By: Robin Desmet – July, 2016
July—a great month for fireworks, cookouts, beaches, and……TNR. What in the world is TNR? TNR stands for: Trap-Neuter-Return.
After becoming aware of the number of cats roaming the alleys of Lawrence, and the number of kittens being born in unsafe conditions, I have developed both a fondness for feral cats, as well as a desire to help them. Over the past 2 years, I have trapped hundreds of these cats. I have sat quietly for hours holding onto a string, waiting for a cat to enter a trap when it is 20 degrees out. This may not sound like much fun, but it is actually quite rewarding when you finally catch that hard to trap cat.
After the cats are trapped, they are brought to Nevins Farm (MSPCA), where they are spayed or neutered, vaccinated for distemper and rabies, and ear-tipped so that they can be easily identified. If you look closely, you may see a cat in your neighborhood with the top piece of his/her left ear missing. You may initially think the cat has been in a fight, but this is actually done so that the cat can be easily recognized as a cat that has already been trapped and spayed or neutered.
After surgery, the cats are returned to their outdoor homes. This has resulted in groups of cats that form small stable colonies, rather than groups of cats whose numbers expand exponentially.
Unspayed female cats can have as many as 3 litters of kittens per year. Over 50% of these kittens do not survive due to harsh weather conditions, predators, and poor health. Unfortunately, I have found some of these kittens when it is too late and it is absolutely heartbreaking. Their mothers face constant suffering. They can become pregnant at 6 months of age and continue to have litter after litter, year after year. Spaying the females puts an end to this continuous cycle. Neutering male cats has many advantages as well. It prevents a lot of nuisance behavior, such as spraying, yowling, and fighting for territory and mates. Vaccination improves the health of the cats and helps prevent the spread of diseases. So these cats can go from being pests in the neighborhood that are reproducing at an alarming rate, to becoming an outdoor pet of sorts.
I know what you’re thinking……wouldn’t it be better if we could find homes for these cats and get them off the streets? Well, yes. Some of the cats that I trap are actually not feral at all. They may be strays or lost or friendly enough to be adoptable. In these cases, the cats are not returned to the outdoors at all. They are scanned for a microchip, given any necessary medical care, and adopted out or reunited with their owners. Feral cats, on the other hand, do not make suitable pets and cannot be adopted out.
What is a feral cat, exactly? Simply put, a feral cat is a cat that is not socialized to human beings. Feral cats are afraid of humans. If you try to approach a feral cat, it will most likely run away. Feral cats have lived all or most of their lives outdoors. They are used to being outside, and they do not do well when confined. They tend to bond with only one person (their caretaker). A person who is feeding a feral cat may be able to get close to the cat and even pat the cat. But, when you attempt to bring that cat indoors, it becomes very stressed and unhappy and will spend its time hiding or attempting to get back outside. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and I would never discourage anyone who is trying to help an animal and improve its well-being and its chances of survival.
Providing a feral cat with a steady food source, water, and a shelter to get out of the cold (a dog house with a bed of straw, a feral cat shelter, and a bed inside a shed or garage) will dramatically improve the life of a feral cat. Getting that same cat spayed or neutered will improve not only the life of the cat, but that of the community where the feral cat lives. Feeding a cat on your doorstep every day is a humane thing to do. Feeding an ever expanding colony of cats is overwhelming – so is watching litter after litter struggle to survive. I urge people to do the humane thing and have that cat trapped and spayed or neutered. I truly believe that TNR makes a difference—both for cats and for the communities in which they reside.
Note: All trapping is done humanely. The MSPCA (Nevins Farm) will spay or neuter and vaccinate the feral cats in your yard for free. The MSPCA will spay or neuter and vaccinate and microchip your pet cat for only $10.00 if you live in Lawrence, Haverhill, Lowell, or Methuen.
For questions, please E-mail me at: Robinjd@comcast.net