It’s hard to keep track of all the acronyms that exist these days, but in the cat rescue world TNR is a big one. TNR stands for Trap-Neuter-Return and describes the process of trapping feral cats, spaying or neutering them, and then returning them to the location they came from. According to VOKRA co-founder Maria Soroski, it’s the most effective and humane way to help control the feral cat population.
When VOKRA formed back in 2000, Maria had no idea what a feral cat was, which is hard to believe for someone who is such a strong advocate for Vancouver street cats. She, along with fellow co-founder Karen Duncan, began by bottle feeding kittens that had been brought into the SPCA before branching off on their own to create VOKRA.
“I had no idea where the kittens were coming from,” says Maria, who wondered what happened to the kittens’ moms. “I assumed they were from owned cats or that they’d been orphaned.” However, as kittens kept arriving from the same addresses, Maria and Karen started to do a little sleuthing. They soon discovered a whole world of feral cats. The mother cats hadn’t been brought in because they were wild – no one could touch them, let alone pick them up and transport them into care.
Maria discovered entire colonies, some with upwards of 50 cats. They were all the moms, dads, aunts, uncles and cousins of all the bottle-fed kittens that had come in. Thanks to the guidance of local rescuers and the resources of Alley Cat Allies, Maria quickly learned to trap and hasn’t looked back since.
VOKRA’s volunteer trappers, spearheaded by Maria, spent eight years trapping seven days a week in Vancouver and Burnaby. It’s estimated there were more than 8000 – 9000 free roaming cats in Vancouver before VOKRA came along. The number of feral cats is now down to less than 300 with the remaining colonies under control. Some of the colonies now consist solely of senior citizen cats, who pass on humanely after living a life on their own terms.
For cats that we can’t return to their original site, we try and find them another home – specifically a barn or hobby farm. Janet, who coordinates the barn cat placement program, says “It’s an alternative option for feral cats that are unable to be returned to their original location for various reasons.” The barns are located throughout the Lower Mainland, from Abbotsford to Squamish, and Janet often drives the cats to their new homes herself. Potential placements are interviewed in advance and the cats are guaranteed fresh food and water daily, along with a safe shelter area. In their new “jobs” as rodent control technicians they have a better life than they would out on the streets.
If the cats are young enough or semi-tame, then we’ll try to socialize them so we can adopt them to forever homes. “We’re not scared of hissy babies,” says Maria. Armed with gloves, towels, treats, and a whole lot of patient love, VOKRA volunteers socialize kittens in their homes. VOKRA runs workshops and provides coaching to these special families. Fosters tell us this is an immensely rewarding part of being with VOKRA. To watch a kitten or adult cat transform from an untrusting and extremely frightened creature to one that seeks out your affection with headbutts to your hand, and who purrs at the very sound of your voice, is a truly amazing experience.
We respond to as many calls we can and trap feral cats, tame moms protecting their kittens and tame adults that are too afraid to trust humans just yet. Sometimes this involves all-night efforts and sometimes it involves walking into an abandoned house in protective gear so as not to be eaten alive by the swarms of fleas. Whatever it takes – the fate of all cats is important to us and those who were never given the chance to live a safe, indoor life deserve the best that we can give them.
Join us in celebrating National Feral Cat Day October 16.
As a non-profit association we rely on the contributions of people like you. If you’d like to support our TNR program click here.
Post written by Ellen R.