Update on the TNR Project: Kittens! and Almost Done

Black kitty mom 4.

Thanks to our best kitten foster for taking me in when I showed up with a box of ice cold kittens who needed to be rewarmed to save their lives, and then went to get their mom. I trapped their mom Tuesday night and she looked pregnant when we trapped her, but I thought I’d heard kittens that night. After I dropped her off with the person who would hold her before and after surgery and she helped me to check kitty’s belly while in the trap I went straight to the abandoned house and found them in a drawer in an old rusty file cabinet. One was gone when I got there, but the others still had a little movement. At the foster’s house 40 minutes of heating pad and massages by three of us warmed them up and they were ready to go. It took mom a while to relax and acknowledge her kittens—she’d had a very weird 24 hours—but they knew her right away, or at least her belly. I have more details in the timeline below, under Tuesday and Wednesday.

Dunbar cats collage.
Dunbar cats collage.

I first posted on this project on Monday, then added a few updates to it on Tuesday, all with more photos. Trapping and transporting really picked up the pace on Wednesday, including a new litter of kittens born to a cat we’d trapped, but at this point we are almost finished, just in time for the weekend when the homeowner will be back, and for the TNR clinic for ferals on Saturday.

Trapping at night

We’ve been trapping at night because I’ve always had the most luck around dusk and after dark, from about 9:00 until 1:00 a.m. Cats are nocturnal creatures, and feral cats especially are much more active at night. The feeders had started feeding them in only one spot weeks ago, and then started reducing the amount of food so that they would start to be hungry at night, about 12 hours later. We stopped regular feeding on Sunday when we started trapping, only putting the food in the traps on Sunday and Monday. By Tuesday, seeing that a few of them had wandered to other feeders after the homeowner had cut down all the brush and we weren’t feeding, we put out a smaller amount of food each night before we left, because we wanted to be sure they stuck around, especially the kittens.

Also, neighbors have come over to ask questions and see the cats and especially the kittens. This house has been abandoned since at least 2012. The former feeder did not TNR or spay or neuter anyone, but collected the kittens she could catch and took them to a shelter. The new feeders tried to catch the kittens too, but with one or two from each litter that couldn’t be caught they added up. Several neighbors have caught kittens at the house and adopted them and told us their stories as we were trapping, and other neighbors had been hostile to the cats. The feeder and I talked to all the neighbors around and explained what we were doing, and the hostile ones are supportive, especially as they see the number of cats decreasing each day. But the traffic in the yard during the day kept the cats away so trapping at night helps avoid that and catches the cats when they are most active.

Removing instead of returning cats

Not to mention the amount of planning that went into this because it seemed the house would be demolished at some point and the cats would have to be removed, which is usually not part of TNR. I had to research the ownership of the house to determine if we really needed to remove the cats, and I talked to our borough about the property and about trapping. Then, because they did need to be removed, they would need to be held for a period of time until all had their surgeries and I could drive them all the two hours to the farm, when my friend was available to be there to set them up and settle them in.


Sunday we trapped Braveheart, and also found four two-week kittens with their mom, and later trapped her as well using the kittens as bait. I transported each of them to different fosters. Braveheart will be spayed at this Saturday’s clinic and likely head for my friend’s farm to live a semi-feral or feral life. Tabby, who is about a year old and feral, went with her two-week kittens to a foster who understands how to handle a feral mom with kittens. She will stay with them until they are done being nurtured by her and socialized by their foster at the same time, then we’ll assess Tabby’s demeanor and decide where she’ll go. I have more information on Sunday in this article.


Because the house is abandoned and there are no lights, nor a streetlight near or others’ porch lights, trapping at night is better for the cats but a challenge for the humans. We stand in the alley by my car while the traps are set, shining flashlights toward the house that catch any eyes glowing, and we can also watch the cats’ activity without frightening them away because the light doesn’t bother them.

Monday night we set up the traps and watched the whole family, black and white mom, her long-haired tabby consort Big Daddy and the 10-week kittens all milling around the traps. To our surprise, we trapped the black and white mom of the 10-week old kittens. She is also a committed feral cat wanting no parts of human contact except food, but she walked into a trap, which she had carefully avoided and prevented her kittens from entering all along. Not long after we also trapped the black kitten in the 10-week litter. A few other targeted cats wandered in and out but none went into the traps. The tux and gray and white kittens from the 10-week litter are obviously close buddies and kept hopping into the hole from a dryer vent and watching us, then running through the house from there and looking at us from the porch. We tried out best to trap them in both places but two persistent raccoons would not leave, and were even trapped in one of our traps, so we gave up for the night.

Two kittens in the hole.
Two kittens in the hole.

The black kitten went to the feeder’s house where she will foster all the kittens from that litter. The mom stayed in the back of my car overnight, then on my front porch for the day Tuesday, then back in my car when a storm came, and back to the house while we were trapping Tuesday night. I fed her in the trap and kept it as clean as possible while also looking for a foster for her.


A storm had dampened everything, literally, and there weren’t many cats around when we set up, concerned because we still had so many to catch. We had kitten traps in the spots we’d seen the two 10-week kittens and large traps on the concrete pad where we’d been feeding them and been trapping so far. But soon enough the two kittens were running around, no doubt spooked by being alone except for daddy, their mother and sibling trapped the night before. A tabby and white cat and a long-haired black cat came around about an hour into it and the tabby and white went into the trap pretty easily. We refreshed the food in the traps for the kittens and the black cat.

I had my eye on that black cat because I could see a bulge in her sides and on her lower belly, that specific round shape that was particular to a pregnant cat. The feeders had mentioned a long-haired cat who had just showed up pregnant and this cat did look fluffy but it was hard to tell. She was persistent, dragging a kitten trap around and flipping it over so that the sardines fell out, and she ate them. She was nosing around the traps but would not go in, playing hide and seek around a sheet of plywood, running into the basement window and showing up on the porch, then the raccoon came back. This time there was only one, and it would run when we yelled at it, then came right back. I put a bowl of dry food where it was walking, but the black cat found it and I had to take it away. I was ready to give up for the night, but for that black cat and her belly.

Eventually, the raccoon did leave, and I took away the kitten traps—the kitten we’d trapped had gone into an adult trap anyway, and while I was near the side door I thought I heard tiny kittens mewing. I stopped and shone my flashlight inside, but then heard kittens mewing outside, and it turned out to be the two 10-week siblings. We had been through the house over and over on Sunday, but there was still a possibility there were more kittens.

I rebaited the good traps on the concrete pad with new sardines, including a trail of sardines leading from outside the trap to the inside, which had all been eaten by the raccoon. Within minutes the black cat was back walking around and around the traps, trying to reach the sardines. It was clear she was hungry, and no wonder if she was pregnant. She found the trail of sardines and I held my breath as she followed it step by step, right into the trap, all the way to the back, stepping over the trip plate, but after she had finished the sardines she stepped right on the trip plate as she turned around to leave, and we had her.

I would have three female cats in the back of my car now, and the weather had turned cold so they wouldn’t be able to stay outdoors. We had to leave, and I had to find fosters for them. As we cleaned up I went back to the side door, shone my light around, then turned it off and listened. After midnight, the neighborhood was quiet. Newborn kittens only mew when they are hungry and otherwise just sleep, but they often shuffle around and make little scratching noises with their claws, which is often how I’ve found them in such situations. Three minutes went by and I heard nothing, not even the little 10-week kittens racing around. I shone my light around the mess in the room and into a few places behind things where moms often stash kittens, and saw nothing new.

Later, in the car, I couldn’t see the black cat’s belly well enough to tell if she had nursed kittens. I messaged Margo when I got home, explaining the situation. She put a message out to one of our groups looking for fosters to hold the cats before and after the clinic and until next weekend when I’d take them to the farm.


Five revived kittens.
Five revived kittens.

Several people responded to fostering so I made arrangements to transport the cats to their people. When I got the black and white mom and the black cat to their foster I asked her to help me lift the trap and hold it up so I could study the cat’s belly. Black kitty was frightened enough that she didn’t try to take my fingers off as I poked and rubbed her fur around from below. Sure enough, I found a bright pink nipple. It didn’t look as if it had been nursed much if at all, but if kittens were born that day and only nursed once or twice that would work. The only thing that made me doubt was the roundness I still saw in her abdomen.

I went straight from there to the house and went into that side door and shone my flashlight back into all the piles of stuff and corners and open drawers and as I turned around, with light from the window shining at just the right angle, I saw a little bit of tabby pattern in the bottom drawer of a rusty old four-drawer file cabinet with all the drawers open across the room. I knew there weren’t kittens in there on Sunday and rushed over, seeing several kittens inside, all frighteningly still, and the opening so small I could barely get my arm inside it. I tried to open or close the drawers to get more room and some of the kittens began shuffling and mewing so I just reached in and carefully angled each one out, as cold as if they’d been in a refrigerator, pulled up the hem of my shirt to make a pouch and held them against my abdomen. The temperature had dropped to 40 that night, and we’d trapped the mother about 14 hours before. I could see that one had already passed, but the others at least had tiny responses. If they lived through this it would be a miracle.

I was so intent on just getting them out of the drawer and making sure I had them all, checking the floor around and behind the cabinet, the other drawers around the room, that I didn’t even count them until I felt sure I had them all. Six kittens! But that mom was so tiny, not even an adult herself! Suddenly that bulge in her sides could mean something else—it could just be remaining swelling from the birth of such a large litter in a small cat, or it could be a retained kitten, not unusual with first births, or with large litters. It was more and more likely that black cat was their mom.

I knew holding them with my shirt folded like a pouch wasn’t enough to hold them all or safely drive without one of them falling out. I found a shoebox and dumped out whatever was in it and carefully put them in, hurried out the door to my car with them on top of trapping stuff on my passenger seat, put my hand over them to start warming them, and drove as fast as I safely could a mile to one of our best kitten foster’s houses.

Amy works at home but when I told her I had a box of freezing kittens and we had to rewarm them until I could get their mom she could take the time to get the heating pad and set us up, holding kittens on the heating pad on my lap and massaging them, picking them up and massaging them between our hands, nuzzling them, blowing warm breath on them, including the one I was sure was deceased just in case of a miracle. But it was clear not only that he had passed, but also that he was much smaller than the others, especially his head and face.

Amy and her daughter helped with the rewarming too, and all those hands were necessary to get them warmed up before any more time passed. Each of them responded, but when we’d lay one down and pick up another it would quiet down again, and though their skin felt warm their extremities were not, and they started cooling down again. But with repeated massages and rolling them gently on the heating pad, they slowly, slowly started squeaking and waving paws around and finally maintained their temperature. In about 40 minutes they were all awake and moving and just about ready for a feeding, which Amy would do while I figured out how to reunite the black cat and the kittens to be sure she was their mom.

I contacted the woman I’d just left with the black cat and told her I’d gone back to the house and found kittens, and the black cat was likely their mom, then ran off to meet the other foster for the tabby and white cat. While driving I considered options for the kittens and mom. Mom cats can take a while to recognize their kittens again, like hours, and running the kittens to the cat was possible, but they might still need to be fed in the meantime. She might reject them. She had been looking pretty startled and in that frozen feline space since the night before. There was also the issue of the swelling in her abdomen. It seemed a better idea to just go and get the cat.

I talked over all the issues with Margo and she agreed getting the cat back would be best, so I contacted the woman with the black cat, who still had them at her workplace, and arranged to meet and pick her up. From there I went back to Amy’s house and installed the black cat in the cage set up for her in Amy’s big foster room with other kittens in mesh playpens. She saw the open door and tried to make a break, but we got the cage door closed in time, then covered her with a quilt to calm her. We added food and water a few minutes later, but she made no move toward it.

The black cat crouched in her box in the back of the cage staring with big round eyes, unmoving. Amy had brought the kittens on their heating pad and I put one in the box with the mom. She made no move. Cats could snap out of things like this abruptly and sometimes violently, and this kitty had just had a very weird 24 hours, so I removed the kitten and covered the cage again, cuddling the kittens under my hand. About 10 minutes later, with the kittens mewing now and then, I lifted the quilt and the black cat turned and looked, then looked away, but didn’t look as startled. I held the loudest kitten in my hand, waving its paws around, and moved it toward her face to sniff, then put it down on the bed near her belly.

Mom may not have been reacting, but the little tabby knew his mom and her belly right away, even only by scent, and headed right for her belly. She didn’t react to that but was breathing normally, her tail was still, her ears were more or less relaxed, so one by one I put the other four kittens near her belly. Each one of them ran for her, mewing and digging at her belly. I covered the cage again, listening carefully. Kitten mews subsided, and that could only mean they were nursing. After a few minutes I looked in and she was sitting up so they could all reach six of her eight nipples. I covered her cage again and over the next half hour or so she settled down on her side and lifted one hind leg for all the kittens to lie on their bellies and nurse, her eyes relaxed slits as her kittens bumbled around. She hadn’t eaten anything before I left, but I heard from Amy that all the food was gone and all the kittens were nursing this morning.

Whew! That was a close call. I knew when I found them there was a chance their body temperatures had been too low for too long to revive them at all, or without some lasting damage. I did not mention that to Amy or her daughter, and tried not to think about it myself, just kept my intent on warming them and reviving them. If I had gone searching in that room with my flashlight I’m not sure I would have seen them because it was that sliver of angled light from the window that lit that tiny bit of tabby in the drawer.

I had the wild idea for names for them: Saturday and the Weekday Kittens, Saturday the mom, and the kittens Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and Sunday in memory. Naming will be up to the foster, though, and I tend to come up more with marketing campaigns than names.

The gray and white kitten in the spotlight.
The gray and white kitten in the spotlight.

Wednesday night we only trapped the gray and white 10-week kitten, and though we tried everything to get her best buddy the little tux kitten into a trap, he only watched us from the drer vent hole.

The tux kitten watches us.
The tux kitten watches us.

Finishing up

The list changed from the original list of cats to be trapped, in part because of the two new litters of kittens, and because of the cats who moved to other feeders who we can pursue later. We have three more adults and one kitten to trap, and because they’ve eluded the traps over the past few days I will now borrow a drop trap.

Here is where we stand with all the cats involved in this project:

BW mom
Tabby mom
Braveheart look alike
longhaired black mom

10-week white with black spots (Domino, caught by feeder before we started)
10-week black
10-week tux
10-week gray/white
2-week tabby
2-week tabby
2-week tabby
2-week tabby
newborn black
newborn black
newborn tabby
newborn tabby
newborn gray/white
newborn tux (deceased)

10-week tux
Big Daddy
young adult black male
orange adult male (hasn’t been seen since yard was cleared)
Sammy (hasn’t been seen since yard was cleared)

Help with costs for these cats and others

Homeless Cat Management Team

You can make a donation to the Homeless Cat Management Team (HCMT) and let them know it’s for these cats and send me the receipt—I will send you a gift certificate.

HCMT is a 501c3 and all donations are tax-deductible. Visit the website at www.homelesscat.org


Send directly to Paypal: cathomeless@gmail.com

Mail your donation

Send a check to:
Homeless Cat Management Team
P. O. Box 100203
Pittsburgh, PA 15233

Pittsburgh C.A.T.

Pittsburgh C.A.T. is not a 501c3 but all donations go directly into cat care. Raising the litter of five kittens including surgeries for all and mother, vaccinations, any illnesses that come up, all adds up to hundreds of dollars. You can use Paypal: pburghcat@gmail.com. If you’d like to send a check, please ask and I’ll give you the address. Send me a receipt.

Donate for a Discount

To donate to me, visit this article on Portraits of Animals which explains how to donate to me for a purpose. I will send you a gift certificate in an amount as described in the article: from $5.00 for donating $25.00 to $20.00 for donating $100.00.


I may continue to be a little scattered with posting as long as I’m working on this, and other rescues. Thanks for your understanding!

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