My “Fishing Trip” with Nebraska’s TNR Groups

In a Trap-Neuter-Return program, community cats are humanely trapped, brought to a veterinarian to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, eartipped, and then returned to their outdoor home. —Alley Cat Allies

A managed Trap-Neuter-Return colony has a caregiver who monitors the cats, captures any that need veterinary care, and traps any newcomers to be sterilized and vaccinated. A properly managed colony is a health, stable colony in which no kittens are born. —Husker Cats

I believe Trap-Neuter-Return is the current best solution to cat homelessness. For that reason, I consider TNR groups an integral member of the animal welfare village, and so I recently posed a few questions to a few in Nebraska about the state of animal welfare. Just like my other “fishing” articles that I posted earlier this summer, this one won’t have a great deal of focus, but rather will provide some raw information that lays the groundwork for future articles to come.

My utmost thanks to three Trap-Neuter-Return groups that took the time to respond to my somewhat random questions. They are:

  • Blair Community Cats was created in 2012 to manage the community cat populations using a Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) methodology. The group is run by Taryn Breuer.
  • Community Cats of Omaha is dedicated to protecting and improving the lives of feral cats. The group is run by Sheryl Spain.
  • Joining Forces Saving Lives, Lincoln, was created in 2012 with the goal of bringing animal organizations and the public together to find new ways to save more pets in Lincoln and surrounding communities. In 2017, it received a grant to TNR feral cats in Lincoln. The group is run by Melissa Money-Beecher.

Why did you get involved with Trap-Neuter-Return?

The reason that anyone gets involved in rescue can be summarized in one word: NEED. For Taryn, the need was a stray cat outside a local restaurant, which snowballed until she had established her own a Trap-Neuter-Return group. For Sheryl, the need was some cats that a local bar owner wanted to shoot, which moved Sheryl to fight for another solution. For Melissa, the need was the vast number of homeless cats, which led her to start her own TNR program, with her goal being to lower shelter intake and make Lincoln a no-kill city.

How did you get a TNR program started?

City councils had already approved Trap-Neuter-Return programs where Sheryl and Melissa lived, and so the ladies were able to receive help from the humane shelters in their respective cities. Blair Community Cats had a harder time getting started because it was the first TNR program in their town.” The Blair town council was unaware of the benefits of TNR and so, although the shelter was more than willing to help, the Blair Community Cats found themselves both having to raise their own funds and to educate the town council through regular updates.

Who most supported you?

Animal welfare volunteers often put a lot of time and money into their passion to help animals. For that reason, support from others is important. All three ladies whom I corresponded with credited local shelters for supporting them in their goal to start a Trap-Neuter-Return program, but Melissa also thanked her husband. He allowed her to resign her day job to commit herself full-time to saving cats. Taryn also pointed to other backers such as veterinarians, spay/neuter groups, and other animal welfare groups throughout the state and country; Blair Community Cats is a shining example of how animal welfare takes a village!

What are some memorable moments?

Statistics prove the effectiveness of Trap-Neuter-Return, but it’s the emotional stories from those on the front lines of TNR that wins the most converts. Consider that one of Taryn’s highlights has been hearing calls back from caretakers whose colonies have become friendlier and tamer once the hormone factor has been removed through spay/neuter. Or consider Melissa’s uplifting experience with a 10-year-old cat whose kitten had a urinary infection, but received treatment and was adopted within the week.

One of the most enlightening aspects to the TNR process for me was just how smart they are!  We have had to park our van two blocks from our intended trap site as otherwise the cats had begun to recognize the vehicle.—Taryn

The women also shared sad stories that show why more support is needed for TNR and community cats. Taryn and Melissa both shared heart-breaking accounts of cats that needed to be euthanized. Older cats suffer from diseases or from injuries sustained from fighting, being hit by a car, or other traumatic events. Younger cats are often afflicted with ringworm. The most unusual story came from Taryn who told about a vet who discovered nearly fully-formed mummified kitten fetuses while performing a spay. The mother cat had to be euthanized as her uterus had been destroyed.

Educating the neighbors has been the biggest challenge. Some were trapping my cats and dumping them in the country to survive alone, which is horrible! My cats have never had to fend for themselves. They were always fed out of a bowl.—Sheryl

To what do you attribute the decrease in community cat populations?

Trap-Neuter-Return programs work best when entire colonies are stabilized. Frequent monitor is necessary to ensure that colonies remain stable, by discovering and processing any new members. TNR programs also benefit from an ongoing dialog and careful planning within a community or in other words from the recognition that animal welfare takes a village.

Taryn would concur. She stressed that the overall decrease in numbers of the Blair Community Cats was due to consistent Trap-Neuter-Return efforts. She also noted that an important aspect of the group’s efforts has been educating people about the benefits of TNR to them as well as the cats.

Any adoptions?

Although one of the sad realities of cat overpopulation is that many cats will die alone outside, Trap-Neuter-Return also holds the possibility of adoption. All three ladies reported having adopted out a lot of kittens. When these adoptions are privately handled, Taryn noted it can be a slow process. “It’s much easier now that we can place the TNR kittens at our shelter; they’re usually adopted quickly.”

How can the public help?

One obvious way to support the Trap-Neuter-Return effort is to become a volunteer. Otherwise, the task falls heavily on the shoulders of one person or one group. Melissa has trapped one hundred cats, essentially on her own. Sheryl expressed appreciation for cat lovers who offer help, but again the burden largely falls on her group. As for Taryn, she said that trapping, transporting, and record keeping is mostly done by her husband and her husband. Sometimes people in the community prefer to learn and do their own trapping, and then Taryn loans out equipment.

Anyone in Lincoln who wants to help community cats can volunteer with Husker Cats, Joining Forces Saving Lives, or The Cat House. In addition, anyone can borrow traps from The Cat House and become caretakers of a cat colony. Should you attempt to this, Taryn has this advice: “Feeding the cats at the same location at the same time of day is key to increasing the odds of them being successfully trapped.” Sheryl noted: “If you feed a cat, you must trap and fix it and provide shelter. My cats are still alive and doing well after 15 years. I have not had any kittens for over eight years now.”

What would you most like people to know about community cats?

When I asked the three ladies what they most wanted people to know about community cats, their answers all came down to that one word I repeatedly mentioned earlier in this article: NEED. Community cats are part of every community. People need to allow them to be cats, which includes rodent control, and let them live out their natural lives. And the volunteers who care for them must be allowed to spay and neuter, provide food and water as much as possible, and ultimately control their numbers. Taryn stressed that “people tend to project their idea of what a ‘home’ for a cat should be like, but the outside community cats do not feel the need for an inside home. These cats are happy in their environment so please let them do what they know.”

Every life matters. The only thing that works to decrease feral populations is Trap-Neuter-Return.—Melissa

If you wish to know more about community cats, check out the articles listed below and stay tuned for upcoming articles on this topic. Then, whether you get involved with a shelter, a rescue, or another welfare group, please find a way to help. Animal welfare takes a village and we all have our part to play: Find yours and then let us know about it.

They are just lost, abandoned, or homeless. I wish everyone would have the compassion to care for all animals. —Sheryl


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