This post first appeared on Care2.com.
Twenty-six years ago the definition of feral cats wasn’t part of the national consciousness in the United States. Today, hundreds of nonprofit organizations across the country are managing feral cat colonies using the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) method of control. Among them is Donna Moussa who runs the TNR program for Save the Animals Rescue Team II (STARTII) in Bergen County, NJ. Moussa got involved with the program after following a mother cat and her kitten into a neighbor’s backyard where she discovered more than 40 ferals lounging around the pool and hanging out in flower pots.
“I thought I would trap these cats and have them spayed and neutered and that would take care of the problem,” Moussa said. “Little did I know there were thousands of feral cats living in communities all over the county.”
Twelve years later Moussa and her team have trapped more than 3,000 feral cats, transported them to the spay/neuter clinic, and cared for them during recovery before returning them to their colonies. Feral cat advocates nationwide hail this method as the most humane way of managing colonies. According to numerous scientific studies—many conducted while monitoring feral cat colonies on college campuses—TNR improves the lives of cats, improves the relationship between feral cats and the people who live near them and over time decreases the number of cats in a colony.
Sometimes Moussa’s TNR Group traps friendly cats like this pair Lenny and Squiggly who were abandoned in a park. They were placed into a loving home.
TNR Programs Cannot Operate Without Community Help
Moussa agrees that TNR is the way to go when it comes to helping feral cats. Many of the colonies her group started with have now disappeared because the cats lived out their lives without reproducing. But Moussa said that TNR groups cannot manage colonies without the help and support of the local community. For example, trappers learn about colonies when alerted by homeowners or commercial property owners who took the initiative to reach out to the groups for help. Often these callers have been feeding the cats for a while and become alarmed at how quickly the colony is growing. According to Spay USA, by spaying and neutering just one male and one female cat, an estimated more than 2,000 unwanted births can be prevented in just four years—and more than two million in eight years!
Trappers like Moussa can only help bring down these numbers if property owners become partners in the effort. That includes donating money to help defray the cost of spay/neuter programs, accepting the cats back to the property and agreeing to provide them with shelter and food for the rest of their lives. These caretakers also become monitors, alerting the trappers if new cats show up at the feeding stations.
Amazingly, in all of the years that Moussa has worked with feral colonies, nobody has ever asked if they could help with the trapping. Amazingly, in all of the years that Moussa has worked with feral colonies, nobody has ever asked if they could help with the trapping.
“It’s a time commitment because trappers also handle transportation to the spay/neuter clinic, recovery care and the return of the cats to their colonies,” Moussa said. “We welcome help and are happy to train new volunteers.”
Here are more tips on how to help feral cats
- Raise money or build and place shelters for feral cats.
- Foster and help socialize kittens while rescue groups work to find them homes.
- Run food drives to help feral cat colony caretakers who normally pay for cat food out of their own pockets.
- Provide space in a garage or basement where crated feral cats can safely recover from spay or neuter surgery before being returned to their colonies.
- Make sure your own family cat is spayed or neutered and that kittens that are too young for surgery are not allowed to escape from the home.
- Well-meaning family members who feed feral or stray cats without having them trapped and fixed need to understand that they are adding to the overpopulation problem.
If you’re seeking help and guidance in managing feral colonies in your community, The Humane Society of the United States has compiled a comprehensive list of groups and organizations working with feral cats across the US and Canada.
Allied Cat Allies offers helpful tips on everything from managing feral cat colonies to caring for orphaned kittens to building cat shelters.