I cannot quite remember the first time I drove past this little store with these adorable hand painted signs hanging out front. It must have been nearly seven years ago.
I eventually just had to stop for some of those fresh eggs. I have been going back ever since. For the past couple of years it seems like I have needed to stop by at least once a week for several dozen. It was also a couple years ago that Jonny and I started talking about raising a flock of chickens of our own. One of the reasons we waited as long as we did was the fact that I really like stopping by to chat with the woman who runs the store with her son. My kids call her Ms. Nell. She keeps Hershey kisses behind the counter and doesn’t mind my kids’ weird social skills. Enough said. I also love feeling part of our community: knowing my neighbors, buying local, that sort of thing.
I can get local greenhouse grown tomatoes all winter long.
Ms. Nell and I often times “talk cats” because I worked for years as a volunteer in our community, educating the public about feral cats, and helping people to trap literally thousands of them for trap-neuter-return efforts. In the process I often trapped feral kittens, brought them home, socialized them, and then found them homes. Ms. Nell adopted one of such kittens from me years ago.
This past summer, Ms. Nell mentioned that a momma cat had been dropped off at her house and had subsequently “dropped” a litter of kittens. Regarding this new family of cats, Nell was able to carry the momma cat to her vet to be spayed once the kittens were old enough to be separated from her, but it cost her a fortune. Next up she knew the kittens needed to be sterilized as well, but having been born outdoors and hidden for months by their mother, they were not friendly enough to be handled.
I “retired” from the feral cat world a couple of years ago and don’t intend to ever go back to it for many reasons. In all honesty, if a friend asked me for help with a feral I probably would direct them to a local program rather than help myself because, well, I have six kids.
However, I live just a few minutes from Nell, I still own traps, and I haven’t been able to get out and do something for someone in such a long time. I knew that I could trap these kittens for Nell, and also get them into a low fee clinic and save her some money. I also knew I could do this at little to no expense (not talking money here) to my family. Jonny doesn’t ever want me to go back to working with feral cats, but he fully supported this quick little project. So while Nell would have never asked me to help her with these cats, I volunteered because really I wanted to help. I hadn’t trapped a cat in a couple of years and I used to trap dozens every week, and it was fun to revisit that.
I documented the process, just for fun. I am going to outline the steps just in case anyone is interested in how to trap a feral cat, Ginny style.
After trapping for years, I started using a technique for trapping that simply involves training the cats to trust the traps a couple of weeks before I need to trap them. So step number one is to schedule an appointment for the cats’ surgeries. You’d be surprised how many people forget about that step. Step two is to get the cats used to eating out of traps. So, a couple of weeks ago I headed over to Nell’s farm with a few traps, some bowls, and some zip ties.
I was able to get pictures of a couple of the kittens, who are now half grown cats.
They aren’t super feral, in fact, Nell can pet a couple of them. Of couse they wouldn’t let me near them.
At one end of each trap I placed a bowl for feeding the cats in, and closed the door (the traps I use have doors at each end-they are calledtru-catch traps and are the most humane live catch traps on the market.) Then at the other end I used the zip ties to hold the trap door open so that the cats could walk inside and eat without being trapped. This way, over the course of a couple of weeks leading up to the day before the appointment when I actually set the traps, the cats get used to walking in and out.
After getting the traps set up, I walked around the farm for a little while with Nell, visitng with the animals. She has this funny little dog named Tinkerbell who goes everywhere with her. While we were walking around, Tink found a chicken that had escaped from the run and Nell explained that Tink helps to round up the chickens when they have been free ranging and it is time to get back in the run. Tink ran this chicken around until she had it trapped so that Nell could pick it up and carry it back.
They keep cows as well on this farm and they are pretty friendly. This one walked right up to the fence so I could pet it. I had to be careful though not to let it snot my camera. Next time I want to pet a baby cow.
So, Nell fed the kittens inside the traps for the ten days or so leading up to the appt. The kittens were only fed in the traps so they would be forced to go inside them if they wanted to eat.
The appointment for these guys was on a Wednesday morning, so I started trapping Tuesday afternoon. I headed over with my supplies: an extra trap, newspaper folded to fit inside the traps (so the kitties don’t have to sit on wire overnight before the appt.), and cut up paper plates to hold the bait. I also had cut up sheets to cover the traps with once the cats were trapped inside. I quickly realized that I am no longer a natural at this trapping stuff.
Number one, I never used to line traps with newspaper when trapping. The cats weren’t used to the paper and it made them very hesitant to go inside. Typically I wait until I get everyone trapped and then very carefully transfer the cats into traps that are lined with paper.
For bait, I just went with the canned cat food that the cats were used to eating. A better thing to use is canned jack mackerel, but it really stinks!
I put the bait in the traps (I needed to trap four cats, so I set four traps. I always always trap an entire group at once-even if there are a ton of cats. It’s easier that way)
Then I headed across the street to chat with Nell for a minute. When trapping cats, you can’t leave traps unattended unless they are in a protected place. This is especially true if you are trapping in a public area where someone with bad intentions might come across a helpless cat in a trap. However, these cats were being trapped on private property, in a secluded spot. When I got back to check the traps a few minutes later, the one female in the bunch was trapped. I quickly and quietly placed a cover over the trap to calm her down (this is essential) and loaded her in my van. Then I left the area for a few minutes hoping that the other cats would come take the bait. Because they are feral and don’t know me, my presence kept them from coming out. So I did a lot of driving around and coming back to check the traps periodically.
The next time I checked I had trapped kitty number two. He was a wee bit scared. The poor cats have no idea what is going on, but it is for their own good, and it has to be done.
I loaded him in the car and headed home to take a dinner break. It is vitally important that you protect your vehicle with water proof chux pads (always on hand if you are a homebirther 🙂 or those puppy housebreaking pads. I usually put a layer of blankets, followed by the pads under the traps.
I returned after dark to check my traps again and learned an important lesson. Nine year old boys with poor impulse control don’t make the best trapping companions. When we pulled up to the barn to check the traps, I saw that the third cat was already trapped, covered, and set aside. Nell had closed up the store and come over and taken care of that. The fourth cat was hanging close by, but had not gone in a trap yet. While I was loading kitty number three into the van and chatting with Nell and her son Doug, Seth accidentally honked the horn on my van-and it was really loud-and for some reason he couldn’t figure out that he needed to remove his weight from the horn to make it stop. So, needless to say, kitty number four ran off and didn’t get trapped that night.
So the next morning I headed to the appt. with the three trapped cats bright and early, feeling like a failure because I didn’t trap the fourth cat. I dropped them off and headed home. I got a phone call a little while later from Nell, during which she told me that she had managed to trap the fourth cat that morning herself, and that Doug had taken it to the clinic and dropped it off a little while after I was there. That made me really happy.
Late that afternoon I picked up the four cats who had been sterilized, vaccinated, and treated for parisites, and took them back to the farm to be recuperated over night in their traps inside the garage (they have to be kept in a secure place when in their traps because of predators). They were each given a small amount of wet food and water that evening after surgery, and the next morning they were all released from their traps back outdoors because they were fully alert and ready to go. It is standard procedure to release ferals the day after surgery if there have been no complications.
So four kittens won’t be making any more kittens next spring, and that’s a good thing.
And as of right now, I am still stopping by the little grocery to buy eggs, because we are only getting five small ones a day so far from our own chickens and I have to supplement. We’ll find an excuse to keep visiting even when we no longer need to stop by for eggs.
I still want to pet a baby cow.
Just in case you ended up here because you googled feral cats and need more information, please visit Alley Cat Allies’ website for more detailed information. I was schooled by them and have even taught at one of their conferences before. They are the experts! This post is not exhaustive by any means, although it may have been exhausting to read!
I will be back tomorrow with a more typical post about my adventures with my kids. We’ve got something kind of cool a-brewing. Well, cool for us, but I’ll try to make it interesting for you too. Goodnight!