How to Help Cats in your Neighborhood
Have you noticed a lot of stray cats or kittens living in your neighborhood, apartment complex, or office park? We're here to help you help them!
Taking care of community cats is a great way to help animals and animal shelters without actually owning a pet. Being a community cat advocate helps to prevent overpopulation, disease, and environmental issues. There are many ways to get involved with community cats and to assist those who are already working with them.
What is Trap-Neuter-Return-Care?
Commonly known as TNRC, Trap-Neuter-Return-Care is crucial to caring for feral and stray cats who are not able to be socialized or adopted. While we would like to find a loving home for every cat, some cats are not comfortable around people and never will be. They've grown up outside and want to remain there. This is totally possible and made safe by people who participate in TNRC.
This process involves using a humane trap to catch a cat, getting them spayed/neutered and vaccinated, and then returning them to their colony. It's also important to continue to care for the colony after TNRC by feeding them and monitoring them for any injury or new cats. We have a TNRC toolkit in the works, but, in the meantime, check out these great resources:
Ways to Help
1. Volunteer to Trap
If you've noticed cats in your area, you can trap them yourself to get them spayed/neutered and vaccinated. Before trapping, scope out the colony to see if there's already someone caring for them. If so, partner with them and see how you can help with what's already being done. Also check the cats for ear tips. If the cats are tipped, it means they've already been through TNRC.
If it doesn't appear that anyone is caring for the colony already, get your supplies and process prepared. You can also rent a trap from PAWS Atlanta for a deposit of $35 that will be reimbursed once you return the trap.
Transporting trapped cats to spay/neuter clinics is an important way to assist with TNRC without actually needing any space in your house to care for an animal. This can be great for people who already own pets and can't bring in any other outside animals or who have limited space. It generally involves picking up a trapped cat in the morning and driving them to their spay/neuter appointment at a clinic. Then, the cat needs to be picked up in the evening from their surgery and dropped off at their aftercare location, which may or may not be the same place they were picked up from in the morning.
The most effective way to do this is to plug into a community who is already involved in TNRC. A few options in the Decatur area are Lifeline's Community Cat Program and Kirkcats. You can also do a quick online search for TNRC groups in your area or search on social media.
3. Provide Aftercare
This is a great option for someone with limited time but a little extra space in their home. Usually, cats need to be held for 24-72 hours post-surgery depending on their sex and age. Female cats need to remain inside for two - three days after being spayed while male cats only need about 24 hours to recover from a neuter surgery.
Aftercare requires changing out the newspaper in the bottom of the trap (this is easy to do by lifting the trap door about an inch and sliding new paper in/old paper out), providing food and water, and monitoring the cat for any sign of infection. The cat should be kept in a temperature-controlled, quiet room, away from other pets. Anyone with a spare bedroom or bathroom can help. For the most part, the cat just needs to be left alone! Checking on them a few times a day is sufficient.
4. Care for a Colony
There are many cat colonies that are established and need ongoing support. Some of these colonies have people who are already caring for them. Signs of this include cat houses, evidence of feeding (bowls, dry food), and ear tips. Some people who are caring for colonies are doing more than they can manage! Caregivers often need help caring for colonies and keeping up with new cats in the area. A great way to be introduced to TNRC is to find a group or organization who is already caring for a colony or colonies, and ask how you can help! Caring for an existing colony can be a great intro to becoming more involved in TNRC.
Caregiving is a very important part of TNRC, and one that has historically been neglected. Once the cats are trapped, spayed/neutered, and returned, they still need to be monitored. Feral cats are independent, but they still get injured. While many of them are proficient hunters, providing them with food and water helps to ensure their health and safety. Lastly, there's always a chance of new cats showing up at a colony as well, and those cats will need to be trapped. Really, the work of TNRC is never done, and we need all the help we can get!
One important note on feeding community cats: broken teeth is one of the most common and most dangerous issues that community cats face. They often eat off of concrete and asphalt, and this leads to breaking teeth on the hard surfaces and on rocks that get mixed in with food. To avoid this, always feed community cats on soft surfaces, like grass or mulch and in a sturdy bowl, like this stainless steel one.
5. Build Shelters for Community Cats
If you're interested in more of a one-off project or something that your kids can be involved in, this is a great option. These houses provide important shelter for cats, away from the elements and potential predators. This type of shelter also prevents cats from taking refuge in crawlspaces and in storage sheds, where they might not be as welcomed.
Here's a great resource from Lifeline Animal Project on how to build a shelter for community cats!
6. Connect to your Community
As mentioned, there are most likely plenty of people in your area already out there helping community cats. Talk to your neighbors, your county shelter, and your local veterinarian to find out how you can get plugged in. There are also Facebook groups where people connect to help community cats where you can get involved. If you find a group of community cats, look around! There's probably already someone working there who needs your help.