Trap and Return: The Hows and Whys

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.