By Sue Kerr
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
This spring, one of the feral cats we had been feeding turned up with three, then four, then five kittens. They were exactly adorable as you would expect, as they tumbled into the bowls of dry cat food while Mamma cat (Jennie Jane) watched.
I literally scooped up the first kitten (Sun Volt) in my hands from our back porch and deposited him in a cat carrier. We took him to our bathroom and turned to the Facebook cat ladies for help.
Within a week, we had trapped all five kittens using sardines and patience. They took up residence in our (only) bathroom at a tender age and proceeded to fill our lives with joy, while testing every shred of sanity. You can check out their adventures via our public photo album.
Their mother was a wiley thing. She returned to our feeding station time and time again along with cats we had dubbed Oxsana and Mx. Pajamas. Both have tipped ears showing that they’ve been previously trapped and altered. Balancing the needs of five young kittens, with cat trapping and other life demands was exhausting. We continued to try. Did I mention we have three resident cats and a dog?
One night at 11 p.m., a very young racoon tripped the trap. We covered the trap, opened the door, and nothing happened. It was terrified. So I propped open the door and eventually they dashed out. It is important to note that this is the time of year when young racoons are stumbling out on their own. They are not rabid, just young. Shoo them away and learn more with Scrap the Trap Pittsburgh.
When trapping cats, you must always have a plan: a place to put them in the trap to keep them safe and minimize their terror; a place for veterinary care, either a prescheduled spot with the local spay and neuter clinics or the capacity to take them to a walk-in clinic; and a plan for after the surgery.
We are in the midst of ‘kitten season’ that means every animal welfare and rescue group is overflowing with kittens, mamas and other cats in need. Resources are stretched to the max.
That weekend my partner had dental surgery, so we had hours to kill just sitting around while she recovered. It seemed a good time to intensively try to trap Jennie Jane. We had two traps, plenty of bait, and time. We confirmed with the clinic that they could spay her the next day.
So we set up on Friday around 1 p.m. This is an abbreviated account of what transpired. For more robust details, visit my blog.
- At 2:30 p.m., the wrong cat walked into the trap. He is now known as Konstantin and he is clearly a tomcat with a bad-ass attitude. I was able to release the trap and let him run away.
- 3:30 p.m. One of our resident groundhogs wanders into the trap and gets stuck. As in the trap door was stuck. Once I got the door open, the occupant decided to remain. I propped it open with a bucket and walked away. The groundhog left a few minutes later. I reset both traps and refreshed the food lures.
- 4:02 p.m. Jennie Jane is in the yard, exploring both crates, pulling out whatever food she can reach and very tentatively walking just far enough in to snatch other tidbits.
- 4:32 p.m. Jennie Jane is crouched under our chaise lounge in the shade, staring at us with woeful eyes as she considers her options.
- 5:32 p.m. Jennie Jane 1, cat trap 0. She grabbed some more food and got out before it closed on her.
- 5:52 p.m. Jennie Jane is now crouched in another section of our deck staring at the traps. She’s a very sad cat. She eventually wanders off. She’ll be back.
- 6:30 p.m. Oxsana wanders partway into the trap, changing course when I call to him with a tasty plate of food.
- 7:02 p.m. Mx. Pajamas wanders into the trap. His look of fury when I free him is duly noted.
- 7:37 p.m. She’s back, on the deck near our kitchen door. She’s staring into the window.
- 7:57 p.m. Oxsana is back. He comes up onto the deck near the kitchen door so I was able to touch him and offer him some food.
- 8:15 p.m. Oxsana and Mx. Pajamas are both lounging around the kitchen door. We have an outdoor elevated pet bed they like to use for napping. We are furtively feeding them to avoid their tumbling into the trap.
- 9:09 p.m.The other groundhog showed up in the trap. He’s pissed. And the trap is once again jammed.
- At 11 p.m., we call it a night. I close the traps and we remove everything but water from the deck.
That made our weekly trapping total: 1 young racoon, 2 groundhogs, 2 ½ wrong cats. Plus, we had the leftovers of a 12 piece bucket of KFC and about a quarter-pound of turkey lunchmeat. We went through dozens of pages of newspaper, two sheets, a tablecloth, two screwdrivers, and countless paper plates.
Jennie Jane still proved elusive. A few weeks later, an experienced drop-trap volunteer came over and caught her after four hours. She was spayed, vaccinated, chipped, and ear tipped. She is recovering and will be released soon into our yard. We have no one who can take her in and give her the time & room she needs to earn her trust to have a better life inside. We can only do our best to give her resources for her outdoor life.
Taking care of homeless domestic animals and urban wildlife is a shared responsibility. ‘crazy cat lady’ memes aside, it really is impressive how many lives are saved and bettered because of the mostly volunteer efforts of the few folks who take up this responsibility. We can do better with local public environmental policies, with our personal choices, and with the resources we invest. If you can’t trap or maintain a colony, you can donate cat food or find other ways to help.
For more information, follow the Homeless Cat Management Team and Pittsburgh CAT on Facebook. Also, check out Alley Cats Allies on the web. To learn more about urban wildlife issues in City neighborhoods, visit Scrap the Trap Pittsburgh.