Lyla did wonderfully at her first veterinary appointment. They noted a pretty bad heart murmur as well as signs of infection. Off we went with some Clavamox and eye drops. The doctors hoped the other issues would clear up as soon as she put on a bit of weight and reduced her stress level.
Day after day we watched Lyla gain a bit of weight and become a bit brighter. It was absolutely amazing.
As if I didn’t already have enough on my plate I got an email from a local cat spy letting us know about a colony site not far from us. Off I went to check it all out. It wasn’t long before we had found the original cat the spy had wanted to show me, and in quick secession we found a whole other colony with a very sweet caretaker. This caretaker had quite a few cats that had just given birth and we set a plan to get them fixed as soon as was appropriate. We found out the next day, one who had looked pregnant when we met her that day had given birth right after we left. A few days later we found out most of the kittens had already perished. It was hard to hear, but not abnormal. When the cats breed at such a rapid rate the kittens often are not well and do not make it. According to an issue of the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine (https://admin.avma.org/News/Journals/Collections/Documents/javma_225_9_1399.pdf) the kitten mortality rate is estimated to be 75%. It’s a really upsetting statistic, but shows just how important birth control is for these cats.
The next few days we went back to the Community Cats I went back to help the new trappers for the second phase of their efforts. This time we would try to catch everyone we could get our little traps on! Over a two day period we set up traps in the back yard and a drop trap in the driveway.
The first day we had some trouble with the drop trap. The plate of food was not in the right place and it left the cat’s tail out. We didn’t feel comfortable pulling the string and when we finally did it was too late.
I posted the efforts on Instagram and got some rather aggressive feedback. According to the trapping critic we didn’t have the string tight enough and they didn’t believe we had a weight on the back flap of the trap. They said we should have pulled the string and the cat would have pulled in its tail as the it tried to turn and run. While the information was helpful, it was honestly a bit too much at the time. It is hard sharing one’s experiences, victories, and losses in such a public way, but it is also important. Sharing is how we learn from others and how they learn from our experiences. The criticism renewed our promise to ourselves to maintain a positive and helpful attitude toward people and cats, both in life and online, even if the people do things differently than we would. We will make an effort to offer advice only when requested and respect when others are just sharing, and not necessarily asking for advice.
I have to admit the small but active online presence we maintain is sometimes exhausting. There are a lot of upsetting posts about cats being euthanized, cats being abused, cats being dumped and needing rescue. Sometimes someone snaps a picture of a cat on the street in desperate need of help; the person asks for someone to do something. The image gets reposted over and over online and then it is later found that help did not reach the cat quickly enough and it didn’t make it. There is so much more about the online community that is helpful, but sometimes it is overwhelming and feels like a black hole that can suck one in and never let them out.
Back to trapping.
The next day we set up a drop trap in the driveway again, but no one seemed to be coming; plus we were being too chatty with the caretaker’s son in law as we waited for the cats. Because of this we decided to put the drop trap in the resting position and set up some box traps in the back yard and near where we had been using the drop trap. I thought I heard a trap go off not long after and whet to check, but didn’t see anything. It wasn’t too long before we had found a “hot spot” near the fence. One cat went in quickly and we were able to watch the whole thing on the security cameras the homeowner had set up. It was so nice to sit on a stoop watching a video camera waiting for a cat to go in a trap.
We went to collect that cat and found another had been trapped in the back yard, but had been very quiet about it. We covered up the cats and reset the traps waiting for more. Out of no where an orange cat walked up the drive way and directly to the traps. This cat was not known to the caretakers and was a complete surprise. After much anticipation he finally tripped the trap and was caught!
We called it a night and packed up. The new trappers would take the cats to the holding space and then to Dyker Heights in the morning for their appointments. It was a great first trapping. I learned a lot right along with them and was so grateful to have gotten to know the trappers and to have been able to virtually watch Meredith and Lois. They did such a wonderful job networking the help that was needed and problem solving when the new trappers hit just about every snag in the book: trap bank out of traps, mother moves kittens, sick cat needing a week of medication, odd work schedules, and so on.
Not to allowing a breath to come between me and the next cat we set our sights on Sunset Park. There was a growing colony there that seemed to be getting bigger by the week and we couldn’t get them out of our mind. After a long day at work I took the train home, loaded up my car and drove to Sunset Park about 20 minutes away. I finally had a vehicle and it made me feel like I could do whatever I wanted whenever. In the past Vlad and I had many an argument over who got to use the car and without that stress of those arguments I felt excited to get these cats on the TNR train.
Unpacking my drop trap I set it up not as it normally would be on its prop, but as a very large box trap with a closing guillotine door.
Before I even had the door set there was a cat in the trap and another one trying to get in. I waited until the final cat of the three was in and pulled the trigger. Syphoning off the three cats I reset the trap and waited for more. Before long I had another in the drop trap to funnel off into a transfer cage.
And then I was out of transfer cages and needed to get some more. I packed up the drop trap put it in my car, and went to our studio. When I had the extra transfer cages I reset the drop trap and waited . . . and here is where I made a huge mistake. It wasn’t long before I had another customer going in the trap. I hit the trigger, the door closed, and the cat jumped right out of the trap. I had forgotten to hook the top of the drop trap to the body.
Upset and feeling like a failure I decided it was time to pack up and go home. Driving home I got a call from Jerry, the caretaker of the colony I recently caught Midge at and still hadn’t been able to catch the calico. Jerry had some surprising news. The calico had been moving kittens back and forth in the back yard and had them split between two winter shelters. I called the other caretaker and let her know we were on our way to the site to asses the situation. We arrived, spoke to the second caretaker and decided to go check everything out. Grabbing a transfer cage and cover I followed the line to the back yard. We spoke for a bit and then I thought why not, I lined the transfer cage up to the opening of the winter shelter we had built, a large Coleman cooler with a circular entrance on one side. Out popped the calico mother! Quickly I slid the door to the transfer cage shut, covered the mom, and set it in a safe spot away from the action. Next we lifted up the cover of the cooler and in it we found three tiny kittens writhing in the light. We loaded them up into another transfer cage and went to check the other shelter a bit further back. In it were two more kittens! In they went with the others and all were hauled up the stairs to the caretakers apartment. Luckily she had a cage ready for the family. We had been wondering if Midge might be happier inside. Midge told us she would not be happier inside and we released her back to her colony. With the space open we moved the kittens and mom in and oohed and ahhhed at how cute they all were.
The next day after work I took the train home, grabbed my car again, and drove to Sunset Park. This time I decided no drop trap, only box traps. I set them up on the other side of the street where it could be considered a whole different colony only yards apart. It wasn’t long before the cats were climbing over the fence and into the traps. It was too easy, the cats were hungry even though they had many caretakers. Some looked far too skinny and it was heartbreaking.
Vlad had been eating a lot of meals at the corner bodega where a cat named Tommy lived so we picked Tommy up on our way out to get him fixed as well. That night we got everyone comfy and ready for bed. Since Tommy was so nice I thought he could stay out in the room rather than a trap. The next morning I found Tommy had gotten into a bag of treats I didn’t even know were there and had eaten the food I had confiscated to what I thought was a safe spot at midnight. With food in his belly I couldn’t take him for an appointment and felt like a complete failure. The other seven cats went off to get fixed while Tommy came back home with me. I have to admit seven cats is the most I have cared for in traps at one time and it was a bit much. That night I picked up the cats from Glendale and made some calls to see if Tommy could get into a local clinic. Luckily they had room for him and he could be seen the next day. That night I was smarter and put Tommy in a crate to ensure he couldn’t get into anymore trouble.
Everything went fine with Tommy at the clinic and we brought him back to his bodega owners who had promised to take him home for the evening to keep an eye on him. Three days later we got a call from the bodega owner. Tommy had passed away. It was a shock to us and I couldn’t help feeling responsible. I should have kept him myself overnight, I should have done this, I should have done that. It wasn’t until the owners told us he lost use of his back legs in the afternoon, three days following is surgery, and when they came back the next day he was dead that I realized it was not our fault. If they had told us of the issue we would have gotten him to a hospital right away, but without that information we could do nothing. It wasn’t weeks before that another cat in their care had passed away and this made me wonder if poison wasn’t involved. In the end the reason for Tommy’s death was not something we could know and we left with sad hearts and a deceased cat in a box with a garbage bag taped around it. It was heartbreaking to bring the body of a cat back to the same house we had so recently carried him to alive and well. Vlad was very upset and vowed never to work with owned cats again. I couldn’t blame him. So many new hurdles came with owned cats and it felt overwhelming.
With all of this I still had a standing date with a cat spy in my neighborhood to get one cat fixed for our newfound caretaker. It seemed like kind of a test, it is very hard for people in our area to believe we will actually bring their cats back. I jokingly tell them I don’t want their cats, but I am aware that a slow and soft approach is not bad in these situations. I showed up at the site with a few transfer cages and my drop trap with remote, of course. The caretaker believed they could pick up the cat, Monkey, easily, but I didn’t want to risk it. I felt it would be much easier to get the cat in the trap first and then in a transfer cage without making the caretaker the bad guy. We set up and I gave the spy the remote, it wasn’t long before we had four cats in transfer cages ready for appointments including Monkey. I wish I had more cages, but I think it might have been the right amount for the first time with this caretaker. If I had overstayed my welcome it could have been more difficult for them and made the next trapping less likely to be welcome.
I took the cats to Glendale the next day and had to rush over to another site at which I had promised to trap before I caught this group. It was a nice site as it was in the back of a building, secluded and no foot traffic. I was able to sit, peeking around a wall just watching for cats and listening to podcasts.
Right after setting up the drop trap a black cat tried to go in. I didn’t have a good line of site and pulled the trigger to early. The door fell on the little cats back, it didn’t hurt him or her at all, but it did upset them. Because of my poor planning I ended up having to leave early to get to Glendale on time to pick everyone up leaving the site empty handed.
I returned to the site the next day early in the morning having left my drop trap on site. At around 5:00pm an orange cat came out and thought about going in, but the feeders had put food down and the cat hunkered down with what they had left. Sitting and waiting a while later a little grey cat came by and under the trap she went. I had switched to the string at this point frustrated with the trigger and not being able to see well enough. Pulling the string quick and sure the grey girl was trapped and I carefully covered her and then transferred her into a cage. Luckily Ferals in Peril had space for her and off she went to get fixed and vaccinated.
Picking her up after surgery I found out she was lactating, a surprise since I thought we had checked for nipples and the feeder had not noticed she was pregnant. The best practices are to return the lactating mom 24 hours after surgery to the site, something that greatly upset the caretaker. I was at a loss as to how to properly address the caretakers concerns, I tried quoting texts, but they were still upset. In the end I released the cat and hopped for the best regarding the caretaker.
Leaving the drop trap on site with the door open and some treats inside I told the caretaker I would be back the following weekend.
That same evening I had returned the other four cats to their colony. All were well and ready to go home.
Almost through the week well into Friday I received a call from the caretaker of the first cat I ever fixed. The crossing guard at the school had been asked by a parent if there was anyone who could help with a kitten they had found abandoned by the mother in their backyard. I told them I could pick the kitten up that evening after I got home from work. I didn’t know what to expect and thought it should be okay. The other kittens I had worked with in the past just needed a bit of TLC and flea medication before they were ready to go. I naively though this would be a similar situation. That evening I walked over to the finders house and was met with a terribly out of control colony of cats. They were eating out of the garbage bags and didn’t even care when I walked by. To me this meant they were not doing well. I collected the kitten who was much younger than I had thought, closer to two weeks old, and home I went. On the way I called Vlad and had him pick up some KMR (kitten milk replacement). Thank goodness there was one pet supply store still open and he was able to get one of the few remaining tins of milk. When I got the kitten home and the milk made I had to drop the milk carefully down her throat slowly, drop by drop. The person caring for her before had not known to stimulate her and had been feeding her cows milk. I felt absolutely helpless and didn’t know if she would make it through the night. Sabrina our doxin was very protective of the kitten and helped stimulate her where we failed. We named the kitten Mindy and did our best.
I continued trapping at my weekend commitment and decided to come only in the evening as that is when the cats were there. That Saturday I was able to catch two more, an orange one the caretaker had previously caught but had accidentally released thinking he was already fixed, and a grey and white one the caretaker had never seen before.
Again I was lucky enough to get them into Ferals in Peril and dropped them off the next morning. Right after, I called our veterinarian’s office to see if they could fit Mindy in. We were having difficulty getting her to pass stool and I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. The kitten lady made it look so easy, but it was not. They were so kind to fit us in so I popped by the house to pick her up and take her right over. Dr. Porfido was amazing with her. They x-rayed her to see what was going on and soon gave her an enima. They were shocked at the amount of hard dry fecal mater they were able to get out. To be safe they kept her for observation for the rest of the day and had her on fluids. We discovered we had not been feeding her at the right interval, we had been doing every three hours and it was supposed to be every two. We also learned how to properly stimulate her using a warm cloth and not having to be directly on the genitalia.
We took her home again and started our new routine, which was grueling to say the least. We already could tell we were doing much better as far as urination goes, but we were still having a hard time getting her to pass stool. The next day at 1:20pm Mindy passed a long, rather dry, stool much to my relief. I still felt out of my depth and Mindy was still rather floppy, but I just didn’t know what was normal for a kitten that age. I tried looking it up online, but could find nothing. The next morning I fed Mindy one last feeding and loaded the two of us onto the train to the ASPCA admissions/hospital. We made it there and she was rushed to the ER. The whole thing made me feel like I had failed, that I didn’t recognize that she was as sick as she was. They got her on oxygen and took her details. I hope they were able to save her, but part of the deal with this process is you don’t get to check in on the kittens. It’s a hard way to leave, but I have to trust the doctors to care as much as I do do everything that is in the best interest of Mindy.
Leaving the hospital with an empty carrier and a very heavy heart I wept openly as I walked to the train. I wished I knew more, I wished I was as smart as my sister who is an amazing veterinarian, I wished I could have done better. When I started TNR I had no idea how much was involved in the process. TNR is the easy part, its the kittens and the friendlies that are the hard part . . . the cats that don’t belong in the TNR process. Caring for them, trying to find a path to adoption, and saying goodbye to them over and over is so difficult and takes a little piece of me each time I do it. I can understand how people get burnt out on animal welfare and I see just a small part of the whole picture.