Monday, July 17, 2006

Feral Kitten Update

Back in May, I wrote about our Weekend Kitten Drama, in which I found two feral kittens in a brush pile in the back yard. We tried "baiting" a trap with the kittens, trying to catch the mama cat, but one of the kittens disappeared, and we were afraid that if the mama had taken him and moved him, we wouldn't be able to find him if we caught her. So we bottle fed the one left behind, named him Jack, and the local cat rescue found a foster momcat for him. He should be about ready for us to bring him back home.

But in the meantime, we've been watching Mama Cat. I've been putting food out for her since May, taking it in at night because otherwise the raccoons steal it (there's a mama raccoon with three babies to feed that I've seen on the deck), and just a couple of weeks ago, she showed up with the other kitten! Hoorah! We'd been half-afraid he'd been the victim of a predator, but no, his clever mama really did steal him from the trap, and would probably have come back for little Jack if we'd left the trap open.

I was still determined to get Mama Cat spayed before she populated the neighborhood with kittens. There's a wooded lot near us that is full of thick blackberry bushes and I suspect thick with feral cats as well. I've seen a manky old orange tomcat around here, and if he's not the sire of our backyard kittens, he could easily sire another batch.

Thus I made a trip to the nearby equipment rental place and rented a live trap again.

So, how do you successfuly trap a feral cat? Here's how I did it.

First I called the Friends of Felines organization and asked, "Okay, so I catch the feral mama. Then what? Can I take her to a vet right away?" They sent me a list of vets who take ferals on short notice, and sent a discount certificate. I called around to the vets to make sure they'd be available. There were two in town, but one was going on vacation, so I gave the other the heads-up.

I set the trap out at the bottom of the yard, well away from where we feed the kitties. I used a twist of wire to hold the mechanism in place to keep one door open. I laid a dark towel inside the cage to hide the trigger mechanism, and covered the whole thing with a large towel. Cats know better than to enter a cage, but if you make it look like a nice, dark tunnel, they may go inside, just like house cats like playing in boxes. I set food inside down at the closed end so she'd have to walk over the trigger to get to it.

I set the trap up on a Sunday and left it there, putting fresh food inside each morning and taking it out at night because I didn't want the raccoons messing with it. I also put a little canned food inside morning and night, because it has more of an odor than dry food. The food disappeared by evening, so I knew she was entering the trap.

I'm teaching a summer class four mornings a week, and the veterinary clinic doesn't do surgery on weekends, so that left Thursday and Friday to get the thing done. I dashed home as soon as class let out on Thursday, set fresh food in the trap, removed the wire, and set the trap as sensitively as I could. Then I went inside to make lunch.

Within five minutes -- SNAP! I trotted out, and there was Mama Cat:

I called the vet to let them know we were on our way. My husband was home to help me, and together we hustled the trap into the car and off to the vet. She was quiet all the way there, probably scared out of her wits. Unlike house cats who yowl in fear, this little lady hid in silence. We kept the towel over the trap so as to shut out frightening sights and to keep her as calm as possible. At the clinic we got her checked in, and ordered the spaying, paying extra for dissolvable sutures, post-op pain medication, and vaccinations. Because they prefer to do surgery on cats that haven't eaten for 12 hours, they kept her overnight.

While she was gone, we watched for the kitten, but we never saw him. He must be very well trained to stay near the nest, or just wasn't big and brave enough to venture out on his own.

Late Friday afternoon Mama Cat was ready to pick up. She was quiet on the way home, but as soon as we set the trap in the back yard, she went into a panic. I opened the trap and she was off like a shot.

We didn't see her the rest of that evening, but the next day she turned up again, with the baby.

Tonight she was up on the deck with the little guy. I got another picture of her -- not very good because I was taking it through a screen door:

And here's little Wild Bill, her kitten. I tried getting other shots of him, but he moves too fast. He's such a cutie-pie:

What's more, I got him to play with me. I took a cat toy that's a feather boa on a stick and carefully stuck, it out the screen door. After some coaxing, Wild Bill came and played with it and with another toy that's a bundle of feathers on a stick. He even came up and sniffed my fingers, and sniffed our bitty kitty Belle's paws she she stuck them out to play with the little guy. He stuck around and played for about a half an hour. If we keep that up, we might even be able to lure him inside. I also have a plan to try to get him into a cat carrier and pull the door shut with a string. Kind of like a kid trying to set up a bird trap under a box, I know, but it just might work.

Ah, looks like baby is back again. Time for some more play time.

A while later:

Yep, we played some more. I opened the screen door a crack and put my fingers through to play, too. Little Wild Bill licked some Gerber chicken off of my fingers. The critter bites pretty hard, I found out. He obviously doesn't understand fingers! For a few moments, I scratched him behind the ear. Mama Cat seems to be pretty trusting. She disappeared for a while, leaving her baby to play with us unsupervised. I got some better shots of the little guy, the one now at the top of the post, and this one:

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M Sinclair Stevens (Texas) said...

What a wonderful story. You have so much patience and a great sense of responsibility.

Reading Dirt said...

Thanks for the praise. I know a lot of people wouldn't even think of trying to help a cat. I guess I'm a bit of a softie.

Wild Bill lets me pet him a bit now, he'll play with me while I sit out on the deck, and I even picked him up briefly last night, so looks like I won't even need the trap. He's just about ready to come in the house.

Caroline said...

What a great story. We have a family of ferel cats we call "The Strays". There's the Dad "Blackey", Mama "Betty" and then the baby "Billie Jean or Billy Bob". (don't know if the baby is a male or female yet) Blackey lets us pet him, but Betty won't let us near her. We got the baby once, but it freaked out so much it scared us as much as it scared the baby. And Betty came after us. We need to try the trap so we can get them fixed. Thanks for sharing the story.

QuillDancer said...

Just passing though on the "blogger button" -- cat rescue -- yea! Wish the pics were still posted.

shelly said...

What a good story! I too have feral kittens under my front porch. As I am a cat person but cannot have "pets" where I am currently living, I have adopted these three little fellas. Food and water. Would like to catch them and have them fixed too before more "wild" ones evolve. I have been able to pet one of them while he/she is eating. Its the little things in life, folks.

Publia said...

Hope you are keeping a good eye and the cut and her kitten. Not so feral as you thought.

Publia said...

*CAT not cut

Exer said...

This was a great story =) Not sure exactly how I found myself here, but I'm going to pass this link on to my bestfriend, she's a cat lover herself and I know she'll enjoy this.

Anonymous said...

Great story! Good for you. Can't believe Mrs. Cat didn't completely freak out after the operation and actually let you alone with the kitten. It's like she knew you were trying to help her. Fantastic vet you must have too, that she didn't completely lose it. Congratulations all round.

Lacey said...

Great story. My husband and I caught a kitten in July and now she's a cherished pet :) When I was a kid my family went through something like this - my sister and I caught about four kittens using the pet-carrier-with-string-attached-to-door method, and my mom caught the mother with a live trap and got her spayed. She lived a couple more years in our backyard very happy and more healthy without kittens to deplete her. And thank you for spaying Mama Cat. I love my found kitten, but there are just so many out there without homes.

Reading Dirt said...

Thanks for the comments. Wow -- blog of note and a traffic explosion! I'm honored! Alas, with a traffic explosion comes an explosion of inappropriate comments, and I'm going to have to turn on comment moderation.

Mama is still doing well. She comes up on the deck for food morning and evening. I don't think she'll ever be tame, but she can be our "outdoor" cat. We'll look after her, and she'll look after the rodent control around here.

One Crabapple said...

oh Pinar !! I am just fiding and visiting Reading Dirt !

Look at Wild Bill here ! how cute !

I must go check out this blog now !

What a wonderful surprise.

Anonymous said...

caught this link looking for traps. am a feral caretaker. for those interested in learning more about feral cats, how to tame, TNR, low cost spay/neuters, etc, check out

there are lots of great resources there.

Reading Dirt-you may not realize how much you have changed mama's life for the better and I'm guessing that number will soon be two... Cats need more people out there like you. Thanks so much for your efforts.

FC Caretaker 40+, DC Metro Area

Anonymous said...

I don't know where you live, but I saw your comment on another page that it cost $100 to spay and vaccinate a feral cat? That is ridiculously overpriced! And they charged you extra for disolving suture too? If you intend to get any more cats fixed, try doing a little research into humane groups and veterinarians. I am from Long Island and the vet office I work for (Island Rescue) charges $57 to spay or neuter which includes disolving suture, penicillin injection, rabies vaccine, fvrcp (distemper) vaccine as well as addressing any injuries they may have. Most SPCA's offer services for low cost or free spay/neuter and sometimes town shelters will offer these services as well. Many times "no-kill" shelters will either have a spay/neuter clinic on site or will know where to go to get the best care for your money.
Keep up the good work with the ferals and keep spaying and neutering!!

goodbadkitty said...

Gosh, i am not sure how if found my way here, but i loved your story. I take care of over a dozen feral/homeless cats where i live in Jacksonville, Fl, and they are very grateful for the food,love and attention. They are truly my best friends.Going to bookmark your blog right away. Bless you for being so humane.~