Trap-Neuter-Return: Feral cat population management

Gwen and Harold Fenhaus show one of the feral cats they trapped in their yard. They will have the cat spayed or neutered and return it to release it which will manage the cat population in their neighborhood.

A labor of love, respect, for neighborhood cats:
TNR – Progressive and effective cat population management

(Rapid City, 9/2/2017) Harold and Gwen Fenhaus don’t mind the cats in their west Rapid City neighborhood. In fact, they provide shelter for them, feed them, and enjoy seeing them every day. Their neighbors on Canyon Lake Drive feel the same way.

But when the stray cat population went from one female cat two years ago to 16 cats this summer, they knew something had to change.

“The numbers seemed to stay pretty steady until this year,” Gwen’s neighbor Leslie Brookes said. “And then four mothers had babies.” One night, she said, 13 cats were eating on her back porch. “And I thought, wow, I’ve never had 13 before.”

“Obviously they’re getting out of control,” Gwen said. “We had to do something.”

Cat populations can increase rapidly if unfixed males and females reproduce. In one year, a mating couple can produce two litters bringing the total to 12 cats; in two years, that population can increase to 67 cats; in three years that number can increase to 376 cats; in four years the number can exceed 2,000.

So while Harold and Gwen and their neighbors knew how a cat population could grow out of control, none of them wanted to trap the cats and take them to the Humane Society – they appreciated the natural rodent control the cats provided, for one, and they knew if those cats were removed another group would simply move in to fill the space.

Harold watches for cats behind his garage. With net in hand, he’ll capture the cats, have them spayed or neutered and returned to the neighborhood.

So, the neighbors decided to manage the cat population by capturing the 16 feral cats, have them spayed or neutered, and return them to the neighborhood – a process known as Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). TNR is a proven method used in cities nationwide to progressively manage cat populations and create healthier communities and works because a community of cats will not allow new animals in so getting the adults spayed and neutered stabilizes the population and prohibits future growth.

“What we’re hoping for is to control the population, first of all,” Harold said. “And we’d like to find homes for some of these kittens. So we’ll have, hopefully, a smaller population of feral cats that won’t present more of a problem for population growth.”

The neighbors agreed to fund the spay and neuter surgeries out of their own pockets. They found an ally in Dr. Dean Falcon at All Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Rapid City who is providing surgeries for the group at a reduced cost and the Humane Society is pitching in to provide Falcon with surgery supplies.

“(Cat overpopulation) is a big deal and it’s never going to go away unless we keep trying to make a difference,” Falcon said. “So we’re just giving back where we can.”

Falcon said this is the first neighborhood TNR program he has helped with by providing low-cost surgery but he will continue if time and funding permits.

Spay/neuter is the surest way to manage cat populations and create healthier communities and there are several options to get the procedure done: Your family veterinarian; SNIP it, an income-based program that is a partnership between All Creatures Veterinary Hospital and the Humane Society of the Black Hills; and, Operation Pets, Inc., is a mobile spay neuter clinic serving Rapid City and the surrounding areas.

Matt McDonald, a pet owner himself, considers the cat management plan he’s helping to fund as a progressive solution to cat population management.

“We’re pet lovers so our hope is to keep some of these cats around that we know and are comfortable with,” McDonald said. “I’d rather see them get fixed and returned to us than get euthanized.”

And while McDonald was instrumental in the TNR discussion, he said Harold and Gwen are doing the hard work.

And the work starts every morning when Harold and Gwen coax the remaining cats into traps or nets. Once caught, they’re transported to All Creatures, spayed or neutered, and picked up later the same day with a shaved leg to indicate they’ve had the operation and a new lease on life.

Harold said he knows feral cats taken to a busy shelter will likely have a difficult and short life and TNR is just something they’re willing to invest in for the cats and the neighborhood.

“These cats have a tough enough life I don’t want to see them put to sleep,” Harold said. “The reality is that a lot of them end up where we don’t want to see them end up.”

The neighborhood TNR effort will slow this fall as the group of unneutered cats slowly declines. Next year, Harold said, a few more cats or kittens might need to be trapped and neutered.

It’s an ongoing effort the neighbors support – money well spent.

“Absolutely, I think so,” Leslie Brookes said. “I think the kitties will be happier and there won’t be an overpopulation we can‘t handle.

– Jerry Steinley, Humane Society of the Black Hills

Learn more about TNR:
https://www.alleycat.org/our-work/trap-neuter-return/
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/08/130820-feral-cats-vasectomy-animals-science-pets-nation/