The Trap Neuter & RelturnProgram
When the Rescue comes across a community cat, it is assessed for temperament. Adult feral cats that were born and have grown up on the streets generally cannot be tamed and will not be happy living with humans. These cats are neutered or spayed and released back into their colonies, the area they were found, or another area deemed appropriate by OSCatR.
Ottawa is home to a surprising number of feral and stray cats that can be found anywhere from suburban back yards to downtown alleyways. Some of these cats find help in local residents who provide food and shelter. Some of these cats are feral. Feral cats are the same species as domestic cats but they have had little to no contact with humans. They are fearful of people and cannot be adopted. They have a home — the outdoors.
This is not the ideal scenario for any domestic animal, but there is a simple way that the Rescue can help them: Trap-Neuter-Return. This program ends reproduction, stabilizes feral cat populations, improves individual cats’ lives and curbs the spread of infectious disease. The behaviors and stresses associated with mating, pregnancy, yowling, and fighting, are reduced or stop entirely.
OSCatR volunteers supported around 50 caretakers and colonies in 2015, visiting each of these colonies on average once a month. These colonies range in size from at least three to more than 100 cats. In 2015, 118 community cats received health care and 111 were released back into the communities they came from. The remaining seven cats were found to be friendly and adopted, or are awaiting adoption.
Feral cats that come through our TNR program receive the
following medical services, on a one time basis only:
vaccinated with the 3 year rabies vaccine and FVRCP vaccine
ear-tip for identification
additional medical intervention as needed at time of initial entry
The TNR program is free of charge, but the availability of the
program is dependent on funding to cover the costs.
Please note that this program is not an emergency medical
program, therefore any cat you find that needs emergency medical
attention should be brought into an emergency vet hospital as soon as possible, or to the Ottawa Humane Society.
T.N.R. Frequently Asked Questions
What is a feral cat?
Feral cats are outdoor, free-roaming cats who have never been socialized to humans and are living in a “wild” state. These could be formerly domestic cats abandoned when very young, or cats born on the streets who have never had any contact or interaction with humans. Some strays who were former pets and act feral outside, revert back to behaving like domestic cats once they are brought indoors. Feral cats look like regular domestic housecats, but because they have never been socialized, they are very fearful and distrustful of humans. Some may arch their backs and hiss or show aggression; others avoid eye contact and just run. True ferals cannot be picked up or handled. Very often, you can’t even get close to them without weeks and months of building trust through feeding and patience. Think of feral cats like foxes, but less suited to living completely unassisted in the “wild.”
What is a stray cat?
Stray cats are former pets who have either been abandoned or have “strayed” from home and become lost. Stray cats are generally tame and may be handled. These cats used to be cared for by an owner, but are now homeless and trying to survive on their own on the streets. Stray cats may be skittish or frightened and run away from people. Remember, they may have had a tough time since being on the streets and not all humans are kind. Generally though, stray cats will want human contact and will exhibit similar temperaments as pet cats, especially with time. Stray cats can, and should be, rescued off the streets and placed into adoptive loving homes.
What is TNR?
TNR stands for Trap-Neuter-Return. TNR is a community-based program. It involves concerned citizens, like you, trapping feral, free-roaming cats in your neighborhood, bringing them to a clinic or program to get them spayed or neutered, and then returning the cats to the exact spot where they were trapped. This way, they can live out the rest of their natural lives as comfortably as possible with their outdoor family. TNR also includes ongoing care and management of feral cats.
Why does TNR work?
Spaying and neutering the cats will end the cycle of homeless kittens being born so the population stabilizes and, over time, it reduces naturally. Once the cats are fixed, the problematic behaviours of howling, cat fighting and spraying also subside. Trap-Neuter-Return is the only humane way to effectively reduce the community cat population so that people and feral cats can peacefully co-exist.
Can't I just trap the cats and remove them to a farm?
Trap and remove does not work. Cats are in a specific environment for two main reasons: 1) there is a food source (intended or not) and 2) there is some sort of shelter. When cats are removed from a location, it creates a “vacuum” effect — meaning the surrounding cats breed rapidly to fill in the gap. New cats may also move in to take advantage of the natural food and shelter. This vacuum effect is well documented. Trapping and removing cats often results in there being even more unsterilized cats than when you started. Also, the cats who are displaced to another location often have difficulty finding food, shelter and water, and may try to return to the original location.
What if I take the cats to the shelter? Can't the shelter find homes for them?
Most shelters are a death sentence for community cats, because feral cats are deemed unadoptable and are euthanized. Very young kittens may be rehabilitated by the shelter, but this is not a guarantee and the stress of being separated from their mother at such as a young age can be medically devastating for them.
I feel bad for the feral cat. Can I just keep it as a pet?
Feral or “wild” cats are not pets. Community cats already have a home… the outdoors. Community cats are very fearful and distrustful of humans and therefore are not adoptable. If you want a pet, please adopt a tame cat from a shelter, as they all desperately need homes. We do have some resident community cats who cannot be returned to the outdoors for various reasons, and these cats are seldom seen by their humans. Even in a home environment, they may spend most of their time in ductwork and other hiding spots, coming out to eat and use the litter box only when the humans are away or asleep. This can persist for years and is quite stressful.
Community kittens can often be adopted into homes, but only if they are socialized at an early age. Generally, kittens up to about 12 weeks of age can be tamed relatively easily. However, the older the kittens get, the harder it is to tame them and the less overall progress they will make. Whether you can tame these kittens or not also depends on the temperament of the kitten; some are more gentle and friendly than others.
Stray cats, however, can be taken into homes as pets. Remember, a stray cat used to be someone’s pet and was either abandoned or “strayed” from home and became lost. These are cats are used to being in homes and are struggling even more than feral cats (who are accustomed to street life) to survive. Tame, friendly stray cats can and should be picked up off the street and adopted into homes as quickly as possible.
What happens if I just ignore the cats?
If you ignore the cats, they will continue to breed, rapidly and prolifically. Cats can start having litters when they’re only five months old. They can have three to four litters a year, usually of five to six kittens per litter (although several may not survive). If you just ignore the situation, in a short time you can easily go from three or four cats to dozens. Trap-Neuter-Return is the only humane, effective solution to control the homeless cat population.
What is an eartip? Why do I need to eartip a feral cat?
Eartipping is the universal symbol to identify that an outdoor or free-roaming cat has been fixed. This involves clipping off, or “tipping” the upper 1 centimeter of the cat’s right ear so that it’s straight across, instead of coming up into a point. This is done while the cat is under anesthesia, it is painless for the cat, and it does not significantly alter the appearance or beauty of the cat. Since community cats are wild, you cannot get close enough to them or pick them up to tell if they have been fixed, so the eartip allows you to see this at a distance. It is a sign to your neighbours, other trappers and caregivers in the area, veterinarians and vet clinics, and even to Animal Control that the cat has been fixed, preventing unnecessary euthanasia.
I have homeless cats in my neighbourhood that I would like to get fixed. Where do I start?
Before you can utilize our program, we first require an application. Once we receive your application, the TNR Coordinator will email you, usually within 72 hours, to get you started. They can loan you humane traps and other equipment as needed. They will also provide you with important humane trapping and aftercare instructions that you’ll need to read and be familiar with prior to trapping.
I want to get my own pet cat fixed, but I can't afford to. Cen you help me?
Our mandate is to help stray and community cats so to this end, owned cats are not eligible for any of our services. The City of Ottawa has a spay/neuter clinic that offers services at a reduced rate for owned cats, and vet clinics located outside of the city are often less expensive. Please visit the City of Ottawa’s website for more information.
What if the cat is pregnant?
It is often safe to spay a cat even if she is pregnant. The pregnancy will be humanely aborted. While later term pregnancies pose a slightly higher surgical risk, our veterinarians are highly experienced. If a cat is too far along to spay, our vet will make that determination. Another option is to hold the feral mother in one of our temporary feral safe houses until the kittens are 5-6 weeks old and then spay and return the mother while socializing the kittens and finding them homes.
This female cat just had kittens. When should I get her spayed?
Please try to wait until the kittens are five weeks old before you trap and bring in the mom (and kittens, if at all possible). Kittens under five weeks of age need their mom since they have to nurse every few hours. They also require their mom to be able to keep warm, since they can’t hold in body heat on their own. Kittens also need mom to help them go to the bathroom, because they don’t know to go to the bathroom on their own (mom has to lick them to stimulate them to go). At five weeks or older, the kittens can survive for a longer period of time without their mom, as they are eating and going to the bathroom on their own by that age. We highly recommend trying to trap the kittens along with the mother at this stage, so that they can be socialized and rehomed.
Can I start trapping during the winter?
Our TNR program does not operate in the winter because the cats can be stressed from the TNR, and are shaved for surgery, making it more difficult for them to keep warm. However, cats do not breed much in the winter (they are too busy trying to stay alive), so it is best to wait for spring. The best thing you can do for feral cats in the winter is to help keep them alive by providing dry kibble, fresh water (heated dog bowls are a great way to provide liquid water even in the coldest weather), and shelter.