Since getting the use of a car on a regular basis, a car that I always have at least one trap in and now smells sometimes strongly, sometimes faintly of various fish products, I have felt a freedom that I had not felt since leaving Oregon. I could do whatever I wanted, I didn’t have to ask someone if I could borrow a vehicle or wait for someone to drive with me to a site. It was a freedom I quickly took to an extreme similar to having a “single serving” pint of coffee ice cream for breakfast, just because I could. I didn’t want to stop after doing Jeana’s cats, even though it would have been the smart thing to do. I refreshed the scheduler until I had 10 appointments in my calendar for the next Saturday. On Thursday I went to the site, set up my drop trap with remote trigger, loaded the back of the trap with bait and waited. Soon after I caught the one remaining kitten, he was not thrilled and made quite the protest. I loaded him into a transfer cage and reset the drop trap with the kitten under it, I was hoping to catch his mother. With the kitten as bait under the trap two other females approached and were quickly trapped. The mom didn’t seem to care that the kitten was there so I put him away under a cover to settle down a bit along with the two other cats. Under the watchful eyes of the neighbors I hit my limit once again and packed up to go home. That night I was worn out, but excited.
On Friday I had promised to help catch three cats in the caretaker’s apartment to be fixed and vaccinated. This is the caretaker of the site I had just trapped at on Thursday. Somehow and at some point she had trapped three feral cats, without traps mind you, and brought them up to her apartment to live as ghosts. I’m not entirely sure why she did this or how the cats felt about it, but they were there and they needed to get fixed and vaccinated. At first I tried getting one into a transfer cage by cornering. It nearly broke out the window and ended up urinating on the screen as a family happily watched from the sidewalk below. Finally I got three cats in transfer cages only to find that two were already fixed. I released those two back into the bedroom I had been trapping in, shut the door, and moved on to the living room. In that room, under the couch were the two other cats I was after. They bounced around the house running from me before I went back to the car to retrieve a fishing net. The net saved me. With it I was able to net and scruff the two remaining cats long enough to get them in the transfer cages and lock the doors. This was an entirely new experience for me and it wasn’t lost on me how crazy it must look to someone on the outside. I went home that evening sweaty and scratched. At least the caretaker was a good sport about it and didn’t get upset when the cats nearly tore the blinds off the windows.
It wasn’t until that night that the panic began to set in. We were babysitting Jerry and Sandra’s feral mom and kittens while they were on vacation, I had three litters of kittens I was socializing, and now eight cats were sitting in traps waiting for their appointments. I was completely insane to take all of this on. And it was about to get worse.
When one completes a TNR course in NYC it is possible to join a listserve made up entirely of others who are certified. It is meant to help us reach out to each other for advice and help, and often this is exactly what it does. Sometimes it begins to mimic instagram with urgent request about a kitten needing help here, fosters needed, a cat here in dire need . . . need is the common denominator. It is sometimes very difficult for me to read the emails and not respond with advice like, maybe you could do that yourself instead of asking someone else to? I fell into this trap with a person asking for help with a cat they thought had been TNRed, but wasn’t. I bossily told them they should consider doing it themselves as others had their own colonies to care for. Perhaps it was a bit less harsh than the light I am shining on it at the moment, but it for sure wasn’t a soft fuzzy answer. A week or so later the person was back on the listserve and they were actually taking care of the problem, but they had three older kittens that someone had taken on for them in the process and they were going to be released in a different area by the person as they thought they were not able to tame the older kittens. I couldn’t take it anymore and I stepped in to offer help. I felt like they had taken my advice and now I needed to pitch in.
The story of the kittens unfolded in a strange manner. Apparently the person who had taken them lived semi near me, ran an animal rescue non-profit, and had decided it was time to put these kittens out in his backyard; not traditional TNR protocol to say the least. The trapping couple that had originally brought the kittens to him told me I had to contact him at a specific time as he had a birthday party to go to that evening. . . this should have been a warning sign to me, but I didn’t see it. I called and spoke to the person and we made plans to meet the following day at noon.
While all of this was going down I received a TNR request from a charity group to help a veteran get his Community Cats fixed. The caretaker (human caretaker) who emailed me on the man’s behalf had already gotten kittens into an adoption program and just needed help with the last bit, but most important bit, getting the mom fixed. I went to do a site visit the morning I was scheduled to meet with the man with the kittens. The veteran was so kind and it looked like an easy trapping as he already had a good feeding schedule set up, easy parking, and an enclosed backyard. We made plans for me to come the following day to trap what I thought was one cat and three kittens.
The next day I met with the man with the kittens. Five minutes away from the location and five minutes early to our scheduled appointment I get a call from the man telling me he has to step out and will be back in an hour. I was shocked and not pleased, I was not coming back to get the kittens and I was not going to sit there for an hour to wait for this person I was actually helping. Apparently he could sense my displeasure and decided to come back to get me the kittens. Stepping out of my car he asked if I had a net, gloves, and a trap not things I had been asked to bring. I did have gloves in my car and net, no trap just a transfer cage; I really didn’t like where this was going. We walked to the enclosed back yard which had a small shed pressed against the white plastic fence that reached above my head. A small wooden porch large enough to entertain a few people came off the back door of the house. New brickwork made up the ground of the yard, and in the center covered with a blue tarp was a very large trap sitting vertically, backdoor to the ground. At this point I kind of went numb and disconnected a bit. It was very hot outside and there this person had kittens under a tarp in the full sun. He pulled the tarp back and there three older kittens sat, completely freaked and without water. Originally there had been four kittens, but apparently he lost one in a transfer. I began to think that escaped kitten was very lucky.
Instead of taking the trap into an enclosed space, the man decided it was best to open up the top of the large trap, reach down with the net, and quickly shove the kitten into his carrier. Numb me protested, but as is the norm I was not an authority most likely due to my gender and perceived age. He was able to get one kitten in using this method, but the second kitten, an orange one, escaped to freedom and possible death. Nonplussed about the situation he got the final kitten into the carrier. Somehow he thought his backyard was well enough enclosed that the kittens would not be able to escape. Having seen a grown cat escaped from a trap claw until they opened a window and then a screen to escape I thought this person was insane. We moved a whole bunch of miscellaneous items stacked near the shed, boards, ladders, etc. to get to the area behind the shed where he thought the kittens were (he was still thinking the other escaped kitten was still in the yard as well). Of course there was no kitten. He swore they must be back there, but as I inspected the fencing I could see a kitten could easily squeeze between his fence and the neighbors to escape to safety/possible death due to incorrect relocation techniques. I loaded up and headed home with two kittens who had most likely been tortured, or at least almost overheated.
It wasn’t long after that the listserver reared its ugly head once more. These same trappers who had connected me with the two almost relocated kittens were doing another project and they had found a litter of four kittens they wanted removed from the colony, and didn’t feel they could get the mother fixed without taking the kittens. A dilemma for sure. Once again I fell for their pitch and offered to take the kittens as long as they ensured the mothers would be TNRed. Soon they had trapped one of the kittens and with some difficulty communication wise we made plans to have the kitten dropped off at my house. A few days later two more kittens were in my house, and then the final for a total of six kittens (two older ones and four younger ones).
Caveat II~ I went back the veteran’s house to trap the mother cat and her three kittens. I had invested in some kitten sized traps and was excited to use them. I trapped the mom first using a drop trap and my remote trigger, it was over before it even began. Soon after I was able to trap two kittens with my tiny traps, but I couldn’t seem to locate the third kitten. I had seen another black cat hop the fence earlier so I asked the caretaker how big this “kitten” was. It turns out the kitten was a cat and the one hoping the fence was she. Knowing this I made plans to come back the next day.
It was so easy to catch the third cat, the caretaker hadn’t been feeding before I trapped the mom and kittens and it took little effort to catch the final cat. I set the trap up in the middle of the yard, put some bait in and went back to sit in my car. We waited there for about ten minutes when I heard the trap go off. Bing Bang Boom!
It felt good to be so productive, but it also felt overwhelming. What had I done?