Neighborhood Cats from TNR Handbook 2nd edition: find us on Facebook @NbrhoodCats

Neighborhood Cats from TNR Handbook 2nd edition:

Find us on Facebook @NbrhoodCats

Neighborhood Cats, Inc. © 2013   The contents of this book may be copied or distributed in whole or in part for educational purposes or personal use, except in the City of New York, NY. In the City of New York, NY, contents of this book may not be copied or distributed for any purpose without the express written consent of Neighborhood Cats, Inc. With respect to any organization or individual, permission to copy or distribute may be withdrawn at any time within the sole discretion of Neighborhood Cats, Inc. Please contact us for further information. Except as specified herein, all rights are reserved.

… excerpts:
The bottle-and-string trick  There may be times when you only want to trap kittens and not any adults. Perhaps
you’re not ready to trap the whole colony, but want to catch a new litter of kittens while they’re still young enough to easily socialize. One “kittens only” trapping technique is the bottle-and-string trick. It allows you to manually shut the front door instead of having it close automatically when whoever first comes along steps on the trip plate.  Take a plastic one-liter soda or water bottle (it should be a little less than the height of the trap) and fill it with water. Next, tie a string tightly
around the base. Open the front door of the trap and prop a corner of the door on top of the bottle (Figure 9-3). Unwind the string until you’re a comfortable distance away and draw the string taut.  Wait until the kitten or kittens are well into the trap
and then yank the string, pulling away the bottle and closing the front door.   One kitten will often follow another into a trap.
If you set the trap using the trigger, it is possible one kitten will step on the trip plate and set off the trap while another is right below the front door. The force of the door shutting could cause serious injury to a small kitten. While a concern, in our experience this is a very rare occurrence. Nonetheless, if you want to eliminate this risk and also increase the chances of trapping multiple kittens at once, use the bottle-and-string method and don’t set the trap in the normal way.  When this method, always put a large bowl or plate of bait in the back of the trap, in case an adult or two come along before the kittens arrive and you’re not able to shoo them away. You want there to be plenty of bait remaining for the kittens after the adults have a bite or two. You could also bring along a water gun or plant sprayer to try to discourage the adults from entering the trap and dining on the kittens’ meal.  It’s tempting, when using this technique, to try and wait until all the kittens you’re after go into the trap at the same time. The danger is if you wait too long, a kitten or two already in the trap might dash out faster than you can react and pull the string, leaving you empty-handed. If one or two are in the trap and no one else is hovering close by, go ahead and pull the string, then set a new trap or transfer the kittens and re-set the old one.
Another word of warning is to practice pulling the string and shutting the door at least once before you attempt it live. It’s important to yank the bottle in one swift, smooth motion without any hesitation. Get to know the feel of it and how much force you need to pull with before you attempt the trick live. Otherwise, if you don’t have the feel of it already, it’s easy to do it wrong and startle the kittens away before you can recover.  Some trappers prefer tying the string more towards the top of the bottle, believing the bottle will move away faster and more easily when yanked. Practice both techniques before you actually trap and see which you’re more comfortable with.

The bottle-and-string method is useful not only for catching kittens, but for targeting any particular cat for trapping, like a pregnant female, a cat you missed during an earlier mass trapping and a cat who appears ill or injured. The best way to pick cats out of the crowd is by using a drop trap, as described in Chapter 10, but the bottle-and-string trick can work, too.
“Kittens only” admission   Another way to trap only kittens is to transform a regular box trap into a “kittens only” trap by use of a kitten screen. As discussed in the “Kitten screen” section of Chapter 8, Tomahawk Live Trap manufactures a screen designed by Neighborhood Cats which fits its traps that are 10 inches wide and 12 inches in height. It should work with any wire mesh trap with the same dimensions. The screen creates a 3 inch by 3 inch doorway in front of the trip plate which only young kittens can pass through. When using a screen, the trigger should be set lightly as described earlier in this section.  If you’re using traps which are not 10 inches wide and 12 inches high, you can make your own screen. Cut out a rectangular piece of cardboard the height and width of your trap. In one bottom corner, cut an opening of 3 inches x 3 inches. Place the cardboard inside the trap a few inches in front of the trip plate, positioning it so it blocks further access except for the doorway in the lower corner. To hold the screen in place and stop an adult cat from simply pushing it out of the way, poke holes in the three intact corners of the screen, next to the upper, outer corner of the doorway and
next to the lower corner of the doorway as well. Attach the cardboard to the trap with twist ties or cable ties.

3. Nursing mothers  Free-roaming female cats can give birth at any time of year, especially in warmer climates. In all regions, births peak during the spring and again, to a lesser extent, in the early fall. Some TNR groups stop trapping during the peak seasons to avoid dealing with nursing mothers and baby kittens. Most, including Neighborhood Cats, work
straight through. Whatever time of year it is, it’s important to decide ahead of time what you will do if you capture a lactating mom. That way you can make any necessary preparations and not have to make snap decisions in the heat of the action.
How to proceed with a nursing mother depends largely on three factors:

(1) the age of the kittens, (2) the location of the kittens, and (3) how much information, if any, you have about their age and location.

Litters of unknown age and unknown location  If you catch a nursing mom and have no idea how old the kittens are or where they’re located, you have a difficult choice to make. You can let the cat go, knowing you may never catch her again and she may go on to have numerous more litters. Or you could get her spayed and release her as quickly as possible, hoping if there are any kittens waiting for her, they survive in her absence.  When making this decision, there are several things to consider.

Feral kittens  typically suffer a high mortality rate, often 50 percent or more. Even if you do release the mom immediately, there’s still a significant risk some of the kittens, if they’re alive, will soon die, anyway. Another fact to weigh is that kittens more than two weeks old will likely survive a day without nursing, while those younger probably will not. So if you can get the mom spayed and released within 24 hours, there’s a reasonable chance the kittens will survive unless they are less than two weeks old.  Some caretakers believe it is wrong to ever take the risk there are kittens who will die in the absence of their mother. Others believe you should always get the mom spayed while you can. If you do not firmly hold to one extreme or the other, then the context of the particular TNR project you’re working on may guide your decision.  Imagine, for example, you’re TNR’ing a large colony of cats, say 50 or more, in a remote industrial park. The cats are fed sporadically by employees and forage scraps from garbage cans and dumpsters. There is no single caretaker who knows all the cats well and, after the trapping is completed, no one on-site will keep close track of the colony and help re-capture a nursing mother in several weeks. In these circumstances, if you immediately release nursing mothers, there’s a good chance you’ll never see them again and never have an opportunity to re-trap them. This could lead to the failure of the
project to bring the cat population in the park under control. In this context, getting the nursing moms spayed and releasing them back as soon as possible makes a lot of sense.  By contrast, let’s say you’re TNR’ing a small colony of six cats who are fed daily and sheltered in the caretaker’s backyard. As the trapping proceeds, the caretaker is surprised to learn one of the trapped females may be nursing. The caretaker is confident the nursing mom will continue to frequent the backyard and eventually bring any surviving kittens with her when they’re old enough to eat on their own. In these circumstances, if
One way to tell if a female cat may be nursing is to look at her belly. Lift up the trap and look at her abdomen from
underneath. If her nipples are noticeably distended, this could be a sign of current or recent nursing.

If you let her go right away, there is a decent chance you’ll be able to re-trap the mom later and prevent future births.
At Neighborhood Cats, we favor fixing the nursing mom, holding her overnight and then releasing her the next morning if all appears well. Our policy is to make decisions based on what we do know, not on what we don’t. We don’t know if there are any young kittens whose lives depend on the mother being released immediately. We do know we have a fertile female in the trap and the opportunity to get her spayed.  If you know ahead of time that you’ll spay a nursing mom if you catch one, try to make contingency plans to get her to surgery as quickly as possible. This may mean asking the veterinarian to spay her before your other cats or getting her to the clinic sooner than the scheduled spay/neuter date.

Litters of known age, but unknown location   A caretaker may have observed one of her cats was pregnant and be able to approximate, based on the shrinkage of her belly, when she gave birth and thus the age of the kittens. If you do know how old the kittens are, even if you don’t know where they are, it will make it simpler to decide what to do if you trap their mom.   If you know the kittens are less than two weeks old, you should release the mother right away. It’s one thing if you have no idea how old the kittens are and whether they would perish if you hold onto their mom for at least a day. It’s an entirely different matter when you do know the kittens are too young to survive without her. The compassionate choice in this case is to release the mother and try to catch the family at a later time. The sooner you let the mom out of the trap, the less traumatic the experience for her and the better your chance of trapping her again later.  If the kittens are older than two weeks, the risk of harm if their mom is gone temporarily decreases the older they are. Again, there is no single right answer. Some trappers will always let the mom go until the kittens show up and can be caught, too; others will always spay the mom first before releasing. If you’re more flexible, context may be the key – given the colony’s environment and dedication of the caretaker, how likely is it you’ll be able to re-trap the mother if you let her go immediately? If you judge
it unlikely, you might decide spaying the mom is worth the risk to the kittens. If recapture seems likely, then releasing her at once could be a reasonable decision.

A spayed mom cat can still nurse her kittens – the surgery does not affect her ability to produce milk. If you
don’t discover a female is nursing until she’s already on the surgery table, you should always go ahead and have her
fixed.  Before releasing a nursing mom who was just spayed, lift her trap and, from below, examine her carefully for any
complications, like bleeding or swelling at the site of the incision. If you see anything of concern or if the cat appears
unusually lethargic, consult your veterinarian about the best course of action.

If you know you would release the mom right away, the best thing would be not to trap her in the first place. It can be hard though, even for a skilled trapper, to avoid catching any one particular cat when mass trapping a colony. Using a drop trap (see Chapter 10) or the bottle-and-string technique discussed earlier in this chapter, would allow you to decide which cats to trap and which not.

Litters of known age and known location   Knowing the kittens’ age and their location gives you more options if you end up trapping their mother. Much will depend on whether you want to foster, socialize and adopt out the kittens, or leave them to grow up outside as ferals. Taking friendly cats and young kittens off the streets and placing them in good homes is always preferable, but resources do not always allow.
(a) No foster resources available   If there is no one to foster the kittens while you look for homes, the best course of action is to delay the trapping until the kittens are old enough to be fixed.

Generally, the rule of thumb for pediatric spay/neuter is two pounds, two months. Not all veterinarians, however, are trained in early age spay/neuter, so consult your veterinarian to find out the minimum age she is comfortable sterilizing.
If the trapping can’t be put off and the mom ends up in a trap, you can go ahead and get her spayed while you care for the kittens in her absence.

What kind of care is needed will depend on the kittens’ age. If they are less than five weeks of age and unweaned, they will need to be brought inside, kept in a warm place, bottle-fed and possibly stimulated to pass urine and feces by gently rubbing their genital areas. It’s a big job and your life will be easier if you can wait until they are weaned before trapping their mother.  If the kittens are weaned and eating on their own, you’ll need to provide them with food and try to keep them in as safe a location as possible, preferably somewhere enclosed like a garage or shed so they can’t go wandering off on their own. If necessary, consider bringing them inside and caging them for the short time their mom is away.

Here are some guideposts for aging baby kittens by sight:
their eyes and ear canals start to open at 7 to 10 days old.

Teeth come in at two weeks.

At three to four weeks old, they become ambulatory and can start walking and even running.

At five weeks, their normally blue eyes start to change color.

(b) Foster resources available
If the kittens are going to be fostered and placed for adoption, then there are three ways you can proceed, depending on your situation:
Trap the whole family and keep them together in a cage, using the Feral Cat Setup described in Chapter 12, until the kittens are eight weeks old, then start finding homes for the little ones. At that point the mom can be spayed and
released. The great advantage to this approach is mom does all the work for you when it comes to caring for the kittens. You should handle the kittens as much as possible so they are well socialized and, if you brought the kittens in
at an early age, gradually introduce kitten food when they’re five weeks old so they’re weaned by the time they’re ready for adoption.
Leave the family outside and take the kittens from their mother when they are five to six weeks old and can eat on their own. This is the riskiest approach because the mortality rate for kittens living outdoors is high.  You’ll want to gather the kittens as soon as they’re weaned because of the dangers of outdoor life and the need to begin the socialization process at as early an age as possible. Keep the litter together and don’t adopt them out until eight weeks of age so they have a chance to learn from one another about appropriate cat behavior, like not biting too hard.

Leave the mom outside and take the kittens in when they are less than five weeks old and unweaned. This means you’ll need to bottle-feed and provide neonatal kitten care. This approach is much more work than bringing the
mom inside, too.
There is a slight risk when you confine a feral family that the mother will attack her kittens. This is rare, but happens once in a while with a female cat who is extremely feral and greatly stressed by captivity. One way to assess this risk is to transfer the mom into a cage inside a feral cat den. While she is locked inside the den, place her kittens in the If you might have to care for unweaned kittens, have bottlefeeding formula on hand. “Kitten Milk Replacement,” also known as KMR, is available at many pet supply stores. For an alternative holistic nursing formula, see “The Natural Cat,” by Anitra Frazier

If you’re caring for kittens less than five weeks of age (“bottle babies”), check out the highly informative, “Kitten Care Handbook” by Los Angeles-based Kitten Rescue ( It’s important, for example, to hold the kittens in the proper position when feeding (tummy down as though nursing from the mother) and to use a special bottle designed for neonates, not an eyedropper, so the kitten can control the flow of milk.

cage and close the cage door. Observe how she reacts. If she appears calm, open the den’s side door with a broomstick handle. Again, closely observe her behavior. If she growls at the kittens or appears at all aggressive, shut the side door of the den and reevaluate, perhaps trying again a little later.

You can do the same kind of assessment in a trap. Transfer mom into a trap, then section her off on one end with trap dividers. Introduce the kittens through the opposite end. They will naturally move toward their mother. Observe her reactions. If all appears calm, remove the divider and see how mom interacts with her kittens. If there’s any sign
of trouble, insert the divider again and separate her from the kittens.

Trapping the family  If you decide to trap the whole family, it’s best to catch the kittens before the mother. That way, if
you miss any, they won’t be left alone without their mom. If you do get the mother before the entire litter, then keep trapping until you have them all, only taking a long break if absolutely necessary.     Assuming you do get all the kittens first, if you’re then having trouble catching the mom, you can try using the kittens as bait. Put the kittens in a small carrier, then place
the carrier behind a trap, its front door right up against the trap’s rear door. Drape a sheet over the carrier and both sides of the trap, leaving only the front of the trap uncovered. Set the trap. To reach her kittens, mom will have to enter the trap
and walk towards the back, hopefully tripping the trap on the way. When using this technique, never leave the little ones unattended and don’t use this method for more than an hour at a time to avoid fatiguing the kittens.

4. Pregnant cats  Gestation for a cat averages 63 days. During the early part of a pregnancy, there is no
way to tell visually that a cat is carrying kittens. Towards the later stages, the female’s belly is usually noticeably round and protruding below her. In the last one to two weeks of pregnancy, the nipples become distended and lactating actually begins shortly before birth.

If a cat is known to be pregnant, there are three options: (1) trap and spay her and abort the pregnancy, (2) trap her and let her give birth in a cage or other confined space where she can then raise the kittens or (3) don’t trap her and allow her to give birth outdoors, trapping her and any surviving kittens at a future date.

Unless a caretaker objects on religious or other deeply personal grounds, Neighborhood Cats recommends trapping a pregnant cat and aborting the kittens whenever possible. This is because of the harsh realities of cat overpopulation. If the
kittens are born and you find homes for them, it could mean other cats already in the shelter system will not be adopted and will be euthanized instead. If the kittens are born and not adopted, but live outdoors as ferals, their mortality rate is likely to be high and most of their lives short. Right now, with so many cats dying in shelters and on the streets, more kittens only make the situation worse. If your veterinarian is very experienced with spay/neuter, cats can be safely spayed right up until the last days of a pregnancy. Discuss with your clinic or veterinarian to find out what their policies are.  If the decision is not to abort, whether for ethical reasons or concerns for the health of the pregnant female, then what happens to the kittens becomes the focus. Should you trap the mom-to-be and let her raise the kittens in a cage, or leave her be to give birth outdoors? Certainly, having her give birth indoors in a secure environment will be much safer for the kittens. Outdoors, they face numerous threats – anemia induced by fleas, disease from other cats which their undeveloped immune systems can’t fight off, predators, traffic, and more. In addition, if the goal is to eventually adopt out the kittens,it will be much easier and faster to socialize them if they are born indoors and handled by people from birth. If the mom and her kittens are kept indoors, use the Feral Cat Setup (see Chapter 12), then when the litter is eight weeks or older, spay and release the mom and spay/neuter the kittens before adopting them out.

Wildlife   If you’re working in an area with wildlife, sometimes you may discover an uninvited visitor waiting inside one of your traps. They also like cat food and will wander in to check it out. You should release any wildlife immediately at the same location – remember, it’s their territory, too. Proceeding carefully and with the proper technique will prevent injury to the animal and yourself.  Avoid having to release raccoons, skunks and opossum by offering them food outside the traps which they like and cats don’t.  In the traps’ general vicinity, set out a few servings of the foods they like best. For raccoons, they love sweet foods like sweet corn, white bread and marshmallows. For skunks offer nuts, seeds, eggs, fruits and berries. Opossum adore fruits, tomatoes, acorns, persimmons, nuts and seeds. Remember, one nut or a couple of
berries won’t get the job done. Be sure to leave ample food or your furry dinner guests will finish the appetizers you’ve thoughtfully provided, then go in a trap and eat the cat food too.

Raccoons   Raccoons are usually very docile and will not put up a fight when you approach them in a trap. It may be tempting to just open the rear door and wait for the raccoon to exit and be on his way. The danger lies in their adroit paws, which act almost like hands, and have very long claws. Raccoons are a vector species for rabies, meaning they are
common carriers of the disease, and if you get too close and are scratched, even lightly, you will be exposed to a possible infection. This could mean either the animal has to be killed in order to test his brain for the presence of rabies or you have to undergo an expensive prophylactic treatment, or both. Same thing if you’re bitten. It’s far preferable to handle the situation carefully and avoid these consequences.   If you’re working in an area with raccoons, you’ll need to plan ahead and have the right equipment – a broomstick, heavy blanket and Kevlar gloves.   When a raccoon is in a trap, throw the blanket completely over the trap from a short distance away to help protect you from the raccoon’s claws. Then pull the blanket back from the very rear of the trap only, lift and remove the rear door and quickly move away.   If you’re with someone, first pull the blanket back from the very front of the trap. Have your partner bend down and face the front door from a safe distance and distract the raccoon while you open the rear door. For added safety, wear a pair of Kevlar gloves.
Elbow-length, bite-proof Kevlar gloves are the safest, but they are more expensive. If cost is an issue, get a pair of short, cut and puncture resistant Kevlar gloves. You can find these products at BiteBuster ( or search Amazon (

If you need to transport the trap a short distance before releasing the raccoon, do not lift the trap by the handles. At all times, you want to remain out of arm’s reach of the raccoon who may be able to fit his paw or claws through the wire mesh of the trap. Instead, slide a broomstick or similar long object through the trap’s handles.  Two people, one on each end of the broomstick, can then carry the trap. When you reach the release spot, cover the trap with the blanket and proceed. If you’re alone, consider using the “Trap

If you are bitten or scratched by a raccoon, skunk or other vector species for rabies, always consult a medical doctor for treatment!   Caddie” by Tomahawk:  but be very careful attaching it to the trap.  Throw the heavy blanket over the trap first, before attaching the Caddie (go to for this product).  After releasing the raccoon, clean the trap thoroughly, wearing protective gloves, before using it again. Be extra cautious if you see blood or saliva in the trap and don’t touch any with your bare hands. In warm conditions, the rabies virus can live for a matter of seconds or minutes outside the host’s body. In much colder temperatures, the life span of the virus may be considerably longer. The virus can also survive for a matter of days in an animal that is deceased.

Skunks  Like raccoons, skunks are vector species and may be carrying rabies and every precaution must be made to avoid a scratch or bite. The more immediate danger though is the extremely noxious spray that frightened skunks emit from their anal glands. Fortunately, they’re not as trigger happy as many people fear and rarely spray something they can’t see. To avoid getting sprayed, you’ll need to cover the trap with a heavy blanket before releasing the skunk (it’s important the blanket is heavy, so it can be thrown more easily). Calmly approach the trap and throw the blanket over it from as far a distance as you can. Then step back and wait a moment. If all appears well, quickly open the rear door and move away.
Keep in mind that skunks don’t see very well so if you act quickly, you should be okay. If the skunk starts stamping his feet, run for the hills! He’s warning you he’s about to spray if you don’t back off.

Opossums  Opossums are very gentle, almost entirely nocturnal animals and pose little threat. They have very poor eyesight, especially in daylight, so when releasing them, carry the trap first to a nearby tree or wooded area. That way they can find a place to climb and hide quickly and not become frightened and search around blindly. Cover the trap with a heavy blanket before lifting and avoid rubbing up against the side of the trap as you carry it. Step back after opening
the rear door.

Hard-to-catch cats  The goal for every caretaker is to have 100 percent of the cats in the colony spayed and neutered.  This alone ensures no more kittens. But many colonies have one or two cats who just won’t go in a normal box trap, no matter how long you deprive them of food or how many different types of bait you try. For these stubborn holdouts, there are a variety of battle-tested special techniques you can try. Be persistent and eventually one of these methods will work for you.    Do not, out of desperation, try using a net or graspers to catch a feral cat. The danger lies in having to handle the cat after you’ve grabbed him, assuming you succeed in doing so. Transferring a cat out of a net or graspers and into a trap or transfer cage requires special training and only animal care professionals should ever attempt it. Always keep in mind that a frightened cat can inflict severe injury, which is why this handbook only teaches trapping and care techniques which avoid physical contact between the cat and yourself.   Tranquilizers also should never be used. First, the delivery method could risk injury to yourself or the cat. If you use a syringe, your arms and hands will be at least momentarily exposed to a bite or scratch. If you use a dart gun, assuming that’s even legal, you could easily misfire – for example, if the cat suddenly moves – and hit the cat in the eye or other vulnerable spot. If you put drugs in the cat’s food, the wrong cat or another animal might ingest it. However a tranquilizer is delivered, the cat could run off before the drug takes full effect and harm himself.

Try one of these approaches instead:

Drop trap  In most cases, a drop trap will be the fastest and most effective way to capture your hard-to-catch cat. It originated as a grassroots invention designed by creative trappers,  most notably Laura Burns. The trap is propped up on a stick or similar object to which a string is attached. When a cat goes under to eat the bait, the trapper pulls the string and
the trap falls down over the cat. The cat is then transferred out of the drop trap and into a regular box trap or transfer cage.
As mentioned earlier in Chapter 8 (“Recommended Equipment”), a drop trap works so well because a cat usually has no natural fear of going under it and the wariness displayed with a box trap is absent. Because cats are much less afraid, they do not have to be deprived of food for a long period before the trapping. Withholding food the same day will be sufficient to get them interested enough in the bait. Because a drop trap is so effective, some experienced trappers will use it instead of box traps to catch all the cats in a colony, not just the more difficult ones.  When the first edition of this handbook was published, we included instructions on how to build a drop trap because none were commercially available on a large scale.
Since then, Neighborhood Cats has teamed up with Tomahawk Live Trap to design a mass-produced model and now all you need to do is place your order. The trap does require a little training and practice. Chapter 10 describes in detail how to use one.
Train the cat to enter a box trap  If a box trap can be safely left out for one to two weeks, a cat can be trained to enter it to eat. Begin by securing the front door of the trap in an open position. Use a cable tie or run a stick or rod through both sides of the trap just below the open front door, blocking it from falling. Place the trap near the normal feeding station or spot.  The first day, put a plate of food on the ground a foot or so away from the front of the trap. Keep placing the food at this spot until you see it’s being eaten. Then, next time you feed, move the plate so it’s still outside the trap but right below the open front door.  Again, wait until you see the cat is eating from the plate, and then move it a few inches inside the trap. Continue this process until the plate is at the back of the trap and the cat is going all the way in. Then set the trap.  This method works well with lone cats, but can be problematic if the hard-to-catch cat is part of a larger colony. In that case, you might not be able to tell whether the target cat is eating the food and being trained to go in the trap as opposed to other cats in the colony. If the colony is a small one, say six cats or less, you could try training all of them by putting all of their food on the plate or in a big bowl. Then when you’re confident your target cat is among those entering the trap to eat, use the bottle-and-string trick to single him out (see “Bottle-and-string trick” in the “Kittens” section earlier in this chapter).
Training a cat this way assumes it’s safe to leave a trap out unattended for an extended period of time. A private setting, like a caretaker’s backyard, is best. If the location is accessible to the public, precautions to protect both the cat and the equipment should be taken. The trap should be locked with a chain to an immovable object, like a fence post or stairwell rail. The rear door should be removed and taken away, rendering the trap useless if anyone wanted to try setting or taking it. In this situation, , where the cat can enter either the front or rear door, the goal is to train the cat to go to the middle of
the trap’s interior to eat.  Even with these precautions, if the trap is too visible and foot traffic is too high, this method should not be used. Only try it in a publicly accessible place with light traffic. Even then, find a spot that is at least somewhat hidden, like behind a concrete barrier or some bushes.

For the do-it-yourself trapper who wants to build her own drop trap, check out the Drop Trap Design Bank ( Trap designs, demonstration videos and more are available.  A variation of this method can be used before you even find out whether you have a hard-to-catch cat on your hands. If the site is private and secure, like a residential backyard, then a couple of weeks before the trapping date, put out as many traps as there
are cats and start training the entire colony to eat out of them. When the big day arrives, you may be surprised how quickly they’re all caught.

Camouflage trap Blending the trap in with its surroundings or disguising it in some manner may lure a cat in. If you’re
trapping in a setting with grass, trees or bushes, drape burlap over the sides of the trap and on the trap floor. Cover the burlap with leaves and branches, making sure not to create an obstruction which would prevent the front door from closing. Also, don’t cover the rear door – you want the cat to be able to see all the way through to reduce his fear of entering.
There are many other ways to disguise a trap. Put it inside a large cardboard box, again leaving the rear door uncovered so the cat has a line of vision all the way through.  Lean a large board against a wall and put the trap behind it. Rest objects, such as debris, a wooden plank or a trash bag on top and against the sides of the trap to make it appear more like part of its environment. The more the trap appears like a natural part of the environment, the less hesitant the cat will be going inside.

Lure into a closed space  If you can lure a cat into an indoor space like a shed, garage or room and securely
shut him inside, there are a couple ways to then get him into a box trap, though avoid using a room with ceiling tiles or a drop ceiling which would allow a cat to hide in the ceiling. Before luring the cat inside, you’ll need to set things up.  The simplest kind of “indoor trapping” is to place a baited trap in the room before the cat arrives and set it in the normal manner. Once the cat is shut into the indoor space, you wait it out. If the cat is trap shy, it might take two or three days before he’ll enter the trap. In the meantime, make sure fresh water is always available and a full litter pan. Put out a pile of newspaper as well in case the cat doesn’t understand what a litter pan is.  The only food available should be the bait in the trap. Be very careful when entering and exiting the space to avoid an escape. If the cat does not go in after two or three days, start
using food to train him to go into the trap (see “Train the cat to enter a box trap” earlier in this chapter.) Don’t withhold food indefinitely and risk damaging his health.

A faster technique takes a bit more work. Before the cat is lured into the room, remove or seal off any hiding places – anything the cat might go behind, into or under. If the cat is already in the space, leave his hiding place alone and remove or seal off all the rest. Then take a large board or piece of cardboard, approximately five feet high and four feet long, and lean it up against a wall at an angle. Place a set trap behind it without any bait. Towards the back of the trap, drape a sheet over the board so it visibly blocks any open space above and to the side of the trap. Leave the rear door uncovered.  Once everything is ready, lure the cat into the room and shut the door, or gently shoo him out from his hiding spot if he’s already inside. Once he enters the room for the first time or is flushed out from his spot, he’ll look for somewhere to hide. The only place he’ll see is behind the board and he’ll naturally go running behind it. The sheet will make it appear that he’ll be blocked in if he goes over or around the trap, so in most cases, he’ll go right in and step on the trip plate. He won’t realize, in the heat of the moment, that he could easily push the sheet aside.  If the cat doesn’t go all the way into the trap or stops just in front of it, walk slowly towards him, causing him to run away from you and into the trap. You could also slowly
move a long object, like a broom stick, towards him. Be careful not to get too close and within his striking range. If he still doesn’t go into the trap, exit the room, give the cat time to calm down, then come and try again to get him to run behind the board.

Another approach, if there is a closet in the room, is to set a trap inside it. Leave the closet door open a crack – just enough so the cat can run in. Make the interior of the closet dark and the rest of the room as brightly lit as possible. Block or remove any other hiding places. When the cat enters the room or is shooed out from behind wherever in the room he’s hiding, his natural tendency will be to run from the bright open space to the dark enclosed one and, hopefully, into the trap. This method is less reliable than the “trap behind the board” technique because there is more of a chance the cat will enter the closet but not the trap.  If all else fails, bait the trap, withdraw and wait it out.

Picking one out from the crowd  A cat may be hard to catch because there are lots of other cats around who you’re not after. This situation is typical when a colony is trapped and neutered gradually and you get down to the last few unaltered felines. You might also want to trap a particular cat who is pregnant, recently abandoned or sick or injured.
A drop trap is the most effective way to selectively trap (see earlier in this chapter and Chapter 10). In lieu of a drop trap, another way to pick a cat out of the crowd is to use the bottle-and-string method described earlier in the “Kittens” section of this chapter (see also Figure 9-3). Be sure, before the trapping, to practice setting the front door on the bottle, then yanking the string from a distance. It sounds easy enough, but it’s important to get the feel of it before you go live and have a cat in the trap.  Whether you use a drop trap or the bottle-and-string approach, put an extra-large amount of bait in the trap. This will allow a number of cats to go in and eat while you’re waiting for the one you want.  Cats who avoid the trip plate
On occasion, you may encounter a feline who won’t step on the trip plate. She may step over it, tiptoe around or even lean and stretch her neck far enough to grab a bite of the bait. If you see a cat in a trap who has avoided the trip plate and is calmly eating, don’t hurry over and cause the cat to rush out in a panic, because then she may be too frightened to ever return. Instead, walk towards the trap slowly and casually, giving her plenty of time to stop eating and exit when she becomes concerned about your approach.  Sometimes on her way out, the cat will step on the trip plate.  If the cat does exit, then when she’s a comfortable distance away, cover the trip plate and the rest of the trap floor with a sheet of newspaper, using clothes pins to attach the paper to the sides of the trap.  Now she won’t be able to see where the
trip plate is next time she goes in. You can also take a stick and push it through the sides of the trap a few inches above
the ground and just in front of the trip plate. Now, to reach the bait,  the cat will have to step over the stick and onto the hidden trip plate.

Cleaning traps & equipment  At the end of each trapping project, it’s important to thoroughly clean the traps and
any other equipment used, such as trap dividers or cages, in order to prevent the spread of disease. First, any loose materials should be scrubbed off. Then the equipment should be dipped in a bleach solution. The scrubbing should be done first in order for the bleach solution to effectively sterilize all surfaces.  A diluted solution of 1 part bleach to 32 parts water (1:32) will kill most common feline viruses, including feline distemper. The bleach needs to contain at least 5.25%
sodium hypochlorite, which is the active ingredient. You can find the percentage of sodium hypochlorite on the label of the bleach container. Most “ultra” bleaches will have the necessary amount, but do check. Most of the time, you shouldn’t use more than a 1:32 solution because bleach is corrosive to metal and repeated cleanings with too strong a solution will ruin your traps and other equipment. If ringworm may be present, then you’ll need a stronger solution to kill any spores. Several cleanings with 1:10 bleach to water solution will kill ringworm spores or one cleaning with undiluted bleach.  To dip the traps in what is close enough to a diluted 1:32 bleach solution, use a 30 gallon Rubbermaid or similar garbage can. Fill the can a few inches from the top with water and then pour in a gallon of bleach. Be sure to use rubber gloves and eye protection, like safety goggles, to prevent burns from splashing. Wearing pants and a long-sleeve shirt will give you added protection. Dip one end of the trap into the can, then lift it up, turn it over and dip the other end.  Remove the trap from the can as soon as it’s been fully dipped, place it on the ground and let it air dry with the bleach solution on it. Once the traps are dry, thoroughly rinse them off with a hose, removing all bleach residue. At all times, move the traps slowly and carefully to avoid getting the bleach solution on yourself, but if you accidentally do get some on your skin, wash it off immediately and apply Aloe Vera gel to mitigate any burns.

10. The Neighborhood Cats Drop Trap  A drop trap can be an essential tool for anyone doing TNR on a regular basis. Cats too afraid to enter the narrow, confined space of a box trap often show no fear of walking under a drop trap. It can be used to catch the holdouts during or after a mass trapping and to pick out kittens or any injured, ill or pregnant cats from the rest of the colony. For some trappers, drop trapping is the preferred approach for capturing all the cats they’re after, not only special cases.  Until recently, there was no mass-produced drop trap and most caretakers had to build their own. At Neighborhood Cats, we recognized how important this piece of equipment is for TNR, so we teamed up with Tomahawk Live Trap to design the Neighborhood Cats Drop Trap, a model which is affordable, durable and easy to set up and transport. The trap folds up like a suitcase and can be set up in a few minutes or less. Being all metal, it’s easy to clean and sanitize, unlike most home-made drop traps. For more specifics and information on how to order, see “Drop traps” in Chapter 8. A drop trap is a more complicated tool to use than a regular box trap – there’s much more involved than setting the trigger, standing back and waiting for a cat to step on the trip plate.  The purpose of this chapter is to describe how to use the Neighborhood Cats Drop Trap.  Most of what is said will apply equally to home-made drop traps as well. Before going into much more detail, here is a quick overview of the process:

First, the trap is placed on a level surface near the cats’ usual eating spot. The front of the trap is then raised up on its prop bar and a bowl of bait is placed in the back. The trapper stands a distance away, holding a string or cord attached to the prop bar. When the desired cat is under the trap and eating out of the bowl, the string is yanked, pulling back the prop bar
and dropping the trap down over the cat. The cat is then transferred into a box trap through the guillotine door on the
side.  Never try to use a drop trap for the first time on that elusive cat you’ve been after for the last five years! It takes a little practice to get used to the process, so first time out, use it on a cat or two who are already fixed. You can either let them go after transferring them into box traps (it’s important to practice that part, too) or getting their rabies vaccinations updated. After you’ve given yourself a chance to make mistakes and learn, you’ll be ready for Grandma!

Preparations  As with any trapping, it helps to get the cats on a routine so they show up daily at the same time and place to eat. That way you know where and when to show up to trap. One of the big advantages to using a drop trap is that you don’t have to withhold food the day before the trapping. Because the cats are less fearful of a drop trap, they don’t need to be as hungry before they’ll go under. Just don’t feed the day of the trapping. Then they should be interested enough to check out the bait.  Here’s a list of materials you’ll need, in addition to the drop trap itself:
Box traps with guillotine-style rear doors or transfer cages (as many as the number of cats you plan to trap)

Trap dividers  String or cord (should be strong, at least 50 feet in length and wrapped around a stick or similar object)
 Heavy object, like a large rock or bucket of rocks (for weighing down the drop trap)
 Large blanket (to cover the drop trap)
 Sheets (to cover the box traps or transfer cages)
 Large plastic bowl or equivalent
 Bait (lots of it!)
 Binoculars (optional – for spotting eartipped cats or if you’re going to watch the trap from a far distance)
 Setting up the trap
 Choose a location
The first decision is where to place the trap. Four factors should be considered in choosing the optimal spot:
(a) Good visibility. You’ll need to see the trap clearly from a distance so you can tell when to pull the string.
(b) Flat surface. Choose a place where the ground is flat. If there are any gaps between the trap and the ground after it drops, a determined cat can insert a paw and push the trap up just enough to escape.
(c) Loction near the usual feeding site. Ideally, the trap will be set up where the cats are used to coming to eat.
(d) Adequate space for a box trap. Remember, you’re going to have to transfer cats out of the drop trap through its sliding side door and into a box trap or transfer cage. Make sure there’s enough room on the side of the drop trap for a box trap or transfer cage to fit.

Assemble the trap  (For a video demonstration of how to set up and disassemble the drop trap, go to the TNR Drop Trap page at
1. First steps. Separate the main frame of the trap from the top.  Unfold the main frame so it stands up and forms a square, and then unhook the weight flap, laying it flat. Remove the sliding door and temporarily put it aside

2. Attach the top. Unfold the top then place it over the main frame of the drop trap. Attach all the spring clips to the top, except the two clips right next to the frame of the sliding side door, one on either side. These two clips are used to attach a box trap or transfer cage during a transfer of a cat out of the drop trap. Except for these two, all other spring clips should be fastened so no gaps can form if a captured cat pushes up against the top.

3. Re-insert the sliding door. Secure the roll hooks at the top of the sliding door to the top of the drop trap, locking the door in place.

4. Anchor the trap. Place a heavy object, like a large rock or bucket of rocks, on top of the weight flap. This will help keep the trap from moving around once a cat is caught.

5. Raise the prop bar. Raise the front of the trap off the ground so it’s resting steadily on the prop bar. Tie your string or cord at the bottom of the prop bar, below the cross-bar.

Bait the Trap
Fill the bowl or other unbreakable container with a generous amount of bait. You can use the cats’ normal food, but canned mackerel, tuna or something extra tasty is a good idea to help attract any reluctant cats. The trick is to have a big enough bowl and put lots of bait in it, especially if you’re after a particular cat or cats. You want other cats to be able to go under the trap, have a bite and leave plenty of bait behind. What you don’t want to do is keep walking over and replenishing the bowl and potentially scare your target cat away.  Place the filled bowl at the very back of the trap – the side with the weight flap – and in the center. This forces a cat to go as far into the trap as possible before settling in to eat.  To encourage skittish cats or kittens to enter the trap and find the bowl, make a trail of bait leading under the trap from a few feet away. Crumbled cat
treats, juice from canned mackerel or small bits of chicken usually work well.

Final Setup  Place a box trap or transfer cage, and a sheet for covering it, within arm’s length of the drop trap. We recommend also placing nearby the blanket you’ll use to cover the drop trap once you’ve caught someone. Having these items within easy reach of the drop trap will save you from running around trying to find them in the heat of the moment.
Finally, position yourself. Unwind the cord and move far enough away so that the cats will not be uneasy with your presence. Ideally, you should be directly facing the front of the trap and not be off to the side. This will ensure a smoother and faster yank of the cord at the moment of truth. If you’re off to the side, it’s possible the prop bar could jam or hesitate, giving the cat just the split second she needs to get out before the trap completely drops. If you’re trapping at night, you can use a flashlight or the headlights from your car to illuminate the drop trap – the beams shouldn’t bother the cats.

Dropping the trap   Be patient! That’s the number one rule of drop trapping. Wait until the cat or cats you’re after are crouched over the food bowl and fully engaged in eating before you pull the string. Preferably, they will not be looking in your direction. It is amazing, but if a cat is not distracted enough by eating and sees you pull the string, he can get out of the trap before it hits the ground. So don’t get over-anxious and yank the cord as soon as a cat steps under the trap. Likewise, if the cat appears nervous and furtive as he starts to go under, wait. Even if he darts out, chances are he’ll be back when he sees everything is okay. The worst thing you could do is pull the cord too soon and not only have the cat
escape, but become too frightened to return.  When you do pull the string, don’t hesitate at all, but give it a good, hard yank.  Hesitating could cause the string to move, alerting the cat and giving him a chance to get out before you recover. This is why it’s important to practice pulling a few times before you try it live.  Be aware there is a risk of injury if a cat is hit by a falling trap, one more reason to be patient and wait until she’s enjoying the bait. Don’t pull the string if there’s a cat
sitting or standing by the edge of the trap while another is eating. Also, be cautious when trapping kittens or cats who are sick or injured and may have trouble moving. Be sure they’re all eating and clear of the trap’s edges before pulling.
If your top priority is to catch a particular feline, like a pregnant cat or a wily, hard-to-catch feral, avoid dropping the trap on any other cats until you’ve caught that one. If the one you’re after sees her mates going under, having a bite and coming back out with no problem, she may be reassured about going under herself. If you were to drop the trap before you caught her and she was close by, most likely she would scatter along with any other nearby cats. Most of the time, the cats return soon afterwards, but you don’t want to take that chance and give her any reason to be suspicious of the trap.  Sometimes you’ll be able to catch more than one cat or kitten at the same time. You may see a mom and her litter all coming to eat together. It’s fine to drop the trap on more than one cat provided they’re all engrossed in eating.   Transferring out of the drop trap

1. Cover the drop trap. Once the trap is dropped and a cat is captured, he’s going to frantically try to find a way out. You need to cover the entire drop trap with the blanket as quickly as possible to help him calm down and reduce the risk of injury. Use a blanket rather than a sheet; it will block out more light and be easier to throw over the entire trap. Wait for the cat to settle down before attempting the transfer.

2. Line up and secure the box trap or transfer cage. Align the rear door of the box trap with the sliding side door of the drop trap, making sure there are no gaps between them. Drape the sheet over the top and sides of the box trap or transfer cage, being sure to leave the end opposite the drop trap uncovered. During the transfer, you want to trick the cat into thinking the only way out is through the box trap or transfer cage, so the far end needs to be uncovered and looking like an exit. If you’re transferring into a box trap, double-check that its front door is shut.

3. Attach the spring clips. Find the extra spring clips next to the frame of the drop trap’s sliding door, one on either side, and attach them to the box trap or transfer cage. This will help keep both traps in place and prevent gaps from forming
during the transfer. Be careful not to pull the clips too far and tight or the door of the box trap or transfer cage will press too hard against the drop trap’s sliding door, making it difficult to open and close. Once you’ve secured the clips, test opening and closing the drop trap’s sliding door. If there’s too much resistance, loosen the spring clips and don’t pull them out as far before re-attaching.

4. Position yourself. Place one foot on top of the box trap to further keep it in place.   Make sure both the drop trap and box trap or transfer cage are fully covered so the cat won’t be able to see you when he approaches the doorway.

5. Open the doors. Release the roll hooks at the top of the drop trap’s sliding door.  Then, at the same time, lift up both the sliding door of the drop trap and the rear door of the box trap or front door of the transfer cage. Don’t completely remove the doors from their frames, but hold them up (Figure 10-10). Wait quietly for the cat to make the next move. Within a minute or two, most cats will see light coming from the far end of the box trap or transfer cage and head in that direction. Through the sliver of space created between the sheet and blanket when you lift the doors, you should be able to see the cat pass out of the drop trap. If not, pull back the sheet an inch or two from the doors so there’s a little opening you can watch through. Once the cat fully enters the box trap or cage, close its door. If you’ve caught more than one cat, also shut the door of the drop trap. Completely cover the box trap and carry it away.

6. Repeat transfer for any remaining cats. If there are any cats remaining in the drop trap, completely cover the drop trap, bring over another box trap and repeat the transfer procedure.

7. Problem cats. Most cats will run into the box trap or transfer cage as soon as you open both doors. Sometimes though, you’ll run into a problem kitty who won’t cooperate and stays in the drop trap. The first thing to try, especially if you’re alone, is to slowly pull the blanket on top of the drop trap towards you, exposing more and more of the space beneath. Frightened ferals prefer to be covered and in the dark. As you pull the blanket off, the only place which will fit that description is inside the still covered box trap or transfer cage and that’s where the cat is likely to go.  If you have someone helping you, have him to walk to the opposite side of the drop trap from you. He should then lift the blanket from that side, kneel down to the cat’s eye level and stare right at him, being careful to remain far enough back to avoid getting scratched. The cat will usually respond by running in the other direction, towards the doorway. If the cat still won’t go, your partner can try gently poking a long, thin rod or stick towards the cat to encourage him to run away, hopefully into the box trap or transfer cage.
If all else fails, be patient and wait quietly. Eventually, the cat will start exploring and looking for a way out.

8. Two cats enter the box trap. If you caught more than one cat with the drop trap and two go into the box trap or transfer cage at the same time, shut the doors and immediately separate them with a trap divider. Then transfer one into another box trap or cage (see “Transfers from traps” in Chapter 9).     If you forgot to bring a trap divider, cover the box trap or transfer cage completely and see if the cats remain calm. If they do, wait until you have a divider or have transported them to a secure indoor space before doing a transfer. If they are not calm and you fear an injury, you may have to attempt a transfer out at the trapping site without a divider. One possibility, as an absolute last resort, is to transfer one or more of them back under the drop trap and then try again to get one at a time out. They might not be so quick to come out of the drop trap, though, the second time around.

9. Escapes. If a cat escapes by getting out from under the drop trap before it hits the ground or during the transfer – don’t give up! He may return later and go under the drop trap again. It may help if there are other cats in the colony who the escaped cat can observe going under and eating without incident. Don’t drop the trap again until your escapee has been caught.

Disassembling the trap  Disconnect the top by pulling the spring clips loose. Important! – re-attach the spring clips onto the top of the main frame. Don’t let the clips hang loose or they’ll become tangled with other parts of the trap and may break. Also attach the two clips by the sliding door onto the main frame. (If you need extra or replacement spring clips, you
can order them from Tomahawk Live Trap –  Untie the cord from the prop stick and wind it up. Next, raise the weight flap and reattach it to the main frame with the roll hooks. Insert the sliding door if it’s been removed. Then fold the main frame flat. The main frame will then fit inside the top, which folds in half like a suitcase.

11. Caring for Cats in Traps  While the colony is being trapped, which can take two or three days, and for at least 24
hours after the spay/neuter surgeries, captured cats need to be kept confined. The safest and most cost-effective way to do this is to keep the cats in their traps at all times rather than transfer them into cages or other enclosures.  Using traps as cages has many advantages.  Much less space is required for housing the cats than if all of them were put in separate cages, plus the expense of buying the cages is saved.  Most importantly, keeping the cats in their traps is much safer. No transfers of cats into and out of cages have to be performed, greatly reducing the risks of injury and escape.  Often when people first hear of this method, they jump to the conclusion it’s inhumane to keep a cat in that small of a space for days at a time. This belief reflects a basic misunderstanding of a feral cat’s temperament. No matter how large a cage you put a feral cat in, if there’s a space in the cage where he can hide, like a carrier, feral cat den or box, he’ll spend almost his entire confinement inside it. When they’re under stress, ferals greatly prefer spaces that are tight, dark and covered because they feel more hidden and protected. They do not want to be in a large, wide-open space. This is why feral cats who are kept in a normal cage should always be provided with a den or the equivalent where they can hide.  As long as the traps are at least 30 inches long (preferably 36 inches) and kept covered and clean, the cats are absolutely fine.  They quickly get used to the feeding and cleaning routine and most of them soon become relaxed. They’ll spend their time crouching or lying down in their traps, resting quietly. It can be surprising at first just how quiet a room full of confined feral cats can be.

Materials needed
 Traps with rear doors (at least 30” in length; 36” is preferable)
 Trap dividers (at least one pair)
 Cotton sheets for covers (one per trap)
 Newspaper (lots of it!)
 Water dishes (with flat bottoms)
 Food dishes (paper or plastic)
 Plastic drop cloth (at least 3 millimeters thick)
 Latex gloves
 Garbage bags
 Tables (optional)
 Small towels (optional)
 Preparing the holding space
Start to prepare the holding space by spreading a plastic drop cloth at least 3mm thick over the floor.  The plastic will catch any waste that escapes from the traps and make it easier to keep the space clean.  When the project is over, the plastic can be rolled up and thrown out. You can also replace the plastic when the cats all go for their surgeries, which will
help with cleanliness and reduce any odors.  If they’re available, set up tables to place the traps on. Six-foot long craft tables are ideal and can comfortably fit five traps each. While tables are not essential, the feeding and cleaning goes faster when the traps are raised that high. If you do use tables, also cover them with plastic. If possible, leave room for you to access both ends of the traps. If that’s not possible and there’s only space for you to access one end, you’ll need to lift each trap and turn it around during the feeding and cleaning.  When the cats are brought in, line up the traps in rows, the rear doors all facing the same direction, and leave a few inches between traps if you can. Every trap should be covered with a sheet during the entire stay. For ventilation, if it doesn’t alarm the cats, leave the front and rear doors of the traps uncovered. If you know two particular cats are close friends or mother and kitten, press their traps up against one another length-wise and use one sheet to cover both traps. This way they can see and comfort one another.  The holding space must be warm (at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit). Keeping confined cats in too cold of a space could result in illness and even death if they are placed inside a cold room too soon after surgery. In hot weather, fans can be helpful to keep the
temperature down. Be sure all electrical cords and appliances are safely installed.

Feeding and cleaning   The traps should be cleaned and the cats provided with fresh food and water twice a
day. This section provides a step-by-step guide for doing this safely and efficiently. A video of the process, performed live on a feral cat, is part of our “How to Perform a Mass Trapping” video which can be viewed at We’ve also excerpted the feeding and cleaning segment so you can view that alone on the “Caring for Cats in Traps” page of the website. We recommend you wear latex gloves while doing this work to help keep the process sanitary.

1. Move the cat to the rear of the trap   Start at the front door end of the trap. Get the cat to move to the other end by folding back the sheet so only the rear of the trap is covered while the front is exposed. Ferals tend to move from light
to dark and will usually retreat when the sheet is folded back. If this doesn’t work, insert one of the dividers from above and give a gentle push towards the rear.

2. Section the cat off Once the cat has moved to the rear, insert two trap dividers in the middle of the trap, one right behind the other. You can insert the dividers right in front of the top plate or just in back of it. The cat is now sectioned off and cannot escape when you open the front door. You should always use two trap dividers when coming through the top of the trap. Don’t become complacent and only use one, thinking you’ll save a little time. The occasional cat will be strong enough to bend an outer tong of the divider inwards and squeeze through the slight opening created or push the divider up towards you and crawl out underneath. This can’t happen if you insert two dividers from above, back to back.  If you do find
yourself with only one divider available, then insert it horizontally through both sides of the trap instead of vertically from above. Make sure the divider has gone all the way through and is sticking out the opposite side. The bottom tong should be resting on the trap floor. Going through the side of the trap with one divider is also very secure, but can be more time-consuming, especially if you’re working with multiple traps lined up in a row without much space between them.

3. Insert fresh newspaper While the cat is isolated on the rear end of the trap, open the front door, remove any dirty
newspaper and line the bottom with fresh, thick newspaper. The newspaper makes the trap more comfortable for the cats and they will eliminate on it. Don’t try putting in a small litter pan or you’re liable to end up with a real, impossible-to-clean-up mess. Remember, these cats typically are not trained to use a litter pan and will often knock it over and get the litter all over the place. The newspaper works fine and some of the cats will even shred it to cover their waste. If you’d like, place a small towel inside the trap at the front door end. The cats do enjoy sitting on the towel, though it tends to quickly get dirty or soiled.

4. Secure the front door   Once you’ve finished cleaning the front half of the trap and putting in fresh newspaper, shut the front door and double-check that it’s locked. Remove the dividers,  then cover the front of the trap completely with the sheet.

5. Move the cat to the front end, section off and insert newspaper Go to the rear end of the trap, pull back the sheet and move the cat to the front end, using the same approach as before. Towards the middle of the trap, insert two dividers
from above, back to back. Once the cat is safely sectioned off, open the rear door and, if it’s a type that lifts out completely, place it on top of the trap. Remove any dirty newspaper and replace it with fresh, thick newspaper.

6. Place food and water inside Inside the trap and close to the rear door, place food and water. The food should be
on a plastic or paper plate and water in a low container with a flat bottom, like a disposable snack container, which is available at grocery stores. Don’t use empty cat food cans for holding the water – they have sharp edges which can cause cuts.  The best piece of equipment for holding water in a trap is a “coop cup.” This stainless steel cup is made for holding food and water in bird cages and has hooks which will attach to the side of the trap. Be sure to buy coop cups with hooks and not ones that use a more complex mechanism for attaching. They can be found online at or purchased at pet supply stores which sell products for birds.

7. Secure the rear door   After you’ve placed clean newspaper, food and water inside, shut the rear door and check that it’s securely locked by tugging up on it. Remove the dividers and cover the rear of the trap with the sheet. For ventilation, leave the front and rear doors partially uncovered.  When working with large numbers of cats, it can be helpful to proceed in an
assembly-line manner. First, put newspaper on top of each trap. Then make your way down the row of traps, doing all the front ends first. Next, prepare all the food plates and water dishes and put one of each on top of each trap. Finally, do all the rear ends, placing food and water in as the last step for each trap. The reason the food and water should be
put in as the last step and not the first is so the cat doesn’t sit in it or knock it over while you’re cleaning.

What if a cat does escape?
If you follow the procedures outlined here, including always using two dividers and double-checking that the doors are locked after you close them, cats will not escape. But if for some reason there’s a mishap and a cat does get out, the most important thing to remember is never try to grab a feral with your bare hands. The cat will be very frightened and will believe you’re trying to harm him. He’ll fight to break loose from your grip and, in a split second, can inflict an injury serious enough to send you to the emergency room for treatment. Don’t try to throw a blanket over him and grab him.  That’s just as dangerous. What you will need to do is re-trap him.  Anticipate the possibility of an escape, even if it’s highly unlikely, by shutting the door and blocking any other way out of the holding space when you first enter it.  Obviously you can’t do this if your holding space is outdoors or in a large, wide open interior like a warehouse, giving you all the more reason to be extra-careful when feeding and cleaning.  If an escaped cat cannot get out of the holding space, there are a few ways to re-trap him. One is the “lure into a closed space” method described in the “Hard-to-catch cats” section of Chapter 9. Your escapee will already be in a closed space, so no need to lure him in. The rest of the method, however, would apply. Briefly, you would eliminate places the cat could hide and get him to run behind a board or into a closet where a trap is set. Review the full procedure in Chapter 9.   If this method doesn’t work or is impractical in the particular space, set and bait a trap
or two, cover the sides of the trap with a sheet (but not the front and rear doors) and wait it out. It can take a few days before hunger drives the cat back in, though usually overnight will do the trick.  Worst case scenario would involve asking a veterinarian or veterinary technician to come and use a fast-acting sedative on the cat. This is possible only if the cat is holed up somewhere where he can be easily reached and has little room to move. It should only be attempted by a veterinary professional experienced in working with ferals.

12. The Feral Cat Setup: Long-term Fosters  The “Feral Cat Setup” is for confining a feral cat over an extended period, beyond the several days typically required for a TNR project. A cat may need to recuperate from a serious injury like a
bite wound or broken limb or be treated for an illness that requires a course of antibiotics. Or you may need to hold a mom raising a litter of newborn kittens. The Feral Cat Setup is also useful when a feral cat is being adopted and introduced into
someone’s home (see “Socialization techniques for feral teenagers & adults” in Chapter 16.)

Whether to use the Feral Cat Setup instead of a trap depends largely on how long the confinement will last. If the cat needs to be confined for more than two weeks, the Feral Cat Setup should be used. For less than two weeks, much depends on the particular cat’s disposition. If he remains calm and appears relaxed, a trap should work fine. If he starts
acting restless and stressed after being in a trap for a few days, the Feral Cat Setup is a better choice.  One of the worst things you can do in a long-term foster situation is let a feral cat loose into a room or open space, even a bathroom. The cat will either go find a place to hide, often a spot you never knew existed, and stay there the entire time, or literally start
climbing the walls trying to escape. You lose almost all control over the situation and when the time comes to transport the cat out of the room, it could be difficult and possibly dangerous to re-capture him. The Feral Cat Setup, with its den inside a cage, is a much safer way to go and will provide a more secure, comforting environment for the cat once he learns the cage is “his” space.

Materials needed
 Cage, approximately 36″ L x 21″ W x 24″ H
 Feral cat den
 Small litter pan
 Litter or shredded newspaper
 Broomstick handle (or similar long, narrow device which can reach through the bars of the cage to open and shut the side door of the feral cat den)
 Cotton sheet
 Newspaper
 Food and water dishes
 Small towel

The bottom of the cage is lined with newspaper. The den with a small towel inside sits in the rear corner to your left as you’re facing the front of the cage. This leaves the round side door accessible from the side. Towards the front of the cage,
the litter pan sits to the left and the food and water bowls are to the right.  A sheet covers the back half of the
cage at all times and can be pulled over the front half when you want to make the cat’s environment as calm as
possible.  For the litter pan, you can use a smaller one, measuring approximately 10 inches in width and 14 inches in length. Or a small plastic dish pan with similar dimensions will work. Using shredded newspaper instead of regular litter may help keep the cage cleaner.

Placing the cat inside  Don’t try to transfer a cat directly out of a trap and into a cage. This type of transfer carries a high risk of injury or escape because both the trap door and cage door have to be open at the same time. Because the door of the trap is much smaller than the door of the cage, a large gap above the trap is created. All the cat has to do is exit the trap, twist around, jump over the trap and take off. You won’t be able to pull back the trap and shut the cage door fast enough to stop him. A much safer technique is to transfer the cat from the trap into the feral cat den, then put the den inside the cage. (See “Transfers from traps” in Chapter 9.)   If the cat will go directly into the Setup after a visit to the veterinarian or spay/neuter clinic, give the den (with a towel inside) to the staff and ask them to put the cat in while
he’s still sedated. That way, when you pick him up, he’ll already be inside. Make sure the side door is locked before you carry him home. It’s difficult for a cat to open the side door even if it’s unlocked, but things can shift and move around during transport and you want to be as safe as possible. If you’re using an older model den without a side door lock, use a piece of duct tape to secure the side door. Also check that the front door is locked.  Once the cat has been transferred or is otherwise inside the den, place the den, still locked, into the Setup cage. Next, put in the litter pan, food and water. When everything is in place, unlock the den’s side door, but do not open it. Shut and secure the cage door, reach through the bars with a broomstick and then, pushing up from its lower left, lift the side door of the den into its open position. While it’s possible with the Tomahawk feral cat den to lock the side door into an open position, do not attempt to do this. You need the side door unlocked so you can open and close it from outside the cage. The side door should stay open on its own anyway without being locked into that position.  Finally, cover the entire cage with the sheet to calm the cat. Once he’s gotten used to his new space, you can pull back the sheet, but always leave at least the back half covered.

Feeding and cleaning  Once the cat is inside the Setup and the side door of the den is open, he’s free to move
about, eat, poop, scatter the litter, shred the newspaper, tip over the water dish, etc.  Usually, your guest won’t behave that badly, but you will need to regularly feed and do some housekeeping. Before you open the cage door to get to work, the cat must be inside the den with the side door shut. Normally, this is not a problem because most feral cats will spend almost all their time in the den and all you’ll need to do is reach through the bars of the cage with the broomstick and tilt the side door closed. If the cat happens to be out when you want to get in the cage, she’ll usually head straight back inside the den as soon as she sees you approaching.  If she starts to get comfortable outside the den and doesn’t go back in when you
approach, then you may have to coax her. Pulling back the sheet all the way and leaving the entire cage uncovered might do the trick. Other methods include making a loud noise, tapping the side of the cage, poking very gently with the broomstick or spritzing with a light spray of water. If these don’t work and the cat just won’t go in the den, wait and try again later. Under no circumstances should you open the cage door while the cat is out.  Once the cat is inside the den with the side door closed, you can safely open the cage door. The first thing you should do is lock the side door of the den. As mentioned, it’s closed & unlocked: open & unlocked unlikely the cat would be able to open the door, anyway, but locking it gives added security. Now you can go about cleaning the cage and putting in fresh food and water.  You might find it easier to lift the den out of the cage first. When you’re finished straightening up and providing fresh food and water, put the
den back inside, unlock the side door and close and lock the cage door. Then reach through the bars with the broomstick and raise the side door of the den to its open position.

13. Spay/Neuter & Veterinary Care  Getting the cats spayed and neutered is what the hard work of trapping is all about.
When the big Spay Day arrives, you want to be as ready as possible. This means educating yourself ahead of time on your clinic’s protocols, getting the cats ready and knowing what choices you will make for the cats’ care.
 Preparing for surgery
 Withhold food & water
For adult cats, all food should be removed from their traps by 10p the night before the surgery. It’s important for a cat’s stomach to be empty while under anesthesia. Otherwise, there is a chance the cat will vomit while unconscious and the regurgitated food could cause him to choke or gag, a potentially fatal complication. Water should be withheld, too, although veterinarians differ on when to withdraw it. To be conservative, remove the water at the same time you remove the food.
In order to maintain a healthy energy level, food and water should not be withheld from kittens for as long as adults. Exactly when food and water should be taken away depends in large part on their age. The younger they are, the closer in time to the surgery they should be fed. Consult your veterinarian for the precise timing, keeping in mind that whatever age the kittens are, there is some period before the surgery that food and water should be withdrawn.

Traps and covers   Feral cats should always be brought to the clinic in traps or transfer cages, one cat per trap or cage. When a cat is in a trap or transfer cage, veterinary staff can use a trap divider to pin the cat against one end and then sedate him through the bars with a long needled syringe. In contrast, if the cat is in a carrier or even a feral cat den, staff may need to open the door and reach in to get at the cat. This can be very dangerous, exposing staff and the cat to injury. This is why many clinics now require that feral cats be brought in traps or transfer cages or they will not be treated.
Each trap should be covered with a sheet to keep the cat calm. Cotton sheets, like those used to cover the cat during the trapping, will do the trick. Write your name or your group’s on the sheets with indelible ink if you want to be sure to get the same ones back.

Special instructions  Any special instructions for the veterinary staff should be written on a label affixed to the top plate of the trap. Examples include the cat is limping and you want the left front leg examined, you’d like the teeth looked at, there’s a wound that needs cleaning or you know the cat is pregnant. Any veterinary care you’d like beyond the clinic’s standard treatment should be noted. Also find out ahead of time what, if any, extra charges will be involved.  It’s especially important to write down in big bold letters if you do not want the cat ear-tipped because you plan to adopt him out rather than return him to his colony. Keep in mind, however, that many clinics require ear-tipping in order for you to qualify for a
discount feral rate. Otherwise, normal rates apply. Check your clinic’s policies beforehand. If eartipping is required for a lower rate, then pay the higher price for adoptables but still, if the cat is in a trap or transfer cage, make it very clear on the label that you don’t want the cat tipped. If a mistake happens and a cat is accidentally tipped, don’t be overly concerned – eartipped cats are no less adoptable in our experience.  In addition to writing special instructions on a label, also put them on the clinic’s intake form. If there is no intake form, don’t rely only on giving verbal instructions.  Something you only say can easily be forgotten or misunderstood. Print or write your own simple intake form if necessary, listing your name, the cat’s name and description, the date, and your instructions, then hand it to the clinic staff when you bring in the cat.
That way there should be no confusion about what you’re asking to have done.

Educating the veterinary staff  TNR and the veterinary services available for feral cats continue to grow at a rapid
pace. Nonetheless, working with feral cats is something many veterinarians and clinics remain unfamiliar with. They are set up and trained to work with pet cats who are used to being handled, not semi-wild animals who have to be treated with much more caution.  As an experienced caretaker and trapper, it’s possible that at first you’ll know more about the safe handling of ferals than your veterinarian or clinic. If that’s the case, it’s important for you to educate them. Bring your cats in traps, covered with sheets, even if the clinic does not tell you to do so and explain why to the staff. Also bring a pair of trap
dividers and demonstrate how to section the cat off on one end and feed and clean in the trap. Many veterinarians new to ferals make the mistake of transferring them out of traps and into cages. Explain how this increases the risk of escape and injury and how much safer it is to keep the cats in their traps before and after surgery. If a cat does need to be caged at the clinic for some reason, bring a feral cat den and show how to use it, including transferring the cat into the den before placing him in a cage.  If your veterinarian or clinic is new to TNR, give them a photo of an eartipped cat and copy the part of this chapter which explains how to perform the procedure. Do this whenever you’re working with a veterinarian who is relatively inexperienced with ferals, even if she says she knows what an “eartip” is. In veterinary school, students are taught
to perform “ear notches,” the V-shaped mark cut out of the side of the ear of livestock.  This mark doesn’t work well with ferals because from a distance, it can look like a fight wound, making it hard to tell if the cat is neutered. When first working with ferals, a veterinarian may believe an ear notch is the same thing as an eartip. Even if they do know the difference, an inexperienced veterinarian may take too much or too little off the tip of the ear. Don’t take chances when a simple photograph or drawing will prevent a mishap.

Arrange for emergency post-surgery veterinary care  With veterinarians experienced in spay/neuter, the incidence of post-surgical complications is very low. Still, it’s best to plan what you would do in the rare event something does go wrong after the cat has been returned to your care. You want to make these plans before the cats are returned to you, not afterwards when you’re in the middle of a crisis. First, see if your spay/neuter provider will be available at all times after the
surgeries. If not, locate any 24 hour or other emergency care veterinary facilities in your area. You can also try to arrange for another veterinarian, even if he didn’t perform the spay/neuter surgery, to be available in an emergency.  Two situations which could require post-surgical emergency care are pools of blood or prolonged unconsciousness. Drops of blood around the scrotum for males or the spay incision for females are normal, as is urine tinged with blood for the first day or two after
the procedure. A pool of blood, even 1/8th of a cup, is not normal and requires immediate attention. Likewise, if a cat is not fully conscious a couple of hours after the surgery, this is cause for immediate action. Usually, a clinic will not return the cats to you until they are fully conscious, but sometimes it isn’t possible for them to hold or observe them for that long. In particular, some mobile spay/neuter clinics – van or MASH-style – may need to return the cats to you earlier than is ideal.

Types of veterinary treatment  The standard treatment for feral cats being returned to their colonies includes (1)
spay/neuter, (2) eartipping and (3) rabies vaccination when required by law or when it’s known rabies is present in the local environment. Some clinics may also include in their standard feral cat package an FVRCP vaccine, flea treatment, ear mite medication and/or worm medication. A few will also do dental work. Normally, however, these additional treatments are considered optional and will cost extra.  Parasite medication (fleas, ear mites and worms) is not usually part of the standard
treatment because it’s normal for a healthy cat living outdoors to have a certain, tolerable level of parasites present. If medication is applied, the parasites will return when it wears off. This makes investing limited funds in these treatments of questionable utility. If an infestation is severe, treatment should be sought and the extra cost incurred. In these extreme cases, the parasites could cause serious health issues, such as fleas causing anemia, worms causing weight loss or ear mites resulting in wounds from the cat scratching behind his ears. Be aware that when parasites rise to this level, it can be a sign of another underlying health issue such as a weakened immune system. Often, if efforts are made to upgrade the cat’s shelter and nutrition, a recurrence of the infestation can be avoided.

The FVRCP vaccine, also known as the “three-in-one” shot or the “feline distemper” vaccine, protects against three diseases – panleukopenia (feline distemper), calici virus and rhinotracheitis. Distemper is the most feared of the three because of its swift and often deadly consequences, but the other two can be serious and even fatal as well. There
are good reasons though for why FVRCP is not usually part of a standard treatment for ferals. First, there is the cost. With TNR, judgments must constantly be made on the best use of scarce resources. In our experience at Neighborhood Cats, it is the kittens who are most susceptible to distemper and other diseases because their immune systems are not
fully developed. Healthy adults, when well fed and sheltered, are rarely at risk. We would rather invest in the cats’ ongoing care than more vaccines. Another concern for caretakers who are holistically minded is the stress to the cat’s immune system of receiving anesthesia, a rabies vaccine, three more vaccines contained in the FVRCP shot and possibly other medications, all at the same time. Finally, there is the question of how effective an FVRCP vaccine is without a booster. Manufacturer’s instructions say a follow-up shot is required in three to four weeks, but one research study found a single
dose was still effective ten weeks later and could potentially confer years of immunity.1    One possible compromise, followed by some TNR groups, is to only administer FVRCP to younger cats, those less than a year old. The cost is justified, according to this view, because these cats do not yet have fully developed immune systems and need the
extra protection.
Other vaccines, such as feline leukemia, FIV, “five-in-one,” or “seven-in-one” shots, are rarely given to feral cats, largely due to concerns about costs. Efficacy is also a concern with some of the vaccines, like feline leukemia.  If dental services are available and affordable, it’s an excellent idea to have the cat’s teeth examined and treated at the time of the spay/neuter surgery. This might be the only opportunity to provide dental care which, by preventing gum disease and oral infections, could prolong the cat’s life by many years. Dental care may not be practical if the clinic is only set up for spay/neuter and it may not be affordable if you’re dealing with a large number of cats.  The spay/neuter surgery itself can be performed on kittens who are at least two months of age and two lbs. in weight, if your veterinarian is trained in early age spay/neuter. If your veterinarian is not trained, you’ll need to defer to her on how young a cat she’s willing to perform surgery upon. Experience and training are also key when dealing with a female who is pregnant. If your veterinarian is experienced with spay/neuter and comfortable doing so, a pregnant cat can be aborted up until just before giving birth. Lactating females or females in heat also can be safely spayed by a veterinarian familiar with working on these cases. In these situations, including early age spay/neuter, late-term pregnancies or in heat or lactating females, there are added risks, which is why we emphasize the need for your veterinarian to be trained or experienced in these types of procedures. Otherwise, it’s best to wait.

Testing feral cats for feline leukemia (FeLV) or feline immuno-deficiency virus (FIV) is not part of the standard veterinary protocol for feral cats. Whether to test used to be a much more controversial issue, but most TNR programs have decided against it as a standard procedure for every cat. Instead, testing is performed only when a cat is a candidate for adoption or is symptomatic and ill and the results would assist the veterinarian in diagnosis and treatment. The issue still comes up from time to time, especially when veterinarians or caretakers are new to TNR and are trying to decide on
the best approach. Because of the importance of the question, a later section of this chapter discusses FIV and FeLV testing and why it is not part of the routine treatment for TNR.

The universal sign of a neutered feral cat is a ¼ inch straight line cut off the tip of the left ear.  In a few regions, like the West Coast of the United States, the right ear is tipped instead. Find out what the standard practice is in your area and
follow it. It’s important for everyone doing TNR in the same area to be consistent so shelters, animal control staff, caretakers and others working with ferals know what to look for.  Eartipping is performed when the cat is under
anesthesia for the spay/neuter surgery. The procedure takes less than a couple of minutes and does not cause any lasting discomfort or pain. See the end of this section for a detailed protocol authored by Dr. Laura Gay Senk, DVM, a
veterinarian experienced with working with feral cats.

Eartipping serves several important functions.   It provides a way to quickly determine from a distance, without having to trap the cat, whether he is neutered. This allows colony caretakers to identify any cats missed during prior trappings or newcomers who need to be caught and fixed. During a trapping, if an already altered cat is captured, he can be released right away after a visual check of his ears. If a neutered colony cat ends up at a local shelter or in the custody of animal control, the tipped ear will let staff know the cat is part of a managed colony. Attempts can then be made to locate the caretaker or the cat can simply be returned to his original location. Eartipping in general lets animal control officers know a particular colony is being managed.  Sometimes caretakers new to working with feral cats initially take a negative view of eartipping, regarding it as a kind of mutilation. This attitude is understandable because eartipping is a new concept to caretakers just starting out and, ideally, feral cats would not need to have part of their ear removed. The problem is that a permanent mark identifying the cat as neutered is essential and there is no other better way to do it.  Without such a mark, cats may be mistakenly recaptured and subjected to needless surgery. Shelters and animal control would have no way of knowing anyone was caring for a cat if he or she came into their facilities. Colony management could be very difficult without the ability to tell quickly from a distance which cats were fixed and which were not.  Recognizing a permanent mark is necessary, some new caretakers look for a less invasive approach.  Alternatives attempted have included ear-tagging,
tattooing, photographs and relying on the caretaker’s memory. All these methods suffer serious flaws and are inadequate substitutes for an eartip.  Ear-tagging involves insertion of a metal clip into the side of the ear. The method was designed for certain farm animals and is not suitable for freeroaming cats. The tags are small and hard to observe at a distance. They can get caught in thin branches or the like and cause the ear to tear and become infected.  Despite their “permanent” design, sometimes the tags fall off and then no mark is left to identify the cat as neutered.  Tattooing the inner ear has also been tried. The problem is you can’t see the tattoo from a distance. The cat has to be trapped and even then, sedation might be necessary before the inner ear can be examined. To be effective and prevent unnecessary trapping, a mark showing spay/neuter status must be visible while the cat is loose.  Photos which record neutered cats are impractical because they’re only useful to whoever has a copy of them. If anyone besides the caretaker, like an animal control
officer or another resident in the area, wants to know if the cats are fixed, there will be no way for them to tell. Even the caretaker in some colonies will not find photos that useful if many of the cats have similar appearances, like if most are black or tabby. Photos can also be lost or misplaced, leaving no record for future caretakers of the same colony.
Relying on the caretaker’s memory is risky, even when the caretaker knows the cats extremely well. If the caretaker changes, there’s no record at all. Also, as with photos, there’s no visual cue for others.

In the end, eartipping is the most efficient and effective method for marking sterilized feral cats. If the procedure is done properly and care is taken not to remove more than 1/4 inch of the tip, the cat’s appearance is not altered in a way that makes them look unattractive. Cats with eartips who are found to be friendly after the procedure is performed do not have trouble being placed in adoptive homes. Some owners even brag about their new pet’s feral pedigree!  It’s easier to see an eartip out in the field when you’re looking at the cat from behind. Binoculars are very useful for this purpose.

Detailed Protocol for Eartipping by Dr. Laura Gay Senk, DVM
1. The ears are examined for ear mites, cleaned and treated (milbemite; milbemycin – novartis , acarexx;
ivermectin – idexx, or 0.1 ml eqvalan; L.A. ivermectin injectable solution into each ear)
2. The tip of the left ear is given a sterile scrub after placing cotton at the entrance of the canal so that no excess prep solution runs down into the ear canal.
3. A straight hemostat is held across the top 1/4 inch of the left ear, applying gentle pressure. Do not clamp the hemostat closed or crushing tissue damage may result beneath the ear tip.
4. The top 1/4 inch of the left ear is cut off straight across the top using a straight edge sharp scissors (there is less bleeding when a pair of scissors, rather than a scalpel blade, is used). Proportionately less than 1/4 inch is removed for kittens. It is the straight edge on the top of the ear that is identifying, not the amount removed. Therefore, only 1/4 inch of ear tip need be removed.
5. A hemostatic paste (Kwik Stop) is prepared ahead of time with lidocaine and epinephrine. It’s applied across the cut surface with a Q-tip. This will lessen the pain and resultant head shaking after recovery.

6. This paste will immediately stop the bleeding once the gentle pressure of the hemostat is removed. If bleeding does occur, apply more Kwik Stop and if needed, reapply pressure for a short time.
Anesthetic withdrawal  After their surgeries, most cats will remain at the clinic until they have fully regained
consciousness. There may be times though when the cats are returned to your care prior to their full recovery from anesthesia. For example, a small mobile clinic may not have space to hold the cats after surgery and may give them to you to recover. If that happens, it’s important to recognize the typical stages of anesthetic withdrawal so you can properly
assess whether everything is going well.

In the first stage, the cat is unconscious. Everything is normal if the cat is breathing regularly, her gums are pink and not white, and her eyes are wide open and reflexively blink when tapped at the corner. Care must be taken to ensure the unconscious cat does not lie in a position, such as an awkward twisting of the neck, that would constrict her windpipe and cut off her breathing. Because making sure she is lying in a good position may require handling the cat, it’s always best if cats in the unconscious stage are not returned to the caretaker unless veterinary staff is present. Ideally, only an experienced veterinarian or veterinary technician would decide whether it is safe to touch a sedated feral cat. However, if veterinary staff is not present and you’re concerned, first make extra sure the cat is actually unconscious and then gently straighten her out so she’s lying on her side with her neck unbent.

In the second stage of withdrawal, depending on the type of anesthetic used, the cat may shake or twitch a fair amount, as though violently shivering or in a mild seizure.  This is nothing to be alarmed about. Anesthesia causes the cat to lose control over the regulation of her body temperature, which drops. As the drugs wear off, the cat shivers to regain warmth. Because of this drop in body temperature, it’s vital that a cat coming out of surgery be placed in a warm space for recovery (at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit). During the shivering stage and thereafter, the cat should be kept confined in her trap with
all doors shut and locked.

In the third stage, the cat has regained consciousness, but not full control over bodily movements. The cat may struggle to move about and fall over or swoon, appearing in a drunken state. She may bang up against the sides of the trap, trying to get out. The trap should be covered with a sheet at this point to provide a sense of security.  Finally, upon full withdrawal from anesthesia, the cat will lie or sit quietly, appearing perhaps a little tired but otherwise alert.  If the cats are returned to you before they’ve reached the final stage, be sure to ask the veterinarian how long it should take before they get there. Generally speaking, if it takes more than a couple of hours for a cat to go from unconscious to sitting or lying on his
belly, that is cause for concern and veterinary staff should be consulted.

Food   Adult cats can be fed three or four hours after full anesthetic withdrawal. If the cats are being transported from the clinic, wait until they’ve arrived at the holding space before feeding. Start out providing about half the size of a normal meal in case their stomachs are upset from the anesthesia. The next morning, full portions can be given.  Water should be provided as soon as the cats are fully awake. Sometimes the cats’ mouths become dry from the anesthesia and at first they’ll drink more than usual. Kittens may need to eat sooner than three or four hours after becoming fully alert, depending on their age. Ask your veterinarian how long you should wait before feeding them.

FIV/FeLV testing  The vast majority of TNR programs do not perform FIV/FeLV testing on every feral
cat, but only for those showing serious illness or for those being offered for adoption.  There are several good reasons for this policy:

1. With limited resources available, spay/neuter takes priority   One study found the prevalence of FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) and FeLV (feline leukemia virus) in the unowned, free-roaming cat population – approximately 8%
tested positive for one or the other virus2 – is similar to that in the pet cat population. On average then, based on this study, testing 1000 feral cats will result in the identification of 80 cats testing positive for either FIV or FeLV. Even assuming a low cost of $12 per test,  that would mean spending $12,000 to identify 80 cats with positive test results. That same $12,000, at an average spay/neuter cost of $50, could be put instead towards neutering 240 ferals. Because funds are limited and the primary goal of TNR is not disease control but to stem overpopulation, neutering 240 more cats should take priority
over identifying 80 positive test results.  In addition, as explained in detail below, correct veterinary protocol requires retesting at a later date to confirm the initial diagnosis. Retesting isn’t practical with feral cats and is rarely done. Instead, a feral cat’s fate is determined on the basis of only one test, a questionable practice, especially if the cat is showing no signs of illness.

2. Spay/neuter can be a more effective means of disease prevention Even if disease prevention is considered an important objective for a TNR program, investing in spay/neuter may have more benefits than trying to identify and cull positive
cats. With respect to FIV, the primary mode of transmission is deep bite wounds. This type of injury is most often inflicted by male cats during fights provoked by mating behavior. Neutering males thus eliminates the most prevalent form of FIV transmission.  With respect to FeLV, experience and research has shown that kittens are the greatest “at risk” population among feral cats — probably because their immature immune systems are not capable of fighting off infection. Spay/neuter, of course, prevents the birth of kittens and hence the spread of the virus. Spay/neuter eliminates sexual activity, another route of FeLV transmission.

3. The kinds of tests normally used on ferals are unreliable The FIV/FeLV “test” is a misnomer. Each virus is actually tested for separately, although the tests may be combined into one kit. There are also different kinds of tests available for each virus. Depending on which virus is being tested for and which type of test is being used, the results may be unreliable.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) When it comes to testing feral cats for the FIV virus, most veterinarians and clinics use the ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay) test. Commonly referred to as a “snap” test, it produces a result within minutes. It detects whether antibodies to the FIV virus are present in the blood, not whether the virus itself is present. As a result, a positive test result does not necessarily mean the cat is infected. For cats less than six months of age, FIV antibodies may have been passed on to them from their lactating mother, but not the virus. To confirm infection, these cats must be re-tested when they are older than six months. Another complication arises from the advent of the FIV
vaccine. Cats who have received the vaccine will test positive for FIV because their immune system was stimulated by the vaccine to form antibodies, not because they are infected. A test that can discriminate between a positive result caused by the FIV virus and one caused by the FIV vaccine has been developed but is not currently available in the United States.

Even putting aside the problems of kittens with their mother’s antibodies and cats vaccinated against FIV, a positive ELISA test is not a definitive diagnosis. According to The Merck Veterinary Manual, “With ELISA tests, the incidence of false positives is relatively high. Positive results, especially in asymptomatic cats, should be confirmed by another test such as Western blot.”4 A Western blot or similar test must be performed in a laboratory and is usually considerably more expensive than the ELISA snap test.  Because of the added time and expense involved, follow-up lab tests are rarely performed on feral cats.

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)
For testing feline leukemia infection in ferals, the FeLV version of the ELISA snap test is also the most commonly administered. It detects whether FeLV antigen, a product of the virus, is present in the blood. A positive result indicates the cat was exposed to the virus, but does not necessarily mean he is permanently infected. He may have fought off the virus, leaving bits of antigen behind, or he might be in the process of fighting it off at the time of testing. Infection is not permanent until the virus enters the cat’s white blood cells where it can replicate and spread. The ELISA test does not indicate whether this has occurred. Only a second test, such as the IFA (Immunofluoresence Assay), can determine whether the virus has entered the white blood cells.  In addition, the ELISA test for FeLV is sensitive and prone to false positives from mishandling. A classic example is when the result is labeled a “weak positive.” There is no such thing. Either the antigen is present in the blood or it’s not. A “weak positive” finding almost always indicates some type of testing error.
Follow-up tests for FeLV, similar to FIV, must be performed in a laboratory and are rarely pursued in the context of TNR because it takes time to get results and they’re more expensive than the ELISA test. The failure to have an IFA or similar laboratory test performed prior to euthanizing a supposedly FeLV positive cat can literally be a fatal mistake. In an article published in 2006, the National Veterinary Laboratory – a privately owned diagnostic lab founded by the inventor of the IFA test – found that over the course of three years, 32% of FeLV positive results from ELISA tests submitted to it for review
The Merck Veterinary Manual, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, (2012) (click on “Feline Immunodeficiency Virus.”) were not confirmed by subsequent IFA tests.5 In other words, almost one of three positive ELISA results turned out to be potentially mistaken. The frequency of false positives
with FeLV ELISA tests is why The Merck Veterinary Manual states, “Confirmation of positive results, especially in asymptomatic cats, should be pursued by testing for cellassociated antigen, e.g., with an immunofluorescent antibody assay [IFA test].”6 To summarize, the common practice when feral cats are tested is to use the ELISA snap tests and then euthanize when results are positive for FIV or FeLV. This protocol is highly flawed because the ELISA tests are prone to false positives and, in accordance with best practices, require more precise follow-up laboratory tests to confirm a positive
result, especially with asymptomatic cats. A TNR program that tests all cats and euthanizes based only on ELISA test results is not only incurring added expense, but may euthanize cats who are not infected.

FIV positive cats can lead relatively long lives  Cats infected with FIV have commonly been known to live for many years and some never get sick. While their immune systems are compromised, proper care and nutrition can compensate to at least some degree. Even in outdoor colony settings, FIV cats can live long lives. The caretaker does need to be alert for any symptoms of illness, which may require re-trapping and a visit to the veterinarian. By contrast, research shows that
FeLV positive cats have a much higher mortality rate, 83% within 3.5 years of full-blown infection. Still, while they are alive, they can often live symptom-free until near the end if properly fed and sheltered.

Euthanizing positive cats is ineffective colony management  Advocates of testing all cats argue that positive ferals need to be identified so they can be removed from the colony and the remaining cats can be protected from the disease. In truth, removing the positive cat makes little difference. By the time you catch and identify the positive cat, it’s most likely the other cats in the colony have already been exposed to the virus and will have become infected or not. Furthermore, no matter
how many ferals are removed because of positive test results, FIV and FeLV will remain in the environment and be an ongoing threat. New cats passing through or entering the colony could carry the diseases and even colony members who test negative might be harboring one of the viruses. While false negatives occur less frequently than false positives with the ELISA tests, they are known to happen. Exposure may have occurred too soon before the test for antigen (FeLV) or antibodies (FIV) to appear in the blood.  Or, in the case of FeLV, the virus might be absent from the blood but hiding in the bone marrow.  5 National Veterinary Laboratory Newsletter, Current Feline Leukemia Virus Research Supports:
Confirm All In-Hospital FeLV ELISA Positive Tests by IFA (2006), Vol. 5, No. 4.  The Merck Veterinary Manual, Feline Leukemia Virus (2012), (click on Feline Leukemia Virus.”)  Beatty, J., Markers of Feline Leukaemia Virus Infection or Exposure in Cats from a Region of Low
Seroprevalence (2011) Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 13: 927.

In our experience, the primary cause of illness in ferals, including FIV and FeLV, has more to do with proper colony management than the presence of any virus. Colonies with lots of sick cats are invariably ones that receive poor or insufficient nutrition, have inadequate shelter from cold, rain, wind, snow, etc., and are unneutered and reproducing.
These conditions lead to weakened immune systems and susceptibility to disease. The best way to prevent the spread of disease is not by testing and removing individual cats, but by improving the quality of food, making sure the cats have warm, dry shelter and getting them sterilized.

The life of a FIV or FeLV positive cat has value, too  At Neighborhood Cats, we euthanize cats only if they are actively ill, suffering and terminal. We believe all lives, including positive cats, have value. If a feral cat was to test FIV or FeLV positive, but showed no signs of illness, we would return him to his colony. As a result, there’s no point in our testing as a matter of routine. We only test if the cat will be placed for adoption or is sick and the results are needed for diagnosis and
treatment, including determining whether euthanasia is appropriate.  There have been a few instances when we knowingly returned FIV or FeLV positive but asymptomatic cats back to their colonies. These colonies were neutered and well
managed. We have yet to observe other cats falling ill as a consequence. Cats who are known to be positive do need to be closely observed for signs of the terminal stage of the illness, such as weight loss, persistent upper respiratory infections, drooling or difficulty eating. Cats exhibiting any of these signs should be re-trapped and examined by a veterinarian.
If your veterinarian insists on testing, anyway…. Despite these reasons for not testing every cat, some veterinarians and clinics may insist upon testing as a condition for using their services or giving you a discount rate. If that’s the case, then find out before you bring in any cats what their policy is for treating cats who do test positive. Most of the time, they will not follow up with a more definitive laboratory test and will euthanize the cat based on the ELISA results alone. If this is the
policy, we recommend you do not work with that particular veterinarian or clinic if you have any other spay/neuter alternatives. As the caretaker of the colony, the one who watches over, worries about and feeds the cats on a daily basis, it is your right to decide their fate. The veterinarian or clinic is there to help you care for the cats, not make life-or-
death decisions for you. Feral cats are not second-class animals and should receive the same consideration as a pet. No veterinary professional would presume to decide for the guardian of a pet cat that the animal should be euthanized, nor should they do so for one of your feral wards.

14. Recovery & Return  People often say TNR stands for “trap-neuter-release,” but the better and more accurate definition
is “trap-neuter-return.” The cats are not simply being released randomly.  They’re being returned back to their own territory – their home. The difference is important because TNR is not about letting cats go to fend for themselves or create new
colonies. It’s about improving the lives of cats who are already out there and making them better neighbors.

Length of recovery period  Cats should be given time after their surgeries to recuperate before returning them to
their colony. Not only do the cats need time to recover, but also a period of observation is needed to ensure there are no post-surgical complications, such as excessive bleeding, lethargy or infection.  Among experienced TNR programs, the normal hold time varies from a minimum of 24 hours to a maximum of 72 hours. Anything less than 24 hours falls below any generally accepted standard of humane care.  At Neighborhood Cats, we recommend 48 hours for males and 48 to 72 hours for females, provided they are doing well. For a routine spay, 72 hours is preferred, if resources permit, because spay surgery is more invasive than a neuter and the additional time can ensure they’re making an optimal recovery. When a mid- to late-term abortion has been performed as part of the spay surgery, we recommend holding the cat four to
five days. Follow these guidelines for recovery times unless a cat is visibly ill or is being treated for an injury. In those cases, seek appropriate veterinary care and continue to hold the cat until the condition is resolved.  On occasion, a cat will not eat for the first 24 hours after surgery. If this occurs, offer a few other tempting food choices such as Fancy Feast, cooked chicken or tuna. If the cat is still not eating after another day or so, but otherwise appears fully alert and asymptomatic, he may not be eating simply because of the stress of confinement and it could be better to let him go rather than continue to hold him. If the cat is symptomatic, consult a veterinarian prior to release.

Lactating mother   It’s possible to learn for the first time during the spay surgery that a female cat is lactating and may have a litter of kittens out in her territory. In this situation, our policy at Neighborhood Cats is to hold the mom overnight and then release her the next morning if she’s alert and appears well. We’ll let her go sooner than we would otherwise because
the kittens need their mother, who can still nurse them after being spayed. If you learn before the surgery that the cat is lactating, see “Nursing mothers” in the “Special cases” section of Chapter 9.
Location of release  The cats should always be released in their original territory. After their release, some of the cats may stay out of sight for a few days or even as long as a week or two.  But they will soon re-adjust to their normal routine and learn to trust you again in their own feral way.  If it’s not possible to release cats in their original territory – because they would be in imminent danger, for example, the building they’ve been living in is scheduled to be demonlished – a proper relocation process must be followed (see “Relocation” in Chapter 15). Ferals are extremely territorial and cannot be safely released otherwise. If a cat is let go somewhere new without a proper acclimation and confinement period, his instinct will
be to run off and try to find his old territory. The cat could end up terrified in a place with no caretaker, no colony mates, no known food source and unknown dangers.  Simply letting a feral cat loose at a new location without a relocation process amounts to abandonment, in our view, and should not be done.  Before releasing a spayed female, remove any newspaper from the floor of the trap and have someone lift the trap up in the air while you crouch down and look at the cat’s belly from underneath. Use a flashlight if necessary and examine the site of the spay incision. A little redness is normal, but if you see oozing, bleeding, swelling or excessive redness (inflammation), consult a veterinarian before releasing the cat.

15. Relocation & Sanctuaries
 Relocation
 When is relocation appropriate?  When a colony is unmanaged, a crisis situation will often evolve. The cats’ unchecked
reproduction and the typical nuisance behavior of unaltered cats can lead to intense hostility from local residents towards the cats and anyone associated with their care. Often when caring, but inexperienced people first encounter this kind of
situation, their initial thought is to move the cats to a safer place. They don’t understand how difficult it is to find a safer place, how arduous and uncertain the process of moving the cats can be, how important it is to the cats to be able to
stay right where they are and how quickly the problems can be brought under control by spaying and neutering. The cats in a feral colony cherish their territory. They know their home intimately with all its pitfalls, shortcuts and hidden passages.
Next to food, their surroundings are the factor most important to their survival. Their home – inhospitable as the back alley, empty lot or abandoned building may seem to us – is truly their castle and defines their very existence.  Because their territory and their bonds to one another are so important to the cats, relocation should be considered only when their location is under clear, imminent threat and all other alternatives have been considered and exhausted. Most problems can be solved through TNR. A community’s initial hostility because of noise, odor and endless litters of kittens is ended by neutering; encroachment in a garden can be easily deterred with a motion-activated sprinkler; a property owner’s complaint might be addressed by moving a feeding station further away.  Relocation is hard work with no guarantees of success. First, a suitable new site has to be found with a new caretaker. Then, to reduce the chance of the cats running away,
they have to be taught their food source has changed and the only way to do this is to confine them in their new territory for two to three weeks. Otherwise, they’re likely to go in search of their old stomping grounds. Even with a proper confinement and everything done by the book, some of the cats may still run away after they’re released.  Another consideration is what will happen in the old territory if the cats are removed. If food and shelter are still available, sooner or later new cats will move in to take advantage of these resources and the cycle will begin again. Put simply, a vacuum has been created and one set of cats has been traded for another set of cats who aren’t spayed and neutered.  For these reasons, every possible avenue towards allowing the cats to stay should be thoroughly explored and relocation should be considered only as an absolute last resort.  If the colony lives in an abandoned building that is about to be demolished, first try to find a nearby location where a new feeding station and shelters can be set up and train the cats to eat and sleep there. If a cat dies mysteriously and you’re concerned about poisoning, make sure all the cats are fixed in order to reduce nuisance behavior and post a “Stop Poisoning” poster around the neighborhood (see Appendix A). If a caretaker passes away, try to locate a new one in the same area before seeking to move the cats.  Remember that relocation bears its own risks and only when these are clearly outweighed by the risks of keeping the cats where they are should it be attempted.

Choosing a new site
If you decide relocation is necessary after exploring all the alternatives, the first step is to find a new site. You don’t have to duplicate the original territory – cats in a warehouse can be moved to a backyard or from an abandoned building to a barn, etc.  What the new territory does need are:

(1) a reliable new caretaker who will strictly follow the guidelines for relocation and fully accept responsibility for the cats’ long-term care,
(2) a structure of some sort (barn, shed, garage) that will provide shelter and protection from the elements during the confinement period, and (3) a location away from a construction site or heavy traffic.  Cats can be relocated into a territory where there is already a colony, but it makes the process harder for the new cats and should be avoided if possible. Also investigate other factors, including potential danger from predatory wildlife like coyotes, wolves or dogs, hostility from nearby neighbors or businesses, proximity to land designated for hunting or wildlife and any other potential environmental hazard or issue. It’s likely you won’t find the perfect site and will have to make some compromises, but it’s always good to aim for the ideal.  Don’t move the cats until you have personally inspected the new location – things are not always as you might imagine. Not all barns are idyllic, cozy places filled with soft, warm hay. A nice country home may sound perfect, but if it turns out the caretaker only goes up on weekends, that won’t work because newly relocated cats need supervision and
food and water on a daily basis for two to three weeks. So spend the extra time and effort to see the prospective new place and meet the caretaker in person before you bring the cats. Don’t risk receiving an unpleasant surprise and having to make a terribly difficult decision on the spot after you’ve driven for hours with trapped and frightened cats in tow.  Along the same lines, never hand the cats over to anyone without inspecting the new site yourself. No matter how nice the new place may sound and how desperate you are to move the cats, you are placing them in great danger if you blindly trust that someone else will take care of everything for you. There are unscrupulous people who take advantage of others’ concern for the cats and promise they will have a wonderful new life in their new home when nothing of the sort is true. Sometimes they charge a fee per cat, which they pocket, and then simply let the cat out the back door of wherever. Others will even kill the animals out of a pathological belief they are doing a good thing for them, whether a fee is paid or not. The only way you can protect the cats from these evils is if you yourself inspect the new location and personally meet the new caretaker.
Doing the relocation  Whenever possible, relocate the entire colony together in order not to break up their strong bonds. If that’s not feasible, then at the very least, relocate two members who you know are close together. A familiar and loved face in a strange new place can be comforting and an important factor in making the transition successful. Spay/neuter the cats before relocating them so they can get over the stress of the surgery before having to adjust to a new location, and nurse sick or injured cats back to health first.   The process is going to be a little stressful for everyone, so you want to keep it as smooth, fast and uneventful as possible. Trap the cats, get them sterilized if necessary and allow a few days for recovery. Also, be sure to tell the new caretaker-to-be the details of the cats’ past routine. If they’re used to eating a certain type of food, continue with it. Each change they have to make will add to their stress.   Before you transport the cats to the new site, have everything set up at your destination. The interior space where the cats will be confined should allow them, once released, to directly access the new territory on their own. It won’t do much good if after the cats are confined in a basement for three weeks, they have to be carried upstairs to the backyard in their traps to be released. If they can’t get there on their own from the basement, they won’t learn the backyard is part of the same place.  In the space where the cats will be confined, set up large playpens or cages in a quiet area, preferably close to a spot where they can hide after they’re eventually released. Typically, when they are released after the two to three week confinement period, they will be frightened and need somewhere close by to hide for a day or two while they adjust.  So, for example, in a large barn, the cages could be placed near bales of hay. Or in a garage, cardboard boxes with small openings for the cats could be set up near the cages. Cages or pens should always be used unless there is no way for the cats to escape from the confinement space and the new caretaker can come in and out of the space easily without cats darting past her. The
playpens or cages should contain a feral cat den the cats can hide in, a litter box and food

If dens are too expensive and you must use carriers, be sure the cat is inside the carrier and the carrier door is barred shut before opening the cage door. To bar the door, slide a yardstick, broomstick or the like through both sides of the cage right in front of the carrier door

The temperature ideally should be moderate, neither too hot nor too cold. In colder climates, avoid relocating to an unheated space during the severest months of winter –  cats in cages can’t move around much or huddle together, so the cold can pose a risk to their health. If you must do it during the cold season, place small insulated shelters inside
the cages, such as Styrofoam coolers, that are stuffed with straw and cover the cages with blankets. If insulated shelters are used instead of feral cat dens or carriers, the caretaker must be very careful when opening the cage door and should wait until the cat is inside his shelter and shows no signs of coming out.  No matter what the weather, the cats may try to escape, especially during the first few days. Be certain the caretaker knows how to care for feral cats in cages and demonstrate the procedure live. The cats need fresh food and water twice a day and clean litter, so the cage door will be opened often, giving them lots of opportunities to make a run for it if they’re not shut into their dens or carriers. In case of escape, have the caretaker set out food and water near the cage or playpen and, in a barn or similar setting where it’s
possible, sprinkle used litter and old feces around the area to create a familiar scent.  Most likely an escaped cat inside a structure like a barn or stable will stay inside and hide rather than seek the outdoors, especially if sufficient food is available close by.

Encourage the caretaker to talk to the cats and try to bond with them. They need to adjust to a new voice or voices as well as everything else that’s new. If the cats form a degree of trust and bond with the caretaker, the relocation process has a good chance of success. Keeping their feeding times on a schedule is helpful, as is feeding wet food during the period of confinement and for a few additional weeks after they’re released.  The wet food is consumed faster than the dry and helps habituate the cats to a new routine. Gradually, a few weeks after the release, the wet food can be replaced or supplemented with dry, if that’s preferable. At all times, fresh water should be provided.  Three weeks of confinement is optimal to acclimate the cats to their new surroundings so they won’t panic upon release. Keeping the cats confined for longer periods is not recommended. Once acclimation is accomplished, continued confinement is unnecessary as well as stressful and can cause the cat to want to flee the area.  Stay in touch with the new caretaker. You’ll want to know how the cats are doing and be available to offer any help or advice based on your experience with them. If at any time the relocation space becomes unsafe or unsuitable for the cats, make sure the caretaker alerts you to the situation and knows you are willing to give support and assistance. Whenever possible, have a backup plan – another site where the cats may go,
even temporarily – in case of unsolvable problems.

Remember to try to remove all evidence of feral life from the colony’s old location, primarily any food sources. Even if construction or renovation in the area is imminent, it’s possible for new cats to move into the vacuum created by the removal of the original cats. You don’t want to go through this process all over again!

Sanctuaries    Finding a good sanctuary to accept your cats is a difficult task. The problem is plain:  there are millions of feral cats and only a handful of well-run, trustworthy sanctuaries.  There is rarely space available in one for even a single feral cat, let alone an entire colony.  To place an animal in anything less than a stable, reputable sanctuary would be
irresponsible. Unfortunately, poorly run “sanctuaries” are abundant. They may be run by people with good motivations, but usually lack sufficient staff, space or funds to sustain a resource-intensive, long-term commitment like a sanctuary. These places can and often do turn into hoarding situations where far too many animals are taken in, then neglected and subjected to horrible conditions. If you hear about a place which keeps taking in large numbers of feral cats, seemingly saying yes to anyone who asks, that’s a red flag indicating something is probably very wrong. There are also, sadly, a few groups and individuals who pretend to have sanctuaries and lie to people desperate to find a place for ferals. They take donations for the cats and then either have them put down or warehouse them in poor conditions.

Similar to relocation, the only way you can ensure your cats are going to a good place and not a horror show is to investigate the sanctuary yourself. As the person responsible for the lives of the cats, it’s up to you to exercise your own independent judgment.  Most importantly, you should personally visit the facility to make an on-site inspection, preferably before you bring the cats. If the place is well run, they’ll be happy to take you on a tour of the entire sanctuary. If they won’t let you past the front door, that’s another red flag. While you’re there, ask lots of questions – again, if a place is well
run, the people in charge will be happy to tell you anything you want to know. If they resent your questions or give less than complete answers, take this as a strong sign it’s not going to be a good home for your cats.  To be a long-term, stable situation, a sanctuary must have a strong legal and financial foundation. Here’s what you need to find out about these conditions:

1) Is the facility operating legally? Is a license required by the town, county or state for running a shelter or sanctuary? If so, do they have one and is it current? Ask to see it and call the licensing authority to verify information you’re given. Also important is whether the property is zoned for sheltering large numbers of animals. If zoning is a problem or if a license is needed but missing, reject the place.

2) What kind of right does the sanctuary have to the land? Do they own or lease it?  If it’s owned, is there an outstanding mortgage and if so, for how much? If it’s leased, how long is the term? Does the lease allow for a sanctuary? Again, don’t be afraid to ask to see the documentation. Cats can live to twenty years, and you need to know the sanctuary is going to be around for that long. If the lease runs out soon or the mortgage payments can’t be made and the place shuts down, what do the owners plan to do with the animals?

3) Is the sanctuary in good standing with local authorities? Call the local health department to see if there have been violations. The local animal control or law enforcement agency will tell you if any complaints for cruelty or neglect have been
filed. A call to the Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce may be informative as well. Most states have some type of charity bureau that provides oversight for nonprofits. It’s often part of the Attorney General’s Office.

4) How is the sanctuary funded? It takes a great deal of money to run a good sanctuary, between mortgage or lease payments, staff, veterinary bills, property upkeep and food. This is why almost all well-run sanctuaries will require a
substantial donation per cat from you. If they don’t, this could be a red flag and you need to thoroughly investigate how they are funded. Preferably, the facility will be a nonprofit registered with the state and the IRS. If so, request a recent financial
statement. You can always look up the organization, if it’s a 501c3 nonprofit, on Guidestar ( to see their latest tax forms (form 990’s). The 990 form will list the organization’s revenue, expenses, assets and liabilities. If the
sanctuary is not run by an IRS approved nonprofit, find out who pays the bills and how long have they been doing so. Remember it’s much harder for someone to raise funds if they are not part of a nonprofit.  If you determine that on balance, the sanctuary is on sound legal and financial footing, you’ll still need to inspect the actual physical facility. Pay close attention to your first impression. Does the place appear to be friendly and adequately staffed for the number of cats being housed? Is there literature describing the facility? Walk around the whole place – not just the part where the feral cats live – and see if the living conditions for the animals are clean and spacious as opposed to crowded and unsanitary. Are the
facilities warm and dry? Are sick cats kept separated? How are new cats added – is there a transition period and separate enclosure within the larger space (as there should be) or do they just toss them right in (as they shouldn’t)? A transition period of at least two weeks in a confined space is critical if the ferals will have access to outdoor grounds that are not enclosed.  Find out if the sanctuary staff is sensitive to the special needs of ferals and understands they’re not just “scaredy-cats.” Look to see that there are lots of places for the ferals to hide and all the cats have plenty of scratching posts, toys and comfortable napping places. Ask what kind of food is used and how often the cats are fed. Make sure
the animals look bright-eyed and healthy.

Other questions to ask include: How do they handle sick cats – are there veterinary services available on site? What is their euthanasia policy? Do they have a cap on the number of cats they’ll take in? Do they have a relocation program for ferals where they will send a number of them to a barn or the like?  If so, what are the guidelines and will your cats possibly be included?  Once you’ve inspected the grounds and gotten the answers to all your questions, you can now make a well-informed decision on whether this is going to be a responsible, healthy place where your cats will live safely and have a good chance of leading a happy life. If you’re not satisfied, don’t settle but keep looking for other alternatives. As the
cats’ sole guardian, you’ll be at peace knowing you’ve done all you can to ensure their future well-being.

16. Adoptable Cats     Whenever possible, adoptable cats and kittens should be removed from a feral colony for placement in good homes. This helps reduce the free-roaming cat population and gives these particular cats their best chance at long, healthy lives free from the dangers of the streets.

A cat is “adoptable” if she has the qualities most people seek in a typical pet. This means she is healthy, can be
picked up, enjoys being touched, has no significant behavioral issues and will readily adapt to a new home. It’s
important to understand an adoptable cat is not simply any cat who can adapt to living in a human home. Most cats, even those that are quite feral, can learn to live indoors, but if they spend much of their time hiding and do not want to be touched, the pool of potential homes is very small, effectively making the cat unadoptable.  There are three types of cats found in feral colonies who are or can easily become adoptable:

(1) lost or abandoned pet cats who are still friendly to people,

(2) young kittens who can be easily socialized, and

(3) the rare case of a friendly adult feral. These are the kinds of colony cats you want to bring in if you’re able. However, if the resources don’t exist to allow you to do this, whether it’s because you have no room in your home to foster, the local shelter has no space or you can’t afford the veterinary bills, then getting the cats neutered and caring for them as best you can in their territory is still a compassionate choice.

Determining if a cat is adoptable  Lost or abandoned pet cats  There is no easy way to tell right away whether a cat you just trapped is feral or a former pet who will turn out to be friendly. One popular myth is that a cat is feral if she
acts frantic and thrashes about wildly after being trapped, especially as you approach.  It’s not true. Almost every cat, feral or not, will panic when they realize they are suddenly confined, have no way to escape and are at a stranger’s mercy. It’s only later, after they’ve had enough time to calm down, that you can begin to make a correct evaluation.  How long it takes for a former pet to become comfortable enough to show his true nature will vary from cat to cat. Some may reveal themselves almost immediately, while others may require days. In general, a cat who has not been living on his own for very long will show signs of being socialized sooner than one who has been outdoors for a considerable period of time and reverted to a semi-feral state. Here are some tips on how to distinguish a former pet from a feral:

Eye contact – A friendly cat may make eye contact with you in a way that’s a clear effort to communicate and connect with you. A true feral, on the other hand, is more likely to avert his gaze or appear to be looking right through you if you do make eye contact.  Vocalizing – Friendly cats, after they’ve calmed down from the shock of being trapped, are often more vocal, attempting to “talk” to you. Ferals are usually very quiet.   Posture – Feral cats, when you approach their trap or cage, will back away and hunch up at the end opposite you. Tame former pets, once they become used to you, will tend to assume more relaxed positions, like sitting at the front of the cage or trap.     Reaction to touch – Through the bars of the trap or cage, slowly move a long, thin object, like a ruler or back scratcher, towards the cat’s face and see how she reacts. If she hisses and lashes out at the object, she would likely do the same if it was your hand. A former pet is less likely to feel threatened or react hostilely.   Play – Former pets are more likely to play with you. Try playing with the cat through the bars of the trap or cage using a string, feather tied to a stick or similar toy. If he never engages with you after trying on a few occasions, but just stares or looks away, that would point towards the cat being feral.  These are all general guidelines and should be considered in combination when trying to evaluate a cat’s temperament – there is no one litmus test. Keep in mind cats are individuals and will express themselves in unique ways.

You can also begin to evaluate whether a cat is a former pet before your start trapping by knowing the colony well and observing his behavior. Is the cat in question a recent arrival, indicating he may be abandoned or lost? Does he trust you soon after he’s met you? There are friendly ferals who will rub up against your leg or allow you to pet them, but it usually takes a fair amount of time before they’ll trust you enough to let this happen. Tame cats tend to be less wary than ferals and seek affection from people much sooner. Does the cat remain separate from the rest of the cats, indicating he may not
belong to their clan? Again, no single factor is determinative, but taken together your observations can give you a good sense of whether the cat is a feral or former pet.   Veterinarians experienced with ferals often develop a good feel for distinguishing them from pets, so ask their opinion as well after they’ve had a chance to spend some time with the cat.
After you’ve made an honest and thorough evaluation over a reasonable period of time, if the cat is really not adoptable, it may be the kindest thing to return him to his colony. Keeping a feral or semi-feral cat in a cage with the vague hope that one day you’ll find him a suitable home, despite the odds, may make you feel better because you know he’s safe. But being physically safe and living the best life the cat can according to his own nature are not always compatible. Ferals don’t belong in cages. In addition, the longer you keep him from his own environment, away from his colony mates and
territory, the harder it will be for him to return.

If it turns out you do have a former pet on your hands, be prepared that at first the cat may act out a bit, especially if he has spent a lot of time already on his own outdoors.  When cats are abandoned and must struggle to survive, it can be very traumatic for them.  After they’re trapped and placed in a safe location, they may feel and express a certain amount of post-traumatic stress, such as prolonged meowing, aggressive behavior or lethargic withdrawal. They need to be given the time and space to get past the trauma, a process which moves along much faster in cats than humans. How long this period lasts depends on the cat, but is usually no more than a few days. Only then can you begin to see the cat’s true personality.

Feral kittens   Age is the key factor in determining whether feral kittens can be quickly socialized and made adoptable. While there are occasional exceptions, kittens under eight weeks are usually easily socialized, often becoming tame within a few days of capture if they receive a great deal of attention and handling. Kittens under six weeks old may not be
Before adopting out a tame cat, have the cat scanned for a microchip to see if he can be reunited with his former home. If the original owner cannot be located, take steps to ensure a new owner will have full legal rights to possession of the cat. Contact local authorities and find out what to do. In many places, you’ll need to file a “found animal” report with your local animal control agency or shelter. If the original owner does not claim the cat within a certain amount of time (usually three to ten days), you can freely place the cat in the home of your choice.

… feral at all yet and may tame immediately. Over eight weeks old, the amount of effort required for socialization and the uncertainty of the outcome rises significantly with each passing week. When the kitten reaches the twelve to sixteen week age range, it becomes increasingly likely she will bond only to the person who socializes her and hide and be wary of others, making her harder to adopt. Beyond sixteen weeks, most cats will remain feral at least to some degree,
perhaps for the remainder of their lives.   See the section in this chapter below on “Socializing feral kittens” for how to tame the little ones. For instructions on raising orphan kittens less than five weeks old, so-called “bottle babies,” see
the Kitten Care Handbook by Kitten Rescue ( – click on “Cat Care”).

 Friendly adult ferals  There are many feral cats who come to know and trust their caretaker and will show
them affection, such as rubbing against their legs or even allowing themselves to be pet or picked up. It’s hard to know, however, whether the cat will behave the same way in a new home, especially if someone unfamiliar would be adopting her. A gregarious nature is certainly a hopeful sign, but most likely she would need to go through a transition period of confinement before her friendly outdoor ways resumed indoors (see the section on “Socializing feral teenagers & adults” later in this chapter).

Many caretakers have observed how cats, after they’ve been spay/neutered, start to take more of a liking towards people. One indication a sterilized cat may have become adoptable is if he starts acting friendly towards strangers or does not run away or stand out of arm’s reach when they approach. Bringing him indoors is probably a good idea at that point, if it’s possible, because it can be dangerous for a cat living outdoors to be too trusting of strangers.

Veterinary care for adoptable cats  The standard veterinary care for a cat being placed as a pet in an indoor home differs from that of a feral who is going to be released. An adoptable cat should be thoroughly examined by a veterinarian and scanned for a microchip to identify a possible owner who is frantic to find her missing pet. If no owner is found, the cat should be tested for FIV and FeLV and treated as needed for fleas, worms, ear mites, upper respiratory infections,
ringworm or any other conditions he may have before being introduced to a foster or permanent home, especially if there are other cats in the household. Even if the cat gets a clean bill of health, he should not have contact with other cats in the household right away. Ask the veterinarian how long the new cat should be isolated from the others and what other precautions you should take.

Socializing feral kittens  Some feral kittens socialize the moment you pick them up and hold them in your
hands. Most take a little more work. As always in dealing with feral cats, you must be mindful of your own safety. Their parents have taught them to fear humans so remember that before sticking your hand in the carrier to grab one. A six week old kitten’s sharp teeth can injure you and, if frightened enough, he may bite. You have to let feral kittens get to know you a bit before you try to handle them. When they’re a more used to you, then you can carefully try touching them, using the techniques described here. A good idea is to leave them alone and just talk to them for a day or two before attempting any
physical contact.  When introducing them to your home or shelter, place feral kittens in a confined space, like a large playpen or your bathroom (making sure first to locate and block off any holes in the wall or other spots inaccessible to you where they could hide). At first, they need to be kept in a confined, controlled space so they’ll be forced to deal with you
when you want them to. Otherwise, if you just let them run loose in your home, they’ll run away whenever you approach and avoid interacting with you, defeating any attempt to socialize them.   For the first two days, leave a carrier in
their space so they can go run into it and feel safe when you enter their space. Talk to them when they hide in there, but don’t try to force them out. After a couple of days, if they’re still running and hiding whenever you show up and
won’t come out, replace the carrier with a cardboard box open on top. That way they still feel somewhat protected, but can see you and begin to interact.

A major goal of the socialization process is to get the kittens comfortable with being held and touched. But before you try to touch them, get them to start touching you. One way to do this is by playing with them. A popular toy called a Cat Dancer, which is a wire with a piece of cardboard at the end, or a long wand with a string and feather are perfect. Kittens love chasing these. Sit down and begin playing with them. Once they’re engrossed in the chase, run the feather or Cat
Dancer haphazardly over your feet or legs and get the kittens to run over and touch you while they’re playing. They may romp on top of you right away or it may take a few days. Be patient if it does take time – they’re learning to trust you and need to move at their own pace. Eventually, they’ll learn you’re safe to touch. All the while you’re playing, talk to them constantly so they get used to your voice.  Once the kittens are at ease and used to touching your feet and legs, as demonstrated by their quickly wanting to play and showing no fear of your presence, reach down during the play and stroke them once or twice on the back, but no more. Don’t let the touching interrupt the play. Gradually, increase the amount of touching, avoiding letting it get to the point where they act at all disturbed.

When they’re very comfortable with your petting them, which again can take a few days, you can start to pick them
up. Once again, increase the contact slowly. At first, only lift them up slightly off the ground for a second or two. When they’re ok with that, hold them a bit longer.  Eventually, place them on your lap, but don’t force them to stay there if they want to jump off.  Continue increasing contact until they’re lying in your lap and purring as you stroke them. The length of this process – from physical contact during play to petting to holding at length – will depend on the temperament and age of the kitten. It’s an excellent strategy, if you’re able, to involve more than one person in the process so the kittens don’t socialize only to yourself. Once others can hold them and they enjoy it, the socialization is complete.  Another technique besides play for teaching feral kittens to touch and be touched is bribing them with food. Start off putting some very smelly and tasty food, like tuna, on a plate and let them eat it undisturbed while you remain at a distance. Next time, place
your hand a foot or so away. Let the kittens come and eat the tuna without moving your hand. Each time you put the food down, move your hand a little closer. After the kittens are eating with your hand only inches away, start putting the tuna on a plastic spoon, hold it out and let them lick it off. Once they’re doing that, then sit on the floor and put the spoon on your knee (while wearing pants). After they’ve gotten comfortable eating while touching you, put the food on a plate in your lap. When they’re fearlessly standing on your leg and eating off a plate in your lap, you can start touching them. Just as with the play method, start slowly with a brief stroke or two and gradually increase the amount of contact until you’re able to hold and lift them.  If you have a litter of kittens who are especially wild, try working with them one-on-one instead of letting all the kittens out at once to play with each other. This way you’ll grab each one’s full attention as they play or eat tasty treats.

With a particularly fearful kitten who resists these methods, try wrapping him in a towel (to immobilize him), then put him in your lap and pet him on the head and over the towel. Start off doing this briefly and, over the course of several days, slowly increase the time period he’s held. When he’s comfortable and appears to enjoy the touching, then you can try doing it without the towel.  Another method for very wild kittens is to start them off in a smaller cage (like 36″ L x 21″ W x 24″ H) instead of a larger space like a big play pen or bathroom. Put a litter box and a small, open cardboard box inside the cage and some toys. Once the kitten is used to his surroundings, which may take a day or two, use a back scratcher or a long,
soft-haired paint brush to reach through the bars and touch him. He may hiss and react poorly at first, but eventually he’ll realize it feels good and start to purr. At this point, you can try using your fingers through the bars, though be on the alert in case he tries to scratch you. Play with the kitten through the bars, too, with a Cat Dancer or similar toy and give him lots of little treats – anything that gives him a positive association with you is good. Eventually, when trust has been built up, move the kitten into a confined space like the bathroom and start using the play and food techniques described earlier.
The more contact feral kittens have with you, the faster they will socialize. This is very important at the beginning of the socialization process when the kittens, especially the younger ones, may identify you as their surrogate parent. So play, feed and talk with them as often as you can. Interacting with them for short periods several times a day is better than being with them for one long period and then leaving them alone the rest of the time. As mentioned, it’s helpful with feral kittens to have multiple people handle them. This way, you avoid the risk of having them only socialize to you and not become
adoptable to others. This risk is higher with feral kittens older than eight weeks so it’s especially important with that age group to have more than one person involved in the socialization process.   Even young kittens who quickly learn to become house cats will usually still retain some feral characteristics. They may be extra sensitive to changes in their environment or have more than the usual fear of leaving their territory, like going to the veterinarian. If you move and their territory changes, they may at first revert to feral behavior. It’s best to anticipate these reactions and take steps to lessen the cat’s stress. For example, if you move, don’t let your former feral loose right away into the whole house, but start him
off in one room and give him a nice quiet place to hide. When he’s gotten used to things and acts comfortable in the confined space, then gradually introduce him to other rooms one at a time, until he’s comfortable in your entire house.

Socializing feral teenagers & adults  Should you try?   Socializing a feral cat over sixteen weeks old can be a time-consuming, difficult task with uncertain results. The older the cat, past the age of sixteen weeks, the more likely he will socialize only to a certain degree and then only to the person taming him. This of course can make him difficult to adopt. If a potential adopter has a choice between an eight week old kitten who curls up in her lap purring the first time they meet or a four month old feral kitten who you know is a lovely creature but who hides when the adopter comes over or scrambles to get out of her grasp, you can see the problem.  Even if you decide you’re up for the challenge, there are several other factors to consider before you attempt to socialize a feral teenager or adult.  The first question is what is your plan for placement of the cat? If you personally are going to adopt her and can accept she may or may not ever become a pet in the traditional sense – one you can pick up, hold, etc. – then bringing her indoors will likely work out just fine. On the other hand, if your goal is to totally tame the cat so someone as yet unknown will want to adopt her, that’s much more difficult to achieve.

For more ideas, see the step-by-step guide on taming feral kittens by the Feral Cat Coalition of San Diego, CA:    socialize enough, which is very likely, you may end up with another cat in your own household.  Before removing a cat from a colony, you also need to assess the colony’s social structure. Feral cats have complex relationships with each other. Friendships may form and last a lifetime. There are also hierarchies with dominant and submissive cats.  Removing a cat from the colony can upset this balance, plus you may be depriving the cat
of her closest ties. It’s important to try to get to know the colony well before making a decision.   Another factor is whether the colony is relatively safe or facing impending danger. Will their site be destroyed by new construction? Have there been incidents of violence towards the cats, even after they’ve been spay/neutered? There are almost always some risks present in an outdoor setting, so you need to be realistic about whether the situation warrants trying to re-home at least some of the cats. A secure situation might tend towards leaving well enough alone while the presence of undue danger would weigh in
favor of introducing a feral to the indoor life or, perhaps even better, relocating him to someone’s property to live in an outdoor cat enclosure or cat-proof fenced yard.   Finally, what about the cat himself? Is he old? Alone? Handicapped? Sometimes a feral cat does well in his territory for many years, but as he gets on in age, can’t handle the rigors of living freely outdoors like he used to. A comfortable retirement in a secure enclosure or yard or in someone’s warm home could be just what’s needed.  If none of these factors point towards bringing in a feral, it may be best to allow the cat to remain in a setting that suits his nature and which he already considers his home.  Socialization techniques for feral teenagers & adults There are experts at socializing ferals sixteen weeks and older who will work with them intensively for however long it takes, even a year or more, in order to completely tame them and make them fully adoptable. These people tend to have years of experience, work in shelter settings and are extremely dedicated.  For the caretaker who does not have the same kind of time or expertise, the objective in socializing a feral, especially if she is well beyond four or five months old, is more
limited. The goal usually is not to transform the cat into a traditional pet who can be picked up, stroked and enjoys being around most people. Instead, a more realistic aim is to teach her how to adjust and feel comfortable in a human home and not hide and be in fear for years to come. Beyond this, how far the cat progresses towards being a normal house cat will largely be up to her, not you or whoever takes her in. One day she may decide you’re okay and come and sit next to you on the couch, letting you pet her. But this may take years, if ever. This uncertainty must be accepted at the outset or the
experience can be a frustrating one – for you because the cat is not acting like you want and for the cat because she’ll sense your frustration and not feel at ease. More than anything, socializing an adult feral means learning to appreciate and love her for who she is, and allowing her to develop as she chooses.  The key to a successful socialization is how the feral is introduced into her new home.  All too often, people let the cat loose right away with the predictable result that she finds
some obscure, unreachable place to hide, then only comes out late at night to eat. If not addressed, this pattern can go unchanged for years. The way to prevent this is to start the cat off in a cage for a period of two to four weeks, using the Feral Cat Setup described in Chapter 12.

The Feral Cat Setup gives the cat a place where she feels safe, which is essential. In unfamiliar settings, feral cats prefer to be in a covered, enclosed space rather than a wide open one. That’s why if you just let them loose straight off, they’ll go run under the bed or into the closet and stay there. By starting the cat off in a cage, you choose the hiding spot, not the cat. This gives you control over the situation and the socialization process,  which includes establishing a regular feeding pattern and training the cat to use a litter box. It also gives the cat a sense of security because she’ll soon learn she’s safe when she’s in the cage and, in her mind, protected from you by the bars. Keeping the back half of the cage covered at all times with a sheet will increase her sense of comfort.  The cage should be placed in a part of the home neither too isolated nor too busy.  This gives the cat an opportunity to learn the new sights and sounds of a human home without becoming overwhelmed. Remember, she has never heard a phone ring or smelled dinner being prepared. By being in a well-situated cage, she’ll also be able to watch you and learn your patterns – such as the fact that you won’t attack her when you
walk by. Learning all these little things are crucial to the socialization process and won’t necessarily happen if you simply let the cat run and hide anywhere she wants.  You and any others in the household should talk to the cat often so she learns to know and trust your voices. This period in the cage also allows the feral to get to know and become comfortable with any other resident cats, who can interact with her through the bars of the cage after she’s been treated by a veterinarian for any problems and cleared to be introduced to the rest of the cats.  The cat should be kept in the cage until she grows visibly comfortable in your presence, but no less than two weeks. The desired comfort level is evidenced by the cat no longer darting into the feral cat den whenever you walk into the room. Instead, she’ll remain perched on top of the den or lying on the cage floor. She’ll also, when you put food in the cage, come out to eat while you’re still in the room rather than waiting until you’re gone. A minimum of two weeks may seem like a long time to confine a cat in a cage, but considering this early process will shape the cat’s relationship with you for years to come, it’s well worth it.  Once the cat is comfortable in your presence, leave the door of the cage open one night before you go to sleep, but don’t change anything else. Above all, don’t try to coax or force the cat out of the cage. Just casually leave the door open and let her come and go as she pleases. Do this at night before you go to bed because she’ll feel safer venturing out for the first time when it’s quiet and dark. Introduce her gradually to the rest of the house, preferably one room at a time, waiting until she appears comfortable before giving her access to new parts of the household. If you discover the next day that she’s out and
about, do not take the cage away but leave it just as it’s always been. This is her safe spot and often the cat will continue to use the cage for some time to sleep and for using the litter box. You should continue to feed in the cage as well.  If four weeks have passed since the cat was first confined in the cage and she is not acting at ease, open the door anyway as described. Past a month, the stress of confinement can take away from whatever progress towards socialization the cat has
made. It’s better at that point to let her out and gradually introduce her to the household, one room at a time.    When the cat no longer uses the cage as a refuge and can be easily fed elsewhere, the transition into your home is complete. That’s not to say the cat is going to jump into your arms when you approach. Instead, for a while, she’ll probably head the other way. She has to learn to adapt to the entire home which will take time and may cause her to temporarily regress a bit in her behavior. But many of her initial fears have been assuaged and the chances of her finding her own comfort zone and living without constant fear in your home are greatly increased.  Once the cat is able to be fed outside the cage, you can take down the Feral Cat Setup, if you choose. Some feral cat owners will keep the cage in place and continue to feed inside. This makes it easier to confine the cat when necessary, like when you need to get her into the den for a trip to the veterinarian or when a contractor is coming over to do some work in the house. Remember, she isn’t a normal pet you can pick up and place in a carrier. If you do take the cage down, then anticipate in advance when you’ll need to confine her. A week or two ahead of that date, set up the cage again with the den inside and start feeding her in there. That way you can get her into the cage and the den at the opportune time. If you’re unable to do this, another technique is to start feeding her
inside a trap a week before you need to confine her and then set the trap when the day arrives or the night before. Being trapped could be traumatic for the cat, so feeding her in a cage with a den inside is far preferable.   If you move to another house or apartment, you should repeat the socialization process with the Feral Cat Setup again, though it will likely be a much shorter period of time before the cat appears at ease and can be released.

Finding good homes   Adoption procedures  Finding a cat a good home, as opposed to just any home, takes work. Not everyone is mature or responsible enough to take on the life-long care of an animal companion. You will need to make judgments about who will give the cat a loving, secure home, and who may not. There are plenty of caring, responsible people out there. There are also people who get an animal on an impulse that won’t last, give the animal away as a gift
without asking if the recipient wants one, want the cat only to keep away mice or are unable to adequately care for themselves or the dependents they already have, let alone a new cat. It’s also important to be aware there are people known as “bunchers” who gather animals, sometimes under the guise of adopting them, and then sell them to laboratories for purposes of experimentation.  In recent years, “open adoptions” have become a growing trend in the animal welfare
field. This approach bases adoption decisions more on conversations with potential adopters and an assessment of individual needs rather than a standard set of criteria.  Other new trends include “same day” adoptions where decisions are made by screening the adopter but without home visits or checking references. “No fee” adoptions, where adopters are screened but no adoption fee is charged, are also becoming more common.  The primary rationale for these approaches, which are more flexible than traditional methods, is it’s more important to get the cats out of shelters where the risk of euthanasia is high than to find perfect homes.  While these approaches may have great value for the animal welfare field as a whole, in our view they are best implemented by shelters and experienced rescue groups who handle large volumes of cats and dogs. We do not believe they are appropriate for individual caretakers who may only ever adopt out a handful of cats or kittens and lack experience making the kind of judgments required with these more liberal approaches.  Instead, in order to protect the cat, we recommend caretakers follow certain predetermined procedures before doing adoptions on their own.  First, when someone expresses a serious interest in adopting a cat in your care, ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid to get personal. The right person will understand you’re trying to help the cat and appreciate it, not be put off. Here’s a checklist of questions you can use:
1. Is the cat for you or a gift for someone else? If a gift, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but you’ll want to speak directly to whoever would receive the cat, to make sure they want him and will provide a good home.
2. Do you have a cat now? If yes, ask about his/her health, age, personality and diet. Is the cat fixed? How the potential adopter treats his current cat is likely how he’ll treat yours. Also, is your foster cat a good fit? A rambunctious young male may not be a good companion for an older female used to being alone. Be sure to get a veterinary reference and call.
3. Have you had cats in the past? If so, how were they cared for and what happened to them? Again, get a veterinary reference and check on it. If the person does not have a cat now and never had one, ask about how they plan on caring for the cat – what kind of food they’ll use, have they lined up a veterinarian, what toys will be in the home? What research have they done on caring for cats?
4. What would you do if your cat scratches the furniture? This question is designed to see if a person would immediately think to declaw the cat. At Neighborhood Cats, we strongly oppose declawing. The procedure involves amputating bones and cutting ligaments and tendons, and can cause permanent physical and psychological damage. Often people don’t
realize how extensive the surgery is, so if someone mentions declawing, explain the procedure and its risks and see how they react. Also explain alternatives, like scratching posts and regularly clipping the nails. If they still seem inclined to declaw, keep looking or, if they otherwise appear okay, perhaps help them find a cat who is already declawed and needs a

5. What is your living situation? Own a house, apartment? Are you a renter? If so, how long is your lease? How long have you lived at your current location? Any plans to move?
6. Who else resides in your home? Are there roommates? Children? Is anyone allergic to cats? If there are roommates, who will have ultimate responsibility for the cat? Avoid shared ownership of the cat unless the adopters are in a long-term relationship. Otherwise, trouble inevitably looms down the road when roommates part ways. If there are other household members, you’ll want to meet them.

7. What safety features will there be in the home? Are there screens on all the windows? Will the cats have access to an unscreened terrace or balcony? Many people don’t realize cats lose their sense of height above a certain number of stories and may inadvertently jump out the window of a high-rise building. Will the cat be allowed on the fire escape? (Correct
answer: No!)

8. Will the cat be allowed outside? Neighborhood Cats believes pet cats, for their protection, should live primarily indoors and always be confined with proper fencing or on a harness if outdoors. They should not be allowed to roam freely. See “Containment systems” in Chapter 4.

9. Are you prepared to care for the cat his entire life? Pets are a lifetime commitment. Cats can live to be 20 years old! Are you prepared to care for the cat for her lifetime? What if your situation changes (a baby, boyfriend/girlfriend, move, etc.)?
10. What is your employment situation? Occupation? How long? You can also find good examples of adoption applications online which contain questions similar to these. One form we like can be found on the website of Tabby’s Place, a respected cat organization in New Jersey (

Remember there is no perfect home and so you’re not going to hear perfect answers to all your questions. The goal is not to go down the list and check off requirements, but to get a sense of who the person is, how stable is their situation and how they will treat the cat. It’s also an opportunity to educate the potential adopter. If you’re satisfied with the answers, we recommend you follow these steps: get references (personal, job and/or veterinary) and check them; have the potential adopter come over and meet the cat if they haven’t already; and if all goes well, pay a visit to the new potential home. For your safety, don’t go to the home alone, but bring along a friend or co-worker. You can bring the cat with you unless you feel that will put you under too much pressure, in which case go without the cat.  Having the person come see the cat gives you an opportunity to see how they interact and if there is potential for a lasting bond. Going to see the new home before finalizing the adoption lets you confirm that your evaluation of the person as a good placement is correct. There is little more revealing than a person’s home. Is it pleasant and clean, are there screens on the windows like they said, etc.? If you go and get a bad feeling – things don’t look right or were not as described – don’t give them the cat, but say you need more time to think about it.

If you decide you’ve found a good home, have the adopter sign an adoption contract and pay a fee of at least $50 to $75 per cat. This will give you legal rights to reclaim the cat if, down the road, something goes wrong and a new placement is needed. You can readily find examples of adoption contracts online by doing a Google search ( for “adoption contract for pets,” “adoption contract for cats,” or “pet adoption agreement.” Borrow another group’s form and adapt it for your purposes. Be sure the contract you use includes clauses which

(a) require appropriate care for the cat (food, water, shelter),

(b) give you the right to demand return of the cat in the event any material parts of the contract are breached,

(c) prohibit declawing,

(d) require your consent before ownership is transferred to anyone besides the original adopter, and

(e) release you from liability for any injury or harm caused by the cat.

Charging a fee is important. It helps protect against someone who really wants to sell the cat by removing most or all of any potential profit. Also, owning a cat is an expense and an adopter should be able to afford a modest fee. If they can’t, how will they pay the next veterinary bill?   After the adoption, follow up with a call a week later to see how things are going,
then a month later, too. If all is well, your job is done. Be sure to let the adopter know you are available if they should ever need any help.  All this may seem like a long process, but most people who will provide a good home will appreciate your thoroughness and understand you’re doing it because you deeply care for the cat. If someone objects and says you’re making it too hard, that might be a sign they’re not a good match for your purposes.

Whenever possible, especially with feral cats and kittens, try to place them in a home with another feline. Ferals are cats’ cats. They usually get along with other cats extremely well, but can languish if left alone. If you have multiple kittens and want to adopt them out in pairs, which is always ideal for them, then ask right away before going into the other questions whether the potential adopter is willing to take two. Some people won’t be willing or able, but in the end, if you stick to adopting the kittens in pairs, you’ll only need to find half as many placements.

Where to look  In order to attract a great home, post flyers in veterinarians’ offices, pet supply stores,  your gym and your workplace. Include a good color photo of the cat on the flyer – pictures make all the difference. The photo should clearly show the cat’s face, be in focus, and be appealing. Talk to local rescue groups who show their cats in stores or at adoption events and see if you can borrow a cage for a weekend. You can post your cat on Craig’s List ( as long as you’ll only be charging a small adoption fee (sales of animals are not allowed). For Craig’s List, after you select your location, the best place to list your ad is under “Pets” in the “Community” section.  The largest online adoption service is Petfinder ( Only animal welfare groups registered with Petfinder can post, so you’ll want to team up with a shelter, TNR or rescue group in your area and ask if they’ll post your kitty on their page. Or help them get a page if they don’t already have one. Also check out (, another resource where shelters and rescue groups can post available pets.

17. Storm Preparation & Recovery   Feral and stray cats are especially vulnerable when severe storms like hurricanes or
blizzards strike. High winds, torrential rains, floods or other hazardous conditions can put your cats’ lives at risk. To reduce the dangers, you’ll need to prepare beforehand and then also take action immediately after the storm has passed.

Before the storm   Well before any bad weather arrives, the first step is to catalogue your cats. Compile a list, including descriptions and photos, even if you’re already very familiar with the colony. After the storm, this could help determine if any cats are missing and, if there are, assist in preparing alerts or flyers to help find them.  At the colony site, what can be most
important is protecting the cats’ shelter so they can safely ride out the storm. If the shelters and feeding station are located in a low-lying area prone to flooding, relocate them to higher ground within the cats’ territory, if at all possible. Also raise both shelters and feeding stations off the ground, whether you relocate them or not. Wooden shipping pallets are ideal for this purpose.  Cinder blocks will work as well. Raise them high enough to prevent ground water or snow from reaching up to the doorways.  If the cats are sheltered and fed inside a permanent structure, like a shed or garage, make sure there are secure, elevated places inside the structure where they can climb and perch, like shelves or heavy furniture. In case of extreme flooding inside the structure or any other emergency condition that might develop, leave the cats a way to get outside besides their normal ground-level entryway, like a slightly open window.  High winds present another potential hazard. Tie shelters and feeding stations to permanent structures, like a fence, to anchor them or else wedge them tightly into a secure place. Feral cat shelters are often light and need to be weighed down. But in high winds, heavy objects can be dislodged and create a danger, so be careful about placing anything on top of the shelters. Tying the shelters and feeding stations down is safer.  Likewise, check the general area for loose objects which could become airborne and remove them.
To keep rain or snow from driving in, position shelters so their doorways are facing a wall or similar solid structure and not open space. One idea, if not already implemented, is to face the entrances of two shelters towards one another, no more than a foot apart.  Flaps over the doorways, if the cats are already used to them, will also keep precipitation
out (see “Doorway flaps” in Chapter 6).

In case you’re unable to return to the colony site right away, put out an extra supply of dry food – enough to last a few days – before the storm arrives and leave a plentiful supply of water. Gravity feeders and automatic waterers are perfect for ensuring an adequate supply of food and water (see “Automatic feeders and waterers” in Chapter 5).  Be sure the feeding station is protected in the same manner as the shelters – raised off the ground with the doorway shielded and located in close proximity to the shelters. Also, fill plastic containers or bowls with dry food and put them inside the shelters, placing
them in the back inner corners as far as possible from the door. This will make the food accessible to the cats during the storm. However, do not put any water inside the shelter – it would likely spill and create a health risk for the cats by getting them wet or making the interior of the shelter damp.

The aftermath  When you arrive at the colony site after a severe weather event, the first thing to take care of is yourself. Strong winds and heavy snow or rain can cause overhanging branches to weaken and fall for several days after the storm.   Other debris overhead can also pose a danger. Downed power lines can turn puddles into electrical hazards. So be aware and cautious as you move about. Be on the lookout for broken glass,  nails or other sharp objects and remove
them promptly. Any broken lumber should also be promptly removed.  .Scratches from pieces of treated lumber will become infected rapidly. Any wet items inside the cats’ shelters should be discarded or cleaned. That includes bedding, straw or newspaper. When moist, these items offer no protection and will build up bacteria which could be harmful to the cats. Thoroughly bleach shelters, feeding stations and dishes if they were exposed to flood waters, which may contain toxins from sewage or other sources of contamination. For the same reason, after a flood, remove as much standing
water from the colony site as possible and provide clean water to drink, putting out extra water bowls.   If any cats are missing, be aware they may be close by, but too frightened to return to the site. Also look high – cats may have climbed to escape flood waters and may still be up in trees or on rooftops. You can coax missing cats back by re-establishing a normal environment and regular feeding routine. Give them their favorite foods to comfort them, like tuna or grilled chicken, something tempting to make them feel better and lure frightened cats back. Add treats to their meals, continuing for several days after all the cats are accounted for. If possible, stop by twice a day to offer reassurance and keep calling for any missing cats. Most will come back within a week, but some stragglers may take a few weeks to return.

Check the cats for any injuries. Contaminated flood waters can infect wounds so if injuries are seen, trap and seek veterinary care immediately. The stress of the events can cause an outbreak of upper respiratory infections. To ward off illness, add extra Vitamin C to the cats’ food (see “Vitamin C to the Rescue” in Chapter 5.) If you do see evidence of upper respiratory infections, consult a veterinarian about getting antibiotics into their food before their conditions worsen. Remember, getting the colony’s routine back to normal as soon as possible is the best way to combat stress.  If your colony is located in an area that is closed off because of storm damage, contact your local police precinct and speak to the officer in charge of Community Affairs. Explain why you need to gain access and find out what you need to do to get permission to go in.
For more information on disaster preparedness for you and the animals in your care,  see the extensive list of resource links on the website of Hoosier Kitties (
18. Feral Cat Resources
 Implementing a Community Trap-Neuter-Return Program by Bryan Kortis (The Humane Society of the United States, 2007).
Part 1:
Part 2:
(Note: Available for free download. 2nd edition due out by end of 2013)

Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians & Staff, 2nd edition; Chapter 41:
Management of Stray and Feral Community Cats” by Julie K. Levy & Christine L. Wilford (Wiley-Blackwell Publishers, 2013).

Community Approaches to Feral Cats: Problems, Alternatives and Recommendations by Margaret R. Slater (Humane Society Press, 2002).

Maverick Cats: Encounters with Feral Cats by Ellen Perry Berkeley (The New England Press, 2001). (search for title)

The Wild Life of the Domestic Cat by Roger Tabor (Arrow Books, 1987) / (search for title)
 Shadow Cats: Tales from New York City’s Animal Underground by Janet Jensen (Adams Media Corp., 2002) / (search for title)

Children’s books
 Fairminded Fran and the Three Small Black Community Cats by Linda Elder (Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2012).
 Cat, Cat, Feral Cat by Clarissa Wolf (Avid Readers Publishing Group, 2009) (search for title)

Equipment & supplies
– Arbico Organics ( Beneficial nematodes for organic flea control
– ( / Modular cat cages and containment
– Contech ( / “Scarecrow” motion-activated sprinklers &
“CatStop” ultrasonic devices
– Doctors Foster and Smith ( / Pet supplies
– Entirely Pets ( / Pet supplies
– Feralvilla ( / Outdoor shelters and feeders
– Gamma2 ( / Vittles Vault food storage units
– Happy Bird Corporation ( / Solar-powered, freeze-resistant
water bowls
– Jeffers ( / Pet supplies
– KV Supply ( / Pet supplies
– PurrFect Fence ( / Free-standing cat containment system
– Tomahawk Live Trap ( / Feral cat traps and accessories
– Tru-Catch ( / Feral cat traps and accessories

Feral cat organizations – lists
The Humane Society of the United States
Castaway Critters
Funding for TNR    ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)     

Best Friends Animal Society (Life Saving Grants)
 Local Independent Charities of America (LIC) represents non-profits in communities across the country. Visit their site to see if your organization is eligible to receive donations through LIC’s extensive giving network.
 Petco Foundation (4Rs Project Support Grant Program)
 PetSmart Charities (Free-Roaming Cat Spay/Neuter Grants)
(Note: before applying, view the webinar PetSmart Charities’ High Impact Spay/Neuter Grants: What are We Looking For? Link to webinar available at

 The Foundation Center is the leading source of information about U.S. and global philanthropy. Access their vast grantmaker database online or through their network of regional library/learning centers and funding information centers.

For a list of the top 50 animal-grantmaking foundations compiled by The Foundation Center (the list does not include 501c3 organizations, such as PetSmart Charities or ASPCA):

Handouts & flyers   Neighborhood Cats  Basic Flyer – English (doc)  Basic Flyer – Spanish (doc)
Or go to: (scroll down to “Flyers”)

Koret Shelter Health Portal This resource from the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at UC Davis School of
Veterinary Medicine provides information sheets on a variety of animal-related topics. For feral cat info enter keywords “feral” or “TNR” in the search field.
PetSmart Charities
TNR Infograph – English (pdf)
TNR Infograph – Spanish (pdf)
Or go to:
(scroll down to “Flyers”)

Kitten care   Behavior Department: Kitty in Their Hands by Nancy Peterson, Animal Sheltering Magazine (The Humane Society of the United States)
 Guide for Determining Kitten Age by Petfinder
 Kitten Care Handbook by Kitten Rescue
 Taming Feral Kittens by Feral Cat Coalition
Spay/neuter resources   Map of Feral Cat Groups in the U.S. and Canada from The Humane Society of the
United States
Neuter/Spay Nationwide – spay/neuter assistance and information.
Spay/Neuter Program Locator from PetSmart Charities and ASPCA
Spay/Neuter Program Locator from North Shore Animal League America’s Spay USA:
TNR ordinances  Neighborhood Cats (list of ordinances in U.S. by state &municipality, articles on TNR
ordinances and model TNR ordinances)

 Action Kit: Advocating for TNR in Your Community from Best Friends Animal Society:  Contains resources to help you implement a TNR program in your area. The Action Kit includes What to Do Before Approaching Your Local Government About TNR (Word doc, 6 pp.), Frequently Asked Questions About TNR (Word doc, 7 pp.) and Community
Cats and Trap/Neuter/Return: A Presentation to Local Government Officials About TNR (PowerPoint, 4 MB)

 Pets for Life from The Humane Society of the United States & PetSmart Charities  Designed to help organizations develop and implement a community outreach program for promoting spay/neuter in underserved

 How to Perform a Mass Trapping (32 min.) by Neighborhood Cats  To view online:
To order DVD copy:     Trap-Neuter-Return: Fixing Feral Cat Overpopulation (16 min.) by The Humane    To view online:

 San Antonio Community Cat Program (5 min.) by Best Friends Animal Society   To view online:

Webinars   Note: Information archived by the sources below may be updated periodically. Click on
the links to search for currently available feral cat webinars
 / (click on “Webinars on menu bar)
 /
 PetSmart Charities /

POISONING CATS IN NEW YORK STATE IS A FELONY $2500  For information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the POISONING OF CATS in this neighborhood.  Punishment for this crime is up to two years in prison and/or a $5000 fine   To file a report:  Humane Law Enforcement Division of the ASPCA  (212) 876-7700 x4450   To claim reward:  Neighborhood Cats, Inc.  (212) 662-5761    Appendix A  REWARD

 hard Styrofoam sheet, 2 ft. wide, 8 ft. long, 2 in. thick
 one tube that fits a caulk gun of paintable or clear silicone sealant (such as GE Window & Door Sealant) or two smaller hand-squeezable tubes of paintable or clear silicone sealant. Paintable sealant is preferred.

 vinyl remnant (18″ x 20″) or three 1 ft. square pieces of thin linoleum tile with adhesive backing
 Latex deck paint (approx. 1 quart)
 table saw
 utility knife (with extendable blade) or jigsaw
 caulk gun
 painting equipment: brush/roller, paint tray, ground cloth
 felt tip marker
 yardstick
 scissors (if you’re using the thin linoleum tiles)
1. Using a table saw, cut the Styrofoam sheet into the following pieces:
-two of 24″ x 24″ (pieces A & B)
-two of 12″ x 24″ (pieces C & D)
-two of 12″ x 20″ (pieces E & F)
-four of 4″ x 6″ (pieces G1, G2, G3 & G4)

2. Cut out the front door of the shelter from piece E (12″ x 20″). Using the yardstick and felt pen, draw a rectangle measuring 5 1/2” high and 6″ wide, located 2″ from the left vertical edge of piece E and 2″ from the horizontal bottom edge. Use the utility knife (or preferably a jig saw) to cut out the rectangle.

3. Line up the long sides of the shelter on the shelter floor by placing pieces C & D (the two 12″ x 24″ pieces) on the right and left outer edges of piece A (24″ x 24″).

4. Place piece F (12″ x 20″) onto the back edge of piece A.
5. Place piece E two inches back from the front edge of piece A, making sure the door is in the correct position:

6. Once all four sides are lined up, apply the silicone sealant to the bottom of pieces C, D, E & F, one at a time, and put each piece back in place, gluing them to the floor. Let the sealant dry for a few minutes.

7. Take the 18″ x 20″ piece of vinyl remnant and attach it to the floor of the shelter with a small amount of the silicone sealant or use the three linoleum tiles with adhesive backing.   If you use the tiles, you’ll need to cut up two of them to create a total surface measuring 18” x 20”. Put one of the tiles aside and from the 2nd tile, cut out a piece measuring 8” x 12”; from the 3rd tile, cut out two pieces – one 6” x 12” and the other 6” x 8”. Use the yardstick and felt pen to trace the correct dimensions onto the full tiles and then use the scissors to cut out the correct size pieces. Next,
arrange the full tile and the three cut-out pieces so they cover the entire floor and one at a time remove their wax paper backings and apply.

8. Next, attach the roof. Using the sealant, glue piece B onto the top of pieces C, D, E & F. Let it dry for a few minutes.

9. Then attach the legs. Apply silicone sealant to the top sides and press pieces G1, G2, G3 & G4 onto the corners of the bottom of piece A.

10. Seal all seams and cracks of the shelter with the silicone sealant. This is very important! It keeps drafts out. Seal where the roof touches the side walls, where each side wall meets another side wall and where the walls meet the floor. If necessary, purchase and apply an extra tube of silicone sealant.

11. After the silicone glue has completely dried (usually 24 hours), paint the shelter with one or two coats of latex deck paint, matching the color to the surroundings where the shelter will be placed. (NOTE: the paint will not adhere to areas covered with the sealant unless you’re using a paintable silicone. If you’re using a nonpaintable, clear sealant, you can choose to paint all the outer surfaces of the shelter BEFORE gluing them together to avoid leaving unpainted areas.)

12. [Optional]: You may eventually want to add a flap to the front door that the cats can easily pull open, such as a piece of a vinyl mat. You can glue or duct tape it on above the front door, or drill holes and use plastic nuts and bolts like the kind
used to attach toilet seats. It’s recommended you wait until the cats are familiar with going in and out of the shelter before adding a flap.


 The shelters are very light, so weigh them down with a large rock, board, a few bricks,  etc. The roof is strong enough to hold a reasonable amount of weight.

 To break the wind and protect from rain, place two shelters with their front doors facing each other and then place a board on top of both, spanning the two roofs.

 Straw is the best insulation for the interior.  Shredded newspaper will also work. Don’t use hay which is moist and can become  moldy. Don’t put towels or blankets on the floor – they will draw out body heat and make the cats colder.

 NEVER PUT WATER INSIDE!! Small bowls of dry food are ok.

 Draw the cats inside the shelter by scattering tasty treats or catnip near and inside.

%d bloggers like this: