.
Here are the seven basic steps to follow:
#1 - Know Your Stuff & Prepare
Working with feral cats and trap safely and effectively requires some training. The good news is there's plenty of informational material available. Familiarize yourself with the trap before attempting to use it - we recommend wiring open the trap and using it as a feeding station for several days to allow the cats to become comfortable walking into the trap. Make sure to prepare any supplies you may need such as a can opener, newspaper to line the bottoms of the traps (do not use newspaper if it is windy), large towels or single fitted sheets work well to cover traps on all sides, paper plates to place food on if desired (can also put food directly on newspaper, flashlight (if trapping when its dark) tracking sheet and pen, extra water and food, hand wipes or paper towels, thick gloves, WD-40 or other lubricant, and pliers. You may also want to prepare you vehicle and holding space by laying down a plastic tarp then covering it with a thick layer of newspaper or towels.
#2 - Find a Holding Space
Whether you're catching all the colony cats at once or aiming for one or two at a time, you should allow two to three days to trap, one day for the spay/neuter surgeries, and one to three days for post-surgical recovery. During this period of four to seven days, you'll need a place to hold the cats while they're confined in their traps. The space must be warm (at least 65 degrees F.), dry (protected from rain and other elements) and secure (no access to strangers or other animals). Examples might include a garage, basement, shed, barn, warehouse, empty office, spare room or bathroom.
#3 - Establish a Feeding Pattern, Count The Cats,and Set Out Shelters and Feeding Stations
To prepare for the trapping, get the cats on a regular feeding schedule - as consistently as you can, put out their food at the same time and place daily, then take anything uneaten away after 30 minutes or as soon thereafter as you can. Cats are habitual creatures and will learn to all show up at the appointed hour - which means they'll come to you at that same hour when it's time to trap. While establishing a pattern, count the cats and assess if any have special needs like young kittens you'll want to foster. Put out feeding stations and shelters if you haven't already. It's especially important to have good shelter in place when winter trapping in cold climates, so the spayed females with their shaved bellies will have a warm, dry place to sleep.
#4 - Arrange for Spay/Neuter Services, Traps, & Transportation
Once you know how many cats you're dealing with, locate a low cost spay/neuter provider such as Twin Ports Spay/Neuter and schedule appointments. Rent/reserve traps, trap dividers and any other equipment you'll need from a local trap bank (such as Twin Ports Spay/Neuter, Critter Harbor, or City of Duluth Animal Control) or purchase what you can afford if none are available for lending. Try to obtain one humane box trap for each cat. Secure a sign (preferably in a clear plastic bag so it is readable even in wet conditions) that reads “Humane Trapping in Progress – Do Not Remove” to the trap. Secure another sign that reads “Feral Cat – Do Not Handle” to the trap door. Arrange transportation as well - trips may be needed back and forth from the colony site to the holding space, to and from the spay/neuter clinic and to pick up and drop off traps. If you'll be trapping a lot of cats, wrangle a volunteer or two as well.
#5 - Action!
Now you're ready for the fun part - trapping! Withhold all food the day before trapping begins so the cats are real hungry. You could do everything else correctly, but if the cats aren't hungry, they won't go in the traps. Leave two days to trap even if you're after only one or two cats, and three days if you're after more than a few. That way, you're protected if there's bad weather or someone unexpectedly leaves out a bowl of food that morning. To begin, prepare the traps near your vehicle or away from the trapping site. Place the trap on a flat surface as you bait and set it. Do this so that if a trap does not properly work or goes off too easily it will not scare off the cats. Unlatch the rear door and take it off so you can get your hands inside the trap. Be sure to re-lock the rear door before trapping. If your trap does not have a rear door then secure the front door open with a twist tie so that it won’t keep falling shut while you work. If you use newspaper, fold it lengthwise and place it inside the bottom of the trap to disguise the wires on the bottom of the trap (do not use newspaper if it is windy). Place approximately one tablespoon of bait along the very back of the trap. You can use a lid or container for this if you wish. Now drizzle some juice from the bait along the trap towards the entrance in a zigzag pattern. Place about one-fourth teaspoon of bait in the middle of the trap on the trip-plate, and one-fourth teaspoon about six inches inside the front of the trap. The cat will move his or her paws trying to get the zigzagged bait, thus springing the trap. It is important not to leave too much bait in the front or middle; this may satisfy the cat and he/she will leave without setting off the trap. Now take the traps to the trapping site, near the feeding area. Place the trap on the ground and make certain it is stable and will not rock or tip. If you are using multiple traps, stagger them and place them facing in different directions. Try to think like a cat and place the trap where it will be tempting. Move quietly and slowly, and try to remain relaxed so your mannerisms will not frighten cats away. Set and cover the traps. Leave the area quietly. The cats are unlikely to enter the traps if you are standing nearby. You may want to go sit in your car or if you are trapping in your yard you can go inside. Traps should never be left unattended for more than two hours under any circumstances. It is preferable to quietly check the traps more frequently from a distance. You do not want to leave a cat in the trap for too long. Also, traps may be stolen, damaged, or set off. Someone who does not understand your intentions may release a trapped cat. Trapping a feral cat may take some time. Be patient. It may take the cat a few minutes to go into the trap. Make sure the trap is sprung, and the cat securely trapped, before you approach the trap. If you come out too soon you may frighten the cat away. After the cat has been caught, cover the entire trap with a towel or cloth before moving it. Covering the traps will help to keep the cats calm. It is normal for the cat to thrash around inside the trap. It is very tempting to release him but he will not hurt himself if the trap is covered. If a cat has already hurt himself, do not release him. Most injuries from traps are very minor, such as a bruised nose, scratched paw pad, or bloody nose. The cat will calm down once the trap is covered. Immediately release all nursing mother cats unless you are trying to trap her kittens. If you are not successful in trapping the kittens, release the mother cat and try again. If you trap a severely injured or sick cat rush him or her to a veterinary clinic immediately. Transport the trapped cats to your holding facility for overnight boarding - we recommend trapping the colony the evening before their scheduled surgery so you can be sure they are fasted and to give you an opportunity to trap again in the morning. Provide the cat fresh food and water. Use a divider, if possible, to keep the cat confined to one side of the trap while you carefully place food on a paper plate at the back of the trap along with a bowl of water. To do this: slowly approach the trap and pull the cover back slightly so you can see where the cat is. When the cat is on one end of the trap, open the door on the other side about 1 ½” – 2” to insert the items. Immediately close the door, making sure it’s securely locked, and removed the divider if one was used. Always wear long sleeves and heavy gloves when opening the door to provide food/water. Check in on the cat before bedtime. Remove any remaining food and ensure he/she has water and that the room temperature is acceptable. If you must trap the same morning, be sure to use only a very small amount of bait and remove any remaining food from the trap immediately.
Tips for the Hard-to-Catch Cat
•Use a drop trap instead of a box trap.
• Line the trap floor with leaves.
• Put the trap in a large box so the cat feels hidden.
• Withhold food for two days instead of just one. Never withhold food for more than two days.
• Try a variety of foods to entice him/her into the trap. Try to identify which food the cats like best.
#6 - Neuter Day
On the scheduled day, transport the cats to the clinic of your choice. Arrive early for the appointed drop-off time as lines can be long in the morning. Feral packages at Twin Ports Spay/Neuter include spay/neuter surgery, Rabies vaccination, and left ear-tipping. The feral package costs $50.00. For an additional $20, you can have a microchip inserted as well. Microchipping ensures that your cat will always be returned to the colony in the event the cat is re-trapped. Please be aware that if you decide to go to a private veterinary practice, their services and procedures costs may be significantly higher than those of the low-cost, high quality clinics such as Twin Ports Spay/Neuter. Then following day after surgery you will pick the cats up from the clinic and bring them to your holding space for recovery. After they've had enough time to recuperate, return them to their territory. If there were a couple of cats you didn't catch in time for your spay/neuter day, keep trying to catch them for as long as the rest of the colony is confined. The hassle of arranging their surgeries will often be less than the difficulty of trying to trap them later when the rest of the cats are loose, too.
#7 - Caretaking
The cats will soon return to their normal routine and your job, and those working with you, will be to provide regular food and shelter, keep an eye out for any new arrivals. Now that the cats are fixed, you won't have to worry about kittens, there will be far fewer complaints and you'll know you've done what you can to make this a better world for your feral friends.
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