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Out of the Cage! The Blog of the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals

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Photo by Meredith Weiss

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Feral Cats & TNR in New York City

The topics listed below encompass all aspects of managing a feral cat colony and implementing TNR. While aimed specifically at caretakers working in New York City, much of the information will apply anywhere there are feral cats and people who want to help them.

1)  

What are feral cats and where do they come from?

2)  

What is Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)?

3)  

I started feeding a few cats and now there are many! I don't mind feeding them, but what can I do to stop them from reproducing?

4)  

I took the TNR Certification Workshop — now what do I do?

5)  

I've had the cats in my colony neutered, but some neighbors are still complaining. Are there any remedies for this?

6)  

I'm not sure I want the resposibility for caring for feral cats. Isn't there some other place they can go?

7)  

One of the cats is pregnant — very pregnant. Should I let her have the kittens or spay and abort?

8)  

There is a litter of young kittens in my yard. Can they be rescued?

9)  

I suspect cruelty to a group of cats living down the block. What can I do?

10)  

I've taken the TNR Certification Workshop, but I only have a few feral cats. Instead of using the ASPCA Spay/Neuter Clinic, The Humane Society of New York, or The Toby Project, I'd like to bring them to a private vet. Who do you recommend?

11)  

I'll be trapping for the first time and need some help. Can I get a "TNR coach"?

12)  

What are the risks of doing TNR during the winter?

13)  

Why is eartipping important?

14)  

I've asked everyone I know and still can't find a holding space. Can you help?

15)  

Are feral cats likely to have FIV or FeLV?

16)  

I would like to have a trap or two of my own and want to buy the right kind. Where can I get them?

17)  

Is this really all I can do for the feral cats? Aren't they better off indoors in "real" homes?

 


1)  

What are feral cats and where do they come from?

Cats living on the street fall into two main categories:

Feral cats have been living with little human contact for some time, or were born outdoors, and have reverted to a wild state. Ferals originate from domestic cats who have been lost or abandoned and have learned to survive on the street, adapting to urban areas as well as rural, congregating and "colonizing" alleys, parking lots, construction sites, warehouses, factories, uninhabited buildings, backyards, or barns. In most cases, feral cats are not completely wild because they still depend upon people for food, whether the source is a caretaker who comes by once a day, a dumpster outside a restaurant, garbage cans, or the like. Feral cats have learned to become wary of people and are often seen only after dark or around dawn. Most true ferals — certainly adults — are extremely difficult to rehabilitate and are unlikely to ever behave like "house cats."

Typically, the longer a cat lives outdoors, the more feral she becomes. By breeding with other stray or feral cats, she produces kittens who quickly learn feral traits. Cats can reproduce as young as five months and with a two-month gestation period, a colony expands rapidly. The most humane and effective solution for these cats is Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), as most street cats are feral, not stray.

Stray cats have been recently lost or abandoned. A stray cat, having had contact in the past with people, may meow at you, rub against your leg, and allow a bit of petting, while a feral cat will not. Usually strays can be successfully adopted back into a home, but even a stray cat is likely to need some degree of socialization. It is worth noting that feral cats, especially those who are neutered and have a caretaker, often look quite robust and healthy, while strays, not used to the street, may look more scraggly.

 

2)  

What is Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)?

TNR stands for Trap-Neuter-Return. TNR, supported by leading national animal welfare organizations, is the most humane and effective method of controlling the free-roaming cat overpopulation crisis facing virtually every city, town, and rural community in the country.

TNR involves trapping all or most of the cats in a colony, having them neutered, vaccinated for rabies, left eartipped, and then returned to their territory, where they are monitored by their caretaker and provided with food and shelter. Whenever possible, young kittens and any friendly cats are removed for vetting and socialization, and placed for adoption.

TNR immediately stabilizes the size of the colony if at least 70 percent of the fertile adults are neutered. Neutering closer to 100 percent will result in a gradual decline of the population over time. In addition, the nuisance behavior often associated with feral cats is dramatically reduced. This includes the yowling and noise that comes with fighting and mating activity and the odor of unneutered males' spraying to mark their territory. The cats tend to roam less and so become less of a visible presence, yet continue to provide natural rodent control, a valuable benefit in urban areas. Because there are hundreds of thousands of free-roaming cats, and because the vast majority cannot be homed, TNR is the best solution.

 

3)  

I started feeding a few cats and now there are many! I don't mind feeding them, but what can I do to stop them from reproducing?

The first step is to become a Certified TNR Caretaker by completing The Neighborhood Cats TNR Workshop. Once you've attended, you'll have the tools and resources you need to trap and spay/neuter these cats. The reproducing will cease, the nuisance behavior will cease, and everyone will be happier, including the cats themselves!

 

4)  

I took the TNR Certification Workshop — now what do I do?

Read the materials you were given at the class — it's all there! The TNR Handbook contains a wealth of information and the Local Resources guide lists necessary contact info. For the purposes of getting your cats fixed, these are the steps: Get your cats on a regular feeding schedule, count the cats, find a holding space and transportation, make a spay/neuter appointment, reserve the traps, and contact Neighborhood Cats if you need a TNR coach or have questions.

 

5)  

I've had the cats in my colony neutered, but some neighbors are still complaining. Are there any remedies for this?

Yes. You are the cats' ambassador, and from time to time you may need to advocate for them if problems arise. Please read these articles for helpful products and ideas:

Keeping Cats Out of Gardens & Yards

by Neighborhood Cats

Community Appeal Letter (PDF)

by Lydia Besos and Lisa Pisano, Neighborhood Cats

 

6)  

I'm not sure I want the resposibility for caring for feral cats. Isn't there some other place they can go?

Feral cats are very territorial and cannot be easily or safely relocated. Read this article for more information about relocation (as a last resort):

Relocating a Feral Cat Colony

by Neighborhood Cats

All reputable shelters are full of friendly, beautiful cats waiting for homes, and there are not enough homes for them because there are too many of them! If you find a shelter that will accept a feral cat, his chances of being adopted are virtually nil; he will either live out his life miserably in a cage, or be euthanized.

Once you join the growing network of feral cat caretakers you may be able to find some support from those in your neighborhood. After you register your colony in the New York City Feral Cat Database (this information is kept strictly confidential) you will be eligible for prizes.

 

7)  

One of the cats is pregnant — very pregnant. Should I let her have the kittens or spay and abort?

A cat's gestation period is approximately 63 days. Usually you cannot tell a cat is pregnant until after the first month. The problem with deciding if a cat is too close to giving birth to safely abort is that it is very hard to tell. Here is an example: A colony caretaker trapped three pregnant cats — all looked equally "very pregnant." The woman was adamantly against aborting cats so close to term. She pledged to take all three cats in, set up each one in a cage to give birth, care for them for 6–8 weeks until the kittens were weaned, find homes for all the kittens, and then spay and release the moms. And she did, but this is what happened: One cat gave birth two days after trapping; she was, indeed, very close to term. The second cat gave birth 10 days later, and the third two weeks later. And she had 14 kittens to find homes for — no easy task!

Veterinarians who provide services for feral cats are very skilled and experienced. While there is some degree of increased risk to late-term cats, the majority are successfully aborted/spayed with no ill-effects. In the end, it is a personal decision, but make it an informed one: shelters are flooded with unwanted kittens — do you want to add to that tragedy? Even if you are able to take the cat in and find homes for the kittens, it means that homes are taken away from other kittens, already born. If you cannot take the cat in and she gives birth outside, it is harder to capture the kittens, so you may be adding to the size of your colony, with more mouths to feed, and more cats to trap for spay/neuter. However, if you do want to keep the cat through birth (taking the kittens away at about six weeks), here is how we recommend you set up the cage:

Fostering a Feral Cat: The Feral Cat Setup

by Neighborhood Cats

 

8)  

There is a litter of young kittens in my yard. Can they be rescued?

Kittens should be trapped or captured by the age of eight weeks. Very soon after that the job of socializing them becomes much more difficult. The ideal age to rescue kittens is five to seven weeks because at that age the kittens are weaned (can eat on their own). Comprehensive instructions for caring for kittens:

Orphan Kitten Care FAQ

by Olivia Russell

Kitten Care Handbook

by Kitten Rescue

Photos of kittens and their corresponding ages:

Kitten Development

by Kim Lance

Kitten Progression: 1 day – 10 weeks

by Alley Cat Allies

Depending on the time of year (summer is the hardest season), there are organizations that may take in kittens for adoption, including:

Bideawee

Bideawee's public intake is by appointment only. To make an appointment, call (212) 532-4455.

ASPCA

The ASPCA's public intake day is Tuesday. Please call the ASPCA at (212) 876-7700 x4150 for details.

Other companion animal adoption organizations may also be able to help you. For a complete list of New York City animal shelters and rescue groups, please visit the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals website at www.AnimalAllianceNYC.org.

If you can foster the kittens, you can also try to adopt them out on your own. Always ask potential adopters to fill out an Adoption Agreement and ask for a donation fee of at least $75 per cat or kitten; giving cats or kittens away for free is strongly discouraged because it can imply they have no value.

 

9)  

I suspect cruelty to a group of cats living down the block. What can I do?

New York State law defines animal cruelty as a situation where a person causes unjustified harm, pain, or suffering to an animal or neglects an animal's care by not providing it with proper food, water, medical care, or suitable shelter.

As of January 1, 2014, the New York Police Department (NYPD) will investigate all animal cruelty complaints citywide. To report an animal cruelty emergency in progress, call 911. To report ongoing, non-emergency animal abuse or neglect, call 311 or submit an online complaint.

 

10)  

I've taken the TNR Certification Workshop, but I only have a few feral cats. Instead of using the ASPCA Spay/Neuter Clinic, The Humane Society of New York, or The Toby Project, I'd like to bring them to a private vet. Who do you recommend?

Maddie's® Spay/Neuter Project for Stray Community Cats in NYC

Started in 2011, this program provides free spays and neuters for feral and stray cats and kittens in New York City. Certified TNR Caretakers are eligible to use participating private practice veterinarians to spay or neuter feral and stray or "community cats," at no cost. A left eartip is also provided at no charge during the surgery. (Note: This program has been suspended as of March 31, 2012, until further notice.)

MAMA Coupon

With the MAMA Coupon from Muffin's Pet Connection and the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals, your ferals will be spayed/neutered for $45 (males), $58 (females). In addition to the surgery, they will receive a rabies vaccination and left eartip. No other services are provided, unless by pre-arrangement with the vet, and at additional cost. Bring the cats in traps, one cat per trap, each covered with a sheet.

If you use vets who are not on these lists, make sure they have experience working with ferals and know how to eartip. View the ASPCA vet protocol. You should also bring these instruction sheets to make sure the vet performs the eartipping properly.

Feral Cat Sterilization Guidelines (PDF)

by ASCPA / NYC Feral Cat Initiative

Eartipping

by Neighborhood Cats

Eartipping: Feral Cat Identification Protocol (PDF)

by Alley Cat Allies

 

11)  

I'll be trapping for the first time and need some help. Can I get a "TNR coach"?

If you've completed the TNR Certification Workshop, you are eligible for hands-on trapping assistance. You will be asked to sign an Agreement regarding your responsibilities and the limitations of the assistance. For more information, please contact Neighborhood Cats.

 

12)  

What are the risks of doing TNR during the winter?

Female cats have a patch of fur on their bellies shaved for spay surgery, and this fur doesn't completely grow back for 6–8 weeks.

To make sure the cats are warm, it's advisable to put out winter shelters if you TNR during the cold months. Shelters are available from several sources. More information on building and purchasing shelters:

Winter Shelter

by Neighborhood Cats and CSM Stray Foundation

Build an Inexpensive Cat Shelter (PDF)

by Alley Cat Allies

Shelters and Feeding Stations for Feral Cats

by Feral Cat Caretakers' Coalition

Winter Shelters for Feral Cat Colonies

by Urban Cat League

Purchase an Outdoor Cat Shelter from IndyFeral

If you are able to provide winter shelters and can feed the cats regularly, you should go ahead with your TNR project. In the winter, it is also advisable to add a pinch of powdered Vitamin C to the cats' canned food; this will boost their immune systems. More information and nutrition tips:

Nutrition

by Neighborhood Cats

There are two important advantages to doing TNR during the winter months: 1) You will trap fewer pregnant and lactating cats, and 2) You will find fewer kittens to rescue. If you are still hesitant to do TNR in the winter, keep in mind that the breeding season often begins in February, with the kittens born in April when they are more likely to survive. Spaying and neutering the cats before breeding season spares you and the cats additional stress.

 

13)  

Why is eartipping important?

Eartipping indentifies a cat as having been spayed or neutered and vaccinated as part of a TNR program. Eartipping (1/4" removed from the tip of the left ear in a straight cut) is done at the time of the surgery, while the cat is anesthetized. Although we do advocate mass-trapping (trapping all the cats in your colony at once), not everyone can do this, and not everyone who tries gets every cat on the first effort. In many colonies there are cats who look so similar, without an eartip it would be impossible to tell which cats are fixed and which ones still need to be fixed. Eartipping prevents an already spayed or neutered cat the stress of unnecessary re-trapping and more importantly, an unnecessary surgical procedure.

If an eartipped cat arrives at Animal Care and Control (AC&C), the cat will be held, and Neighborhood Cats will be alerted. Via its e-mail list, Neighborhood Cats will try to reunite the cat with his or her caretaker. Feral cats who are not eartipped and end up at AC&C are euthanized within a few days. Therefore, eartipping can literally save lives.

Eartipping

by Neighborhood Cats

Eartipping: Feral Cat Identification Protocol (PDF)

by Alley Cat Allies

 

14)  

I've asked everyone I know and still can't find a holding space. Can you help?

Remember that a holding space does not have to be a large space, but it does have to be warm (65–70°F). The traps are 3 feet long, by about 1 foot wide and high. You can place them right next to each other, on a table (ideally) or on the floor. Most people can hold two cats in their bathroom, and if necessary, two traps can be stacked on top of each other in a bathtub with a plastic sheet in-between.

A common complaint is reluctance to hold cats in one's apartment because of other pets, usually cats. If your cats are vaccinated, there is very little risk to bringing ferals into you apartment, as long as you use common sense and a few precautions. Don't let a little inconvenience (holding time is 1–3 days before surgery and 2–3 days after) deter you from neutering these cats. Please contact Neighborhood Cats for more advice or to discuss using a "hold-for-hire" space. Another option for those who have completed the TNR Certification Workshop is to reach out to the NYCFeralCats Yahoo Groups e-mail discussion group.

 

15)  

Are feral cats likely to have FIV or FeLV?

FIV (Feline AIDS) and FeLV (Feline Leukemia) are not common; in fact the incidence of positive cats living outdoors is only very slightly higher than that of indoor cats. There is a lot of misunderstanding about these two diseases. Please see this article for clear, well-researched information:

Releasing FIV/FeLV Positive Cats

by Neighborhood Cats

 

16)  

I would like to have a trap or two of my own and want to buy the right kind. Where can I get them?

You must buy a trap with a removable rear door, and to complete your "trapping kit" you should buy a set of two Tru-Catch dividers or isolators. Here is a good resource for trapping equipment:

Recommended Traps & Equipment

by Neighborhood Cats

 

17)  

Is this really all I can do for the feral cats? Aren't they better off indoors in "real" homes?

If you spay and neuter the cats you are feeding and continue to provide them with food on a regular basis, shelter against the elements, and a watchful eye to spot illness or injury (or new cats), you are already doing a great deal! You've stopped the reproductive cycle, made every spayed/neutered cat healthier, and removed a lot of the stress of outdoor life, simply by having spayed and neutered them! TNRing a colony of cats yields a tremendous benefit to both the cats and the community.

If you want to do more, educate people you meet about responsible pet ownership, especially the importance of spay/neuter. Refer them to resources for behavioral help if their cat has a problem, such as not using the litter box. Ask your vet to post TNR info in his or her office.

While feral cats are not really "wildlife," because of their very shy nature they are not, for the most part, adoptable. Even if you wanted to take in the four or five cats in your backyard, doing so would only solve the feral cat problem for those particular cats. And remember, once neutered, provided with food and shelter, many feral cats would not want to come indoors! And most people are more than happy with a couple of cats (like two!) and they want friendly, interactive cats; most ferals are not so inclined and it could take years (if ever) before they will behave anything like a "pet" cat. Thinking globally (and feral cats are a global problem), adoption is not the answer.

Until we dispel some of the myths about spay/neuter and people realize that there are free and low-cost spay/neuter resources available, that advice and solutions for behavioral problems are available, and most importantly, that animals are not disposable just because "you can always get a new one," cats will continue to be dumped, and feral colonies are the result.