Our TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) program is one of the two programs WCHS has that are designed to reduce the high numbers of cats in our county. TNR is a method of controlling and reducing the number of feral (wild) cats, and has been well received primarily in non-incorporated municipalities.
Historically, feral cats were brought into animal shelters but, because they are wild and not adoptable, they were euthanized after the stray hold period. We do not euthanize healthy wild animals when they come into our facility…feral cats should be no different. With TNR, the cats are trapped, altered and returned to the same area they came from. Ideally, people interested in TNR provide some type of shelter for the cats, as well as food and water.
TNR is rapidly spreading throughout the country in an effort to control feral cat colonies, and fewer cats are being euthanized as a result. WCHS began a pilot TNR program in 2004/2005 at the Green Valley Mobile Home Park in Jackson with very successful results. Numbers have been reduced in the park, and complaint calls (formerly a frequent occurrence) have all but disappeared.
Our TNR program is for feral cats, which are un-socialized cats either born outside never having lived with a human or a house cat who has strayed from home and over time has thrown off the effects of domestication and reverted to a wild state.
- WCHS’s TNR program is currently free for Washington County and $35 for out of county.
- Feral cats for the WCHS TNR Program should be trapped on Sunday evening or Monday evening.
- Feral cats are accepted Mondays 8:30 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. or Tuesdays 8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
- Cats MUST be received no later than Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. to be altered on Wednesday morning.
- Due to our anesthetic protocol, each cat MUST have its own trap prior to and following surgery
During surgery, each cat that is 3 months of age or older will receive a rabies vaccine. They will also be “ear-tipped”, which means the tip of the left ear will be removed. This identifies a free-roaming cat as altered which prevents the need for future transport, stress and anesthesia.
Feral cats will recover at WCHS. Cats need to be held 48 hours after surgery and can be picked up on Friday or Saturday for re-release. If the temperature is below 30 degrees fahrenheit, we will hold the cats until it is above 30 degrees fahrenheit.
Feral cats should be returned to their established location where you found them. The alternative – relocation – is a difficult, time-consuming and problematic procedure, and it is not recommended except under extreme circumstances. Relocating cats without the proper steps can endanger the cat’s life. They will try to return to their old home, and may become lost or attempt to cross major roads. Also, feral cats form strong bonds with other cats in their colonies. Separating a cat from their colony members and leaving them alone in a new environment will cause stress, depression and loneliness.
We insist on the respectful treatment of all people, property and cats affiliated with our program and our organization. We reserve the right to refuse future services for any person who engages in any inappropriate treatment of staff, volunteers, property or cats.
If you have questions about our TNR program, please contact the shelter, Operations Manager, at (262) 677-4388. She will be happy to explain the program in detail.
Stress In Feral Cats
Stress is very common in feral cats coming in to the TNR program. A trapped cat loses control over their environment and loses their ability to flee from perceived or real threats. This can produce intense stress that can affect a cat’s health, prolong their recovery from surgery, and compromise their return to their outdoor home.
Cats’ conduits to the world are sight, sound and smell. Assess what they can see, hear and smell, and remove anything that might be a threat. Accept that no matter what your normal relationship with the cat is, a trapped cat will not be consoled by your talking to them. The best thing you can do is keep the trap covered and leave the cat alone. Avoid holding trapped cats around loud or vibrating machinery, or in too hot or cold an area. Cats react to vibration as well as to excess noise. Do not play a radio. Quiet is the best environment for the cats.
Arrange to use a safe, fully enclosed vehicle to move the traps. Never move trapped cats in an open bed of a pickup truck or in the trunk of a car – this is unsafe and it terrifies the cats. Secure the traps with bungee cords or other restraints. If an unsecured trap tips sideways or upside down (from the cat’s or the vehicle’s motion), it can open and release the cat.
Feral kittens can sometimes be tamed and placed in homes, but they MUST be socialized in their first few weeks of life. This is a critical window and if they aren’t handled in time, they will remain feral, and therefore, unadoptable.
- Kittens between 4 and 6 weeks old can take approximately one to two weeks to socialize.
- Kittens between 6 and 8 weeks old may take anywhere from two to four weeks, and between 8 and 9 weeks the socialization period will be approximately four weeks.
- Kittens over 10 weeks of age can possibly be tamed but it may take much longer, and many times they will only tame down to the person working with them and remain quite wild with strangers.
Depending on the availability of foster homes, WCHS will attempt socialization of kittens up to 8 or 9 weeks old. Kittens 10 weeks and older will be re-released. Feral kittens must be 2 pounds in order to be sterilized.
Based on research data, WCHS does not test feral cats for Feline Leukemia or FIV because of the low incidence of these diseases (4%). There is also evidence that 70-80% of adults exposed to FeLV survive the initial stage of infection and acquire immunity. In addition, sterilization contains the spread of viruses like FeLV and FIV because it eliminates the primary modes of transmission such as fighting and breeding. Finally, false positives can and do occur.
If you feel strongly that the feral cats you bring in to the program be tested, we offer that option for a suggested donation to cover our costs. However, in the event of a positive result, because of the inability to obtain a second test weeks later, cats that test positive will be euthanized.
Our goal is to insure that the cats brought to us are well suited for life as a free-roaming cat upon return and have the health and capacity to live life without suffering in their colonies. If a cat arrives to WCHS sick, the caretaker will be charged a nominal fee for medications, or the caretaker may take the cat elsewhere for altering services/medications if they so choose. Sick cats will not be sterilized, and we may medicate their food in an attempt to improve their health. If our veterinarian believes that a cat is suffering, or determines that a cat is in very poor health, we may euthanize the cat. We believe this is the most humane for the individual cat, because it can die peacefully under anesthesia rather than protractedly on its own.
Feral cats, like all wild animals, will strike out when frightened and unable to run away. NEVER stick your hand or fingers inside the trap!
In order to trap effectively, you will need the following:
- One humane trap per cat. You will be more successful if you trap as many cats as possible in the first trapping session. We do have traps available to rent right here at WCHS. A deposit will be required, but will not be cashed unless the trap is not returned or is returned damaged.
- A can of tuna in oil, sardines in oil, mackerel, or other enticing bait. If you are using moist cat food, use a food like Fancy Feast which is highly desirable.
- Lids or small containers to hold the bait (optional).
- A large towel or sheet to cover the entire trap. Plastic tablecloths are an excellent choice because they allow moisture to run off in inclement weather. Before a cat has been trapped, cover the trap’s sides and top. This will calm the cat and lessen the risk of injury once it is inside the trap.
- Gloves for your protection.
Withhold Food – You must withhold all food from the cats you intend to trap 24 hours before trapping. This will ensure that the cats are hungry enough to enter the traps. While this may be hard, particularly if the cats appear hungry, remember that you are doing what is best for them.
Preparing the trap – it is best to do this away from the trapping site. Do this so that if a trap does not work properly or goes off too easily it will not scare off the cats. Unlatch the back door so you can get your hands inside the trap, but be sure to relock the door before trapping. If your trap does not have a rear door, secure the front door with a twist tie so it won’t keep falling shut while you work. Place approx. one tablespoon of bait along the back of the trap (in a lid or container if you choose). Drizzle some juice from the bait along the trap towards the entrance in a zigzag pattern. Place about ¼ teaspoon of bait in the middle of the trap on the trip plate. It is important not to leave bait in the front of the trap; this may satisfy the cat and they will leave without setting off the trap. Set and cover the traps, and leave quietly. The cats are unlikely to enter the traps if you are standing nearby. Check the cats every two hours if possible.
After trapping, cover the entire trap before moving it which will help to keep the cats calm. It is normal for cats to thrash about inside the trap, and you may be tempted to release them. Even if a cat has already injured themselves, do not release them. Most injuries from traps are very minor, such as a bruised nose, scratched paw pad, or bloody nose. The cat should calm down once the trap is covered.
Release the cat in the same place you trapped him or her. Open the front door of the trap and pull back the cover. If the trap has a rear door, pull the door up and off, remove the cover and walk away. Do not be concerned if the cat hesitates a few moments before leaving. They are simply reorienting themselves to their surroundings. It is also not uncommon for the cat to stay away for a few days after release. Keep leaving food and water out, and they will return eventually.