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Hold That Tiger! TNR Holding Space Tips

A classic holding space for TNRed cats. (Photo by NYCFCI)
A classic holding space for TNRed cats. (Photo by NYCFCI)
New Yorkers are famous for — out of necessity — getting creative with small spaces, and the New York City Feral Cat Initiative (NYCFCI) of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals knows that this is especially true for Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) caretakers. As the NYCFCI’s Director of Education Kathleen O’Malley cites, “In a perfect world, all TNR caretakers would be able to get all their cats TNRed in one fell swoop.” The NYCFCI encourages mass trapping in its TNR certification workshops because doing so makes it easier to ensure that all the cats in a colony have been spayed/neutered as well as given health checks and vaccinations. Mass trapping is also good for community relations in that it quickly eliminates the noises and smells of the cats’ mating behaviors and the resulting litters of kittens.

However, in order for caretakers to do mass trappings of their cats, they need access to adequate holding/recovery spaces. “The classic recovery space setup,” says Kathleen, “is an entire room with enough space to line traps up on tables with room for the caretaker to clean all the traps and prepare food and water.” Basements, garages, enclosed porches, or another spacious, separate area can serve the purpose, but they can all be hard to come by. Until now. Thanks to its TNR Networking Survey, the NYCFCI now has a confidential database of Certified TNR Caretakers around the city who have access to and are willing to share decent-sized holding spaces. The NYCFCI shares this information on a case-by-case basis with permission from the people lending the holding spaces. Everyone who completes the NYCFCI’s TNR certification workshop receives the survey shortly after taking the workshop. If you need to update your information from the survey, please email info@NYCFeralCat.org, or watch your e-mail for the next monthly TNR Caretaker Update.

If access to a large space is still not an option, the NYCFCI has a number of tips gathered from Certified TNR Caretakers that it hopes will inspire others doing TNR. For one thing, Kathleen points out, “Trapped cats don’t have to rest in the exact same spot where you do the cleaning and feeding.” You can have the cats rest and recover in one area and have the workspace in another area. Or, you can have a workspace that is just large enough for you to clean one trap and feed one cat at a time. You can move traps and cats one at a time back and forth between the resting space to the workspace.

A rolling baker's rack allows you to maximize the number of TNR traps you can fit into a small holding space. (Photo by NYCFCI)
A rolling baker’s rack allows you to maximize the number of TNR traps you can fit into a small holding space. (Photo by NYCFCI)
As for the resting space, it can also be quite compact if all the cats are from the same colony. (Kathleen does caution that “If you’re trapping cats from two or more colonies at the same time, they should be kept separate for infection control.” See more on infection control below.) Traps can rest on shelves, planks of wood on the floor, or on any other stable spot that is easy to keep clean. The folks at Bronx Tails Cat Rescue have what Kathleen calls an “elegant way” to use a small laundry room for recovery: a rolling baker’s rack that accommodates multiple traps. Sturdy plastic sheets placed on each shelf prevent leakages onto lower traps.

NYCFCI also has tips for caretakers who may be concerned about the potential risk of any infections spreading while cats are being held, no matter the size of the space. Kathleen notes that “trap covers not only keep community cats calm in captivity, they also help prevent the spread of airborne contaminants.” Trap covers also will keep fleas from spreading in the unlikely event that they leave their host cat. However, if you need added peace of mind about fleas, Kathleen suggests you ask for a topical flea control product to be put on the cats when they are at the spay/neuter clinic. Another option is to put oral flea medication into the cats’ food after they’ve been trapped. Check with your vet about the proper medication and dosage.

It is worth bearing in mind, Kathleen says, that cats from the same colony are used to living in close proximity to each other and therefore, if there is any infection going around, they were probably exposed to it before they were TNRed.

It is recommended, though, that you wear shoes and protective clothing, including rubber gloves, that you change out of when you leave the holding space, in order to keep any contaminants from spreading to your pets or to other colonies you may have in other holding spaces. In addition, be sure to dispose of dirty trap liners in a covered container and launder dirty trap covers. Once all the cats are safely back in their colony or colonies, clean and disinfect all traps and surfaces you used for their care. The NYCFCI offers an Infection Control workshop. For information on that and other NYCFCI workshops, visit the TNR Specialty Training Workshops in NYC page.

You may be in a position where the most you can do is TNR one or maybe two cats at a time. That, Kathleen says, is just fine. You will, she assures you, “get that rush of satisfaction from returning those first couple of cats to their colony.” She urges you to keep going until you eventually TNR the entire colony. “The benefits,” she says, “are well worth it.”