Understanding the Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return (TNVR) process thoroughly before you trap is essential. Familiarize yourself with the TNVR process and plan your trapping day in advance. You will be successful if you follow the step-by-step instructions below.
1. MAKE A WRITTEN PLAN FOR THE DAY-OF
Remember that many tasks must be completed before trapping can start. Make sure your written plan includes every tool you need and steps you must complete throughout the TNVR process. Keep in mind that your trapping will be most effective if you employ “targeted trapping”. Read more about targeted trapping at Targeted Trapping.
You must arrange for veterinary services before you procure traps, transportation, and a safe, indoor recovery space. Make sure you have enough traps for the entire colony— one trap per cat and a few extra traps in case a trap might malfunction.
Know the cats you plan to trap before beginning any project. Get a count of the colony members. Find out who is a nursing mom and who is about to give birth, and find out who is sick or wounded.
Have a written description for each cat, and give each cat a name. Naming each cat will help you keep all the solid black cats straight and it will help you identify all the brown tabbies.
2. PAY ATTENTION TO THE WEATHER
Never trap in extreme temperatures, hot or cold. They are dangerous conditions for cats to be in without food and exposed to the elements. Never trap in pouring rain.
3. COORDINATE WITH OTHER CAREGIVERS ABOUT PLANS TO TRAP
If you are the primary caregiver, this is a good opportunity to educate the community and let them know you are caring for the cats. If there are other people feeding the cats, talk to them about Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return and try to coordinate efforts, particularly when it comes to feeding, withholding food before trapping, and assessing the colony.
4. COMMUNICATE WITH NEIGHBORS AROUND THE COLONY
Open communication and education are important parts of conducting TNVR. Many people are not aware that feral cats live and thrive outdoors and that neutering improves the cat’s lives, as well as the people around them. People may have problems with the cats that can be easily addressed. You can prevent potential situations from escalating and avoid endangering the cats by introducing yourself as the person to contact if someone has questions or concerns.
5. ASSESS THE CATS
While feeding, start a log of each cat and kitten you see. This will help you monitor the number of cats and their health, determine their approximate age, and help you determine the numbers of appointments and traps you will need. It will also help you identify if some cats are stray—friendly to humans—and may be candidates for adoption into homes or if you will need to be prepared for trapping and fostering kittens. It is important that you get to know the colony. Know the number of cats and their description to ensure that all of the cats have been trapped. This is also important for ongoing colony care so you will know if any cats are missing or if any new cats join the colony that need to be neutered. Use the Alley Cat Allies Tracking Sheet to document each cat in the colony.
While you are assessing the colony, you will also have to consider their specific circumstances and safety. Alley Cat Allies and Feral Cat FOCUS do not recommend relocation. It should be done only under extreme circumstances when the cats’ lives are in eminent danger. The best way to protect the cats is to ensure they are spayed and neutered; then consider other plans that may be necessary, such as relocation.
Be fully prepared before you decide to trap and relocate cats by reading Guidelines for Safe Relocation of Feral Cats (www.alleycat.org/Safe-Relocation). A common reason caregivers feel they need to relocate a colony is poisoning threats. There are steps you can take to put a stop to these threats and ensure the ongoing safety of the colony. Read How to Deal With Poison Threats (www.alleycat.org/Poison-Threats).
6. BE PREPARED FOR THESE SPECIAL SCENARIOS
- Kittens and/or Nursing Mothers: You may come across kittens and/or nursing mothers in your trapping efforts. There are many factors for you to take into account before you decide what your plan of action will be, including the presence of the mother, the kittens’ age, and your own resources. Learn more at www.alleycat.org/Kittens.
- Ill or Injured Cats: Plan ahead to ensure you can provide immediate care to, and make decisions about, an ill or injured cat. Have the phone number on hand of a veterinarian who works with feral cats—and whose practice will be open while you are trapping.
- Socialized Cats: Have a plan in place for how to help socialized cats. For instance, will you find potential foster or adoptive homes or include them in your Trap-Neuter- vaccinate-Return program?
7. FEED ON A SCHEDULE AT LEAST TWO WEEKS PRIOR TO TRAPPING
To get the cats used to coming out and eating while you are there (and help with your assessment process), establish a set time and place to feed the cats every day. Pick up the food after about 30 minutes. The cats will quickly adapt to the feeding time and will come at that time each day. This is essential to making sure that they all come to eat when you plan to trap.
Ensure that the feeding station is appropriately placed. Position the feeding station in an area that is free of human traffic and is inconspicuous. You will have greater success in manipulating their schedule, getting them to show up, and consequently trapping.
TIP: Feed out of unset traps for one to two weeks prior to the trapping day, to get cats used to seeing and walking into them. Remove the back door, or rig the trap so it stays open. Remove traps after the cats eat so there is no risk of theft, damage, or a cat accidentally being trapped.
8. COORDINATE WITH A FERAL FRIENDLY VETERINARIAN OR CLINIC
Line up clinic or veterinary appointments before you trap. You don’t want to successfully trap cats and then have nowhere to take them. Plan your trapping session so that the cats are transported to the veterinarian or clinic as soon as possible. Make appointments for the same or following day to keep cats’ time in the traps at a minimum. Make appointments for the number of traps you have, though you may not catch a cat in every trap.
9. SETUP YOUR HOLDING/RECOVERY AREA
Choose a dry, temperature-controlled, safe overnight holding/recovery area for use before and after the cats’ surgeries. Make sure it is quiet and inaccessible to other animals. Ensure that all entries in and out (doors, windows, ceiling tiles) are closed at all times in the unlikely event that a cat should escape from his trap.
10. YOU MAY WANT TO CONSIDER SECURING HELP
Trapping by yourself, especially for your first time, can be overwhelming and exhausting. Having a companion is also a good safety precaution if you are trapping at night or in an unfamiliar area. NEVER leave a trap unattended.
11. GATHER ALL OF THE APPROPRIATE EQUIPMENT
When trapping a colony, it is best to have at least one trap per cat plus a few extra in case a trap malfunctions. In addition to traps, you will need a few essentials:
- Bait for traps (several cans smelly bait such as tuna, mackerel, or sardines – oil packed)
- Plastic forks or spoons (to scoop out the bait)
- Paper plates cut into quarters to place bait on. You can also use small Styrofoam plate or a small piece of cardboard.
- Trap covers – big towels, blankets, or sheets to fully cover each trap after cats are caught
- Trap labels with room for date, cat description, exact location where the cat was trapped, and room for any observations, such as noticeable injuries.
- Small food storage container (big enough to hold open cans of tuna and prevent spillage)
- Dry & canned cat food and water (to leave after trapping for cats not trapped)
- Trash bags (for tuna lids, used plastic silverware, etc.)
- A roll of paper towels
- One pair of thick gloves per trapper (wear for your safety while carrying cats in traps)
- Antibacterial hand wipes, baby wipes, or antibacterial gel (cleaning yourself, traps, etc.)
- Tools such as pliers and some WD-40 for traps that might not work properly
- First-aid kit
- Bungee cords (to secure traps in your car so they don’t slide around)
- Cardboard, large plastic trash bags or towels to line the inside of your vehicle. Puppy pads also work well, should there be accidents.
- Feral Cat FOCUS brochures (to pass out to people who ask what you’re doing)
12. PRACTICE SETTING TRAPS AHEAD OF TIME
If you have never set a trap, doing it near the trap site on the day-of is not the best place to learn. Be as comfortable as possible with your equipment, for your own peace of mind and the cats’ safety.
13. LABEL THE TRAPS
Never leave your traps unattended. Fill in the tag with your name, phone number, and information on what you are doing. For example: “Humane trapping for veterinary care in progress, cats will not be harmed and should not be touched”. Waterproof the sign by enclosing it in a plastic covering or bag.
14. POST SIGNS
Feral Cat FOCUS uses TNVR HUMANE TRAPPING SIGNS copied on bright colored paper and placed in areas where there are people and/or neighbors. This sign notifies people that humane trapping is occurring on certain days and that house cats should be kept indoors during this time. Trapping signs should be posted a day or two before trapping begins.