Who knew? 36 cats in one back yard and twelve across the street.
On a scorching hot day, a couple of months ago now, an undefined movement caught my eye as I walked past an old red Honda parked on a sloping cement driveway. They looked like loosely rolled up towels, one beige, one white. A second look revealed two new born kittens; blind and helpless. Mama cat was herself a kitten; barely into adolescence. She'd given birth under the car and her babies had rolled out onto the hot concrete. I had two dogs with me, one was obsessed by felines as prey so I took them home and returned with water and food for mama cat and replaced the babies in the shade beneath the vehicle. It was obviously not a definitive solution so, being me, I went and knocked on the front door.
My new found friend, Ernest, welcomed me with open arms. He and his adult, but not very useful, daughter had been eating lunch and having a "what the heck can we do?" conversation about the cat colony.
Ernest explained that his wife had been feeding two feral cats and he had continued after she died, two years ago. Cats did what cats do and he was spending almost all of his Social Security check to nourish the hoards three times a day. He had also been turning down invitations to family weddings and other gatherings, for want of someone to care for the cats.
I told them about the free county program called TNR, Trap, Neuter, Return which is designed to stop feral cats from reproducing, and all the fighting and injuries that are a byproduct. Kittens young enough to be socialized are adopted to new homes and adult feral cats are brought back to familiar territory to live out the rest of their lives.
I was somehow nominated to get things started.
As I only had one trap of my own and this was a sizeable task, I emailed across the Nextdoor neighbors group and quickly had rounded up four more traps and made new connections at the same time. I've carefully taped everyone's names on their traps, to be sure I know which is which.
It was hard for Ernest to withhold food on the evenings before my cat trapping assignations. Hungry cats are more likely to overcome their fear and get caught. Ernest felt he was letting them down. he was also very upset that some kittens were caught, leaving distraught mama cats and some Mama cats were caught, leaving kittens behind. There were no small kittens left abandoned. There were some little gangs of mixed age litters, used to hanging out and playing together, as in the top photo cat-carrier shot. Unfortunately not all animals survive living free. One kitten was cold and lethargic when I picked him up in the long grass, even in California summer heat. He and one other didn't make it.
We live in unincorporated County lands and our territory is covered by an animal shelter 40 miles away, with a very few roving Field Officers to deal with all animal emergencies in a very large area. A trapped cat is considered an emergency and they come as fast as possible to collect them, then return them to same address after spay neuter surgery, or adopt out if young enough.
I set traps in the early morning and usually catch something within a couple of hours. Ernest keeps an eye out and lets me know how that's going. I move the covered traps to a shady spot on the side of the house and call it in to dispatch, after checking the ears to be sure I'm not wasting anyone's time. The Field Officers have been great, although twice they've called back to tell us they'd been redirected onto another emergency and couldn't come immediately. Once there was a herd of goats on the freeway and once a mountain lion in a back yard. On both those occasions I made the trek to deliver my catches.
The black and white youngster above was one of my early catches. After being neutered and returned, he is always first to set off one of my traps. I think he sees that as the price of admission to a sardine breakfast. I've had to release him a half dozen times. We're calling him Boomerang!
The shelter vets make a small clip at the tip of one ear, to show those that have been through the system. It can be hard to spot if a cat has a clipped ear when its in freaked out, whirling dervish mode in a trap. I always cover the traps to reduce trauma, but I have to look in to see what's in there. Black ears are the hardest.
This little black kitten is from across the street. I was aware that they had cat issues because there were always cats out front when I went by. In for a penny, in for a pound, I knocked on their door too. They were suspicious at first as neighbors had filed complaints about them. The lady wanted to capture the kittens herself, which she hadn't done to date, so I left my number and crossed my fingers.
I have found it very motivating to inform people that a female cat can get pregnant at 16 weeks. Their eyes get wide and I can see them doing the math in their heads.
Debbie did call me to collect one kitten. I had a friend that had offered to foster and socialize before it went up for adoption. I drove it to her house. Socialization was going well but the little guy was not gaining weight and had goopy eyes that didn't completely clear up with bathing. She took him to her vet and spent over $200 for eye drops and antibiotics. A couple of days later she called that he had thrown up twice. We were worried about dehydration and unable to fund more emergency vet visits, so I dropped everything to collect him and get him to the animal shelter. I checked on line to see his status and they had discovered an infestation of lice and had put a time limit on his being taken in by a rescue group, as they were submerged by kitten season.
Friend spent time on the phone begging local cat rescues to step in. One group had a volunteer headed for the shelter anyway but no room in the car for one more. By then it was 6pm on Sunday night. I said I'd go the next morning, get the kitten and deliver to rescue.
Monday morning, after 90 minutes hanging out at the shelter, kitten was nowhere to be found.
They put calls into the people who had worked the evening before and promised to get back to me.
An email followed that kitten had indeed been picked up by that rescue. Friend called rescue to confirm and was told kitten was not in their system. Back to the shelter I went, to get answers. I can't even remember how they resolved it but they did confirm that the kitten had gone to the volunteer from rescue, who had kept him to foster and he hadn't made it into anyone's computer system yet as the vet running the cat rescue was, herself in hospital. I did make one more call to the rescue group and all was confirmed. Whew!
I used the lice info as more motivation for Debbie to get her act together catching cats at her house. Her cats were not healthy. She was still full of excuses. A week or more later I got a call from Debbie's Dad. It's his house. She's living there, taking care of him. Angelo called to say he'd caught two kittens and what should he do now? He was as sick of waiting on Debbie as I was.
The somewhat pin-headed cat in these three pictures appeared in my yard ten days ago. There was also a young ginger cat hanging around. At first I though they must belong to new neighbors but it seemed strange that this cats big ear was visibly clipped. It must have been a feral. I spent some time puzzling about the new felines and my resident pair were upset, afraid to eat and constantly having face-offs with the new guys. The penny was slow in dropping, as I've caught too many cats to be able to recognize one from the other. However, the distinctive markings of he/she who shall now be called Winnie, clicked as a cat I'd captured the prior weekend.
The shelter had confused my info with that of Ernest and deposited these cats at my house, a problem I neither deserved nor needed and it could have been very bad for the cats. 5am last Saturday found me setting traps at my own house, trying to shoo away the cats I didn't want and hide from those I did. Winnie was captured after one false attempt of a closed trap that was empty of both cats and sardines.
I drove Winnie home and went back to bed for an hour, feeling very satisfied that I'd restored the Cat-Balance around me. Sunday morning double-take! Winnie was waiting to be fed outside my door. I questioned myself. Had I made a mistake in the semidarkness? Had I caught the right cat. I had a photo of Winnie in my garden to compare with the photo I took before I released her back to her home. They were from different sides and I went back and forth from one image to the other, doubting myself. I finally snapped a shot of her from the other side and matched up her markings.
Cats are known for finding their way home. I've never heard of a cat doing the opposite. I gave up. Now I have 4 outdoor cats. Territory issues are settling down. All that remains is to name the new orange cat. He's too shy for now to get a picture.