TNR


Free Roaming Cats FAQs

What is a feral cat?  What is a stray cat?
What is TNR?
What are the Alternatives?
Why is TNR better than the alternatives?
Can’t I just stop feeding the cats to make them go away?
Okay, you’ve convinced me.  What do I do next?
How much does it cost to get a feral cat fixed?
What if I can’t afford the $25 per cat?
Shouldn’t I wait to make an appointment until after I’ve caught the cats?
I don’t think I can catch the cats.  What if they won’t go into the traps?
What if I don’t catch all of the cats I made an appointment for?
What is the trapping process like?
How can I get humane traps for the feral cats?
Some of the cats in my colony are tame enough to pick up.  Can I use my own carriers?
I think one of my ferals is in heat or pregnant.  Can you still spay her?
A feral cat had kittens in my backyard.  Can you spay her?
I found some kittens in my yard.  Can you spay/neuter them?
I found some kittens in my yard.  Can you get them adopted?
My neighbor’s cat is responsible for all the kittens in my neighborhood.  Can I bring him/her in to be fixed through the TNR program?
How can I keep the cats out of my yard?
Don’t cats kill birds?
Where can I get more information about scientific studies that show the effectiveness of TNR?
Where can I get more information about taking care of my feral cat colony?

What is a feral cat?  What is a stray cat?
A feral (wild) cat is a cat that is not socialized to humans.  Feral cats can be the offspring of stray cats, feral cats, or even unsterilized pet cats.  Feral cats have not been properly socialized.  They are very shy, fearful, and tend to run away from humans.  They cannot be picked up or handled by humans.  Over time, they may learn to recognize their caregiver and even come close enough to be touched briefly, but feral cats are very rarely able to be socialized enough to move indoors and be pet cats.  They survive and fend for themselves outdoors and would become very stressed if forced to live indoors with humans.

A stray cat is a cat who is socialized and more than likely used to be someone’s companion, but was lost or abandoned.  Over time because of lack of continuous socialization, these cats can become just as shy as feral cats until it’s difficult to tell whether it is a feral or a stray cat.  These cats can often, with time and effort, be re-socialized and reintroduced to life indoors.  Occasionally, stray cats can be matted or disheveled-looking because they are not used to surviving and fending for themselves outdoors and would be much better-suited for living indoors.  For more information, see the Alley Cat Allies’ page about difference between feral and stray cats.

What is TNR?
TNR is the most effective and humane solution for reducing the number of feral cats living in our communities.  TNR stands for “Trap, Neuter, and Return.”

Trap:  The feral cats are trapped in humane traps using food as bait.

 

Neuter (or spay):  The cats are taken to a veterinary clinic where they are spayed or neutered.  While the cat is under anesthesia, a small portion of the tip of its left ear is humanely removed in order to indicate that it has been sterilized and part of a managed colony.  The “ear tip” is a nationally recognized form of identification for feral cats who have been sterilized.

Return:  The cats are returned to their outdoor home in the original location where they were trapped.  The caregiver continues to provide them food and water.

What are the Alternatives?
Do Nothing
If you do nothing, the cat population will continue to increase.  Neighborhoods will become more inundated with cats and the population of free roaming cats will be unmanageable.  Instances of cat nuisances will increase.  The health of the cats will also suffer, as competition for scarce resources can lead to deaths of kittens and adult cats.

Trap & Kill
Maricopa County Animal Care and Control tried this for decades and it just didn’t work.  The problem only got worse, leading our county to have one of the highest populations of free-roaming and feral cats in the entire nation.  Cats come to an area because there is a source of food, shelter, or water for them.  When cats are removed, other unsterilized cats from neighboring areas will simply move in to utilize those resources and continue the breeding cycle.  This is known as the “vacuum effect.”  Because of this, Maricopa County Animal Care and Control discontinued their stray cat trapping program and officially endorsed TNR as the preferred method of cat population control.

Catch & Tame
With the exception of very young kittens, this approach is not realistic.  It is extremely rare for an adult feral cat to become socialized to the point where it is able to live in someone’s home as their pet.  It can be very stressful for a feral cat to be forced to live with humans if is not socialized, therefore it is often better for the cat to continue to live outdoors despite the risks that cats face outside.  For the small minority of feral cats that could be tamed, the time and effort required to help just a few cats can be prohibitive.  Even with kittens, taming can take several weeks of intensive socialization work.

Relocation
There is no other place for the cats to go and studies show that if you remove cats from their original location, others merely move into their place.  Cats come to an area because there is a source of food, shelter, or water for them.  When cats are removed, other unsterilized cats from neighboring areas will simply move in to utilize those resources and continue the breeding cycle.  This is known as the “vacuum effect.”

Why is TNR better than the alternatives?

  • TNR ends the breeding cycle for cats and controls the population in a colony. The population of cats in a colony that has been spayed and neutered will not only stop increasing, but will actually decrease over time as the cats live out their natural lives.
  • TNR greatly reduces annoying behaviors such as spraying, yowling, and fighting since these are behaviors associated with mating.
  • TNR is less expensive: Sterilization for cats in our TNR program costs $25 per cat, which includes an injection of pain medication.  Taking feral cats to Maricopa County Animal Care and Control for euthanasia (feral cats are not adoptable and are not accepted at no kill shelters) costs $96 per cat.  Exterminators are legally required to take cats to Animal Control and are charged the same $96 fee that the public is charged.  Exterminators will pass that charge onto their customers on top of whatever fees they charge for their service.  Any exterminator that claims to get rid of cats for less money is likely to be operating illegally.  Occasionally, exterminators will say that they take the cats to “no kill” shelters, but the reality is that feral cats are not adoptable and are not accepted at “no kill” shelters.
  • TNR is more effective at controlling the cat population.  Removing cats (either for relocation or killing) creates a vacuum.  Food, shelter, and water sources may still exist once the cats are removed and neighboring cats will just move in and start breeding all over again.
  • Keeping a managed feral cat colony in your neighborhood will keep populations of rodents and other pests down.  There are actually communities who have brought in feral cats to successfully eliminate roof rat infestations!
  • TNR is the most humane alternative.  The cats are allowed to live healthier lives, and there are fewer cats and kittens turned in to overcrowded shelters who will face certain death.  Smaller, sterilized colonies also mean less disease, less competition, and less suffering.

Can’t I just stop feeding the cats to make them go away?
Unfortunately, removing the cats’ food will not make them go away.  Cats have a very strong bond to their territory and will not just pick up and move on if their food source disappears.  What usually happens when a food source is removed is that the cats become more visible and more of a nuisance—wandering farther, killing birds, and getting into trashes to find food.

Okay, you’ve convinced me.  What do I do next?
Wonderful!  Call our the Spay Neuter Hotline TNR scheduler at (602) 265-7729 or email [email protected] to set up an appointment.  We perform surgeries on feral cats along with all the pet cats and dogs that visit our clinic on our regular business days.

How much does it cost to get a feral cat fixed?
The cost to have a feral cat spayed or neutered is $25 per cat.  This includes the cost of an injection of pain medication that lasts for 1-3 days.  There are no additional charges for females that are in heat or pregnant or for males who are cryptorchid (undescended testicles) if feral cats are spayed or neutered through the TNR program.

What if I can’t afford the $25 per cat?
Thanks to the generosity of donors, we do have funds available to assist with the cost of sterilization.  Please contact our TNR Scheduler at (602) 265-7729 or email [email protected]

Shouldn’t I wait to make an appointment until after I’ve caught the cats?
Trapping isn’t as much about luck as it is about strategy.  If you follow our trapping instructions, you will be able to successfully trap your cats in time for your scheduled appointment.

I don’t think I can catch the cats.  What if they won’t go into the traps?
Don’t worry!  Hundreds of people trap cats successfully every day all over the country and it’s a lot easier than you think it will be.  Our Trap Depot Managers have years of experience trapping cats and will teach you the best strategies so you can trap your cats in time for your appointment.

What if I don’t catch all of the cats I made an appointment for?
Occasionally there are cats that won’t go into the traps right away.  Bring the cats you did trap in for their scheduled appointment—don’t just wait until you’ve caught every one to bring them in.  When you get to the clinic for your appointment, let the TNR scheduler know that you still have some cats that weren’t trapped.  Most of the time we can reschedule those cats for an appointment the next day.

What is the trapping process like?
For details about the actual trapping process, see our Trapping from Start to Finish page.

How can I get humane traps for the feral cats?
Once you have your spay/neuter appointment set, our TNR scheduler will give you some traps or give you the contact information for a Trap Depot Manager near you.  Call the Trap Depot Manager to arrange a time for you to pick up the traps and get expert instruction on how to trap feral cats.  There is no charge to borrow the traps, but we will ask to keep a photocopy of a driver’s license and credit/debit card on file until the traps are returned.

Some of the cats in my colony are tame enough to pick up.  Can I use my own carriers?
There are a lot of very special people who are able to earn the trust of the feral or semi-feral cats they care for, but unfortunately that trust doesn’t always extend to other people.  A car ride, a veterinary clinic filled with strangers and the smells of other cats and dogs can be pretty scary to any cat, especially a feral cat.  The only way that clinic staff can safely handle feral and semi-feral cats is if they are in humane traps.  Therefore, we cannot accept feral cats that are brought to us in carriers.  We would be happy to lend you traps and let you bring the cats back in the traps.  We will accept only one cat per trap.

If your cats are tame enough that they actively seek attention from humans, you might consider trying to find out if they were previously someone’s pet or try to find them a permanent home instead of releasing them back onto the street.  Here is what to do to find out if someone is looking for that cat.  A list of area shelters and rescues, many of which are no kill, can be found here.

I think one of my ferals is in heat or pregnant.  Can you still spay her?
Yes.  There is no extra charge to spay a feral female cat that is in heat or pregnant through the TNR program.

A feral cat had kittens in my backyard.  Can you spay her?
While it is possible to spay a nursing mom, there are some risks involved.  Ideally, we’d prefer for the kittens to be weaned and for the mother’s milk supply to be dry before we spay her.  The kittens are usually weaned around 6-8 weeks and her milk supply is usually dry a couple of weeks after that.  However, we do understand that feral cats do not live ideal lives.  If you are worried that she will get pregnant again or you will not be able to trap her if you wait until she has weaned the kittens, it is okay to trap a nursing mother and bring her in for surgery.

If you are trying to trap other cats and you end up trapping a nursing feral cat that you did not intend to trap, DO NOT release her!  The benefits of spaying her outweigh any risks in this situation.  There is a good chance that you will not trap her again and releasing her will just mean that she will produce more and more litters in the future.  Kittens are usually okay to be without their moms while the mom is getting spayed and she can continue to nurse them until they are fully weaned.

I found some kittens in my yard.  Can you spay/neuter them?
Ideally, kittens should be at least 2 lbs in order to be spayed or neutered.  This usually happens between the ages of 8-10 weeks.  If you are unsure of the age of your kittens, this chart from Alley Cat Allies can help you estimate the age of the kittens.

I found some kittens in my yard.  Can you get them adopted?
Altered Tails is not a shelter and we cannot take in cats or kittens for adoption.  Try contacting shelters and rescues in your area to see if any of them can take in your kittens.  Keep in mind that most shelters and rescues are filled to capacity during kitten season (early Spring through late Fall).  You may have to call several before you find a shelter with room for your kittens.  Keep trying!  A rescue might have had several adoptions after you first called them and could finally have an opening.  This list from Petfinder has contact information for shelters all over the state of Arizona.

Your kittens will stand the best chance at being accepted into an adoption program if they are socialized to humans and big enough to be spayed/neutered.  For more information about socializing feral kittens, Alley Cat Allies and the Urban Cat League both have great tips and instructions.

Another option is finding homes for the cats yourself.  Maybe someone you already know is ready to provide a loving home to an adorable kitty!  Reach out to your friends, family, neighbors, or put some pictures on Facebook or Twitter and encourage your friends to share the pictures with their friends.  Social networking is a powerful tool for animal rescue.

My neighbor’s cat is responsible for all the kittens in my neighborhood.  Can I bring him/her in to be fixed through the TNR program?
Because your neighbor’s cat is considered an owned companion animal, it does not qualify for the TNR program.  Altered Tails does spay and neuter companion animals and you can have your neighbor contact us for an appointment.  If your neighbor cannot afford the surgery, Maricopa County Animal Care and Control has programs for free or reduced-cost spays and neuters for pet dogs and cats.

How can I keep the cats out of my yard?
There are several products and non-toxic substances that will discourage cats from coming in your yard or using your garden as a litter box.  Neighborhood Cats has a great list of ideas and products.  One product that we have heard good reviews about is called Shake Away.

Don’t cats kill birds?
Birds are more at risk of being injured or killed as a result of collisions with windows but the sad fact is that cats do hunt birds.  That is why Altered Tails advocates for cat owners to keep their cats indoors.   Studies show that cats prefer to hunt rodents and are not as big of a threat to bird populations as human development, pesticides and pollution are.   For more information, see Alley Cat Allies, and Vox Felina.

Where can I get more information about scientific studies that show the effectiveness of TNR?
Alley Cat Allies has compiled an extensive survey of scientific studies supporting the evidence that TNR is the best way to control feral cat populations.

Where can I get more information about taking care of my feral cat colony?
Alley Cat Allies has a great page about feral cat colony care.  They have information such as how to set up feeding stations, monitoring the colony for unsterilized newcomers, and building winter shelters.