Planning for Substitute Colony Care

Part of Ireland's TNR Manual

How to Help Community Cats

Adapted for Ireland from Alley Cat Allies.

Who will care for your cats when you cannot?

Life is full of the unexpected. Don’t wait until you aren't able to take care of your colony to find a substitute or replacement caregiver. If you are the only caregiver and nobody else knows your colony’s location or size, don’t wait another day to find a substitute caregiver. Most caregivers are very bonded with the cats they care for. They have named them, they know their routines and behaviours, and the cats recognise their car and their voice when it is feeding time.

'Nobody is going to care for them like I do,' you might think, but it is better to find a sincere person who can step in when you are out of town or, as much as we don’t want to think about it, if you are ill, become disabled or pass away. The best care you can give to the community cats you look after is the arrangement for their ongoing care. You’ll feel better that another compassionate person will fill your shoes if necessary.

Start with people who may already know about your colony that you believe you can trust and who may be interested in volunteering. Locate others in your town who are caring for cats or contact your local Trap Neuter Return organisation - see our listing here. If you can't find someone near you, you may want to create your own network of like-minded cat caregivers, or possibly a grassroots group for your town.

Follow these steps to find the best person for the job:

Gather all records

Be sure that all of the cats have been neutered. Ensure that all of their records are in order. Include photos of each cat and their name, behaviours, and friend(s) or others cats they are bonded to in the colony. Use our TNR Planning Form to track  your information.

Locate potential candidates

  • Check in with neighbours, store owners, friends and family in the area. But, don’t assume your family or friends will be the best for the job.
  • Ask the new property owners (if you are moving).
  • Post ads in the newspaper with your name and phone number. DO NOT include the address of the colony or your home address.
  • Post flyers around town, send messages to local email lists and post notices on local online bulletin boards.
  • Contact veterinarians and animal welfare organisations in your community to let them know of your situation. Be sure to tell them that all the cats are neutered.
  • Try Feral Cats Ireland for contacts in your area. These fellow caregivers and trappers may be able to help or know of someone near you that can. There may be a feral cat network active in your town.

Educate your substitute/replacement

Educate your substitute/replacement about your normal feeding schedule and ongoing care. Once you identify a replacement caregiver, explain what you do, which could include daily food, water, shelter upkeep, neutering any new members and the occasional vet visit. Provide the new caregiver with copies of all medical records (neuter certificates, vaccinations & microchip information if applicable, and a description and photo of each cat), and be sure to keep a copy for yourself.

Decide on the details of your arrangement

Will the substitute/replacement buy the cat food when they feed? You may need to share the monthly costs of caring for the colony together. They may not be financially capable, in which case you may need to continue to buy the food and make plans to get it to your new partner. What if a cat is injured or sick? Will they trap and transport to a veterinarian? Decide in advance which veterinarian(s) are suitable to take a community cat to and who will be covering the veterinary fees. Most veterinary clinics require payment at the time of services. Learn more about working with a veterinarian.

Sign an agreement

Write up a simple agreement stating that you are transferring to or sharing care of the cats with the new caregiver. Include specific information about the colony for clear identification. You should both sign and date this document, including both of your addresses and contact information.

Do everything you can to avoid relocating the cats

Relocating cats is only an option in dire circumstances when the cats’ lives are threatened. It's hard on the cats, and rarely successful. Familiarise yourself ahead of time with what relocation involves by reading Safe Relocation of Feral Cats.

In Case of Emergency

Carry information about your colony (and your companion animals at home) in your wallet. This will inform emergency workers of what to do in case something happens to you, or a disaster occurs in your town or at your home. Include all contact information for your substitute caregiver, including names and phone numbers. The same kind of 'Emergency Contact Card' can go in your car’s glove compartment and to your back-up caregiver(s).

Post the same card on your refrigerator and other prominent places in your home. The information should be noticeable so family or emergency workers will not miss it! 


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Part of Ireland's TNR Manual

How to Help Community Cats