Trap Neuter Return

The humane approach to feral-neighborhood cat control and a proven method in reducing the number of homeless cats.

TNR is the only non-lethal way to reduce the population of feral-neighborhood cats. TNR includes humanely trapping the cats; bringing them to a vet clinic or a low-cost spay/neuter clinic for spay/neuter, vaccinations and micro-chipping; and then returning them to where they are living, continuing to feed them, provide shelter and keep an eye on their health and well-being.

A feral-neighborhood cat is an under-socialized, domestic cat who has been born outside or has been outside long enough that he/she distrust humans. Because of their deep seated fear of humans, these cats are not candidates for an adoption program. These cats can live long and healthy lives outdoors but need support from dedicated caregivers for spay/neuter, food and winter housing.

The Facts about Trap-Neuter-Return

  • TNR is the most humane and effective way of controlling feral-neighborhood cat populations
  • When cats are removed from an area, other feral-neighborhood cats move in to take advantage of the food source, so removing feral-neighborhood cats only temporarily solves the problem
  • TNR has been used with success across the U.S. and all over the world
  • TNR prevents unwanted cats and kittens from being born, relinquished and euthanized to Animal Care & Control facilities
  • A vaccinated, sterilized colony of feral-neighborhood cats poses no rabies threat to humans (raccoons, skunks, and bats are the most common carriers of rabies) and will deter other feral-neighborhood cats from moving into the area

The Results Are In:

  • Healthy and well-cared for, but gradually diminishing feral-neighborhood cat colonies
  • An immediate reduction in complaints about behaviors associated with unsterilized cats, including spraying, fighting, roaming and breeding
  • Fewer rodents in your neighborhood

TNR Ordinance of Cook County

In October 2007, Cook County passed a TNR Ordinance making it legal to practice TNR in Cook County. As a feral-neighborhood cat caregiver, you are required to spay/neuter, vaccinate, ear tip and micro-chip the cats in your colony; be responsible for the feeding, sheltering and overall health of the cats; and be registered with a sponsoring organization.

PAWS Chicago is one of four sponsoring organizations in Cook County. As a sponsoring organization, PAWS Chicago can help with concerns that arise from being a feral-neighborhood cat caregiver and can aid in the return of a feral-neighborhood cat that has been inadvertently picked up.

If you would like to be registered with PAWS Chicago, please fill out and send back the Colony Caregiver Application found below and be prepared to submit the Colony Tracking Form and Colony Data Request Sheet, also found below.

For more information about the TNR Ordinance, call 773-475-9410 or email

Step-by-Step Trap-Neuter-Return

Rent Traps
If you do not own traps, you may rent them from an animal welfare group. The PAWS Chicago Lurie Spay/Neuter Clinic rents humane traps for a refundable $50 deposit. We accept credit card or personal check. The rental is per trap, and you are allowed to rent two traps at a time for a two-week period. PAWS Chicago will fully refund your deposit upon the return of the traps. Traps may be picked up at the Lurie Clinic any time on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Sundays between 8-6 p.m. Please visit the Lurie Spay/Neuter Clinic page for updates on rates, additional special hours and times. (Note: Effective as of 4/1/13, PAWS Chicago will no longer allow the transfer a semi-feral cat from a domestic carrier to a rented feral trap on the morning of drop-off. We cannot guarantee traps will be available for use or rent on the morning of your visit, especially during the busy spring and summer seasons. In order to ensure you have a trap, please call ahead (773-521-7729) to be placed on our waiting list and ensure the cat in the trap prior to entering the clinic.)

Prepare the Traps
Create a sign stating, “Rescue in Process – Do Not Remove,” and attach a copy to each trap. Unlatch the rear door so you can get your hands inside the trap. Be sure to re-lock the rear door before trapping. If your trap does not have a rear door then secure the front door open with a twist tie so that it won’t keep falling shut while you work.

Fold newspaper lengthwise and place it inside the bottom of the trap to disguise the wires. Do not use newspaper if it is windy. Place approximately one tablespoon of bait along the very back of the trap. You can use a lid or container for this if you wish. Drizzle some juice from the bait along the trap toward the entrance in a zigzag pattern. Place about one-fourth teaspoon of bait in the middle of the trap on the trip-plate, and one-fourth teaspoon about six inches inside the front of the trap. The cat will move his paws trying to get the zigzagged bait, thus springing the trap.

It is important not to leave too much bait in the front or middle; this may satisfy the cat, and he will leave without setting off the trap. Covering the traps with a towel or sheet is also suggested. Leave the trap uncovered, front and back, so to the cat it appears as if they can go straight through the trap. Always cover the cat when trapped.

Set the Traps
Take the traps to the trapping site and place them on stable ground – make sure they will not rock or tip. Stagger the traps and place them facing in different directions. Try to think like a cat and place the traps where it will be tempting. Move quietly and slowly, and try to remain relaxed so your mannerisms will not frighten cats away.

Set and cover the traps, then leave the area quietly. A cat is unlikely to enter a trap if you are standing nearby. You will want to periodically check on the trap quietly from a distance to see if you’ve trapped a cat and also to make sure that the trap hasn’t been stolen. You do not want to leave a cat in the trap for too long, as someone who does not understand your intentions may release a trapped cat.

If you happen to trap wildlife, such as a raccoon, release them immediately by opening the trap and stepping back to allow them to escape. Most will run in the opposite direction but be cautious.

Trapping an outdoor cat may take some time – be patient. Make sure the trap is sprung, and the cat securely trapped, before you approach the trap. If you come out too soon, you may frighten the cat away. Keep the cat covered from this point forward.

Place Cats in Holding Area
We encourage trapping the night before, however if you are trapping the morning of surgery, please alert our staff when checking in so we can remove any remaining food from the trap. You will need a place to keep the trapped cats until you drop them off for their spay/neuter surgery. Covering the traps helps to keep the cats calm.

It is normal for the cat to thrash around inside the trap. It is very tempting to release him, but he will not hurt himself if the trap is covered. If a cat has already hurt himself, do not release him. Most injuries from traps are very minor, such as a bruised or bloody nose, or scratched paw pad. If you trap a severely injured or sick cat, rush him to a veterinary clinic (please note that PAWS Chicago does not operate a full-service veterinary clinic).

Make sure the trapped cat is kept in a place that is dry and warm. This can be a basement, ventilated/heated garage, mud room or bathroom. It is possible for a cat to die from hypothermia when confined in a trap outside in cold weather. A simple guideline: If it is too cold outside for you, then it is too cold for the cat(s). Do not leave trapped cats in areas of excessive heat or sun.

Bring Cats in for Spay/Neutering
No appointment is necessary; however there is a limit of six feral-neighborhood cats per customer, per day. Please keep in mind that each cat must be in its own feral trap prior to entering the clinic. We no longer can accommodate transferring of cats on the morning of drop off from domestic carriers to our rental feral traps; we may be out of rental traps at any given time especially during our busier seasons. Cats must be at least two-months-old and weigh two or more pounds. All cats must be in a covered, humane trap. Plastic is suggested for protecting car seats and recovery space but never suggested for covering traps.

PAWS Chicago offers free surgery for feral-neighborhood cats with a $20 ($25 for those living outside the City of Chicago limits) charge for ear tipping, rabies and distemper vaccines, ear cleaning, wound cleaning, flea, tick and parasite treatment and antibiotic. Micro-chipping is available and highly suggested for an extra $6.00*

The Lurie Clinic is located at 3516 W. 26th Street in Chicago and is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sundays. Drop-off is any time between 7:15 – 10 a.m. and pick-up is same day between 4:30 – 5:30 p.m.

After surgery, allow the cat(s) to recover overnight in the same traps, still covered. Female cats usually need to be held for 24 – 48 hours after surgery. Male cats can be returned to the trapping site 12 – 24 hours following surgery, as long as they are fully awake and do not require further medical attention.

Make sure all cats are fully conscious and alert before release. Recovery space can be a basement, ventilated/heated garage, mud room or bathroom. Be sure to keep the cats in their humane traps, and do not keep them outside during recovering time where they are prey to weather and other animals.

The same evening after their surgery you may give the cat(s) a few teaspoons of food and water. Carefully open the trap to set down the food and water and to replace soiled newspaper. Repeat the next morning, and the following evening, until you release the cat(s). Do not be surprised if the cat(s) refuse to eat – that often happens because of the stress of the situation. Keep the recovery area quiet; keep the cat(s) covered; and interact with them as little as possible.

*The Cook County TNR Ordinance requires all outdoor cats to be spayed/neutered, vaccinated and micro-chipped

Release the cat in the same place you trapped him. Open the front door of the trap and pull back the cover. If the trap has a rear door, pull the door up and off, pull off the cover and then walk away. Do not be concerned if the cat hesitates a few moments before leaving. He is simply reorienting himself to his surroundings. It is not uncommon for the cat to stay away for a few days after release; he will return eventually. Keep leaving food and water out; he may eat when you are not around.

Never release the cat into a new area. Relocating cats without the proper steps can endanger the cat’s life. He will try to return to his old home and may become lost or attempt to cross major roads. Also, feral-neighborhood cats form strong bonds with other cats in their colonies. Separating a cat from his colony members, and leaving him alone in a new environment, will cause stress, depression and loneliness.

As a feral-neighborhood cat caregiver, you are responsible for the feeding and shelter of your colony; keeping an eye their overall health; and registering with a sponsoring outdoor cat organization

TNR Workshops

PAWS Chicago offers free TNR workshops by appointment. TNR workshops include information about how to perform TNR, the Cook County TNR Ordinance, trapping tips, videos, and hands-on demonstrations and resources.

For more information or to schedule an appointment for a PAWS Chicago TNR workshop, please call 773-475-9410.

TNR Sponsoring Organizations of Cook County

PAWS Chicago
Phone: 773-475-9410

Tree House Humane Society
Phone: 773-784-5488 x231
Web site:

Phone: 708-829-6013
Web site:

Triple R Pets
Phone: 708-738-1438
Web site:

Finding Homes for Friendly Cats and Kittens

Feral-neighborhood cats are not good candidates for an adoption program as this would be extremely stressful for them. However, if there are cats in your colony that are friendly and that you can handle, or if there are kittens under three-months-old, they may be eligible for PAWS Chicago’s Adoption Program.

Kittens need to be taken into the home for socialization. We suggest keeping them in a large dog crate or bathroom and spend time handling them every day. Do not take kittens away from their mother before they are eight-weeks-old.

If you are interested in getting kittens or friendly cats into our adoption program, please contact our Intake Team for more information – or 773-475-9462. There can be a wait list to get cats into PAWS Chicago’s Adoption Program, so it is important for you to partner with us. In addition, there is a fee to relinquish the cat(s) (low-income families are exempt); all cat(s) must test negative for FIV/FeLV; and be current on their distemper vaccine. Newly vaccinated cats must be vaccinated at least 10 days prior to admission. The wait time varies depending on the amount of calls we receive, please call to inquire about wait time.

Contact Us
PAWS Chicago
Phone: 773-475-9410

If you would like to support PAWS Chicago’s TNR efforts, and ultimately save more homeless pets, please click here to make a donation!

Special thanks to Sabrina Nizzi for dog and cat videography.

Additional thanks to Sebastian Sparenga Photography, Caitlin Lisa, Heather Haseley, Dan Kasberger, Jennifer Girard, Malia Rae Photography, Richard Chen, Oscar Mendez, and Von Buzard for event and animal photography used on this Web site.

PAWS Chicago, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, has been awarded a Four-Star rating from Charity Navigator, the country's premier independent charity evaluator. Contributions to PAWS Chicago are tax deductible to the extent provided by law. PAWS Chicago is only able to help homeless animals because of your donations. We receive no city, state or federal funding.

PAWS Chicago's Forms 990 are viewable at

Meet Your Match® and it's logos/colors is a program of the ASPCA®.

©2012 PAWS Chicago.   View our Privacy Policy