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What Is a TNR Program for Feral Cats? Important Facts & FAQ

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By Nicole Cosgrove

feral cats resting outdoor

Feral cats are cats that live outdoors and are unowned. These cats may have been born outdoors, or they may have once had an owner who let them go or abandoned them. These cats typically form colonies and may lead to issues with overpopulation if local authorities don’t manage them.

The United States boasts a staggering feral cat population of between 60 and 100 million. That’s more than triple the human population of Texas, the second-largest state in the US. Luckily, there is a safe and effective way to keep the feral cat population in check: Trap-Neuter-Return – the TNR program.

What Is the Trap-Neuter-Return Program?

The Trap-Neuter-Return, or TNR, program is a humane way to manage feral cats. TNR involves trapping feral cats, usually in a humane trap, and taking them to a veterinarian or animal shelter for spaying/neutering and vaccination. After the procedure is finished, they are released back into their colonies.

feral cat in the cage
Image Credit: Piqsels

Who Conducts TNR Projects?

TNR projects are fully community volunteer projects involving regular citizens and animal welfare organizations. TNR volunteers trap the cats, transport them to a veterinarian or animal shelter for spaying or neutering and vaccinations, and then return them to their colonies.

The project usually takes about a year to complete. During the trap-neuter-return process, volunteers provide food and water for the cats and make sure they stay healthy. While there’s some controversy regarding the project, it’s ultimately a net positive for the communities involved.

How Do TNR Projects Work in 7 Steps

TNR projects are structured with clear objectives and goals. The entire exercise involves seven steps, which are:

1. Training and Information Acquisition

Volunteers receive training in trap-neuter-return methods, trap types, and safety protocols. They also learn the basics of feral cats and local wildlife laws. That way, they can ensure the safety of the cats and that they follow all local regulations.

There are plenty of resources online that can get you up to speed with everything you need to know about the TNR program. The Neighborhood Cats TNR Handbook is a great place to start, but you can always look at local resources as well.

animal shelter for cats
Image Credit: hedgehog94, Shutterstock

2. Combing the Area for Trapping

This involves scouting out the area and making sure that it’s safe for trapping and release. Volunteers will also check to see if there are any cats living in enclosed spaces or other places that could be dangerous.

This is also an excellent opportunity to hand out TNR pamphlets and educate the local population about your initiative. While you’re at it, try and recruit more volunteers to assist with the program. You could always do with an extra pair of hands or two.

3. Prepare for Trapping

Trapping the cats is arguably the most difficult part of the entire process. But adequate preparation will go a long way towards ensuring success. Proper preparation involves establishing feeding patterns, doing a census, and setting up shelters and feeding centers.

The trap should be pre-baited and tested to make sure that it functions properly. It’s also important to check if the trap is legal, as there may be restrictions on the trap size and weight in certain areas.

cage trap in the wild
Image Credit: Geoff Sperring, Shutterstock

4. Find a Place to Hold the Cats

Once the trap is set, volunteers will need to find a place to hold the cats until they can be taken for treatment. This should be somewhere close and secure, such as an animal shelter or veterinary clinic.

This should hold the cats for about three to four days. This is enough time for them to recover from their surgery and receive any necessary vaccinations. Ensure the holding space is warm and shielded from the elements.

5. Gather the Necessary Equipment and Arrange for Transportation

Volunteers will need to gather the necessary equipment for trap-neuter-return, such as trap boxes, surgical items, carriers, and food. They’ll also need to arrange for transportation of the cats from the trap site to a veterinarian or animal shelter.

cat shelter
Image Credit: Anna Krivitskaya, Shutterstock

6. The Action

The most exciting part is where you actually trap the cats. You’ll first need to keep all the food under lock to make sure the cats are really hungry. If the cats aren’t that hungry, they won’t dare step into the traps.

Leave the traps out for about two to three days, even if you’re only after a handful of cats. After you’re satisfied with your catch, count all the cats you’ve trapped and transport them to the clinic. Leave the neutering to licensed veterinarians, and never try it by yourself.

7. Taking Care of the Cats

Once your trap-neuter-return mission is complete, you’ll need to take care of the cats after their surgery. This involves keeping them in their holding shelters and monitoring them for any complications.

Also, make sure to provide them with enough food and water while they’re recovering. After they’ve recovered, release the cats back into their trap site, or you can even re-home them if they’re friendly.

cat lying being massaged by owner
Image Credit: Pencil case, Shutterstock

The 4 Reasons the TNR Program Is So Important

Without proper population control measures like TNR, the population of feral cats would spiral out of control. This would mean a huge burden on shelters and rescue groups, who are already struggling to keep up with the constant influx of cats.

Here are a couple of reasons why the TNR program is super important:

1. To Keep the Feral Population in Check

TNR helps keep the population of feral cats in check, which is essential for preventing overpopulation and overcrowded shelters. It also helps restore order in the neighborhood and reduces the chances of inter-cat aggression and other behavioral issues.

2. To Vaccinate Feral Cats Against Rabies and Other Diseases

TNR helps to reduce the chances of feral cats spreading rabies and other diseases. Vaccinations help keep cats healthy and also protect them from being affected by infectious diseases. Remember, some of these diseases can spread to humans, so you’re actually preserving your own health too.

veterinarian giving injection to a cat
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

3. To Reduce Human-Cat Conflict

Trap-neuter-return programs also help reduce the amount of human-cat conflict in the area since they decrease the number of feral cats. This is beneficial for both humans and cats, and it helps to limit the spread of diseases, reduces the amount of noise caused by cats fighting, and improves the overall quality of life in the area.

4. To Reduce the Cost of Controlling Feral Cat Populations

Trap-neuter-return programs are much more cost-effective than euthanasia, which can be expensive. TNR also helps to trap cats and neuter them, which is an important part of population control.

feral cat on rock
Image Credit: Dimitris Vetsikas, Pixabay

Why Is TNR Better Than Euthanasia?

Euthanasia is a form of population control that involves killing animals in order to reduce their numbers. While this method reduces suffering, it is still inhumane and not very effective as a long-term solution.

On the other hand, trap-neuter-return helps keep the feral cat population under control while also providing them with veterinary care and vaccinations. This method of population control is more humane and cost-effective as it reduces the number of cats in a more sustainable manner.

Final Thoughts

The trap-neuter-return program is an important part of population control for feral cats. It helps reduce the amount of human-cat conflict, keeps the feral cat population in check, and is much more humane than euthanasia.

Are you struggling to keep up with the number of feral cats in your neighborhood? Embrace the TNR program and take control of the situation without harming the cats and overspending. Do it for the cats.

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Featured Image Credit: Dimitris Vetsikas, Pixabay

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