Feral Cat Day: Trap, Neuter, Remove, Sometimes It’s Necessary

Chloe appeared as if by magic, perfectly camouflaged by her surroundings.
Chloe appeared as if by magic, perfectly camouflaged by her surroundings.

More often than not, when people ask for “help with cats” in their yard or neighborhood, they think we’re going to trap them and take them away. That’s rarely the case, and actually “trap-neuter-remove” is the last resort for feral cats, only if their lives are in danger by staying. Moving feral cats to a new territory is complicated and time-consuming and must be done carefully for their own good.

Animals have territories that are the basis of their life. Territory isn’t necessarily turf that they fight over, it’s more like a safe place that they have built, like our homes, where we know all the living and non-living things within it, and we know it’s safe because we took precautions. In our case it’s building walls and locking doors. In a cat’s case it’s finding a physical space that surrounds them so that it’s naturally protective, that’s dry and warm with a safe exit and entrance, close to a source of food and water and areas to hunt if necessary. It takes a long time to build that territory. For an animal, and even many humans, that space is the only place they feel safe. For cats, outside of that territory, they may actually feel their life is in danger.

Hi! Do you see my tipped ear?
Hi! Do you see my tipped ear?

When cats feel unsafe, they hide in a small protected spot and hold as still as possible so that any predators can’t find them, and they listen and smell and look at everything around until it becomes familiar, and only then do they consider even eating.

When you take an animal from their territory, you’ve taken away their own sense of safety. Then if you take it some place else and drop it off, you actually put it in other animals’ territory, whether it’s another neighborhood, out in the woods, along some road, or on a farm. Other animals of any species are typically not pleased at a stranger being dropped into their carefully organized territory and their first initiative is to drive the stranger away, or kill the stranger. Once cats get past their fear of a totally unfamiliar space, especially since they are unwelcome, they usually start trying to get back to their original territory. As we’ve seen in stories and movies, they have an uncanny ability to do that over long distances and unfamiliar territory. If they survive.

Exploring.
Exploring.

So to really move a feral cat from one territory to another you need to first spay or neuter it and give it a rabies vaccine. Then the cat needs to be completely confined to a cage in a protected space in the area where it will live, covered, with food, water and a litterbox, so that it can have that small safe space in which to quietly sit and listen, look and smell all the animal and non-animal things, get accustomed to the sounds of life around there, the smells of people and animals and things. Other animals in that territory can do the same, getting accustomed to the new resident. They should be confined this way for about a month before they’re released.

Ironically, the “R” in two big TNR projects I did this year did actually stand for “remove”. In the one case, The TNR Series, the home had been long abandoned, its ownership and very structure were in question as many neighbors thought it was to be demolished, and a neighbor or two were threatening the cats. Many people in the neighborhood knew of the cats, and several had even swiped kittens to take home and love, but no one was interested in taking over their feeding after surgeries, or having them moved to a new place in the neighborhood. I had checked with my friend Birgitta in autumn 2017 to see if she had space for…a dozen more feral cats, and she did. In her area there are several small farms they can spread out to cover, many barns and outbuildings and people who feed. So far, all have done well there, and some even turned around and decided to live in the house.

Dunbar cats collage.
Dunbar cats collage.

In the second, with 11 cats, eight kittens and three adults, neither the homeowner nor I or anyone I knew could find foster space to socialize the kittens in the middle of the summer, and we were all concerned what would happen when all 11 were adults and the neighbors weren’t too pleased, and also concerned at the cost of feeding and potential veterinary care. A neighbor of the family worked with someone whose family had a working farm and was more than willing to accept the entire group of 11, so the day the last two had their surgeries we packed up and moved them all to the former milk storage room in three large cages. I stopped out there to retrieve the cages last weekend and saw two of the kittens, the orange and the tortie, and I hear they are all doing well. Below is feeding time in the back yard they originally called home.

The extended family, compliments of the caretakers.

In both situations we are very lucky to have found these rare, safe, cat-friendly places where we can find a new home for colonies of feral cats who couldn’t stay in the place they’d come to call home. They don’t ask to be there, to risk their lives living outdoors. They end up there because people abandoned either them or their parents. The best we can do is to help them have the best life. That’s what we should do for all cats no matter if they are friendly or feral.

Now we're going to stalk something.
Now we’re going to stalk something.

 


Read other Essays and other stories under TNR and TNR Series


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Bernadette

From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, The Creative Cat offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats. From catchy and creative headlines to factual articles and fictional stories, The Creative Cat provides constant entertainment and important information to people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

3 thoughts on “Feral Cat Day: Trap, Neuter, Remove, Sometimes It’s Necessary

  • November 12, 2018 at 11:49 pm
    Permalink

    I’m afraid about this but great article, luckily my cat just love to play and wander but sometimes I fear that he might run away from unexpected situation and I think I kind of need some accessory for him. I’m just a new pet owner and I kind of need some information like this, and thanks a lot.

    Reply
  • October 20, 2018 at 8:31 pm
    Permalink

    Really good article Bernadette. Yes, some people do mistake the “R” for “remove” but that’s not what is best. I had to relocate 2 ferals just across a driveway from their home territory and ended up losing one of them to a car. So sad. Luckily the other was Ineffable, or Effie for short, who eventually decided she wanted to live out her last 4 years in my house as a loving friend.

    Reply
    • October 21, 2018 at 5:09 pm
      Permalink

      Andrea, sometimes those are the hardest moves. Glad Effie became a friend, though! With enough daily contact I find that’s what happens.

      Reply

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