Our Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) Team has been hard at work all winter trying to beat the heat and get as many community cats fixed before kitten season arrives. So far this year, we’ve helped community members fix, microchip & vaccinate 57 colony cats. We thought we’d give you a peak behind the scenes, and breakdown TNR for those who may not be familiar with the process.

The third step in TNR is to return the community cats to the place where they were originally trapped. Returning the cats to the exact spot they were picked up from ensures they are familiar with the area and will be able to find food and shelter. It also means they will be able to reunite with any other cats to which they may be bonded. Feral cats can have deep and intricate bonds within the colony, just like many pet cats living in homes. In the case of a lactating mother, returning her to the specific location means her kittens will be able to resume nursing.

When a feral cat is returned to the colony, it is not uncommon for him/her to lay low for a day or two before returning to their pre-surgery routines. Most times, however, the cats are happy to be back home and are seen at feeding stations at the next mealtime.

Another important reason to ensure the community cats are returned to their specific territory is called the Vacuum Effect. This is a scientifically proven phenomenon seen with animals of all sizes and diets such as mice, possums, raccoons, mountain lions and community cats. When even a portion of an animal population is removed from its home territory, especially a territory with a rich food source, new residents will move into that territory—residents who are often not spayed or neutered. These new unsterilized residents will begin reproducing, thereby increasing the population rather than decreasing it. Our TNR team has seen this first-hand at one of our early projects. When a family of teenage kittens was pulled from a colony of 12, who had all been recently fixed, and sent to foster to be socialized, new cats were seen at the feeding stations almost immediately. Those subsequent cats were also quickly sterilized, and the colony has been stable ever since. Returning cats to their colony territory after being spayed or neutered is scientifically proven to be the only way to reduce the population of community cats. It is also the only humane way to deal with the problem of stray cat overpopulation. The vacuum effect should also have a great deal of influence on animal control policies regarding community cats.

Image is courtesy of Alley Cat Allies.

When a community cat has spent the appropriate time in the “recovery suite” after surgery, then it is time for it to go home. Our TNR team brings each cat back to the same location on the property that it was trapped from. Then comes the best part of TNR: what we like to call the Freedom Run! The covered trap is placed on the ground facing a safe area (not towards a street or other scary or dangerous area), and the front of the cover is lifted so the cat can see that it is back home. We like to give the cat a moment to get oriented before unlocking the door and opening it. Once the door is opened, most cats will immediately run out, however some need a little extra encouragement. In this case, the trap cover is completely removed, and the kitty will be on its way. Our volunteers always have a smile on their face watching our newly fixed community cats return home.

Would you like to help put more smiles on our volunteers’ faces and return more fixed community cats to their homes? You can support the TNR efforts by donating here. Thank you for your support, together we can help so many animals live better lives!

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