Community Cat Help

Please read and visit all resources prior to contacting Shadow Cats. All resources are listed here.

A community cat is an unowned cat that exhibits a variety of social behaviors. Each cat sterilized represents many kitten litters that are not born on the streets or that end up in area shelters. TNR is the most effective way to humanely reduce free roaming cat populations.

Community cats have a home right where they are so the best option is to sterilize and vaccinate them so that they are not reproducing.

At this time, Shadow Cats cannot come out and trap for you — we do not have trappers available. However, there are other organizations that may be able to assist.

The AAC and AHS Community Cats Project:

If you have further questions about community cats, please check these resources.

If you would like to make a difference in the lives of community cats, consider becoming a volunteer trapper for Shadow Cats! We are always looking for cat-friendly volunteers to assist us in our efforts to reduce the overpopulation of feral and community cats through Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR). TNR is making a huge impact in central Texas and you can be a part of the solution as a Shadow Cats volunteer. Complete our Volunteer Application here.

A Day in the Life of a TNR Volunteer

Trap Neuter Return

Feral cat is a term that has been used to describe a homeless cat that is undomesticated.  We consider “feral” to describe a particular behavior a cat expresses when it is not used to people or feels frightened.  It is virtually impossible to differentiate whether a frightened cat was born without human contact, formerly had human contact and became un-socialized from living on its own or if it is simply frightened.  For our purposes we choose to call these cats free-roaming and use the term “feral” to describe a behavior a free roaming cat may convey. To read more click here.

We are fortunate to live in an area where many people care about the plight of feral cats. There are humane options.

Read about feral or community cats as they are more often called. For more TNR information visit
Alley Cat Allies and Best Friends Animal Society.

A Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) program benefits both community cats and the community by:

  • Stabilizing the colony and reducing the intake numbers at area shelters of feral cats and kittens
  • Reducing offensive behaviors associated with unsterilized cats such as mating, fighting, yowling, and marking behaviors
  • TNR is more effective and less costly than repeated attempts at eradication
  • TNR is a more humane approach to community cat overpopulation

Before you place that first trap, know as much as possible about the process. By educating yourself and being an informed trapper or colony caretaker, you will make a more positive impact on the cats you want to help.

Identify all cats in the area you wish to trap in if possible. Note those that are regulars, occasional visitors, pregnant females and kittens.

Assess the area the cats are being trapped and its suitability for return of the cats. Most usually it is best to return the cats to the area they were trapped. Make relocation a last consideration. There is a complete process to relocation and it must be done as a last resort only.

Notify neighbors that you will be trapping in the area. Ask that they keep their cat indoors at these times or ensure their pet has identification.

Prior to trapping, make arrangements for social cats and kittens to be adopted through a rescue organization, a no kill shelter or your own network.

Make sure your veterinarian will work with you on community cats and that he and his staff are experienced in caring for them. Ensure that your veterinarian has the proper equipment such as a a divider fork or arrange for those items to be available (netting and manhandling community cats is not recommended). Educate yourself and ask about the anesthesia protocol that will be used.

Dissolvable sutures should be used on community cats, and a left ear tip is mandatory (it is the universal sign of a community cat). A rabies vaccination is also mandatory.

There are local programs available through the Austin Humane Society and Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter for free spays and neuters for feral and homeless cats in Austin and surrounding areas. Rabies vaccines are also included. For more information, contact the Austin Feral Cat Coordinator at
(512) 968-7131 or the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter Coordinator at (512) 943-3322.

Most usually we cannot physically come out and trap your cats for you. However, we can teach you everything you need to know, loan you traps if we have them available and if not, help you locate traps for loan and provide information for low/no cost veterinary services. On occasion and depending on the availability of our trappers, their prior commitments, your particular situation and proximity to Round Rock, we may be able to provide this service to you. As we are a non-profit organization, donations to our organization will be requested in order to continue this program. If you are in Austin, we may be able to locate an Austin trapper to assist you.

Trapping classes are held on demand in Round Rock. We can help you with most any feral cat questions you might have, educate, inform and assist you with local resources. You are not alone. Pre-registration is required (contact us) and directions can be given at that time. There is no fee for the class. Traps can be loaned after completion of the class as we have them available. A deposit of $60 must be left but is returned after the trap is returned. Trapping classes are also held at the Austin Humane Society and at theWilliamson County Regional Animal Shelter. Contact them to coordinate those times.

Cats should rarely be relocated. They already have a home- right where they are. If you remove them, new cats will move in within months. It is much better to sterilize them so they are not breeding and their numbers over time will attrite to a much smaller stable population.

If you decide to relocate your feral cats, the first rule is, DON’T.

However, if you decide to re-home to a barn placement or the like, read all you can about the relocation process at Alley Cat Allies.  There is a specific process to this that should be followed fully to ensure the cat bonds to this area and stays. There should always be a food and water source for them and a safe shelter (barn, outbuildings, etc). Please read, search and review this information and the links provided to help ensure a successful relocation.

TNR works and is a humane alternative to trap and kill.

Before You Begin

  • The first step is to get the cats used to being fed at the same place and same time of day. Early morning or at dusk are the best times for trapping, but the cats will learn to come at whatever meal time you set for them. Consistency is important.
  • Plan to set the traps and catch the cats on the day before your clinic appointment. If the cats have been consistently eating in the traps each day, it is not necessary to withhold food; just use the regular food at the regular time. Never leave a trap set overnight and do not trap without having a spay/neuter appointment.
  • Do not set the trap and practice “trapping” the cat days before your scheduled appointment. It is much harder to trap the cat a second time. Be careful not to set the trap when training the cat to eat in the trap. (Refer to pre-baiting trap section).
  • Do not trap in the rain or the heat of the day without adequate protection for the traps and be present so you can move the cats as soon as they are trapped.
  • Prepare the area where you will be holding the cats before and after the clinic. A garage, laundry room, bathroom or other sheltered, warm, protected area is best. Lay down plastic sheeting or a tarp, covered with newspapers to absorb any mess. You can use pieces of wood to elevate the traps off the newspaper to allow the mess to fall through and away from the cats. Prepare the vehicle you will use to transport the cats in the same way with a tarp and newspaper.

Preparing the Traps to be Set

  • Line each trap with newspaper. A couple sheets of the daily paper folded lengthwise make a perfect trap liner. This keeps the cats from having to walk on the wire, and will help absorb any mess the cat makes while in the trap.
  • Each trap must be covered with a towel or other piece of fabric large enough to completely cover the trap. Keep the trap covered at all times. This will reduce stress on the cat and keep him/her calm. Make sure you have a spay/neuter appointment on the following day, and have your holding recovery area and car prepared.

Pre-Baiting the Traps

  •  Feeding the cats in the trap prior to setting the trap is called “pre-baiting”. This is a very important step in the trapping process. Optimally you would pre-bait the traps for 3 days prior to trapping.
  • Place the traps in the area where you normally feed the cats.
  • If using a double-door trap, remove the back door. For a one-door trap, securely wire or zip-tie the door into the open position.
  • Feed the cats at a time when you will be available to monitor the traps.
  • Place the food on a small paper or plastic dish at the far end of the trap so the cat has to go all the way into the trap. Be sure the cat does not have access to the food from outside of the trap. Do not put food anywhere other than inside the trap during this process.
  • Use the cats’ regular food, only leave enough for the cat(s) you are intending to catch, and pick up what is left after each meal. Do not leave food in the traps all day or night; this will encourage animals that are not your targets, such as neighbor cats and wildlife.
  •  Once you start this pre-baiting process, do not put any food outside the traps; the cats are learning that it’s necessary and safe to go into the trap to eat. Several days of pre-baiting are ideal, but even one or two days will be helpful.

Setting the Traps

  • On trapping day (the day before your appointment), set the traps just before the cats’ normal feeding time. If trapping in a public area, try to place the traps where they will not be noticed by a passerby who may not understand what you are doing.
  • Replace the door to the trap. To latch the rear trap door securely, place the locking mechanism over the piece on the rear door. Once the hasp is in place, secure it with a twist tie or pipe cleaner (Tru Catch Traps)
  • To set the trap, open the trap door by pushing the top of the door in and pulling the bottom of the door upward. There is a small hook attached to one side of the trap top. It rests against a tiny metal cylinder on the side of the door. The holds the door in an open position which also raises the trip plate. When the cat steps on the plate, it will cause the hook to release the door and close the trap.
  • Cover the trap with a towel, leaving both ends uncovered, and set it in the area where the cats eat.
  • Make sure the trap is on solid, level ground. If necessary, use another towel under the trap to make sure it doesn’t wobble.

Waiting for Success

  • Never leave traps unattended. The trapped animal is vulnerable and could get injured inside the trap, or a passerby could release the cat, steal the trap, or both.
  • Wait quietly in an area where you can still see the traps without disturbing the cats, but not where the cats can see you. Your car or house window work very well. Check the traps every 15 to 30 minutes; you can usually hear the trap door closing. As soon as a cat is trapped, quickly cover the trap completely and remove it from the area. When carrying the trap always use the handle on top of the trap. Do not use the handle for the door in case it is not latched properly. If you are trapping multiple cats, repeat this process until all cats are trapped.
  • When you get the captured cat to a quiet area away from other traps, lift the cover and make sure you haven’t trapped a pet or previously neutered feral (look for an ear tip). There is a chance of catching a wild animal or an unintended cat attracted to the food in the trap. If this occurs, simply release the animal as described in the releasing instructions, and then reset the trap.

Recovery

  • When you pick up the cats from the clinic, they may still be groggy from their anesthesia.
  • Keep the Surgery Post Surgery Care Instructions form that you received when you picked up the cat. All of the information you need to know about what to watch for is on this form. This form is also your record of the services the cat received that day.
  • The cats will spend a night in the traps in the area you have prepared for them to recover, and be released the next day in the same area where they were trapped.
  • Do not transfer the cat from the trap to a carrier. The cats actually do better in the trap and it’s cleaner for the cat as well.
  • Feed the cat the night you pick them up from surgery if they are sitting up, and again in the morning before release. Place a small amount of canned cat food on a paper plate. Place the trap over the food so the cat can reach the food without you opening the door of the trap.
  • Do not open the trap until the next morning when the cat is being released. The only exception to this is to slip some food and water into the trap once the cat is at home in their recovery area if you can do this safely, without letting the cat escape and ONLY if you have a Tru Catch Dividing Fork in place. Tru Catch Traps
  • It is best if the cat eats before he or she is released, but do not be concerned if the cat is not interested in the food. Sometimes they are too scared and stressed to eat.
  • All cats recovering from anesthesia are unpredictable and should be kept quiet. Even if this is a tame stray, do not open the trap door or attempt to handle the cat. This can have serious consequences such as the cat getting loose in an area that is not familiar to them, injury to the cat or injury to you.
  • If a cat does try to escape do not try to grab him/her by hand. These cats will not hesitate to bite or scratch you in this situation.

Returning the Cats

  • Do not release the cats to an area where they were not trapped. This is dangerous for the cats. Relocating cats safely to a new location requires additional preparation.
  • When ready, raise the back door, and let the cat run out. If able, let the cat sit in the carrier for several minutes in the release location so they can briefly acclimate.
  • NEVER PUT YOUR HAND IN THE TRAP. If the cat does not go out immediately, walk away from the trap and watch from a distance until the cat leaves the trap.

Lactating Females and Kittens

  • If you capture a lactating female, check the area for kittens and remember that this female must be released 10-12 hours after surgery so she can care for and nurse her kittens. A lactating female will continue to make milk after being spayed and can return to nursing kittens. A Flank Spay is recommended.
  • Females with kittens will be attracted by the sounds of their kittens, if the previously captured kittens are placed in a covered carrier just behind the trap. Similarly, kittens will be easier to trap if the previously captured mother is in the carrier. Place the door of the carrier facing the rear of the covered trap. Never place the “bait” animals in the trap or anywhere they may be harmed by the trapped animal.
  • If young kittens are trapped, they can be tamed. For information on taming feral kittens go to the Alley Cat Allies web site and scroll down to Homing Feral Felines.

Cleaning of Traps

  • Remove all stickers, tape and newspaper.
  • Use warm, soapy water and a scrub brush to remove all remaining debris.
  • Rinse thoroughly several times with clean water.
  • Do NOT use bleach.

General Precautions

  • Any bite or scratch should be taken seriously- seek medical attention immediately. If possible, DO NOT RELEASE the cat. The cat must be quarantined. Contact the animal control agency in your area for quarantine instructions.
  • For your safety: Do not put your fingers into the trap at any time, always pick the trap up by the handle on top of the trap. Keep children and pets away from the cat at all times during the trapping and recovery process.

Thank you to the Oregon Feral Cat Coalition for this information.

Relocation Guidelines

 

Relocation of unowned, free-roaming cats: Relocation is the process of moving a stray or feral cat from its current outdoor home to a new outdoor home. It is a labor intensive process and often times has a low success rate. Cats are very territorial and remaining in their current habitat is optimal for their health and safety. On occasion there are circumstances that do warrant relocation:

(IndyFeral will not relocate cats without approval from the executive director)

The following situations may warrant relocation: 

  1. The lives of the cats are being threatened in a way that can not be legally remedied
  2. The colony is located on public or private property that will not allow the colony to be maintained
  3. Their home or shelter is being destroyed and it is impossible to provide an alternative shelter at their current habitat or migration of the cats within a reasonable distance is not possible.
  4. An appropriate relocation site must be available in which cats can be confined safely from the elements for a 2 week minimum and have a caretaker willing to provide daily care and life long monitoring

 

Rationale: Unowned, free-roaming cats become well adapted to their territory and can live safely and contentedly in alleyways, parking lots, vacant lots, backyards and a host of other locations – urban, suburban and rural. The present home of a feral colony is the optimal place for the cats as they have probably been living there for their entire life. It is the only home they know. Colony cats develop very strong bonds with one another, their present territory and caretaker.

 

Relocation Considerations:

  1. In some cases, the relocated cats will disappear, either being driven off by territorial cats or other animals in the area.
  2. Cats following their intense natural instinct to return “home” often become lost or are killed attempting to cross major roads.
  3. Cats are killed by hazards/threats they have never encountered before (like coyotes, chemicals, open wells, etc.)
  4. Sanctuaries (life-long indoor mass homes) are few and most ferals would not be happy living in confinement.
  5. Relocating all or most of the cats in a colony can open up a “void” called the vacuum effect. This allows unsterilized cats to move into the area, starting the cycle all over again if there is shelter or food to attract them. The food supply could be unsecured trash cans, an unknown feeder or wild rodents.
  6. Feral cats form strong bonds with other cats in their colonies. Separating a cat from her colony members and leaving her alone in a new environment will cause stress, depression and loneliness, and increase their desire to return home 7. The following cats have the lowest chance of relocation success:
  • Cats that are very feral
  • Moving too few cats together from the same colony
  • Cats relocated by themselves
  • Kittens under 6 months relocated without a mother

 

If you have determined the cats must be relocated, please follow the following guidelines to increase the chance of success:

  1. Preparation for relocation:
  • Find a safe and permanent home site with a caretaker committed to providing life-long feeding, watering, medical care and monitoring of the cats.
  • Identify a room or secure area that is clean, quiet, temperature controlled and protects the cats from the elements as much as possible. Be sure there is adequate air and light available.
  • Other items needed will include a wire dog crate (minimum size of 2 ft x 3 ft.) litter, litter pans, food and water bowls, a small carrier for the cat to hide in and sheets to cover the crate to help reduce the cats stress.
  • Cats should be confined where they can see and smell their new surroundings (especially other cats, the caretaker and the feeding station)
  1. Confinement
  • Cats must be confined in their crate for a minimum of 2 weeks at the new site to acclimate and identify with its new location and caretaker before release
  • Cats must receive daily care, food, water and litter box cleaning
  1. Confinement Tips (to increase the chance for successful relocation)
  • During the first day or two, the cats may struggle to find a way out (especially at night). They will calm down in a day or two after they realize that they will not be harmed
  • Feed on a regular schedule preferably twice a day (wet and dry)
  • Keep the relocation crate covered with a sheet to reduce stress
  • Rattle the food in a box or bowl each time you feed so the cats associate the sound with food
  • Give the cats treats occasionally
  • Make frequent (minimum twice daily) verbal attempts to bond with the cats
  • If a cat escapes during the confinement period, make sure food and water is left out and that their used litter (for scent) is sprinkled around the area. Cats often hide for a period of time but will stay close. Leave food and water to prevent them from leaving in search of food
  • When the cats are ready for release, continue feeding in the same area and on the same schedule as before. Typically they will run and hide after initial release.

Feral (wild) cats, like raccoons and possums, have become part of our urban landscape. These cats and their offspring are the victims of abandonment, accidental loss and failure by owners to sterilize their pets. Human dwellings provide wild animals/unowned cats with three things they need to survive: shelter, food and water. To overcome daily challenges to their survival, they have learned to adapt and live in close proximity to human beings. Read More Here.

Socialization techniques will help you prepare kittens who require socializing before being placed for adoption. This can be a long, time-consuming process depending on the age and temperament of the kittens and should not be taken lightly.

  •  Initial Confinement: If you are dealing with a litter, separate each kitten if possible, and if you can’t, spend quality time alone with each one. Keep kittens in a small room, like a bathroom, or preferably in a cage where you will have easy access to them and they won’t be able to hide in a hard to reach spot. Also keep them away from any other animals in the home. This small space will calm them and allow them to easily find their food, water, and litter. Allow them one hiding place for security, such as a box or carrier. Provide soft comfortable bedding. Consider leaving a radio or TV on when the kittens are alone to get used to human voices. For young kittens, a ticking clock wrapped in a towel sounds like a mother cat’s heartbeat and is very soothing. Litters can be put back together after a short adjustment period.
  • Touch: Safety first. Aggressive feral kittens can hurt you badly if you are not careful. Wear gloves or protective clothing if you feel it is needed. Hold kittens as much as possible after giving them an initial two day adjustment period. If a kitten is feisty, papoose in a towel with only the head out and hold her while doing things around the house. Pet kittens by reaching from behind the head and gently rubbing around the face, chin, and behind the ears. Hold kittens while talking softly and petting for about 20 minutes at a time, and repeat this often throughout the day. All young kittens should be picked up often to be petted, brushed, and played with so they are used to this behavior when they grow up.
  •  Feeding: Food is a great tool for socialization. You may keep dry kitten food out all day, but when you feed wet food, stay in the room while the kittens eat it. They will soon associate you with food and begin to trust you. If they are very timid, try to first give them food on a spoon through the cage. After holding kittens, reward them with some canned cat food or chicken flavored baby food on a spoon.
  • Play: Encourage kittens to play with toys at around three to four weeks. It is important that you don’t let kittens play with your hand or bite or scratch you. This is especially important when raising single neonatal kittens without siblings.
  • Introductions to the home and others: After kittens are comfortable enough with you to fall asleep on your lap or purr in your presence, they can move from the initial confinement space to a larger, kitten-proof room. Introduce kittens to as many human friends as you can to adjust them to strangers and unexpected circumstances.

Depending on your initial decision, you will end up with either socialized, well-adjusted kittens that you can easily adopt out, or a colony with fully sterilized, vaccinated feral cats and kittens. Either decision is correct because taking on the task of raising kittens or socializing them is no easy feat. Be secure that you made the best choice for your circumstances and don’t second guess yourself. Kittens can pull at our heart-strings, but in the end, doing what is best for you will ultimately be what is best for the kittens. (Courtesy of Alley Cat Allies)

More tips for socializing feral kittens:

Use a ferret front pack for socialization. (This is the baby papoose harness one can wear with the baby in front of you). It has a zippered top so baby kitty can’t get out but do not go outdoors with it. Even when you are not holding, petting her, she is close to you and she can hear your heart beat. This way you can keep her close to you for longer periods. I carry them around for at least a half hour at a time, several times per day in addition to hands on handling throughout the day.

Do not release a feral cat into your home. A kitten this small needs to be confined and worked with as this age is when they are the most impressionable. What you put into it now, will give you an idea of the cat you will end up with later. If every time you go to work with her, she has space to run from you and you spend time trying to chase her down, then this becomes a negative experience. Crate her and work intensely for several weeks (or however long it takes) and then gradually allow her more space.

Also, for older feral kittens, use a soft glove/mitten that comes to the elbow–you can purchase at Petco or Petsmart. It’s the single most important item we use for socializing tough kittens. Leave it in the crate with them and when you go to work with them, you can slip your hand into the soft mitten and pet and handle them and it’s only a matter of time before you are doing this without the glove. CAUTION: This is not bite proof although I have never had a kitten bite through it.

Raise the crate off the floor. Elevate it on a table or higher and work with them face to face.

Key for socialization is time to spend with them, handling them often, speak to them in a gentle, quiet voice and never play with a kitten with your hand–toys only.

Raccoons can climb but not jump up very well. The feeder is on a 40” tall 4×4 post and has a sheet metal skirt mounted on the base of the feeder, which prevents raccoons from climbing up the pole to get inside. Most cats can jump up into the feeder, but there is also a low platform to assist those who need help. There are access openings on two sides and two solid walls to protect the food from the elements. To see the design of the feeder and more information click here.

Beginning January 1st, there will be a $20 fee per cat for those trapped outside of Travis County. Payment will be due at the time of intake for surgery. Appointments are strongly encouraged for all trappers. We are limiting each resident outside of Travis County to 10 appointments per day and will no longer be able to accommodate walk-ins clients with cats trapped outside of Travis County. The program will continue to provide free services to all Travis County cats. To use our program follow the steps here.