No More Homeless Pets’ TNR Program Supports Community Cats
One spring day back in 1994, I was in my back yard inspecting my lettuce seedlings when I saw six pairs of tiny eyes peering out at me. A cat had deposited her six kittens in my planter box. They looked like any other impossibly cute kittens, but there was a difference. These bristled and stiffened when they saw me, and scattered as I approached. The mother, who was close by, led them through a break in the fence, out of my sight.
As time passed and the kittens were weaned, I began to feed them. While they knew I was a good food source and even came toward me—to a point—when I approached their dishes, they seemed to have a three-foot force field around them that I could not penetrate. As the months wore on, that force field shrank a bit, but was still very much in place. Still, I got to know and love these little beings and their wise mama.
I knew that taking wild cats to the pound would surely be a death sentence for them. So my neighbor and I decided to trap them and split the cost of having them all neutered. One by one we caught them and released them back into what was now their home. We and another neighbor fed them and provided shelter. While all but one of the kittens moved on, the mother kitty hung around for the next 17 years, remaining untouchable until her last two-and-a-half months, when she did a 180-degree turnaround and became the consummate, indoor, domesticated cat in her twilight. Another of the kittens, Jazzy, chose the domestic life when he was about six months old. He still lives with me.
There was no name for what my neighbor and I did back then. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) did not exist as a known concept. We knew it was the right thing to do for these cats, so we did it, and it wasn’t cheap. We paid full price for all the operations. When a second round of feral kittens was born in my back yard in 2000, I responded the same way, only this time I caught a couple of the males that were seeding the clowder. Four of these cats live happily in my back yard. None of them except Lucy (see her photo below) likes to be petted, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a relationship with these cats. They’re always happy to see me. Even from a foot or two away, I can hear them purring when I’m around.
No More Homeless Pets to the Rescue
In 2003, things got a whole lot easier for outdoor cat caretakers when No More Homeless Pets in Utah (NMHPU) came to town. NMHPU’s stated goal is to end euthanasia of healthy animals in Utah’s shelters. In order to accomplish this goal, NMHPU employs three crucial programs—an adoption program, a low- and no-cost spay and neuter program and their Feral Fix program, the last of which directly benefits what they call “community cats,” cats friendly and feral, whose home is the outdoors.
NMHPU’s Cat Initiative Manager Jaime Aalen says, “In urban settings you find a lot of outdoor cats that are friendly. Many community cats end up outdoors because people abandon them or let unneutered cats outdoors. A lot of the cats that come through our program are quite friendly. We call them community cats. They’re not homeless, their home is the community. They have caregivers that provide food and shelter. They can live very happy, healthy lives.”
The Feral Fix program provides a free fix program for outdoor cats in Salt Lake, Davis, Washington, Utah and Weber counties. Other counties provide vouchers for a $10 copay. They rent humane traps for free for the purposes of TNR. NMHPU employs a full-time TNR specialist and volunteers that will give caregivers tips on how to trap cats. (Some are quite savvy, I’ve found, and not so easy to lure into a trap.)
From March through July, NMHPU offers a TNR boot camp. Jaime describes it as “an hour-long workshop, free to the public, where we go over what is a feral cat, a community cat, and what is TNR? We go over how to trap and how to maintain a colony. We discuss ways to mediate issues with neighbors who don’t want cats in their yards. We also work with neighbors who don’t want cats in their yards. We go out and talk with people and discuss humane deterrents. We want to keep the cats where they’re welcome, and deter them from yards where they’re not welcome.”
Once a cat is trapped, caretakers can take them to participating vets, along with a voucher. There, cats are spayed/neutered, and can be vaccinated for free or for no more than $5. Community cats are then ear tipped—the top corner of the left ear is cut off while they are under anesthesia. Ear tipping is the universal sign that an outdoor cat is being cared for. As of 2010, when ear-tipped cats are brought to the pound, they are automatically released back where they were found.
“The reason we do this is that we care about the cats,” says Jaime. “Our goal is to end or curb euthanasia. Cats are the number one candidates for euthanasia in shelters. Ninety-nine percent of the time once they go to the shelter they never come out. In Utah we’ve made huge strides in save rates for dogs. For this contingent of cats that aren’t adoption candidates TNR is a great solution. They’re vaccinated, not producing more kittens and living happy, healthy lives in their own environment.”
TNR saves not only the lives of community cats, but also of cats in the shelter. When community cats end up in the shelter, they compete for adoptions. In 2010, there was a 22 percent decrease in shelter intakes of cats. “In many places there’s a dramatic decline of 20-40% in a year,” says Jaime. “TNR does work. It does affect the numbers in a positive way and prevents euthanasia.”
Until the end of June, Hugger Mugger will donate one percent of our net sales to No More Homeless Pets.