Our neighborhood has been home to a small colony of feral cats for as long as we have lived here. This is due primarily to our neighbors providing food and shelter to the adult cats. We have never really been “cat people,” and Bode’s habit of finding cat feces in our yard and proceeding to smear it all over himself did not help to endear these felines to us. But our hearts softened a few years ago when the cats did what comes naturally–created a litter of cute, playful kittens that would romp around in our back yard.DSCF2371.JPGI felt sorry for these kittens, destined to a life of strayhood, if they even managed to make it beyond kittenhood. And the odds are stacked against them. The local humane society does not take stray animals. If I tried to pass them off as pets to surrender them, I would probably end up on some blacklist and never be able to adopt again–a risk I am not willing to take. Animal control does not have the time or resources to socialize them into adoptable pets, meaning they will probably be euthanized even if they are healthy. I imagine there is a special place in hell reserved for persons who kill kittens, even indirectly, making animal control out of the question.¬† So what to do?DSCF1946.JPG

I was fortunate to find out that Champaign-Urbana has a Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) program for feral cats, and they also have a network of volunteers that socializes young kittens in foster homes so that they can be adopted. The organization CATsNAP (Champaign Area Trap Spay/Neuter and Adoption Program) provided traps, and I set them in the yard. Over a short span of time I managed to trap seven kittens, three adult cats, and, unfortunately, two opossums and one racoon. The kittens were socialized and subsequently showed up on Petfinder.com and our local Petsmart.¬† I actually managed to see one of “my kittens” at Petsmart and did my best to convince a couple in the adoption area to take her home. The adult cats, including the mother of the kittens, were fixed, vaccinated, and released. And the opossums and racoon were immediately, and carefully, re-released. DSCF2001.JPGLet me just say: opossums smell awful. Combined with the fact that they froth at the mouth when stressed, appearing rabid, I can say with certainty that they are some of the nastiest creatures on earth. Eventually the only thing I would find in the trap was the kittens’ mother. I imagine that once she had been spayed, a day in the trap was a small sacrifice for a can of scrumptious wet food. At that point, Kitty Entrapment Campaign #1 came to a halt. And next year there were no kittens, which I think means it was a success.

Now, two years later, I noticed a new litter of kittens. Thankfully CATsNAP is here to help, and I am hoping we can catch the little guys in time to socialize them. Due to the desperate need for foster homes, we may have to become tamers of wild kittens ourselves to see that happen. And they are wild, which is actually kind of comical. One can’t help but smirk at half-pound kittens furiously hissing and spitting. Stay tuned to see what falls into my trap: Campaign #2 has begun.

Operation Kitty Catch Journal

  • Days: 22
  • TNR ferals: 4
  • Feral kittens: 11
  • Opossums: 2

Day 1 September 25th

DSCF6612An older kitten. Wasn’t too happy about being in the trap, so first kitten #1 sat in the foam water bowl, and then shredded it into a million pieces, along with the paper plates the food was on. Sadly this guy is past the age of socializing, so he/she was fixed, vaccinated, and released.

Day 2 September 26thThere was a malfunction.  The wet food was eaten, but the trap was empty.  As an aside, today we went to Farm & Fleet today and bought our own smaller trap.

Night 2 September 26th/27th

DSCF6614Opossum. I broke my own rule: don’t set the trap at night, even if Grant tells me to! Luckily it was the small trap, so a small opossum. But even the small ones smell and truthfully they are all dangerous–have you seen those 50 teeth? They have more than any other terrestrial mammal. At this point I have a set of “steps” to releasing opossums as I have done it enough times: (1) Set the trap on its side to move the opossum away from the door. Fear makes them freeze, so they generally stay put. (2) Throw a sheet over the trap so that you can crouch down to open the door without scaring it further. This also lets one avoid being scratched or bitten through the wires. (3) Carefully open the door. And this is the hard part. Due to the triggering mechanism it won’t stay open by itself. Either hold the door open by hand, while wearing gloves, or use rope or zip ties to hold it so you can step back while the animal walks out. This is a judgment call one has to make based on how aggressive the animal appears.

Day 3 September 27thDSCF6621

Today I met and discussed my activities with our neighbor, who was very nice and agreed to allow me access to his yard. I set the small trap next door, where I expect things to move along quickly. However the large trap remains problematic–either it is still malfunctioning, or some cat(s) is wise to it. Someone keeps eating the food and slipping away. UPDATE: We have kitten #2, a cute and fuzzy orange tabby, and he/she looks small enough to socialize. This guy also knocked over and shredded his water bowl. Seems to be a common theme.

Day 4 September 28thDSCF6626

I put the small trap out this morning and within half an hour we have kitten #3, a tortoiseshell female. Estimated age for both kittens is around 6 weeks. Pictures tonight. UPDATE: Kittens #2 and #3 were set up in our bathroom with the help of CATsNAP. I reset the traps and caught two more kittens, as well as one of the mothers, a tortoiseshell. We now have a total of four kittens in our bathroom, and Mom went for her spay surgery. I didn’t get a picture of Mom but you can see the kittens . Everybody had a “therapy session” (pick up kitten, set on lap, and pet on the back) and neither Grant nor I was scratched/bitten. Though they did hiss and spit. Black and orange are males and tortoiseshells are both female. Today they also were given their first vaccines, de-worming, and flea treatment.

Day 5 September 29th

The day started with a chorus of pitiful meows at around 5:30AM and I never got back to sleep. Kittens are still a huddled mass in the corner (translation: they are not tame yet) but I managed to get a towel beneath them. Put the small trap out this morning and within an hour a second adult cat was inside. He was dropped off at the Champaign County Humane Society this morning to be neutered.

Day 6 September 30th

DSCF6641After only 24 hours the kittens¬† still tend to hide, but are gradually becoming more comfortable with us around. They remain skeptical of us and will hiss if they feel scared, but sit nicely on our laps during brushing and petting. The orange kitten is the most adventurous and even purred. The large trap is back, and after setting it this morning I found kitten #1 inside and the spayed¬†mother cat hanging around for moral support. I released him and they both ran off. The trap is re-set and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that we catch another orange kitten today.

Day 7 October 1st

DSCF6662.JPGThe kittens are improving, and the big orange guy and smallest, dark tortoiseshell are taming the fastest. Today the traps were set and we got two more kittens: one small black kitten, and a small¬†orange tabby. These two were happy to see their siblings, but didn’t want anything to do with us! All six piled up in the corner and slept soundly that way. While it is great having half a dozen kittens in our bathroom, it would be difficult to give everyone the attention they need, and there are still more kittens out there. So CATsNAP arranged for the five small kittens to go to the Champaign County Humane Society where they will finish their medical care and socialization before being adopted.

Day 8 October 2ndDSCF6667.JPG

Grant and I¬†said¬†our goodbyes to the small kittens and ¬†dropped them off today. The big orange kitten stays with us but is also out of the house for now–he was picked up by CATsNAP for his neuter surgery and will be back with us tomorrow night. He still does not have a name; I’m taking suggestions (see his picture above for inspiration). Unfortunately today we did not catch anyone new. At the end of the day one trap was empty, and the other was filled with an opossum so large it could barely turn around. Grant helped me to zip tie the trap open so it could walk out. I plan to wake up extra early tomorrow to get the traps out.

Day 9 October 3rd

I woke up early and had the traps hosed out and set by 7:00AM. It’s getting more difficult, so I decided to up the ante and bait the traps with a combination of wet cat food and tuna fish. Sadly¬†they were still empty¬†before¬†we left, so I’ll have to wait until tonight to see if we catch any more cats or kittens. It seems like they may have relocated temporarily to avoid me. It’s also gotten very cold, so I’m really hoping to catch the remaining little guys as soon as possible. I know there is at least one more orange kitten, and an orange “Mom” cat to spay. UPDATE: Kitten is back, and he’s almost tame. He still seems startled when we walk in, but he will jump onto my lap and purrs and kneads. When you are in the room, he wants constant attention. He’s also getting more playful. When I checked the traps in the evening, one was empty, and the other had the spayed tortoiseshell “Mom.”

Day 10 October 4th

I got the small trap out at about 8:00AM, once again baited with tuna and cat food.¬† While I was over there I saw three cats, but I think they are the three that were already fixed–not totally sure. UPDATE: Today there was a new orange tabby kitten in the small trap. He was a bit larger, possibly¬†big brother¬†to the kitten we still have.¬†New kitten¬†was taken by CATsNAP to jump-start the taming process in a more experienced foster home, and I did not get a picture, but he may be back. While I was outside in the evening I saw tortoiseshell Mom with yet another orange kitten, but a smaller and¬†fluffier version.

Day 11 October 5thDSCF6685

The traps are both back out today and baited with tuna fish and wet food. Grant said he saw the orange Mom in our back yard, but with a tree being taken down today there is too much commotion to catch her. The orange kitten in our bathroom is proving to be a real sweetheart, purring and kneading all the time, and he is starting to play more. I added a few new pictures of him. UPDATE: Eventually the workmen left and I put the large trap in back, but when I got home both were empty.

Day 12 October 6thDSCF6714

Today I put the small trap out, and baited it with tuna fish and some wet food. We were away at work all day and when we finally got back I knew I was successful when I saw a cat hanging around the trap. Many times when one cat is in the trap, another is close by-maybe for moral support?¬†There was a fluffy orange kitten in the trap. New kitten is growling, hissing, climbing the walls¬†and generally letting us know she’s not happy. Based on size she belongs to the same litter as the five that went to the humane society. But this one is not going to be as easy. In better news, the kitten caught two days ago tamed in a day and is doing very well in a foster home.

Day 13 October 7th

Today it was raining, so I did not put the traps out. Lucky for us the new kitten has calmed down somewhat. She tolerated petting and ate food off of my hand. But she remains wary of us.  It did not help that I tried to shove a syringe full of dewormer into her mouth. She ended up wearing some of it.

Day 14 October 8thDSCF6725

One of the kittens started meowing at 4:00AM, keeping me awake, and I ended up moving to the couch. The weather looked dreary this morning so the traps stayed inside. Overall things are about the same today. Male kitten continues to do very well, and female kitten tolerates some contact but still hissed at me this morning. Here’s a picture of the two of them together. UPDATE: In the evening I was able to get both to play with a toy, which is an improvement for the new female kitten. For the few minutes she was playing, she no longer appeared angry and actually¬†had the wide-eyed happy look you expect from a kitten.

Day 15 October 9th

Today the weather was nice, so both traps went out in the morning. When I set the trap by the neighbor’s house, I saw two kittens–so I was expecting success today. Grant checked the trap mid-day and there was a buff-colored kitten in the trap, plus three more outside! So there is still more work to do. New kitten is an older female. Our assignment is to get her as tame as possible over the weekend. She may be spayed on Monday. She is really beautiful, so it should not take long for her to be adopted assuming she can be socialized. No pictures yet, the camera batteries died.

Day 16 October 10thDSCF6735

Got both traps out this morning. All the kittens are doing well. New buff kitten survived her first brushing/petting therapy session. She continues to hiss, but luckily for her she’s a beautiful cat so I don’t hold it against her. Managed to get a picture this morning. UPDATE: Both traps were empty so I brought them in for the night.¬†Today the two girls had their picture taken, so I expect them to show up on Petfinder soon.

Day 17 October 11th

DSCF6763.JPGI decided to give the ferals a rest and not put the traps out today. Hopefully¬†after one day¬†they will forget about the fact that these metal cages make their friends disappear. The kittens are fine. They caused a lot of trouble last night-I came in this morning and the toilet paper was off the roll, in a heap on the floor. Plus someone made it on the shelf, as a book was on the floor too. The buff kitten is starting to tame, she will still hiss but actually purred for me today briefly. And I signed on to Petfinder and found their page, which I saved an image of here. Buff kitten is named Sunny (I now refer to her as “Sunny D”) and the small kitten was named Macy. I had actually been calling¬†her Mei, so this seemed almost to be an amusing coincidence.

Day 18 October 12th

Today I put the small trap out by the neighbor’s house in the early afternoon before going to work. Came home to find an enormous cat (presumably tomcat) in the trap. It was an orange tabby that I have not seen before. This guy had succeeded in knocking the trap on its side and was decidedly unhappy to be in there. I had to carry it home as far as possible from my body to avoid being clawed/swatted. His thrashing about in the cage left him with a bloodied lower lip, but he calmed down once I put him in the garage and turned the lights out. I decided not to take a picture to avoid aggravating him further. He will be fasting tonight in preparation for a neuter surgery tomorrow. In other news, I decided to start using a baby gate to close off the bathroom so that the kittens would have more exposure to the sounds of househould life. Once Bode saw them-he is on the other side of a second baby gate, several feet away-he was barking and¬†jamming his arms through the gate. It seems that our nightly dog and kitten sessions have not done much. I don’t think Bode can be trusted around kittens, so we won’t be keeping any of them.

Day 19 October 13th

DSCF6806.JPGBeefy orange cat was picked up today at 7:15AM for surgery. I was already awake at that point, without an alarm-the kittens’ meowing woke me up around 6:30AM. The weather looked iffy so I decided not to put out the large trap. Nowadays Sunny still hisses at times, but enjoys attention. They all enjoy attention, and will meow to ask for it if need be. It’s hard to pamper three kittens with only two hands. At this point I just put all of them on my lap, and Grant did the same this morning. I snapped a few pictures which I’ll put online later. UPDATE: I added a picture. He was whistling to get their attention.

Day 21 October 15thDSCF6794.JPG

The trap did not go out today or yesterday due to rain.¬† It was a sad day today: Mei and Sunny were dropped off at the humane society. Poor kittens got a little damp because the crate we transported them in had been cleaned out and was still wet. Their unhappy mugs showed up on the Champaign County Humane society here. They should be adopted out, so I should not really be too depressed about it, but I was fond of Mei, especially her silly grin and Fu Manchu whiskers.¬† Unlike last time, and suprising myself and probably Grant, I managed not to tear up. It was deemed necessary DSCF6807.JPGbecause male kitten seems to be having some health issues, and we need to focus our energy on him. Today he was bathed–which he did NOT enjoy at all–and he also had some anti-fungal applied to his nose, where he is losing hair, and he is on a course of antibiotics for a possible urinary tract infection. I used bleach to disinfect the bathroom surfaces and removed all the bedding¬† on the assumption that he may have ringworm on his nose, though that is uncertain. Once he was dry he was happy again, and appears to be feeling well. Regardless any new kittens will not be fostered at our house.

Day 22 October 16th DSCF6821

Weather was cold but clear, so the small trap went out today. While I was setting it at the neighbor’s house, I saw an orange kitten. I’m hoping I can trap him or her today, but not too optimistic because I ran out of tuna and only had wet food for bait.¬† Male kitten was happy and playful this morning, and he was not very cooperative this morning for his antibiotics–I have a few scratches to prove it. Tomorrow I plan to wear gloves. UPDATE: Today I came home to find two (!) orange kittens in the small trap. They are about the same size as Sunny. I suspect that they, Sunny, and the male were all from the same litter, making our fuzzy male kitten the runt. The two kittens were picked up and will spend a few days in a home, and then I will bring them to the humane society later this week. That brings us to a total of 11 kittens so far. There is still one black kitten, and I’m not convinced that was the last of the orange kittens; plus, orange Mom cat still has not been caught. Weather permitting the trap will be back out tomorrow and we’ll see what happens.

Epilogue January 4th 

DSCF6910.JPGThe tally for this fall’s crazy kitten experience was 11 feral kittens trapped. Of those, eight spent some time in our home, while two went directly to the humane society, and one, directly to another foster home. And of the eight that spent time in our home, seven ultimately also went to the humane society. Our long-term foster, “Scottie,” was very hard to give up. I still miss coming home to the dog and kitten waiting for us on the couch. He was a great kitten, and I think he will mature into a very beautiful and sweet cat. This adventure has even opened Grant’s mind to the possibility of future cat ownership–for the right cat. And now a brief overview of the outcome.

Kitten #2, Scottie, stayed with us until he was adopted by a nice family. Now known as “Sammy,” he’s growing up and remains a playful and affectionate little guy. We have been very fortunate to receive occasional updates, with photos, from his¬†owners, and he looks very content in his home.

Kittens #3- 7, the small kittens, were taken to the humane society. One died in foster care. One was euthanized due to an upper respiratory infection, a common illness for kittens in shelters. Three were euthanized for ringworm. Yes, all five kittens, dead; three for a treatable skin disease.

Kitten #8, Leo, went to a foster home. After about a month in foster care he became very ill. I don’t yet know whether he will recover.

Kitten #9, Mei, went to the humane society. After foster care, she was adopted out.

Kitten #10,  Sunny, went to the humane soceity. After foster care she went back to the shelter.  While waiting for adoption she developed an upper respiratory infection. I knew about this and did contact the rescue to see if there was any way we could intervene before the inevitable happened. It was not to be, and she was euthanized.

Kittens #11 and 12, went directly to the humane soceity. Both of these kittens have since been adopted out. 

Given the death of the majority of the kittens, I debated removing this post and keeping it off. In my mind the blithe voice reporting various events in¬†September and October¬†belies the grim truth of the kittens’¬†fate.¬†With an adoption rate of only 36%, this is what we academics would call a “failing grade.” So¬†what have I learned from this experience? It’s tough being a kitten.¬†People should spay and neuter their pets. And let’s just say that the road to that special place is paved with good intentions.

I’d like to think that what we did achieve is at least better than the alternative, which is the kittens still being outside as ferals, with a similar or worse chance for survival. But ultimately¬†this experience has left me¬†profoundly disappointed.¬†

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2 Responses to “Entrapment Redux”  

  1. 1 Geri Bowman

    I take care of a feral cat colony. Several years ago I saw several cats in our area and winter was coming. I started by putting out food and building a small shelter. A mother cat started to bring her kittens to eat. I knew I had to trap them or I would have many more. Catsnaps helped me with the traps and fostering the kittens. There were 4 kittens. Two were able to be socialized but 2 brothers were inseparatable and could not be worked with. Catsnaps asked me to take them back. We now have 2 warehouse cats. It has taken me 2 years of work with them but they are now very loving cats. Mother cat was sprayed and returned. I did not know that she had had a previous litter–two survivors. One was killed by a car and the other (Blondie) is still with us. She has had 2 littlers before I could get her. One kitten survivor the first litter and was trapped and socialized. The second litter she had 5. I trapped her and 4 of the kittens. The kittens were socialized. She was fixed and released back. Unfortunately I have not been able to trap the last of her litter. I hope it is a male. I have also trapped 3 possums and a raccoon. I have one more possum to get since it eats the cat food. In addition to Blondie I have her kitten (Baby) and Blackie (a long hair male) and several others that come and go. I put out a wildlife camara every once in awhile to see who comes to the feeding station. They tolerate me but will not get close. The people in the neighborhood keep me informed when they see a new cat or any kittens so I can trap them.

    Someone left me a domestic cat ( Callie)–she could have come from some apartments in the area. It was interesting to observe the colony–the domestic cat disrupted the colony and I had to take her home. Watching and observing this colony has been very interesting–the difference in behavior between a domestic cat and the feral.

  2. 2 Sheryl

    Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. I’m glad to hear from someone who is helping the feral cats here in Champaign-Urbana. CATsNAP is a great organization. Without them I would not have accomplished anything, either this year or years ago, and certainly there would be many more feral cats in my neighborhood. I greatly appreciate that they are no-kill. I was very upset when I dropped off the kittens I trapped at the shelter, and for good reason. I have volunteered at shelters in Miami before and I know that they are a deadly place for kittens. Unfortunately this rang true in Champaign as well. I’m disappointed because I thought we had a quite good shelter here. I previously adopted my dog at CCHS.

    I was told by a neighbor that the ferals in our area all descended from a few cats abandoned here. One in particular is a female orange cat, who apparently is the original abandoned mother of many strays. I have still not been able to trap her, and I don’t see her very often. There is currently one tortoiseshell female crossing my yard often and possibly others, but it is too cold and damp to do anything about it. I am not really caretaker of this colony–one or two of my neighbors feed them, but do not do anything else. I don’t feed them because it would probably drive my dog crazy to have them hanging around our house more than they currently do. I feel bad that within a year we will have moved away, and the cat population will probably grow again.

    I wish I could do more nowadays but I am getting close to graduation and don’t have a lot of spare time. I hope eventually I can foster again, and next time I have a foster like Scottie, I will keep him or her for my own pet. I still miss the kitten head-warmer on my pillow at night.

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