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C.A.R.E's TNR program reaches 20 years of supporting community cats

Handsome guy "Chismo" is three and a half years old, and currently available for adoption at C.A.R.E. He enjoys being chatty, begging for pets, and long walks along the windowsill.
Courtesy of Colorado Animal Rescue
Handsome guy "Chismo" is three and a half years old, and currently available for adoption at C.A.R.E. He enjoys being chatty, begging for pets, and long walks along the windowsill.

Trap, Neuter, Return programs have become an integral part of how towns manage their community cat populations these days. Often, these programs can provide so much more and their effects include better health in feral cat populations, smaller cat colonies, and a much less intense need for shelters to find homes for kittens each spring. KDNK’s reporter Hattison Rensberry speaks with Maggie Niehoff, Programs Director at C.A.R.E about the Roaring Fork Valley’s local TNR program.

" Historically, this started in 2003 with the Street Cat Coalition that was founded by Carbondale local Linda Sadlowski. It was a group of volunteers who worked with care, but also did fundraising and hands-on work to start trapping community cats who cannot be re-homed into homes due to behavior, and their lifestyle outside where they were successfully living.

They wanted to make sure these pets were getting spayed and neutered. Vaccinated, keeping the populations healthy, making sure they had access to additional food and shelter where they could, and then helping reduce the population of cats out there and kittens entering shelters. CARE has been involved the entire time and has kind of taken over throughout the years.
When we have a vet at the shelter weekly and we have additional room for spay and neuter, we will work with the public who have cats, on their property that need these services. Spay neuter, again, vaccines, microchipping deworming, FIV/FELV testing again, just to make sure these cats are healthy and taken care of before they're put back to where they're already living.

Usually these cats already have found a source of shelter and food, so there's a lot of work of just making sure people respect these populations after they're getting taken care of. So, we ask people in the community who have feral cats on their property to contact us, and we'll work through a series of questions, get them on our list, and when our medical team has additional time to get these guys and they, we'll call in these community members and kind of talk through how to trap the cats, what days they can bring them in, and people can rent traps from us directly for $75. That's a refundable deposit for the traps, and then they bring them in. It's best for cats to go back quickly. They don't do well in confinement. Um, and so usually they'll pick them up same afternoon or the next morning as part of that agreement.

It's also a donation-based program, so we can offer this as a free service to the community. Donations are definitely helpful to keep supporting that program. It's important with the TNR that it's considered Trap, Neuter, and Return- not Release. So we do have these cats go back to where they came from and kind of counsel people on how to best care for that population after the fact.

It's not usually beneficial for a cat to try to relocate them to a new area. So it's rare that we will agree to go that route with a community cat. If a cat that comes in through this program ends up being friendly, we can offer to keep the cat in our care and rehome it into a home instead of having it live back in a colony.

We've seen hundreds and hundreds of fewer kittens each year thanks to the efforts of volunteers and community members that they've put into this program. Right now we, we do see a small kitten season, but it's manageable, which is the point, um, to have it be manageable and get these kittens in and cared for, spay and neutered and back out into great homes.

We're kind of in a position at this point where we see other communities in the space we were in 20 years ago. And so we are putting in efforts to help, um, kind of neighboring organizations, um, in Colorado, which is a great position to be in. And we're happy to share how our TNR program works and what efforts and how long that Street Cat Coalition has been around, um, to make sure everybody has access to seeing the impact of this kind of program and a lot of resource sharing going on to make sure that this is shared widespread throughout communities.

Years ago, we were taken in close to 1200 animals a year, and now we're closer to 700. And a huge part is the number of kittens that can be reproduced each year by moms. And then also again, having a healthy population, having sick pets come in because they have not been cared for, is really taxing on shelters and it puts the rest of the population in your shelter at risk too. So that's, um, a really huge benefit we have seen over 20 years and a decrease in unhealthy populations of pets. We've seen a lot of respect too towards the outdoor cat population, which can't be said for a lot of communities unfortunately out there.

Um, we have people who are willing to feed, we will help provide food through our pet food pantry, um, and provide really great outdoor spaces. And in return, the cats provide rodent control often, um, which is a big benefit as well.

In 2023 so far we've had 22 community cats trapped and brought into the shelter. One of those cats turned out to be friendly, a cute little calico named Trina, and she was adopted out into an indoor home. So we love those stories. Um, One could not return to where he came from. So he found a new barn home. Um, but the other 20 were either, um, spay neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, tested, dewormed, and um, went back out into the communities that they had already been living."

For more information on Colorado Animal Rescue’s Trap, Neuter, Return program, you can visit: tinyurl.com/CARE-TNR

Hattison Rensberry has a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design and Drawing, but has worked for newsrooms in various capacities since 2019.
She also provides Editorial Design for the Sopris Sun.