Trapping Feral Cats In Japan

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Trapping Feral Cats In Japan - A Rescuer's Story

Longtime member and moderator of TheCatSite, Norachan is a British expat who lives in rural Japan. In this article she shares with us her adventures in trapping feral cats in a nearby village.

Bringing together cat lovers from different cultures, they applied the method known as TNR, an acronym which stands for Trap-Neuter-Return. You can read more about TNR here:
Everything You Need To Know About Tnr (trap-neuter-release)

We hope you’ll find this story inspirational as well as educational!


This summer I had the chance to help trap a colony of feral cats living in a rural part of Japan.

The cats were in an area known as a “Bessou”, that is an area of summer houses where people spend the warmer months but then pack up and leave during the winter.

People had been feeding the cats for years, but because they were left to fend for themselves during the cold weather and, no doubt, because of the difficulties feral cats have surviving even with our help, the colony was still quite small. The idea of doing TNR is still fairly new in Japan, but it is gradually becoming more common. I’m lucky enough to have a very supportive vet who not only agreed to treat the feral cats I care for, but also lent us his trap for the summer.

At first we thought it was going to be a fairly standard TNR operation. However, there aren’t the same kind of animal welfare services and charities in this part of the world as there might be in the US or the UK. Most spaying and neutering is paid for by the people who feed the cats.

As we didn’t have a great deal of money we began by trying to catch the female cats. That way we wouldn’t have as many new kittens to worry about and could get the male cats neutered later on. We used a standard wire trap, but rather than setting it as usual we propped the door open using a metal prop with a long piece of rope around it. That way if the male cats went in to the trap we could let them eat and leave, but if a female cat went in we could pull the rope and shut the trap door.

After a couple of days of feeding we had our first success. The beautiful Mei Lin was trapped and taken to be spayed.

After we had trapped a few cats another problem arose. One of the cat’s main care-givers, a lady who had also built a cat shelter in her backyard, told us that she could no longer feed the cats regularly. This was a blow because even though other people left food out for the cats at times this lady was the most regular feeder. A lot of the people who have summer houses in this area are quite elderly, so finding someone who could commit to being here all winter and feeding the cats every day was very difficult.

We wondered what we should do. On the whole feral cat populations are tolerated in Japan. However, there aren’t many places that a whole colony can safely be relocated to. Adult feral cats are very difficult to rehome and the thought of leaving them to struggle through the winter outside was heartbreaking. We tried contacting as many shelters and animal rescues as we could find in the hope that at least some of the cats could be saved.

Eventually a contact at our local village hall put us in touch with a private rescue who could help. It was only a small rescue, but it was run by a person who had a lot of experience of trapping and caring for feral cats. With their help we were able to trap all 14 members of the colony. The cats were all blood tested, vaccinated and spayed or neutered. As they are too wild to be rehomed they will spend the rest of their days in the rescue’s cat room. They’ll be in the same room as their colony friends and, most importantly, they won’t have to suffer another Japanese winter outdoors.

My lessons from trapping feral cats in Japan

First of all, make a start. Even though the idea of getting a whole colony fixed can be daunting at first, every little success is a step in the right direction. Just getting one female cat spayed will mean a lot less kittens are born into the colony every year.

Second, build up a network. It’s a good idea to contact as many shelters and rescues as you can. Even though most places are overwhelmed with animals there may be a place for one cat or one kitten somewhere. Having someone who will listen and may even be able to suggest another organisation who can help is invaluable.

Finally, don’t give up. It took me well over two years to get the first colony I worked with all TNR’d. This time it only took about four months. It might mean a lot of waiting around outside and many fruitless hours watching an empty trap, but helping the cats makes it all worthwhile.

Written by TheCatSite member and moderator Norachan

Please share this story to help others see that helping feral cats is a real option – anywhere in the world!

Let us know what your thoughts in the comment section below. If you have any questions about helping feral cats where you live, please start a thread in our feral cat care forums.

15 comments on “Trapping Feral Cats In Japan

SkiaEsh January 11, 2018
I am glad TNR is being spread to other countries. Hopefully, they won't have as severe of problems with overpopulation as the U.S. if TNR is started early.
Norachan November 18, 2017
Felines are superior said:
Around here, feeding feral cats is extremely difficult. I know one lady who feeds them early in the morning when no one can see. The neighbors gave me hell for trying to feed a feral cat. If every person takes in just one feral cat, there won't be any problem. I don't know about feral cats can't be taken home because they're too wild. Two of my cats are feral, and they were grown when I took them in. One sits on my lap, and I manage to take her to the vet, but the other I had to call a professional to trap her in a cage to take to the vet. I can't even put flea drops on the back of her neck. Every cat has a different personality, and some feral cats can be pets while some can't.
I had the same problem when I first stared feeding the local ferals. I had to sneak out at five am to feed them and clean up after them before anyone noticed. A lot of my cats were feral born, but you wouldn't know it to look at them now. Thank you for trying to help the ferals, even if you can save just one of them it makes a huge difference.
Felines are superior November 17, 2017
Around here, feeding feral cats is extremely difficult. I know one lady who feeds them early in the morning when no one can see. The neighbors gave me hell for trying to feed a feral cat. If every person takes in just one feral cat, there won't be any problem. I don't know about feral cats can't be taken home because they're too wild. Two of my cats are feral, and they were grown when I took them in. One sits on my lap, and I manage to take her to the vet, but the other I had to call a professional to trap her in a cage to take to the vet. I can't even put flea drops on the back of her neck. Every cat has a different personality, and some feral cats can be pets while some can't.
di and bob November 14, 2017
What a wonderful, inspiring story! It keeps me going!
betsygee October 30, 2017
Such an inspiring story. Well done! :clap:
tarasgirl06 October 29, 2017
Norachan said:
Thank you @tarasgirl06 It's interesting that you have a friend from Fukuoka. I think attitudes towards feral cats are slowly changing in Japan. It's happening faster in some areas more than others. Strangely enough, the stray and feral cats in Fukushima are a bit better off because of the Daiichi Power Plant disaster. After the area was evacuated a TNR program was set up there to deal with all the cats and dogs that were left behind. Some very brave people still go into that area to leave food for them too. A similar thing happened after the big earthquake in Kobe. It sometimes takes a big disaster like that for people to take a step back and think about how to address these problems. Every cloud has a silver lining I guess.....
@Norachan, here is the facebook page regarding the man I wrote of on Friday: https://www.facebook.com/Naoto-Matsumura-Guardian-of-Fukushimas-Animals-182452015189991/?fref=pb&hc_location=profile_browser
Norachan October 29, 2017
maureen brad said:
I think that you keep showing us how exceptional you are. You inspire me to no end. I started feeding a feral cat 4 years ago , just because you inspired me. Sometimes I wish I could take a day off but, I know you wouldn't.I have been reading everything I can get my hands on about feral cats. I need to get involved caring for a local colony.
That's so nice of you to say. I'm touched to think I've inspired you enough to care for a feral cat. Your comment has made my day.
lavishsqualor October 27, 2017
What a huge difference you made in the lives of those beautiful ferals cats, Norachan.
tarasgirl06 October 27, 2017
Norachan said:
Thank you @tarasgirl06 It's interesting that you have a friend from Fukuoka. I think attitudes towards feral cats are slowly changing in Japan. It's happening faster in some areas more than others. Strangely enough, the stray and feral cats in Fukushima are a bit better off because of the Daiichi Power Plant disaster. After the area was evacuated a TNR program was set up there to deal with all the cats and dogs that were left behind. Some very brave people still go into that area to leave food for them too. A similar thing happened after the big earthquake in Kobe. It sometimes takes a big disaster like that for people to take a step back and think about how to address these problems. Every cloud has a silver lining I guess.....
Truly. No society has all the knowledge and every one of them needs more compassion, kindness and intelligence when it comes to treating our fellow living beings well and respectfully. There is a man who has been written about in the media and he lives in the zone and cares for the cats there. Do you know of him? This world has so far to go before we can even begin to say we are "evolved". But everything begins with a first step. And sharing.
lyrajean October 27, 2017
Nice to know that things are changing even if slowly for the cats in Japan. I rescued 4 kittens while I was there. I did run into some cultural resistance to the idea of TNR while I was in Okinawa. People saying it "wasn't natural". Well, neither is continuing to feed the colonies and allowing them to grow with human assistance.
maureen brad October 27, 2017
I think that you keep showing us how exceptional you are. You inspire me to no end. I started feeding a feral cat 4 years ago , just because you inspired me. Sometimes I wish I could take a day off but, I know you wouldn't.I have been reading everything I can get my hands on about feral cats. I need to get involved caring for a local colony.
Norachan October 27, 2017
Thank you @tarasgirl06 It's interesting that you have a friend from Fukuoka. I think attitudes towards feral cats are slowly changing in Japan. It's happening faster in some areas more than others. Strangely enough, the stray and feral cats in Fukushima are a bit better off because of the Daiichi Power Plant disaster. After the area was evacuated a TNR program was set up there to deal with all the cats and dogs that were left behind. Some very brave people still go into that area to leave food for them too. A similar thing happened after the big earthquake in Kobe. It sometimes takes a big disaster like that for people to take a step back and think about how to address these problems. Every cloud has a silver lining I guess.....
mservant October 26, 2017
Inspiring article, and wonderful photographs.
tarasgirl06 October 26, 2017
Huge props to you, @Norachan , for putting your caring into action on behalf of these wonderful cats. My next door neighbor/dear friend is from Fukuoka and I see a lot of what you write of in her -- the love of cats, but different thoughts about their wellbeing at times and different feelings about the level of personal responsibility humans should/do have on behalf of cats. As with all labors of love, what can seem insurmountable is best approached by STARTING, as you write. Our community cats two houses ago were a similar story; it took at least two years for me to earn the trust of the matriarch of the multi-generational colony enough to touch her and get her to her doctor for checkup, innoculations, and spay. Many of the others were quite a bit easier, but all of them took some time before they trusted me. One little kitten who lived in our woodpile was truly feral and I count it as a miracle that my then-husband was able to get her to her doctor! She never warmed up to humans, but would eat with us and stay on our property. We took her with us when we moved, but she was so desperate to get out of our cat-fenced compound that, after talking with several feral "experts", we did what they suggested and took her back to her neighborhood, where at least two neighbors regularly fed cats. It is emotionally wracking work, but when we are successful, it is very rewarding; and it is the cats who matter, bottom line. May others be inspired by your account! :thanks:
foxxycat October 26, 2017
great article! Love the pictures too!! keep up the good work!

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