How do I get started doing TNR?

We realize that the amount of information available about TNR, both on this website and elsewhere, can seem daunting and overwhelming, and yes, there's a lot to know. This page is meant only as a brief overview, to give you an idea of what's involved and how to get started.

Our goal at CCMD is to provide caretakers with the information and resources they need to TNR the cats that they care for, and we are always happy to answer questions or explain things more fully. We also have volunteers who can assist with many aspects of TNR, depending on availability. So please don't read this page and think, "Well, I can't do that" and abandon the idea. We will do our best to help you, whether it's providing assistance with trapping or help with cat transport to/from the clinic. If you want to do TNR, we will do our best to help you get it done.

Here's how to get started:

Know your colony

Before even thinking about doing TNR, you need to get a good handle on your colony. If you're not already feeding them, start. Get the cats on a regular feeding schedule so they know to come around at a certain time each day.

Figure out how many cats you're caring for (as best you can). Watch them when they come to eat, and make a list of each cat that you see. Give them names and write down descriptions, so it's easier for you to tell them apart. If you can tell whether the cats are males or females, write that down too.

Explore your options

There are many different spay/neuter options for feral cats in Baltimore City and the surrounding areas. Research these and decide which will work best for you. There's a detailed explanation of the CCMD and MDSPCA feral cat s/n clinics available here, and a list of other s/n providers is available on the Resources page.

Once you have decided which clinic will work best for you, book your appointments and arrange to borrow traps (or buy your own). You need to have as many traps as there are cats you have appointments for. (In other words, if you want to trap 5 cats, set up 5 appointments and borrow 5 traps.)

The "T" in TNR -- trapping

The best way to learn about trapping is to attend one of our "Helping Community Cats" educational workshops. You can also go out on a trapping project as a volunteer to assist one of our experienced trappers, and learn "on the job." But here's a basic overview.

The key to successful trapping is to have hungry cats -- hungry cats are motivated cats! You should withhold food for at least 24 hours before trapping, and 48 hours is even better. Make sure you tell any neighbors who feed cats that they should withhold food as well.

Most people trap the day before the clinic. Plan to trap at your cats' normal feeding time, and give yourself plenty of time. Cats may come and investigate the traps, but get suspicious and leave. But since they're hungry, they'll usually come back. Be prepared to be patient, and be prepared to stay and watch the traps the entire time they are set. You should not set the traps and leave them unattended.

Any cats that are trapped should STAY IN THEIR TRAPS. Never try to move a cat from a trap into a carrier, or let it loose in your house. The cats should stay in the traps for the entire duration of their time with you and at the clinic.

Once you've trapped your cats, move them someplace quiet indoors. A bathroom, basement, or garage works well. The space needs to be climate controlled in warmer or colder months, but in the spring or fall, an enclosed porch or shed can work. You want to keep the cats separate from your own pets and someplace that is calm and quiet. You can give the cats food and water in their traps (although they may not eat or drink), and you can slide thick beds of newspaper into the traps for them to use as bedding and/or litter. Make sure to remove any food in the trap before going to bed at night, so the cats' stomachs will be empty when they're put under anesthesia for surgery.

"N" -- neutering (and spaying) at the clinic

The cats should be transported to the clinic in their traps. You can stack traps on top of each other in your car if necessary -- just be sure each trap is covered, and sits level in the car. You will also want to lay down a plastic tarp or some trash bags on the floor/seats of your car, just in case any of the cats has an accident during the trip!

If you have noticed any issues or medical problems with a particular cat, like a wound or a limp, let the clinic staff know when you drop your cats off. The veterinarians will do what they can to assess the issue or injury and provide treatment, time permitting. (Options for treatment can be limited for feral cats, since they can't be handled, but the vets will do what they can.)

The cats will be given an injection to sedate them through the openings in the wire mesh of the traps -- once they're asleep, they can safely be taken out of the traps and handled. The cats will be spayed or neutered and given an ear tip. They receive rabies and distemper vaccinations, and (depending on the clinic) usually also get their ears cleaned and treated for ear mites, and get a dose of topical flea preventative. They are monitored as they come out of anesthesia, and are put back in their traps before they wake up.

"R" -- returning home to be released

The cats will come back home from the clinic in their traps, and they need to be kept indoors the night after the surgery. Cats are not able to regulate their body temperature well after anesthesia, so easily get overheated or chilled. A temperate environment is a must for the cats to stay in the night after surgery; they cannot be kept overnight in a non-climate-controlled area except in very mild weather. They can be fed in their traps, and should be given clean newspaper for bedding.

If all goes well, most of the cats can be released 24 hours after surgery. They should be let go in the same spot where you trapped them when it's calm and quiet and during good weather.

Because female cats undergo a more complicated and difficult surgery, ideally they should be kept inside for 48 hours after surgery instead of 24. Any cats who had issues during or after surgery or had a particularly difficult surgery should also be kept inside an extra day to give them time to recover.

Ongoing management

Once the cats are fixed and released, you should continue to give them food and fresh water daily, and provide shelter if they need it. Continue to monitor the cats for any health issues, and if any new cats join the colony, they should be TNRed as well.