A strong determination to trap and sterilize is often a caregiver’s greatest asset because, although the TNR process is straightforward, it can be intimidating the first time. The idea of “trapping” conjures images of cats being hurt or traumatized, and no longer trusting the caregivers. This does not happen. Since ACA was founded in 1990, hundreds of thousands of feral cats have been humanely trapped, vetted, and returned to their familiar surroundings where, after a brief adjustment, they resumed their daily routine and good relationship with their caregivers. But their lives were vastly improved by this intervention. Before you trap and sterilize the colony or colonies you care for, take time to learn exactly what TNR entails. The most basic steps are in the name:
Safety - Feral cats, like all wild animals, will strike out when frightened and unable to run away (as they are in a trap). You must learn correct safety procedures such as always labeling traps and never sticking your hand into a trap. Make sure that everyone else involved learns them as well. People who regularly work with wild animals may get preexposure rabies vaccinations. If you follow established safety precautions, you will never get close enough for a feral cat to bite you; therefore you would not need a pre-exposure rabies vaccination. You should, however, be aware that the vaccination is available and decide for yourself if you should get it.
Stress Reduction - Learn how tension, loud noises, extremes of heat and cold, and exposure can affect the entire TNR process. Maintaining a calm, comfortable environment for the cats will reduce their stress and speed their recovery from trapping and surgery. Careful planning and a realistic timetable will enhance the process for trappers as well. The Alley Cats Allies factsheet "The Basics" offers practical pointers to increase your trapping success.
Taming Feral Cats - You may hear from people who want to tame feral cats and place them in homes. This is not realistic. There are tens of millions of feral cats in North America. Shelters and animal control facilities kill more cats than any other species each year. Although many kittens and stray adult cats can be socialized and adopted into homes, it is impossible to home the feral cat population as a whole. Attempts to tame adult feral cats divert time and energy from the most important objective: sterilizing the feral cat population to end overpopulation.
Relocation - The great majority of feral cat colonies should be returned after sterilization to their established locations, where you found them. The alternative, relocation, is a difficult, time-consuming, and problematic procedure. It is not necessary or recommended except under extreme circumstances.
TNR evolved from nonlethal control programs practiced for decades in the United Kingdom, other parts of Europe, and Africa. In the United States, TNR is practiced by thousands of individuals and hundreds of groups, with the help of sympathetic veterinarians. TNR is endorsed by numerous institutions and organizations, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Best Friends Animal Society, Cat Fancier’s Association, Cornell and Tufts Universities’ Schools of Veterinary Medicine, Doris Day Animal League, the Humane Society of the United States, San Francisco SPCA, and SPAY/USA. In a growing number of communities, TNR programs are receiving official sanction and funding. The ACA factsheet “Where Does TNR Work?” lists dozens of publicly, privately, and jointly funded programs in the United States, but it cannot include them all because individuals like you start new TNR programs every day. The information needed to implement TNR may not be available to you locally, but it is easily found on the internet at alleycat.org or obtained by mail from Alley Cat Allies. You can rapidly learn how to manage one or more colonies of feral cats using ACA’s newsletters, factsheets, videos on youtube, and website. ACA may be able to refer you to a Feral Friend, a volunteer in your area who can help you get started. With guidance, you can overcome almost any obstacle to implementing a humane management plan.
Few people set out to become feral cat caregivers. Most often they come across feral cats by accident and follow their instinct to help. The first impulse is to feed the cats. Alley Cat Allies (ACA) advocates feeding because food and water are necessary for survival. Not feeding the cats and hoping they will “go away” is not realistic. They can’t go away, and they may starve, but they will continue to reproduce. However you became involved with feral cats, your best course of action is to start feeding and, as soon as possible, begin a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program to trap, vet, and sterilize all members of the colony. Getting feral cats to a veterinarian for spaying or neutering and a general health evaluation is the single most important thing a caregiver can do for them. This is how a caregiver turns a feral cat colony into a managed colony, whose members can live safe, healthy, sterile lives without the dangers and hardship of constant breeding.
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