Updated: Apr 12, 2019
Guest Blogger: Kelly Wegel
Most people have at least heard of trap and return, however, in case you haven't, let me take a moment to talk a bit about it before we introduce you to our guest blogger this week.
Trap and Return, otherwise known as TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) is an essential part in working towards controlling the feral cat population. TNR is a program through which free-roaming cats (not belonging to particular humans) are humanely trapped, sterilized and medically treated, and returned to the outdoor locations where they were found.
In this post, our fellow cat lover, Kelly Wegel will share her experience with TNR and also some product suggestions, should you decide to also take part in this effort in your own community.
I started feeding the feral cats in my apartment complex in Duluth, Ga., in September or October 2016, thinking I was helping them. In only a few weeks, there were about 4 or 5 cats that would regularly show up. Then, I found a litter of kittens living in a storm drain in late November.
I called all around, looking for a group to trap them, but no one had the volunteers or resources. I found this to be a common response: shelters were full and there were not organized trapping groups. The county would not send people out to trap cats, and, even if they did, they would go to a kill shelter.
One organization told me about trap-neuter-release/return, aka TNR, where people catch cats, neuter or spay them, and then release them back so they can live their lives as feral cats. I thought I could never trap cats because I had no experience. I tried to get my apartment complex to do something, but they responded to my requests for help by sending an email to the residents telling them not to feed the cats, and falsely promising that if they stopped feeding them, then the cats would “go away.” (Just so you know, that’s not necessarily true).
The best advice I got was: the neighborhood feral is everyone’s responsibility. We all have to be proactive to help the cats and prevent future kittens.
My husband then surprised me with a humane trap, and encouraged me to start doing TNR. I teamed up with a neighbor, Brooke, we educated ourselves as best we could using online resources, and started trapping. Our first catch was a possum, but, after that, we successfully trapped, neutered, and returned six cats over four months. One cat was socialized enough to become a housecat, even though she was born feral. Brooke adopted her and named her Hazel.
I hope the following advice is helpful to new or inexperienced trappers like myself. It is gathered from my own experience, so please look at other resources like Alley Cat Allies for professional advice.
Important: I never trapped nursing kittens or a nursing mom cat. If you are in that situation, try to get some experienced help or consult a vet, as separating a nursing mom from the kittens can seriously endanger the kittens’ lives. Even with bottle feeding, not all kittens survive being separated from mom, and it is best to keep them together.
Research Humane Traps.
My husband bought an Advantek brand 20050 Catch and Release Humane Trap, which came with a second, smaller trap for rodents. This one unfortunately does not have a way to open the back of it to change out a food bowl. It has otherwise been a reliable and sturdy trap, and the cats have not been able to escape from it. The only issue was one very rainy and humid day, the metal was too damp to set the trap properly, and kept slipping. Read trap reviews for traps that are specifically for cats and other animals of that size, and be wary of traps that might allow the cats to push up the door or get a paw underneath the door, as they can hurt themselves trying to escape. Many companies also sell coverings for the traps, and have advice about trapping on their websites. Also, your local vet or animal rescue might let you borrow or rent a trap.
There are different types of traps called drop traps. I have never used one, so I will include a link here: Neighborhood Cats: Drop Traps.
Find a Place to Trap.
The ground should be level so the trap will not tip over or roll, and it should be away from cars and a lot of foot traffic. I had success finding spaces between bushes or trees that were slightly secluded but still open enough that I could see the trap from afar.
Establish a Feeding Pattern at the Trapping Location.
Putting food in the same area every night encourages the cats to come back, and makes it
easier to get them to trust the area and the food, and eventually go into the trap. I suggest a nighttime feeding and trapping schedule. Be cautious of regular feeding at a place like a park, as that might be a violation of a county ordinance. Check online for your county or city’s laws. It may be best to feed and trap on your own property, or public property that is far away from humans. It is much easier to be able to set the traps close to your home, so you can check on it easily every 15-20 minutes, instead of sitting in your car or in a secluded area at night.
As I mentioned above, try to trap in an area that is safe for you and the cats to be in at night. I recommend wearing gardening gloves or thick work gloves because the trap might have a jagged or rusty edge. If you are worried about being bitten, most gardening or work gloves probably won’t protect you from a bite, and you should look for special trapping gloves. For example: Do My Own: Animal Handling Gloves.
Additionally, protect yourself and your animals from fleas and other bugs that like to live in areas where you feed or trap. Even for indoor pets, I recommend using a monthly flea and heartworm medicine like Advantage, Revolution, or Frontline, since you will inevitably bring some fleas or bugs into the house with you. After trapping, I would leave my shoes outside, and take off socks and pants before entering my house. My clothes would immediately go into a dryer for about 15-20 minutes to kill any fleas or flea eggs, and I would spray down my shoes, doormat, and entrance with flea spray. I used Vet’s Best Natural Flea and Tick Home Spray, it cost me about $10 on Amazon, and is supposed to be safe for use around pets and children.
I suggest lining the trap with newspaper first, as this will be easier on the cat’s paws and catch the pee and poop overnight. We baited the trap with wet Friskies cat food, sometimes mixed with canned tuna or salmon. Some sources online suggest baiting the trap with canned mackerel or even KFC chicken, and that seems like a good idea if regular food does not work. We put a large portion in the very back of the trap, and small spoonfuls in front of the trap and in the middle of the trap, to coax the cat in. We would set the trap and check on it every 15-20 minutes. We also left the trap covered with an old towel or blanket. This kept the cat much calmer once the trap snapped. One time, we left the trap uncovered, and the cat was very upset and darted at the sides of the trap, trying to escape. I was afraid it would hurt itself or even tip the trap over, so we quickly found something to cover the trap and it calmed down in less than a minute.
Once you trap and release a cat, it will be extremely difficult to ever trap it again. Try not to release a trapped cat before you get it to the vet, unless it is truly an emergency.
Keeping Cats Overnight.
Brooke has a garage where we could keep the cats in the trap overnight and then take them to the vet the next morning. Find a place like this, away from predators that could harm the cats through the trap. We layered old towels and puppy training pads under the trap.
We were able to scare the cats to the back of the trap, and then slide in small bowls of food and water for them overnight. (This would have been much easier if we had a trap with an opening in the back that allows you to change the food bowls). We crushed a Capstar pill into this food before putting it in the trap. Capstar kills adult fleas on the cat, works for about 24 hours, and a pack of 6 pills cost me about $22 on Amazon. We did this because we both have our own cats, and wanted to minimize fleas in the garage and in our cars the next morning. Beware, it is only for cats that are 2 pounds or heavier, not for kittens. Remember to let the vet know if you gave the cat any food or medication, and what time.
We had the same setup for when we received the male cats back from the vet. Males need to be kept for 24 hours after the surgery, then they can be released, unless the vet tells you otherwise. We kept the males in the garage and released them the next day. There was always pee and poop in the trap, so be prepared to clean it soon after releasing them. (Hopefully your vet will re-line the trap with fresh newspaper after the surgery). For females, the recovery time is longer, often 48-72 hours, and even longer if the cat was pregnant. We found a very kind volunteer to keep the female cats, and she set them up in small kennels in her garage with litter boxes and old towels. We once trapped a pregnant female that turned out to be in her third trimester, and the vet was still able to abort the fetuses and spay the mom. Of course, if you trap a cat that looks like she might be pregnant, try to make her extra comfortable in the trap with lots of food and water, and out extra towels under the trap, as she might end up giving birth while you wait to take her to the vet.
I covered my back seat with a tarp and put puppy training pads over the tarp when I transported the trap with a cat in it. When I dropped the cats off, I sprayed my backseat with the all-natural flea spray, and did the same when I picked them up and dropped them off in the garage. This was probably overkill, but I really did not want fleas in my car!
At the Vet.
I took the ferals to Planned PEThood in Duluth, Ga., a nonprofit low-cost clinic. They don’t require appointments for feral cats, and they have a feral package for $35, which includes the spay or neuter surgery, one-year rabies vaccine, and an ear tip. An ear tip is a small notch or cut that the vet makes in the cat’s ear so they can be identified easily in the future as a cat that has been altered. I requested flea treatment for the cats, at an additional cost. Some vets will have different prices or packages, and might charge more for pregnant cats. You may be able to talk to a vet or nonprofit organization about help with payment.
Releasing, Aftercare, and Cleanup.
Whether you are releasing a recovered cat or a possum or raccoon that you accidentally trapped, take it close to the area where you trapped it, but away from cars. Stand behind the trap when you open it. It will take a minute for any animal to realize the trap is open, but then they will dart out fast. If you have the trap pointed toward a parking lot or road, they could get run over, so try to point it toward woods or bushes so it has somewhere to hide.
There is no veterinary aftercare you need to do for the cats, since they should be fully healed before you release them, unless your vet tells you otherwise, of course. You need to care for the feral colony by feeding and putting out water bowls. Out of all cats we have trapped and released, we only see two of them regularly at feeding time. The others may have moved on, or may come out much later at night. We keep photos of all the cats and their medical records in a Google Drive folder, just in case we need to pass it on to someone else or we need to re-trap any that get injured or sick, and we have named them all names that begin with H, such as Henry, Herbie, Hilda, etc., which makes it easier to keep track of them. We put out food and water every night, as these cats have come to depend on us for their nighttime meal, and fresh water will keep them much healthier than drinking from puddles.
Check out great colony care advice here, including how to build food shelters and winter shelters: Alley Cat Allies: Colony Care Guide We have not built any structures for the cats, as there are many covered areas in our complex.
As for cleaning up after releasing, we threw away or laundered all the towels and blankets (use hot water and bleach if possible), sprayed the garage and cars with flea spray, and hosed down the trap with bleach spray. There was often poop, pee, and leftover cat food in the trap.
I was surprised at how many people I met in my apartment complex who don’t like cats or are even afraid of cats! We put up fliers in our complex educating residents about TNR, and the complex sent out an email, at our request, letting the residents know about our efforts and telling them that the cats were altered and had rabies vaccines. You may be able to do this through word-of-mouth too. It’s nice to let others know that these cats have received a rabies vaccine and they do not need to be re-trapped.
Notes From the Editor: Kelly has provided us with a lot of good information, as well as a good amount of links to check out for great products and organizations that are in her area.
In that same spirit, here are a few links to organizations local to Athens to reach out to regarding TNR:
Keep your eyes peeled here at the blog for a future post on why spaying and neutering is so important, especially when it comes to population control.