My First TNR: Why It Didn’t End Well (IMO) & 8 Tips for a Successful TNR

by Monika
Trap neuter return cats

A few days ago I did my first TNR (trap, neuter, return).

The cat who I trapped is a beautiful fluffy feral kitty who lives around my office building. I feed her and her feline BFF for the last few months. They are the sweetest kitties and I love them as if they were my own cats. It’s like cats have this special power that makes humans love them and want to take care of them forever (or is it just me?).

Seeing them lurking through the office glass doors makes a boring work day a lot better! They put a smile on my face every time I look out. I named them Mucc Mucc and Sissy – Sissy is afraid of people while Mucc Mucc is friendly and allows me to pet her.

Onto my first TNR experience

Sissy in the trap
Long story short, a week ago Sissy appeared with nasty wounds on her face. I decided it is time to take her to the vet to get it checked out and spay her at the same time to prevent unwanted kittens.

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I got in touch with the local cat rescue that does TNR and asked them for the advice. We agreed that they’ll borrow me their cat trap, I will catch Sissy, take her to the vet and pay for the expenses. We had a day off the next day because our country (Croatia) won the second place in the FIFA World Cup so it was the perfect time to do it.

I thought I’ll have to wait for hours for her to come and to lure her into the trap but it all went so smoothly. I prepared the trap, placed small pieces of meat in front and all the way to the end of the cage, and went to find her. She was just a few meters from the building and meowed as soon as she saw me. Expecting delicious goodies, she carefully followed me to the trap. After eating all the food in front of the trap, she entered the trap to eat the rest. When the trap closed she started freaking out and jumping like crazy! I felt so sorry for her, seeing her in distress caused by me… I covered the trap with a piece of fabric so she would calm down, and drove her to the vet.

The vet was in touch with the cat rescue about everything so I left her there and went home, with a big worry on my mind.

Here are a few photos of Sissy while she was recovering at the cat rescue. She looked so sad 🙁

Sissy after spaying

Sissy TNR

The sad truth

I was by my phone the whole time, eagerly waiting to hear how the procedure went. Then I got a call from the cat rescue and it wasn’t what I expected at all. Don’t worry, Sissy is doing great. But she was very much pregnant, and they aborted the kittens and spayed her.

I felt awful.

How didn’t I notice she was pregnant?

Why couldn’t they let her have her babies when they were already alive in her tummy?

I felt and still feel guilty. Living beings are no longer living and I am the contributing factor to this. Before this, I had no idea vets do abortions, and I never thought Sissy would be pregnant. She was always so fluffy so I didn’t notice the growing belly.

Most people told me this was the best option – the kittens would probably die or suffer being born by a feral mom. But there’s always that “but” lurking inside my mind. What if we could find good homes for them? What if they would be healthy kitties and live good lives? But what was done was done and it can’t be reversed.

I returned Sissy 4 days after the spay. She ran out of the trap like there’s no tomorrow and disappeared for the rest of the day. I expected her to hate me and run away as soon as she sees me from now on but she acted as if nothing happened by the second day. She approached me (1 meter is the closest I can get) and meowed at me as always. I was so relieved! Maybe she won’t hate me after all!

A few tips for a successful TNR

After telling you about the part of TNR I didn’t like, I might as well share a few tips that nice people shared with me before doing my first TNR.  Of course, I am not an expert it TNR – I only did it once! But I got many useful tips from people who do it for years. Hopefully, those tips can help you too. I encourage you to read other people TNR posts too, those written by more experienced people.

1. Find a vet before you trap the kitty

Some vets aren’t used to working with feral cats and you want to take the cat to an experienced vet who knows how to handle scared ferals to minimize the stress. Some of them won’t even take feral cats in their clinic for whatever weird reason. That’s why it’s best to make a few phone calls before bringing the cat in, just to make sure you and the cat will be welcome there.

Try asking a local cat rescue for a vet recommendation. I went to the vet who is working with the cat rescue so they gave me a discount. That might be an option in your city too.

Some vet clinics require you to schedule a spaying procedure a few days ahead which might not be an option for you. It’s best to get everything sorted out with the vet before you bring the kitty.

2. Put delicious food inside the trap – emphasis on delicious

Scatter a few small pieces of meat such as chicken in front of the trap and all the way to the end of the trap. The lady from the cat rescue suggested I don’t use kibble because it might not be tempting enough but to use chicken instead. However, I didn’t have any chicken, so I used kibble and bacon. But there’s a bigger chance the cat will go into the trap if you put chicken or another delicious meat instead of kibble.

Don’t put too much food in front of the trap. You don’t want the cat to get full before she enters the trap!

3. If you’re their feeder – skip one meal so they are desperate to get to the food

If you’re the one feeding a feral cat you want to trap, make sure they are hungry enough to go for the food inside the trap. If the cat doesn’t want to enter the trap, try skipping their meal to motivate them to go inside.

4. Don’t be too close to the trap

Standing too close might scare the cat away. Instead, sit on a bench, go inside your car, in the house or any place that is far enough from the trap but close enough to see what’s going on. The cat will feel safer.

5. Cover the trap with a towel or a piece of fabric after you trap the kitty

The cat will freak out when you trap her and covering the trap will calm her. She cannot see what you are doing and where you’re taking her so it will be easier on the kitty, and you.

6. Put a cover on the car seat in case of accidents

Although it’s not common for the cat to do their business in the car, it’s advisable to cover the seat anyway, just in case. I used a seat cover designed for dogs and it worked great to keep all the cat hair from spreading around the car. Thankfully, there was no peeing.

7. Try to take the cat to the nearest clinic

If you have several vet clinics to choose from in your area, it might be the best to take her to the nearest one. Spending only a short time in the car will be less stressful for the cat.

8. Be ready to keep the cat enclosed for a few days

Depending on the cat’s sex, they might need to stay enclosed somewhere for a few days. If you neutered a male, he can be released after approximately 24 hours but females need more time to recover. It is best to keep the female cat inside for 3-4 days, maybe even longer if they were pregnant. A spayed female cat should be able to recover well after 3-4 days. If there are no complications, the cat is eating well and acting normal, you can release her where you found her (unless you want to adopt her).

If you have no place to keep a female cat in for a few days, see if the vet can keep her. But that comes with an additional fee. Maybe a member of your family or a friend is ready to take her for a few days until she recovers.

I hope your first trap, neuter, return will go smoothly and that your cat will not be pregnant like mine was!

What do you think about spaying pregnant feral cats?

Do you believe it is the best option for the momma cat and the unborn kittens? Or do you feel aborting kittens shouldn’t be an option?

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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42 comments

ERin the Cat (Princess) August 3, 2018 - 9:22 am

I have to say I think you did well and the right thing. I have never thought about TNR and what happens if one is pregnant, and it is sad, very sad when they are and are aborted. I truly don’t know which is best route, given the abundance and fate of many feral cats on our streets, and senior cats that need adoption but get overlooked for kittens. Life is a very precious thing, and maybe focusing on the here and now is what counts not what may or might be? Well done though and a great post and very good advice too.
Toodle pips & purrs
ERin

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Monika August 4, 2018 - 8:26 pm

Thank you for stopping by and sharing your views 🙂

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Hindy Pearson August 3, 2018 - 12:12 pm

You’re wonderful for helping these cats. I did TNR for awhile, and it can take some time to get the hang of it but it’s an incredible feeling knowing how much suffering you’re preventing. I know it was sad about the babies, and I don’t blame you for questioning whether homes could have been found etc… but unless you were keeping the mom at home there’s no way you could be sure her or her babies would have been found, or what kind of suffering they would have experienced on the street. With millions of ferals, or “community” cats and they like us to call them, you are doing your best to control a very sad situation. Be proud of that!

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Monika August 3, 2018 - 12:19 pm

Thank you for your kind words 🙂 It really is a sad situation, it’s either the kittens are born feral and in tough living conditions or they are aborted. I wish there was a third and a better option.

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Jen clifford August 3, 2018 - 4:50 pm

I hate spay/aborts. I hate doing spay/aborts. But they are the right thing to do, unfortunately. I love cats, and I love kittens and the thought of having a kitten not make it just kills me. But at the same time, we have a massive overpopulation of cats. It hurts me to think of so many kitties waiting for their forever homes in rescues and shelters and being abandoned to feral colonies. So while I feel exactly the same way about the whole spay/abort issue, I know it is the best choice. But it still kills me, every time.

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Monika August 4, 2018 - 8:28 pm

Yeah, it’s pretty hard and I only did it once. I can’t imagine how people who do TNR on a regular basis feel.

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Michelle August 3, 2018 - 5:45 pm

I didn’t know that abortions for cats was a thing. I can totally understand the feeling of guilt you had and the what ifs, but as everyone has said, who knows how, if or even the kittens would’ve survived. What a great thing you are doing and thank you for sharing your experience.

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Monika August 4, 2018 - 8:29 pm

Thank you for sharing your views on the subject 🙂

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Anita Aurit, Purrsonal Assistant to The Tribe of Five August 3, 2018 - 7:54 pm

This is a fantastic article. Our local shelter has cages for TNR use and the more those of us who are not regular TNR folks learn about the process, the more we can help with the feral population in our own neighborhoods. Thanks for this!

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Monika August 4, 2018 - 8:31 pm

It would be great if more people would do TNR in their neighborhoods. Hopefully, sharing the tips will motivate some people to try and do it.

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Michelle & The Paw Pack August 3, 2018 - 10:10 pm

Aw I’m sorry about the kittens. I do think you did the right thing though. The city I live in has a huuge feral cat problem. I try to help when I can but it’s hard because my fiance is VERY allergic to cats so I’m not able to keep them at our house ever. So often I see cats sick and dying in the street, or hit by cars. Animal control will come pick them up but at that point they’re almost always put down because the money just isn’t there to care for cats that need a lot of medical intervention. The city just set up a TNR program in the last couple of years but with the sheer number of ferals here I think it’s going to take awhile to see the impacts.

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Monika August 4, 2018 - 8:33 pm

Yeah, it takes time to solve a feral cat overpopulation problem after it has been building up for so long. But at least people are starting to act on it now and now is better than never.

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Amy Shojai, CABC August 3, 2018 - 10:12 pm

First of all–congrats to Croatia on the great soccer! We watched all the games we could here.
More importantly, congrats on your first TNR. You did well, and I know it hurts to think of the kittens but as others have said, you saved the mom and improved her chances for survival. It’s not exactly an “abortion” but rather removing the uterus with the unborn, undeveloped babies. The anesthesia typically can mean the babies simply never wake up. Bless you for being compassionate and helping ferals.

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Monika August 4, 2018 - 8:38 pm

Thank you – it was really fun in Croatia the last few weeks, we were never so united as a country as we were during this World Cup 🙂

And thank you for making me feel better about the situation. I guess it really was the best thing for the mommy cat.

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Ruth Epstein August 3, 2018 - 10:35 pm

I think you did an amazing job catching her and taking her to the vet, her health is so important. As I believe in abortion for humans I believe the same for animals especially when they feral as not many kittens/puppies survive out doors. Congratulations on the World Cup and I miss watching it live like when I lived in Israel

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Monika August 4, 2018 - 8:42 pm

I also don’t have anything against human abortions since they were only conceived short time ago and the parents decided they don’t want the baby. But when it comes to abortions of almost fully developed kittens, that goes a bit out of my comfort zone. But at the end of the day, it is what it is and it might be the best for the mom cat and the babies – or at least I hope so.

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JoeHx August 4, 2018 - 2:02 am

I would feel guilty too if I took a animal to a vet to get neutered and they were pregnant and ended up getting aborted. I really don’t know what the best option would be.

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Sherri August 4, 2018 - 2:35 am

I can understand you why you felt upset but the truth is you likely did the best for her. Another set of kittens would be hard on her and strain her own resources. She has a better chance this way. Do you still see her?

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Monika August 4, 2018 - 8:44 pm

Yes, I see her and feed her almost every day. Just like before the spay. I am working on gaining her trust now. Who knows, maybe I would be able to adopt those 2 cats in the future.

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kelly restivo December 3, 2018 - 10:05 pm

Hi, if you caught these cats again in the future and brought one home at a time i think you will have successful adoption. I have done this. At first they hide but they get used to it they cry too). Who does not love a home with lots of love to give. My two cat’s go in and out now. they are street smart and still love to go hunt and enjoy the fresh outdoors, but also a nice family they don’t have to be afraid of and a nice warm bed to sleep in

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Monika December 11, 2018 - 3:43 pm

Hi, Kelly. Yes, that was actually my plan, to adopt those two (when I move to my own place, it’s not possible at the time, unfortunately). I’m just worried they might be miserable inside after spending their entire lives outside. I would let them out of the house after a while so they can roam around in my huge yard (away from the traffic) but I’m afraid they might run away trying to find their first home.

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The Dash Kitten Crew August 4, 2018 - 10:08 am

I am sorry she lost the little ones, and sorry for you. Tiny kittens can be raised non-feral. * Hugs and our sympathies *

Don’t give up on TNR. Our friend and colleague Linda Rodgers of Savannah’s Paw Tracks has some inspiring TNR posts to encourage you.

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Monika August 4, 2018 - 8:45 pm

Thank you, I will take a look at her posts!

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Ruby and Kristin August 4, 2018 - 3:07 pm

I have done some TNR and it is hard – complicated and often leaves you with questions about whether you did the right thing. I think you did the right thing though I can certainly understand your mixed feelings.

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Monika August 4, 2018 - 8:50 pm

That’s exactly how I feel – wondering if I did the right thing. Thank you for your input 🙂

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Katie Sample August 4, 2018 - 3:29 pm

Good for you for doing a TNR! Abort spays are always very hard. However, think of how overpopulated shelters are with cats right now. Especially the kittens of feral cats. I know you said you would have tried to find them homes, but it is likely Sissy would have hidden her kittens and not shown you where they were and if you kept her in captivity until she gave birth, it would have been very stressful for her. If humans were handling her kittens, with her being a feral she would be more likely to abandon them or not let them nurse. They would have to bottle fed, which isn’t as good for the kittens. Someone would have to be responsible for bottle feeding them every few hours. I know its hard that the kittens were aborted, but at the end of the day it was probably the most humane option for both Sissy and the kittens. I would be sad about it too if that happened though.

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Monika August 4, 2018 - 8:47 pm

That is true – I would probably have no idea where the kittens are and even if I did, I am not sure she would allow me to get near them. So that would complicate things quite a lot.

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Beth August 4, 2018 - 8:00 pm

I understand why you feel so sad, but you shouldn’t feel guilty at all! You had no idea that she was pregnant. I’m glad that she is doing well now.

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Monika August 4, 2018 - 8:47 pm

Thank you for your kind words 🙂

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Holly August 5, 2018 - 1:03 am

I have had to make that type of decision twice in my life. The first time I did the spay/abort route because I realized early the cat was pregnant. This time – well I have 3 6 week old kittens….

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Tenacious Little Terrier August 5, 2018 - 8:28 pm

It’s a hard decision but I think ultimately it was the more humane option for Sissy and the kittens. There’s so many cats that need homes and living on the street isn’t an easy life!

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Bernard Lima-Chavez August 5, 2018 - 11:20 pm

As a vet tech who used to work in an animal shelter, terminating pregnancies are just a part of the process. Try not to beat yourself up…she could have been early in gestation were a visual assessment would reveal her pregnancy. Thanks for doing your part to help her!

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Jana Rade August 6, 2018 - 12:10 am

One can always make the best decision with the information they have available at the time. Sometimes, when the information changes, it seems that the decision made was wrong. But it was still the best one that could had been made at the time it was made.

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maureen August 6, 2018 - 2:45 am

This is such an interesting article. I’m staying in CA for a few weeks and can not believe how many feral cats are … everywhere! I don’t find the same where I live in Colorado. I didnt even know TRN existed.

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Sandy Kubillus August 6, 2018 - 5:13 am

I think your TNR went very well. It’s sad about the kittens, but it was probably for the best. Most shelters are overrun with kittens and life would be hard for them in the wild. Also, your neighborhood would be overrun with more cats as they mature and mate. I hope you try again and are successful with the other cat.

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Sweet Purrfections August 6, 2018 - 6:16 am

I totally understand your emotions. I would be upset too, if I knew kittens had to be aborted. But, I believe in the end, you did the right thing for this feral kitten. Hopefully, you can capture the other cat.

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Kristy (Pet Coupon Savings) August 6, 2018 - 6:34 am

Oh no! How terrible that they ended up aborting the kittens without asking you about it first. It’s not your fault though, as you didn’t know she was pregnant and were trying to do the right thing. That would be hard to hear though for sure.

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Kamira August 6, 2018 - 4:12 pm

Kiddos to you for helping the community with TNR. I’m volunteering now and see the TNR guys come through the office. I,like you, would have felt awful too but it’s not your fault. Honestly I would have assumed the vet would have tried to save the kittens lives.

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Dorothy "FiveSibesMom" August 6, 2018 - 4:33 pm

I applaud you for your first TNR! It is so great you helped her. I, myself, do not know about neutering a pregnant feral cat…I can only assume they did what they believed was best for her. Maybe she was in danger? Maybe the kittens were from something they saw in the tests? Nothing about this is your fault. You helped her be a healthy cat. The decision about the kittens, and boy it is sad, was one they made (for the safety of the cat I hope) and I am surprised they did not consult with you, but please try not to bear that burden. What you did to help the feral is so commendable and your tips on TNR will help others to help feral cats in need. (We have a feral my daughter takes care of and did manage to get it to the vet in a crate- first time was a bit tricky! – but we were able to get him vaccinated, neutered, and a health check up; second time was a bit better, just vocal! He needed medicated salve for a sore). After 5 years here, he has now decided he is a neighborhood cat and pretty much does own it! Keep up the great work and thank you for sharing your TNR story.

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Cathy Armato August 6, 2018 - 9:05 pm

Congratulations on your first TNR, you were very successful! I know it was a shock and you felt badly about her being pregnant, but I do think it was the best thing for her. There are way too many unwanted kittens out there. You might have found homes for them, but maybe not – that would have been the tragedy. It is so important that she was spayed and that was your best opportunity. You helped avoid an unwanted feral cat litter. It’s not easy to trap feral cats, you did a great job on that. I’m so glad she didn’t hate you afterwards, that happened to my sister a few years ago and she was heartbroken – she loved her ferals but knew they had to be spayed.
Love & Biscuits,
Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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Anita November 25, 2018 - 10:46 pm

Wow I think it would’ve been nice of them to let you know about the pregnancy BEFORE the procedure but know that you did a good thing! I hope this won’t be your last TNR.

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Monika November 27, 2018 - 8:36 am

Thank you 🙂 And it won’t be my last 🙂

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