Explore: Volunteer to Help Feral Cats

New York City has a homeless problem, and humans aren’t its only victims: There are tens of thousands of homeless feral cats in NYC.

Unlike “strays,” who are lost or abandoned tame pet cats, “ferals,” the offspring and descendants of un-neutered pet cats who were abandoned or allowed to roam, are essentially wild. Generally living in hidden colonies near food sources, they have very active love lives, and when their kittens in turn aren’t neutered… boom, feral cat overpopulation crisis.

Although they’re “wild” in the sense of not being socialized by people, feral cats aren’t true wildlife, and have neither a natural food source nor protection from urban dangers such as cars, rat and other poisons, and cruel and/or cat-hating humans.

If the love of cats burns in your heart like it does in mine, you can get involved by taking a free Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) workshop given by Neighborhood Cats. You’ll meet other cat-friendly New Yorkers; and learn how to give ferals real, hands-on help that truly improves their lives – from actually trapping the cats to helping socialize or feed ones that have been rescued.

Me, I was up for trapping. Traditional trap-and-kill methods cost taxpayers money but have done very little to solve our out-of-control feral cat crisis; this is where TNR comes in. I took the workshop myself last summer and I think it was the best, most meaningful thing I did all year.

Wait – TRAP? Yes. Soon you, like me, could have the right to brag that you’re a certified cat trapper. The workshop I took was held in a Brooklyn Public Library branch in Bed-Stuy. Cat ladies extraodinarie Meredith Weiss and Lois McClurg of Neighborhood Cats presided over a room filled with random cat lovers who wanted to learn how to trap and/or manage colonies near them.

We were told about the TNR process, including the planning stage, gathering supplies (certified trappers can borrow traps for free), crafty tactics (like regularly feeding the cats and then withholding food for a couple of days before the trap date so they’ll be more tempted by the food in the traps), safely trapping the wary beasts, and several other steps that end up with releasing them back to their colony and maintaining the colony with regular feedings.

We saw a display of a couple of different types of humane traps and we all got to try setting them until we could do it properly. I, who had trouble learning to tie my shoes when I was little, took a long time to figure it out, but eventually, I did.

I even trapped a cat! I was working at the massive Brooklyn Army Terminal in the industrial section of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, at the time, and a sick-looking little cat used to hang around the internal courtyard, begging for food. In addition to TNR, she needed medical attention for an injured eye.

I taped signs in her two hangouts asking people not to feed her and giving my contact info. The first night I had planned to set the trap, it was pouring rain, and Petunia (“B.,” a woman who’d befriended her, named her after the potted flowers in the courtyard), didn’t want to come out from her hiding place in a disused train car. But the second time I set it, I waited, and… SNAP – she was mine! What a funny combination of guilt, motherliness, and hunter’s satisfaction I felt at that moment.

Petunia-AFTERI took my live cargo to a vet. Sadly, she diagnosed Petunia as positive for feline leukemia virus (FeLV), meaning a guaranteed early death. Very few people want to adopt a feral cat, let alone one with FeLV. B., however, had fallen in love with her and wanted her anyway.

P. and B. are still happily living together, and the rescued kitty is having a warm, comfy, food- and love-filled short life.  After a long period of trust-building, she now sleeps and snuggles with B.

It’s not necessary, or even advisable, to take on a full TNR project by yourself. You can plug yourself in wherever works best: help feed, water, and/or create and maintain winter shelters for a colony near your; help socialize feral kittens to human handling so that they can be adopted (fun, much?); foster and/or assist with the caretaking of any friendly, tame cats who may have been in the colony and help get them adopted, etc.

What the TNR workshop has done for me so far: I can point to one solid, gold-plated Good Deed that I did last year. Weighed against all the suffering in the world, it’s so little. But on the other hand, I helped two flesh-and-blood creatures, a cat and a human, and it was much more satisfying than giving money to an abstract bureaucracy. You can’t buy that feeling, but you can get it by participating in TNR at any level that works for you.

Aside from karmic well-being, the second-best perk is that you’ll always be working with fellow cat lovers. The best perk? The cats themselves. Meow!

The Lowdown

Click here to visit the TNR site for other dates and locations in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

What Help cats, help people and make friends with fellow cat lovers by becoming a Certified TNR Caretaker.

Where and When The next Neighborhood Cats TNR Workshops are:

May 11  12:30 – 4:00 pm
Parkchester Branch Library, 1985 Westchester Ave, Bronx
To register click here

June 8 11am – 2:30pm
Harlem Branch Library, 9 W. 124th St, Manhattan
To register, click here

Click here for a full schedule; please register in advance.

Wheelchair accessible? Call to inquire; each workshop is held at a different location; some may not be accessible.

How much Workshops are free of charge unless otherwise noted.

Senior Friendly? Trapping cats requires some agility; feeding and socializing them, and caring for a cat in home home, is physically far less demanding.

Read More

Watch a video about the TNR process



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