Improving the Lives of Feral Cats with TNR

As one of Calgary’s oldest rescues and the city’s only cat-focused rescue, we’re not surprised that most people think of rescue and adoption when they think of MEOW Foundation. But many people don’t know that rescue and adoption is just one of our core programs!

While finding adoptive homes is vital to helping homeless cats, it only scratches the surface of the reason so many cats are homeless in the first place: pet overpopulation. Pet overpopulation simply means there are more pets than there are homes available for them. That’s why MEOW offers Spay Neuter Assistance (SNAP) and Trap Neuter Return (TNR) programs. Both of these programs help to minimize pet overpopulation in Calgary.

TNR is unique in that it looks after feral cats. A feral cat is essentially a wild cat. Feral cats live outside without human contact, so they’re very fearful of humans and wouldn’t thrive as family pets. Through our TNR program, we humanely trap, sterilize and return feral cats to their community home, then work with a neighbourhood caregiver to provide food and other supplies to help the cat thrive outside.

What is TNR?

MEOW is far from the first organization to have a TNR program! TNR is a humane solution used around the world to provide street cats with the best quality of life possible while reducing pet overpopulation.

Female cats have an average of three litters each year. When these kittens grow up and have kittens, and their kittens have kittens and so on, it creates an unmanageable number of cats. While nothing is going to completely eliminate pet overpopulation anytime soon, TNR makes a significant difference in the number of homeless cats. Plus, it makes a huge difference in the quality of life for each individual cat in a TNR program!

Why Not Adopt TNR Cats?

We are often asked why we don’t take these cats into our Rescue and Adoption program. The answer is that most feral cats have limited experience with humans – or none at all! – making them extremely shy and fearful of people. Because they’ve been without human contact for so long, these cats avoid people and would not enjoy life in a home with humans.

The MEOW Foundation TNR Program helps these cats who don’t have the necessary socialization to be adopted but still deserve the five freedoms and a high quality of life. While we do occasionally get a TNR cat who is friendly and a good candidate for adoption, it’s quite rare. Most TNR cats end up returning home after their surgery.

We usually become aware of a cat who needs our TNR program when we’re contacted by a member of the public. The person who calls us often has seen the cat around but can’t get close to it, or has been feeding the cat for some time and isn’t sure if it’s owned. Since cats can’t pass up a good food source, people are often observing or feeding multiple cats by the time they call us.

What Are Feral Colonies?

Sometimes people who call us are dealing with many feral cats since there are feral cat colonies in many neighbourhoods around Calgary. Feral colonies form wherever homeless or free-roaming cats find food and shelter. Often a kind person or a caring community tries to provide for these cats. However, they add up quickly: one pregnant stray can turn into a colony of dozens in just a couple of years. While some of these cats may be good candidates for adoption, it becomes less likely as they go longer without socialization.

Many people are surprised by this as feral cat colonies are usually associated with rural areas, but there are established colonies inside the city limits that we have been working with for decades!

MEOW’s TNR Process

When someone calls us for help with a feral or unowned cat, we find out more about their situation and explain what we would ask of them if we take the cat(s) into our TNR program. These responsibilities include making sure the cat has access to food or water and contacting us if they notice any injury or illness. MEOW supplies food, electric water bowls so water doesn’t freeze in the winter and other supplies. We wouldn’t be able to run the TNR program without our amazing community caregivers, and we’ve had relationships with some of our caregivers for many years!

Helping TNR Cats Enjoy Their Stay

Once we have an agreement with a community caregiver, we humanely trap the cat and bring it to our Adoption Centre in northeast Calgary while we wait for a spay or neuter appointment at one of our partner vets. We of course try to get an appointment as quickly as possible, but the current backlog in veterinary clinics means cats may be with us for a couple of weeks.

Being in a new environment with humans and strange sounds and smells is highly stressful for cats. We try to reduce that stress as much as possible and help TNR cats relax during their time with us by keeping their surroundings calm and quiet. We have a separate TNR room in the Adoption Centre and only specially trained volunteers can feed them and clean their enclosures.

We upgraded our kennels in the TNR room this year. These new kennels offer more space and have portholes that can be opened between suites, allowing litter mates or bonded cats to be housed together. They’re also easier to clean, making life easier for our volunteers and minimizing the risk of any cats getting sick. We were able to purchase these thanks to the kindness of a few amazing donors!

Our new TNR kennels, sponsored by generous donors

Surgery and Beyond

We’re lucky to have many partner vet clinics who accommodate our TNR cats. During their spay or neuter appointment, they’re also vaccinated, de-wormed and microchipped. Then they come back to us for recovery before we return them to their community home. Then they are free to live out their natural life comfortably in familiar home territory with feline friends and family, with our support and the support of their community caregiver. If a caregiver notices an illness or injury in a TNR cat, they contact us for assistance.

How Can I Help? 

As with all of our programs, funds help us continue our work and expand our reach. Each cat that comes through the TNR program costs several hundred dollars. MEOW Foundation trapped, sterilized and returned 61 cats to their communities in the 2021 fiscal year and 902 cats have gone through the program since our founding! You can donate on our website.

Education about feral cats and TNR is another barrier we face. It takes time to educate the community about TNR and why it’s needed, but we’re happy to see more people understand the benefits of this program over time. Educating yourself and others about the importance of TNR is a great way to spread positive information about the program.

Lastly, you can become a TNR caregiver! Caregivers look after a cat colony, providing food, water and shelter (at MEOW’s expense, of course!). It’s a great way to help the community and make a positive difference in the lives of cats. Email for more information!