Feral Cat Rescue "Trap Neuter Release"
Wide frightened eyes peer out from a gaunt face; shifty and nervous. This is just one of the over 50 million feral cats in the United States. When left unchecked, feral cat colonies overwhelm their supply of food, causing both a nuisance to the neighborhood with their fighting and, for the cats, starvation and painful death. Methods such as relocation only move the problem. Extermination is inhumane. Both leave a vacuum that is quickly filled with new and foreign cats. Enter TNR "Trap Neuter Release"
TNR began in the US in the 1960's, gaining popularity quickly. Organizations have been formed to advocate for the benefits of TNR on a global scale. I recently followed a Mendocino County, California organization, Coast Cat Project, during one of its TNR missions.
Statistics say that 1,000 unwanted animals are prevented for every animal spayed or neutered. The essence is in humane sterilization of breeding adult cats. When adult cats no longer breed, they are calmer. They rarely fight. They roam less. They number less animals therefore are less taxing on the scant food resources and safe resting areas.
Since about 2012, Alanna and Valerie have rescued feral kittens. They socialized the kittens and got them adoption-ready. "I don't know why we hadn't thought of it sooner" Alanna said "Why we were taking in so many kittens is that massive spay neuter operations were not happening. There are many cats in our community that are reproducing at high numbers every year. We've rescued 300 plus kittens, when the root of the problem is Spay Neuter."
In 2016, Alanna and Valerie became certified to do TNR. The process involves trapping live cats in wire cages. Food at the feeding location is withheld for 24 hours to entice more cats to come into the traps to retrieve the bait. The cat enters the trap, steps on a plate. The trap is sprung, closing the door and trapping the cat. A volunteer covers the cage which helps to calm the animal. For trap savvy cats or the kittens (which can be too light to set off the spring) they will use a box trap, which requires a volunteer to sit patiently and hold a rope many yards away.
On an hot afternoon we park behind an empty building in a suburb of a small rural town. The heat is distressing. In mere minutes I am uncomfortable and dizzy. Before we enter the yard behind the building I am cautioned: I will see deceased kittens. There are several left on the ground where they last laid down, Valerie explained sadly. With circumstances so dire for these animals, time spent on the lost is better served saving the living.
"We have to push through the emotions." said Alanna Zipp, co-founder of Coast Cat Project. "A lot of people that we've talked to have been like, 'I can't do cat rescue; it's too sad, it's too emotional, it's too hard.' Which it is all of those things. But for us, it's even more reason why we have to do it. We have to help these animals. We can't turn a blind eye because it's hard to look at."
On location at this hot dusty refuge I am in awe. With deft movements and focus born of determination, quickly there are a dozen such traps around the briars and trees. Within minutes several cats have come out, hungry and drawn by the succulent aroma of tuna and sardines; the most tempting fare ensures better results. At 2 feet long and about a foot high and wide, the empty traps weigh about 7 pounds. Add several pounds of frightened thrashing cat and it is truly impressive to see these dedicated women skillfully handle and store the cages while simultaneously keeping their footing on treacherous terrain and calming the wild animals inside with soft gentle words.
Darkness falls and Valerie is holding a flashlight for Alanna to secure the last of the cats and drape covers over the cages in their safe storage area. Exhausted, hungry, hot; physically and emotionally spent. They plan to return and do it all again the next day.
6am Valerie is already at the site. In the quiet of the new day she traps a few more kittens. Since food was withheld for over 24 hours, more are boldly approaching. At 9am a third volunteer arrives. She takes over the reins of holding a rope of a drop trap, letting Valerie and Alanna have a quick breakfast off site under shade. 10am cages are loaded up into vehicles and taken to where the Mobile Pet Clinic is parked for the day at a local community hall there are several volunteers and already a dozen pets; mostly cats and two dogs. Most are sleeping off their anesthesia and have been gently placed into comfortable positions while they recover. Valerie and Alanna bring in their additions, two at a time, in the cool building, quickly taking up most of the floor space.
At the end of another long hot day the total ferals brought in is 10 adults and 12 kittens. Alanna has taken the kittens to begin their care and the adult cats are packed into the garage of yet another volunteer, where they will recover from the surgery and then be released back to the property they were caught at. While under anesthesia, cats receive an ear tip: painless removal of just a small tip of one ear. This is a universally accepted identifying marker to humans that the cat is sterile.
Bliss Seiferd, Registered Vet Tech who's been working with the Mobile Pet Van since its inception in 2000. Bliss has a life long involvement with rescue and shelters. "I've seen attitudes change from euthanasia as a method of population control to preventative means such as Spay Neuter." Bliss said "It is obviously much more humane to prevent unwanted puppies and kittens than it is to kill them when they land in the shelters" She sees firsthand that Spay Neuter is having positive results. "The statistics show that the number of animals entering our shelters have been reduced. Therefore the number of euthanasia's have been reduced."
Bliss encourages the community to become involved. "They can get in the trenches and help trap feed colonies. They can donate not only money but time transporting, networking phone calling. They can become liaisons between shelters and communities for TNR. They can foster kittens and help socialize them for adoption. They can just be aware of the cats they see and not let injured starving animals go without help. Even if they can not provide help themselves they can alert those who can so that cats don’t suffer!"