Cat Trapping, Neutering and Release Photographed by Sandy Carson

Sandy-Carson Trap neuter release cats (TNR) photography

Sandy Carson is a photographer raised in Scotland, now based in Austin, TX. We recently talked to him about his latest series, ‘Just Do It’.

Sandy-Carson Trap neuter release cats (TNR) photography

At what point did you decide to document the movement to spay/neuter feral cats in Austin?
‘I became interested pretty early on, after trapping my first few cats to be spayed and neutered. I had been cleaning up a neighborhood cat colony at a crack house, which was overflowing with unfixed cats and kittens who were multiplying. When I took them to the Austin Humane Society and saw the number of ferals coming in, met the people involved and saw the whole operation, I figured I should be helping the cause with photography, as well as being a volunteer.’

Sandy-Carson Trap neuter release cats (TNR) photography

How did you go about finding the subjects (cat colonies and cat trappers) to photograph?
‘Most of the time I just approached the regulars who were actively trapping and asked if they want to be photographed doing what they do; whether it be taking care of colonies, trapping, or fostering. There’s also a Central Texas TNR online group who have a tight network and have been a great help in letting me go out with them. Other than that, colonies of ferals and abandoned cats are rampant in urban areas. It also doesn’t hurt that your friends know you do this and they end up calling you when they find strays.’

Sandy-Carson Trap neuter release cats (TNR) photography

I know you are involved in this initiative on a personal level and you became friends with many of the cat trappers. Can you talk a bit about how this influenced the images you’ve chosen to show?
‘Yeah, I’ve become good friends with most of my subjects through making photographs of them and being directly involved, which has definitely influenced my edit. I think it helps being actively involved in any project you are working on to a certain degree, otherwise how are you going to fully understand what you are shooting? Also, since I shot a lot of this content with my field camera, it definitely allowed more time and patience from subjects, which allowed for a more intimate interaction as I got to know them and their stories.’

Sandy-Carson Trap neuter release cats (TNR) photography

Can you describe the TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) process from capture to release?
‘It starts with trapping the cats in a humane cage trap at the colony or wherever they frequent. It’s a bit like fishing actually, in that you bait a trap and wait around for a bite. The trapped cats are then transported to a TNR location where they are spayed and neutered, given free vaccinations, and ear tipped, so they can be recognized as being a sterilized member of the colony. The cats are then kept overnight to recover from surgery and then returned to place of capture to live out a healthier life.’

Sandy-Carson Trap neuter release cats (TNR) photography

How does one become a cat trapper?
‘It’s pretty easy. Most Humane Societies and ASPCA animal charity clinics have TNR classes and they will also rent out the traps free of charge. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a crazy “cat person” to be a certified trapper but cat attire is optional.’

Sandy-Carson Trap neuter release cats (TNR) photography

I know this is a work in progress, but what are your hopes for this series?
‘I plan on documenting it for as long as I need to really, and that could go on for some time. I’m currently branching into audio and possibly some motion with this series. It’s also likely I’ll eventually do some exhibiting and a book with prints to raise funds and awareness for TNR.

Sandy-Carson Trap neuter release cats (TNR) photography

  • We would love to have a TNR initiative here in Luxor Egypt but have no funds to do so
    Do you know anyone who could help in this regard

  • Bryan Richardson

    It’s so great that Sandy Carson is contributing his photo skills to animal population control. I spent many years in Texas working at animal shelters and have seen first-hand, how feral colonies can multiply, increasing the number of hungry and sick cats in communities.

    I do, however, question his use of the word “crack house” to describe where he found his first feral colony. Did he ever witness or photograph anyone smoking crack-cocaine in the house, or is crack house just a euphemism for a dilapidated house in a poor community of color? I’m a former Austin resident and University of Texas alumnus, and I’m curious just which neighborhood is Mr. Carson’s crack house located? East Austin, perhaps?

  • Arlene

    Suddenly, in August 2010, several feral cats showed up at my doorstep. We TNRed 3 and 1 cat, shy and undernourished became a regular guest. We are going on two years and the cat is sniffing my hand. He eats here 2-3 times daily and will wait for me to feed him. He hides behind his cat house although too afraid to go inside.

    To me, a feral cat represents life as we know it. Some people are, “born with the silver spoon.” For a domestic cat, warm in the winter, knowing that he will be fed and cared for, that is his station in life and his “silver spoon.” For those ferals or abandoned cats, relegated to a daily struggle for food and shelter, they represent the “other side of the tracks.” Who put the ferals there? People did, out of neglect and carelessness. Thus, we have a responsibility to care for them in a humane manner.

    Thank you for your photographs and educating the human population on this sad feral situation.

  • Sara mkara

    This is interesting

  • Great article. So many people are uneducated about the lives of feral cats. There’s a negative connotation associated with stray or feral cats, but honestly, we’re the only ones that can help them. They can have such great lives if we provide them with one, and can bring so much happiness to us. My company recently started a TNR program and one of our feral cats (Pokey) has kind of become a mascot for our warehouse. We couldn’t imagine what it would be like without him, and all we had to do was put in a little effort to better his life and get him off the streets.

  • Sydnee Voigt

    Really nice to see this story, this work in pictures. We do this in our rural area and so many people don’t know the steps of the procedure. Would love to see a pic of opening that safe trap back ‘home’. I love the way they shoot off to their wooded area … home at last, knowing the stress of removal over. Pros and cons can be discussed but our hearts are TNR, feral cat colony feeding whenever possible. Humane Society of McCormick County (SC) & Adopt a Kitty (GA). Two agencies on the SC/GA border.

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