I had the pleasure again recently of tagging along with Kurt Meyer, a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) expert, on one of his many missions. TNR is a practice whereby feral cats are humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, marked for future identification by a procedure called eartipping, then returned to their original location. It has been gaining widespread support in many communities as the best approach in managing feral cat populations. Along with the dedication of a colony caretaker – someone who assumes the responsibility of ensuring the cats are provided with food, fresh water, and shelter from the elements if possible – it is the most humane way we can treat the strays that live in our neighborhoods with us.
|Mr. October, AHA’s “Hot Men of Compassion” 2009 calendar|
In the midst of corporate buildings, a hotel and a myriad of townhome complexes sits an old farm property. Although no longer tilled and farmed, the owners fought off the harassing efforts of builders to retain their land and their home. I wish you could experience it. It’s beautiful here – full of mature trees and shrubbery, flower beds, expansive lawns and even the old barn. It is a pure oasis of Nature tucked away in the jungle of concrete suburbia.
Many cats call this property home, too. Here they find peace and tranquility, and shelter from the elements as well as dangerous traffic and wildlife predators. The farm owners have always provided well for these cats, and over the years were able to trap many and have them spayed or neutered. But there still remained a few intact, and we know how well cats perform at multiplying themselves, given a chance.
|The stage is set|
So the Cat Man came to the rescue. Bringing his standard equipment, he was well prepared. Through experience, Kurt has found that the wooden drop trap system performs better than the usual Have-a-Heart metal trap cage. I, myself, having seen the use of both, also think this drop trap is superior. It is made with lightweight wood (think plywood) and wrapped with nylon netting – neither of which could accidentally cause harm to a trapped, frightened cat. It is extremely effective in getting the job done. To make one yourself, check out these instructions, or this Fact Sheet provided by Alley Cat Allies.
|Note the string|
The land owner/colony caretaker withheld feeding from the day prior, to increase the temptation of the food waiting inside the trap. Setting the stage is relatively simple. Placing the propped-up trap in the usual feeding location at the usual feeding time, and setting down just a bit of food at the far end of the trap, Kurt then runs a string from the trap’s wood prop stick away to a distance where he can remain out of view from approaching kitties (but still be able to see the trap himself).
Then he waits.
|Covering prevents frightening the cat|
Once a cat enters the trap, becomes preoccupied with the food opposite the raised end of the trap, Kurt briskly tugs the string to pull the stick that props it up – dropping the crate over and around the cat. Should more than one cat enter at a time, space is no problem because this trap is large – both high and wide. And because the closing of the trap depends on Kurt pulling the string, he has complete control over exactly when the best time would be to activate the trap. With a Have-a-Heart trap, the metal trap door springs shut once the cat steps on the trigger.
|Covered carrier for transport|
Immediately after, Kurt quickly wraps a sheet completely around the trap. When cats realize they are ensnared, they tend to freak out. Kurt explains that by enclosing them in the sheet, cats feel a sense of calmness and sit quietly. This makes the next step easier, and prevents a cat from causing possible self-injury from thrashing about.
|Aligning carrier with door/passage|
The next step is to align a covered carrier with the trap’s “door”. With the open end of the carrier snuggly against the trap, Kurt then slides up the “door”, allowing the cat to run into the carrier. Then he quickly closes the carrier gate, and places it in the quiet seclusion of his car. Now it’s time for rinse and repeat, until all possible cats have been trapped for the day.
|Sliding up door/loose gate to enclose cat in carrier|
Because many of the cats in this colony had previously been trapped and neutered, there were a few false catches. Checking their ears for signs of “tipping”, where a TNR cat’s ear is snipped to denote having been spayed or neutered, Kurt found that some had already been done. So he just released them at that point. Yes, they ran like hell!
I found it very interesting to learn why eartipping procedures have changed over the years. The cats we met that day were prime examples of why the vertical cut is no longer the standard. These were black cats, and some of them had longer fur. With all the dark fur on their ears, it was hard to see the vertical slits! The standard now for eartipping is to snip horizontally across the top of the left ear. This is much easier to see without close inspection (not always a possibility with skittish ferals). We certainly wouldn’t want to unnecessarily put a cat through the trauma of a second neutering trip!
|Plan B for reticent cats|
Day turned to night as we waited to catch as many as we could. Kurt moved the trap to the driveway, where it would be more in the open, and hopefully more likely to be visited by those that were, so far, too wary to approach. He also added some strong-smelling canned food as an additional attractant. We waited further down the driveway in the car, watching with string in hand. The farm owner knew of one easily identifiable male that we really hoped we could trap. That male was, however, a smart little bugger. There was a possum that Kurt had to shoo away at one point, though – that little one was dying to get at the food!
|Covering the trap after cat caught|
Once finished trapping, Kurt takes the carriers home for the night. Keeping them in a quiet, non-threatening place, they rest for their big day. The following morning, he returned to the farm in hopes of trapping more, before heading to PAWS Chicago where the procedure is offered at greatly reduced rates for ferals. A large male and a female entered the trap together. When Kurt pulled the drop stick, however, the male jumped, hitting the top of the trap – and enabling the female to escape through the space provided by the momentarily lifted trap. The male turned out to be eartipped and Kurt released him.
After performing volunteer work at PAWS while waiting out the few hours, the cats were ready at 4 in the afternoon to be taken back home – where Kurt released them back onto the property they call home. This is the most important step in TNR; once trapped, the cats should be returned to their original location. The only exception is when a cat, or more likely kitten, is determined to have been socialized with humans or capable of it. These cats are taken into foster homes and become available for adoption. That weekend he successfully TNR’d four cats from this property. Each was examined, vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and eartipped by a veterinarian at PAWS.
The Fall is a good time to consider TNR for neighborhood strays. Before the harsh winter sets in, you have the opportunity to rescue kittens and socialized cats. For the ferals, you enable them to remain in their home area while at the same time prevent future unwanted litters from adding to the local feline population.
Kurt volunteers with Feral Fixers, a local organization dedicated to TNR, the education, coaching and promotion of it, and all feral cats. Just this month, Feral Fixers celebrated having TNR’d 3000 cats in their short history, among their many accomplishments. He is also a volunteer of Friendly and Feral Cat Rescue and Almost Home Foundation, through which he fosters cats he has trapped that are deemed suitable for pets in homes.