As part of its long-term commitment to reducing the number of homeless animals in the community, High Country Humane (HCH) launched its TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) program in early 2020, knowing that there are had ‘community’ cats that needed fixing but had no clear idea what to expect.
Just over two years later, 638 older cats and kittens have been neutered or neutered and vaccinated through the program. Impressive as that may sound, it is now recognized that there are at least three times that number of cats who still need help.
The program, run by volunteers and funded by donations and private grants, aims not only to reduce the number of homeless cats and kittens, but also to improve their quality of life. With a robust TNR program, female cats are protected from becoming “kitten factories” and male cats, for the most part, stop fighting and marking their territories.
The term “community cat” describes a cat that is not immediately identified as belonging to a family or an individual. This includes second-generation neighborhood strays living alone but not feral; and feral cats that have never lived in a socialized or family setting. Any of these cats are eligible for the TNR program.
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A single stray cat identified as lost or recently abandoned should be brought to the shelter to either be returned to its owner or adopted into a new family.
Here’s how the program works:
When a cat is identified as stray or feral and needs to be repaired, a trained volunteer meets with the community member on site. They are given an approved, humane-free trap and shown how to set it. The “citizen trapper” is then responsible for coordinating a surgery date and setting the trap accordingly.
The trapped cat is brought to the High Country Humane clinic the morning of the operation by the trapper and picked up (in a transporter) later in the afternoon.
The cat is kept overnight in a garage or other suitable enclosure to ensure that it has recovered from the anesthesia. This is especially important for female cats as their surgery is internal and in many cases they have had multiple litters of kittens.
An often overlooked aspect of the pet overpopulation problem is that cats (and dogs) can start breeding as young as four months old. Thus, kittens have kittens before they are adults themselves. Cats can come into heat as soon as (and sometimes before) the last litter has left the house. Add to that that a cat’s gestation period is only 63 days and a female cat can be pregnant all year round.
This constant stress of pregnancy adds another burden to a cat’s overwhelmed immune system and contributes to the number of sick kittens brought into shelters each season.
Additionally, as these homeless, unsecured cats age, they become susceptible to disease and often die a slow, painful death.
When possible, HCH offers the Working Cats program as an alternative lifestyle for feral or stray cats that cannot be adopted into traditional homes. These cats are excellent candidates for the program, which places cats in local barns and businesses in search of inexpensive, safe and effective rodent control. For more information on “hiring” a working cat or cats, please call the shelter at 928-526-0742.
Donors recognize the value of T
The Arizona Community Foundation – Flagstaff has provided grants to HCH for the past two years to target sterilization within a given community. Sunnyside was chosen due to the high number of homeless cats living in the area. The grant will pay for neutering or neutering surgery and rabies vaccines and FVRCP for 75 eligible cats. Sunnyside residents needing help with a stray cat should call 928-773-1330 for more information.
According to program volunteers, “we could not do this work without the support and cooperation of the community. TNR isn’t easy and is often frustrating, but knowing you’re making a difference in an animal’s life is worth it.
If you need help trapping stray cats on your property or in your neighborhood or would like to volunteer, please call the TNR Program Coordinator at 928-773-1330.
Written by High Country Humane Advisory Board Member Pam Tharp.