I spent a total of 24 hours this weekend working with cats, but not mine! I trapped cats on Saturday and took them to the clinic and volunteered on Sunday, and no doubt I’ll be back to this neighborhood for more cats in the future.
The Homeless Cat Management Team offers about six clinics a year that are free for feral cats to target the population of cats that are truly feral or too unsocialized to be adopted or that, even if friendly, have no home or owner but will be cared for outdoors. This gives caretakers a chance to have their cats neutered and given a rabies vaccine at no charge, and for those caring for many cats, especially people who didn’t realize such a thing as TNR was available and have an entire colony of unneutered cats, that’s a huge savings. The other clinics include a mix of feral, stray, rescued and pet cats but feral cats are $30 per cat at those clinics, and that can add up fast, just like the kittens they’d have if they remained unneutered.
I’d been working with a situation in a neighborhood a distance from me that included several generations of cats and older kittens born to one original calico cat. Numbers were increasing as she regularly had litters. A friend works as an aide with a home care agency and she and one of her co-workers cared for the elderly man who fed the cats along with the next door neighbor. One of the aides had also taken two of the kittens to a vet who were ill or injured, but trapping the calico and all the others was impossible without traps, and the cost of neutering them all was more than any of them could afford. My friend contacted me and I explained what we could do.
Even in February around here cats are already having meetups in the back yards and getting started on this year’s kittens so it’s especially important to catch any unneutered cats as early as possible in the spring. I usually try to volunteer for a clinic every month or two and decided because at least four cats needed to be trapped and there was a free clinic on March 5, I’d plan on that one. I packed up my borrowed traps and old sheets to cover them, sardines and mackerel and a can opener and lots of patience. Once the traps are set, someone needs to watch them and I knew there was likely no one there would be able to.
The elderly man’s next door neighbor was very helpful because she fed and watched over the cats, so she pointed out the best spots to put the traps. Once they were set with covers wrapped around and cardboard inside for paws that don’t like to walk on wire and smelly sardines inside, I went to stand in the sun, the day was bright but cold, to listen and wait. Most were in back yards across three yards which I couldn’t see from the street, and there was no place to park to watch, and no place in any house to see them all. So I checked messages, took photos of spring flowers and tree bark, talked to neighbors and posted photos in between walking up and down steps, around the front and back and checking all the traps about every half hour.
I had seen all the cats I was to trap in the back yards when I set the traps, and except for the little black kitty who the neighbor had named Ebon they all disappeared for most of the rest of the day. Ebon amused herself by reaching a paw inside the trap to grab as much as she could get of sardines—I’ll usually make a trail of tiny pieces to lead them into the trap where the big pile of food is—then feasting in the middle of the sunny yard.
The morning passed. A breeze had picked up and I took the covers off the traps thinking possibly they were making the cats suspicious. Still no luck. Food had not been put out for these cats for three days. They had to be hungry! But it could also be that they were eating elsewhere.
Typically I rarely catch cats in a trap through the afternoon so I considered closing the traps, leaving, and coming back late in the afternoon, but I was also noticing other cats around the neighborhood, one or two who looked to be eartipped and others who were not, and decided to stay to observe the cats who lived there and determine if anyone owned them or if they needed to be trapped as well.
I tracked one of them down municipal steps and into a back yard where there seemed to be a covered porch with bowls and wondered if this could be where they were eating. No one was home so I’d have to ask later. I drove off to get some hot and greasy fried chicken and baited the traps with that, saw a few more cats milling around but none in traps. At least all the neighbors I spoke with seemed amenable to TNR, and told me there were plenty of cats around. Well, I’d be coming back anyway at some point, most likely.
Two other volunteers who trap cats much more often than me, Mary Kay and Tarra, came by as the sun was going down and we strategized about the best way to use the evening, dusk and night, very advantageous to trapping cats who come home to their base, hungry, and I also noticed the neighbor who fed cats on his porch was home. Yes, those cats were his, they were neutered and eartipped and he fed them on his porch. He’d also noticed that his food had been disappearing lately, so indeed that was probably where my crew had been eating and why they weren’t hungry. I told him what we were doing and that we’d probably have to come back a few more times. He agreed to feed his cats and when they were done remove the food they hadn’t eaten, and keep an eye out for other cats.
We rebaited the traps by adding some canned food and mackerel and sat in the car to keep warm while we waited, then went to check the traps every so often. After dark we finally caught three cats, but only one of them was one of the original four I’d wanted to trap—Ebon, the busybody. We did catch a calico, but she was long-haired and the one I’d been looking for was shorthaired, and an absolutely gorgeous long-haired dilute tortie who was unfortunately matted all over, and she appeared to be eartipped.
We give each cat a chance to show their colors, so we’d be observing them overnight for signs of socialization and we could look for their owners or put them up for adoption. Calicos and torties are popular, and these two pretty cats would stand a good chance at adoption.
I took Ebon and the fluffy dilute tortie home and Tarra took the calico, but not a peep out of any of them; socialized cats will eventually talk, even just a bit, in the presence of people, but ferals don’t learn that and so don’t respond to human speech. It was clear these three were not socialized but we’d scan them for a chip, and they’d have another day or two indoors in recovery after their surgeries to speak up.
So I had two cats in traps in my bathroom overnight, but the alternative had been to drive them to my friend the home care aide’s home 30 miles away, then come home, and drive down to pick them up in the morning. I have only one bathroom so the two waited in their traps in the car while I fed my cats, had a shower and got the bathroom ready for them. I’m sure they would appreciate not having to ride that far in a car, if given the choice.
So that was 12 hours of trapping on Saturday, followed by what turned out to be 12 hours at the clinic the next day. We served over 70 cats, nearly all feral, though a few rescues are often included who pay the regular rates. I was in post-op for most of the day where the cats come out still under anesthesia (usually) and already vaccinated for rabies, placing styptic gel on their eartips while still in the clamps, then checking ears and cleaning if necessary, checking their bodies for ticks and other observable parasites, wounds, lumps and anything else out of the ordinary, adding a flea treatment and noting any anomalies on the paperwork. Sometimes they wake up a little early and understandably they are not happy so they don’t get the full spa treatment. In both cases they end up back in their trap or carrier which has been thoroughly cleaned and a pee pad folded in the bottom, and are sent off to recovery. They are usually fully awake and eating in an hour or less, and owners are called to pick them up.
One person had brought 17 cats, a large colony that needed a good number of surgeries at once. As mentioned above, this is prime time for starting feline families, and we want to avoid that, so the more unneutered cats you can neuter right now the fewer kittens will be born two months from now. We’ve also found it much more effective to trap the entire colony at once, or as many as possible, rather than only one or two every few months so there are immediately fewer unneutered cats to go caterwauling around and the colony settles down to a routine with no new kittens. Colony caretakers can recognize and trap newcomers as soon as they see them.
I took my three cats to Deana, who has room in her basement to hold them, give them food and water, and experience to keep an eye on them. The fluffy dilute tortie really was eartipped and she’d already been spayed so she just had a shaved belly, plus we tried to get as many of her larger mats out of her fur, but the other two had been spayed and we like to keep them in for a couple of days. The incision is small, layered shut and sealed with surgical glue so they would be protected once they got outside. Two days gives them time to recover body temperature and have the pain subside. I’ll be going to pick them up tonight and release them. Later we’ll plan for trapping more cats though we may not wait for another free clinic since many are female, though the elderly man or the neighbor can’t afford to pay for surgeries. I guess we’ll figure that out.
Kitties at the clinic
The clinic was pretty busy so I didn’t have too much time to photograph kitties who were there for surgery or who are currently in the clinic for other treatments, but I did get a few.
This is Trinity, who I will be writing more about at another time. She is truly a miracle kitty, brought into our medical director’s clinic after having been mauled by a dog. Trinity had several surgeries to reconstruct her face but you’d never know it to look at her. She also technically died twice on the operating table and was revived. Later, once she’d recovered from those surgeries and gained some weight, she needed to be spayed and everyone hoped she’d live through it, and she did. She is nearly healed and ready for adoption. Look at that tail! She is wildly friendly!
And she wants to show you her little gray hat while she’s rubbing on my fingers.
This is Peter Pan, one of the cats we rescued from the Sheraden hoarding case. He’s looking for a foster home.
Jack and Diane’s mom Sylva was at this clinic too, but I didn’t get a chance to photograph her. I’ll be taking her to a new home in a nice barn next weekend.
So that’s all for now! And that pretty much explains where I was over the weekend. Also, because I knew this was coming up, I also did my best to get work done during the week knowing I wouldn’t have the time over the weekend I usually do. And then there was the matter of the broken water main on Friday…
Why do this?
Helping homeless cats and the people who care for them is one way to make a huge difference in the lives of cats in your area. Cats are removed from reproducing, so neighborhoods are not overflowing with kittens and cats who then go on to reproduce, and unfortunately become the target of abuse or death at the hands of a community that doesn’t want them there. A neutered cat doesn’t carry out the behavior that makes them annoying and destructive, like mating and yowling in your backyard in the middle of the night, spraying your home, landscaping and outdoor furniture and car to mark its territory, and having kittens under your porch. If no more neighbors abandon cats, there will be no more increase in the population.
Often you find a friendly cat who can be fostered and adopted so that cat never goes back outdoors, and sometimes you find a cat who was lost and reunite it with its person, and that’s a very happy thing.
And you get the chance to educate people about cats, about keeping cats indoors, about TNR and you get them in touch with the system of TNR so that if cats start to show up again, they know who to call and will often help things along. I hate to see lovely cats like the fluffy dilute tortoiseshell and the fluffy calico living outdoors when they are such beauty queens and have to deal with all that hair, and I really fell for little Ebon after watching her little trickster ways. But if they have to live outdoors, not having had the advantage of socialization with humans, at least they are all spayed and they have shelter and food. It’s the least we can do for a species we domesticated.
Other ways you can help
Amazon Wish Lists
Many rescuers pay out of pocket for veterinary care and food but the costs of raising even the average litter of four healthy kittens is more than many people have, and many rescues have greater needs. Pittsburgh CAT has a number of wish lists that include foods for feeding neo-natal kittens like KMR, and other lists that include the best kitten foods, adult cat foods, food and materials for feral cats, and preferred toys and litter.
Pittsburgh CAT Wish List: http://www.amazon.com/registry/wishlist/2IUQ0FQOL2I51
2015 Foster Cat/Kitten Wish List: http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/1A1HUNQ7J3DL/ref=cm_wl_rlist_go_v?
Winter Kitten Wish List! http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/3CZ6IYCKS2A7N/ref=cm_wl_rlist_go_v?
Fall Wishlist for Fosters/Ferals! http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/2TD3TQBOEMT1E/ref=cm_wl_rlist_go_v?
Food For Foster Kittens: http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/OJQIYGC91289/ref=cm_wl_rlist_go_v?
Our Groups Foster Kittens! http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/1D226142CCGZX/ref=cm_wl_rlist_go_v?
Can’t adopt? Foster! Can’t foster? Donate or volunteer.
There are so many ways you can help cats who need homes and care. You may not have room to adopt another cat, but can foster a cat or kitten for a few weeks. If not that, you can volunteer at a shelter or with a rescue, or donate. You do this because you love your cat, and by doing so you help all cats. No matter which of these actions you take, you help to save a life, and make life better for all cats.
- Adopt one of the cats I’ve posted here, or from any shelter or rescue near you, or from Petfinder, to open up a space for another cat to be rescued and fostered.
- Offer to foster cats or kittens for a shelter or rescue near you.
- Volunteer at a shelter or rescue.
- Find a group of volunteers who work with homeless cats and help them with their efforts.
- Donate to a shelter or rescue near you.
If you can foster kittens or adults cats to help prepare them for a forever home, please run to your nearest shelter and find a cat who needs you! Anyone can help with this effort at any level, even if all you do is donate to a shelter or rescue so they can help to pay for the food or medications needed for their foster, or the spay/neuter/veterinary care during a clinic.
Need to know more? Read Fostering for Your Shelter and Fostering Saves Lives
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