It has been a really hard month since the last entry. When we left off I had just caught two of four kittens down the block and was worried about catching the next two. I went back to the site morning and evening for the next few days trying everything to try to catch the kittens with no luck. I went so far as to go to an apothecary to purchase valerian root (the secret sister to catnip),
but when I poured the liquid on the trap it really didn’t seem to add anything to the desirability of the wire. Over and over the mom would come eat the bait in the trap and then calmly walk away with no sign of the kittens. This mom is Betsy, the black and white cat I caught weeks earlier and worried if we had gotten her back in time for her babies to survive.
It was the two days before I was to leave to visit my parents in Oregon and I was worried the kittens would not be in the same yard when I got back, if even still alive. I was getting worried and not really sure what to do. Sitting in the back yard I tried hiding being a bush, but the kittens did not come, I tried looking in the bushes as a last resort and still no little eyes. Finally I snooped over the fence and there they were playing in the neighbors back yard as if everything was normal. It looked like the neighbor kids had been feeding the kittens and that is perhaps why they never cared much for my food since the I caught the first two. I waited and watched, they came closer to the fence, but I had no net to catch them and they didn’t want to go all the way to the other side of the yard where the traps were stationed. Finally I watched them climb behind a shed to bed down for the night. Vlad came over to help and we knocked on the neighbors door hoping he would allow us into his back yard. He did and I simply walked over to where they were sleeping, in what looked to be a rolled up yoga mat, and mandatory them with my bare hands. It was too easy and I was shocked that it actually worked. The neighbor and Vlad were a bit shocked as well as I exited with two kitten in hand.
It took them a few minutes to get used to being back with their litter mates in the house, but they had full bellies and a warm dry place to sleep. What we should have done next was take them to the vet and get them checked for parasites, but I thought we had time and I didn’t understand just how fragile kittens could be. So far we had been very lucky and the kittens we had cared for had been fine until I was able to hand them off to a rescue organization. A few days later while in Oregon I got a frantic call from Vlad that one of the kittens was not well and he didn’t know what to do. He rushed to the emergency room, but it was too late for the kitten we had lovingly name Borris. Fleas and parasites had sucked the poor kitten dry and he was not able to recover no matter how much medical intervention was offered. We immediately made an appointment for the other three kittens at our favorite vet Bensonhurst Veterinary Clinic where they were wormed, vaccinated, and all fleas killed.
There have been many instances where I have wondered why didn’t they tell me this in the mandatory workshop? This is one of these instances. I really wish they had told us, if you catch a litter of kittens you need to get them to a vet ASAP or they might die. The only thing that consoles me is knowing I did not add to the problem, the kitten would have died in the wild regardless, but it hurts to know I could have improved the situation. Next time I will not make the same mistake.
Before leaving for Oregon the family living 10 minutes away we have been working with to catch the remaining cats and kittens they care for called. They had trapped two “kittens” and were ready for us to come get them. They “kittens” were the oldest I had ever taken in and I was very nervous about how pliable they would be to socializing. Over the weeks I spent in Oregon the family would end up catching three of the four kittens and we would take them to try to socialize them.
Meanwhile in Oregon:
My mother and brother had caught who they thought was the mother of the many kittens my mom fostered and found homes for earlier this summer. The named the cat Tri Tip as the cat had found its way into my brother’s truck and eaten a whole tri tip steak he had on the seat as leftovers from dinner to take home. When the cat got to the vet they discovered it was not the mom, it was a twelve year old neutered male cat. He immediately joined the Hollars household acting as if he had always lived there. At specific times he lets family members know when it is time for breakfast, and second breakfast, lunch, second lunch, dinner, and finally a little snack before bed. He is slowly putting weight back on and sleeps on the back of sofa most days. His nickname is Mr. T.
When I arrived back to Brooklyn I took over litter box duties from Vlad and started working again to socialize the three litters of kittens we were currently responsible for.
The three kittens caught by the other family were tough ones, but having three weeks of getting used to people and being inside helped a great deal. By the time they had their vet appointment they allowed us to hold them and even purred when snuggled in front of the TV. We named them Ravioli, Milwaukee, and Vladie. I am jumping ahead a bit here, but we ended up taking these three to the ACC for adoption. This time it went much better than the last interaction I had with them and I learned about deferred admissions, where in I can bring a litter of kittens to them, a vet will look them over and prescribe anything they need, and then we can foster them until the ACC is ready for them. This way they can go from house to adoption and still get the necessary vet oversight. It was as if a huge weight was lifted from my chest knowing I could rescue kittens without having to go into debt keeping them healthy and then feeling guilty when I take them to the shelter. Again I wonder why were weren’t told about this during the TNR workshop.
Trying to finish off the colony near the church, the colony I started all of this off with, I headed over to try to trap the remaining three kittens and a male cat. The mother, Sassy T, I had not been able to catch unfortunately had kittens two weeks before and was not going to be trapped, not that I saw her at any point anyway. The trapping went well and was unremarkable, it actually only took one night to my relief.
Everything went fine at the ASPCA and the kittens were doing well eating and responsive. We keep them for 48 hours of observation and then let them go back home. I went to check on everyone hours before it was time to let them go and the two girl kittens were not normal. One was trying to stand, but couldn’t get her legs under her, while they other felt cool to the touch and was not moving around as she normally should be. We called the ASPCA and they made an emergency appointment for us at BluePearl in Brooklyn.
The staff and doctors were incredibly kind and worked quickly to stabilize the kittens, but hours in their condition had not improved. It was discovered that based on their test results the kittens had panleukopenia and would most likely not make it. I called the caretaker to let her know and allow her to speak directly with the doctor and then went up stairs to say goodbye to the kittens. It was very hard to do and incredibly upsetting as it is preventable through vaccines. The other cats in the colony that I caught earlier should be safe, but the mom, Sassy T, her new litter of kittens, and the two remaining cats I caught during this round are at risk. At least the two cats that were vaccinated during this round have a fighting chance, a race between virus and vaccine, but I worry about the mother. I cannot say how thankful I am to the ASPCA as they covered all of the emergency room bill and cremation cost, something that would have been a huge burden on my finances.
I am very sad to say I am not sure I can go back to this colony; it has been a struggle in many ways to work on this colony and with these recent deaths I feel a bit devastated to say the least. I met two fellow women trappers during my most recent visit to the ASPCA, one who is based in Bay Ridge. She told me it was either her way or the highway when she works with caretakers. She requires them to withhold food for four days, if they wont follow her requirements she tells them to “lose my number”. There were several low points during this trapping: the limits on where I was able to set up the traps, away from the normal feeding area; the request for specific cats to be trapped at different times, resulting in the two kittens being exposed to the virus and dying before they could be properly vaccinated; and not being able to get food withheld for long enough. I think in the future I can be more firm/honest with the caretaker about what I need and what is possible. At first I was upset, I wanted to blame someone, but I think I wasn’t convincing/clear enough in how I presented the information to the caretaker and I need to improve upon this for the next trapping. I had been sitting cramped on the sidewalk for several hours trying to trap the cats and wanted to adopt the “lose my number technique”, but is that fair to the animals?
Soon after this tragedy the family that caught the three older “kittens” had caught another, the grandmother is now a master trapper. Unfortunately, this “kitten”, Full Dark, was now over five months old and a feral for life. We took her to the ASPCA to get her fixed so she could have the best feral life possible, although sadly it will be much shorter than if we had caught her with her siblings.
So tonight we go to release Full Dark back home knowing one more feral cat is safer and will not bring others into the world. Afterwords I will sanitize my traps and carriers in my bathtub and start thinking about the next colony I will start trying to help.