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Beyond the dumpster

Chance encounter with feral cats turns Ohio man into TNR advocate

From Animal Sheltering Magazine September/October 2013

Trap-neuter-return (TNR) advocate Toby Franks rocks it with some adoptable kitties in a colony room at One of a Kind Pet Rescue in Akron, Ohio, where he has been taking feral cats to be TNR’d since 2007.An adoptable kitty at One of a Kind Pet Rescue in Akron, Ohio, lets Toby Franks know it’s time for a little attention. Franks has helped more than 500 feral cats in his community.

Toby Franks knew there were stray cats around Louisville, his small community in northeast Ohio, but an encounter 10 years ago compelled him to act. He had stopped at a fast food place while driving home from work and noticed two younger cats playing near a dumpster. When he approached, they ran off, but he saw several more adult cats nearby. He ran home and grabbed the carriers he used for his own cats and was able to get the tamer strays into them. Once they were sterilized and vaccinated, he found homes for them through friends, relatives, and bulletin boards.

There were other cats and kittens he couldn’t get near, but that didn’t stop Franks. He went on the Internet and learned about feral cats and trap-neuter-return (TNR). He spent the summer trapping 22 more feral cats one at a time at the dumpster and getting them spayed or neutered.

He thought that once his dumpster cats were TNR’d, he’d be done. But word got around, and before long he was trapping feral cats for other people who needed help. Over the past decade, he’s helped more than 500 feral cats, adopting out some of the tamer ones.

He went into rough areas where other trappers didn’t necessarily feel safe. “It’s not that I’ve chosen [those neighborhoods] as my specialty,” Franks says, “but it just so happens that’s where I’m led to.” He tries to go where the need is greatest.

Franks, whose regular job is at a print shop, provides his services for free. Fortunately, some terrific people help him by donating to his account at One of a Kind Pet Rescue in Akron, Ohio, where he’s been taking cats since 2007. He uses the donations at the clinic to pay for sterilizations. “I never charge a [feral cat] caregiver for what I do,” says Franks. “Many people I’m helping can barely afford to feed themselves.”One of a Kind performs about 70 to 80 surgeries daily. Franks considers it a phenomenal place for many reasons, including the dark, warm, and quiet pre- and post-surgery feral cat room and the clinic’s flexibility in admitting cats, no appointment necessary. The clinic’s flexible admission policy makes it easier to TNR an entire colony, even when some cats avoid the traps the first time around.

When people call One of a Kind asking how to help feral cats, they get referred to Franks and other top-notch trappers: Jill Kirsch, who runs Cripple Creek Ferals and Friends in Uniontown, Ohio; and Deb Kenski. They all have their own TNR projects, but work together on bigger cases.

In addition, Franks and Kirsch show people in other communities how they, too, can make a difference by performing TNR for others. They teach a monthly seminar at One of a Kind to share their knowledge and help promote the clinic’s spay/neuter services.

“Anybody can use a humane trap, but there’s a difference between using a humane trap and humane trapping,” explains Franks. He covers the basics, including feeding stations, trapping, transport, holding, and recovery, and offers tips on how to use a stick to prop open and then trip the door of a trap, or how to get a hard-to-catch cat comfortable enough to enter a trap. He focuses on making the process as low-stress as possible for the cats, emphasizing never leaving traps unattended, covering trapped cats right away, keeping the holding/recovery area quiet and dark, and using extra care handling the traps during transport.

The hardest aspect of rescue for Franks is parting with the animals he’s fostered and become attached to. “I’m very particular in my screening of potential adopters,” says Franks, “probably to a fault.” He tries to remember that when a cat is adopted, he can help another one. One of a Kind is also a rescue and adoption center, so it takes some of his cats on occasion.

In addition to performing TNR and educating people about it, Franks has promoted TNR in other Ohio communities, including Akron, Barberton, Canton, Dayton, and Louisville, with mixed success. Some communities weren’t receptive, but his presentation to Louisville’s city council dissuaded officials from imposing a leash law for cats. “Now I’m on the hook to TNR every cat in Louisville, which I’m happy to do,” Franks says, “but they got it.”

Franks still cares for Ghost, Nice Guy Eddie, and Toothpick Vic, his remaining dumpster cats, every day—with the blessings of the property owner. “I love those cats,” says Franks. He also continues helping other cats and the people who care about them. “One person can’t do everything,” says Franks, “but every person can do one thing.”

About the Author

Nancy Peterson is the former Community Cats Program Manager for the Humane Society of the United States.