If you follow Three Irish Cats on Instagram and Facebook, you know that we baited the trap for Fireheart on Tuesday night.
And before I went to bed Tuesday, I brought an empty trap inside. Once again, Fireheart has eluded us. The good news is, I see him regularly, so I know he’s still out and about. He’s got himself a reprieve for another 10 days or so, but never fear. When I get back from Thanksgiving, the trap goes out again for him.
We do have some news on the other backyard cats we’ve trapped this fall, Bluestar and Ghost!
Bluestar is safely acclimating to her new home with a caretaker who manages a feral colony. While she’s not rushing over for pets and affection, the caretaker tells me that Bluestar doesn’t run away when it’s time to feed and clean the cats’ area. Instead, she sits and stares. I know from experience that Bluestar is a watcher, and I’m happy to hear that she feels comfortable enough to be visible while a human is in her space.
We have had a Ghost sighting in the neighborhood! I haven’t seen him on my deck lately, but he was never a cat I saw regularly. I think he came late at night or early in the morning when there were no humans around. But, as we were leaving the neighborhood one morning last weekend, my son saw Ghost walking across a neighbor’s yard. We know he is safe and back to prowling his turf.
Last evening, it was time for the “return” part of TNR for Ghost.
Sunday night, we were surprised to find him in the trap. Monday, he was neutered, vaccinated, and ear tipped. After a night in the garage to make sure he was recovering well, it was time. After dark, we took Ghost outside and let him go on the deck where he was trapped.
I set the trap Sunday night for Fireheart. I was all set to get him, bring him to the clinic on Monday, and to his forever outdoor home on Tuesday.
So imagine my surprise when I checked the trap and saw this guy:
This is Ghost, so named because we first saw him as a white apparition on the deck a little more than a year ago. It was around Halloween, and he looked spooky in the moonlight. He’s been a less-visible regular at our feeding station for more than a year now, mostly coming to eat late at night or early in the mornings when the humans aren’t afoot.
I’ll admit it — I panicked. This was not the cat I wanted to trap. I didn’t have a plan for him!
Luckily, I have some smart friends in rescue. My experienced rescue friend Jenn told me that setting him free in hopes of catching Fireheart was not a good idea. Let this unneutered guy go, she said, and he would never set foot in my trap again. He’s a huge tomcat, likely the father of many of the kittens that had come through my yard over the last year. To quote my mom, neutering him would be “doing the community a great service.”
But then what? Well, Jenn and I talked some more, and she helped me to see that this neighborhood is Ghost’s home. He is a longtime resident here. Neighbors have told me they’ve seen him for a while, which means he has managed to survive a few years here. This is his home, and he deserves to go back to it.
But there’s another reason for keeping Ghost here. Ask anyone with some feral cat expertise to remove unwanted cats from their neighborhood, and they’ll tell you about the vacuum effect.
The gist is this: There are cats in your neighborhood for a reason. They’ve got food to eat – whether they’re being fed by humans or hunting – and they find adequate shelter from the elements. They feel safe. They were attracted to the neighborhood for a reason.
So when you remove all of the feral cats from an area – whether through relocation or worse, killing them – you leave a vacuum. You know the phrase “nature abhors a vacuum”? It’s true. In time, your cat-free area will be inhabited by cats again. Neighboring colonies will find the food, shelter, and safety that the previous group was attracted to.
It’s a vicious cycle, and that’s why most animal organizations advocate TNR, or trap-neuter-return. Keep the colony in place, but make sure they can’t produce any more kittens.
Being a large tomcat, Jenn said, means Ghost is probably the alpha male around here. Transferred somewhere else, he might cause problems in another colony. He’ll be much happier patrolling the neighborhood — and maybe helping to keep other cats out.
So, that’s what Ghost will do. On Monday, he was neutered, microchipped, and given a rabies shot. He also got his ear tipped so people know he’s being cared for. He spent the night in my garage to make sure he was recovering from surgery well and eating OK. Later today, I’ll set him free.
And then, I will keep feeding him in my yard until it’s time for us to sell our house in the spring. But before I move, you can be sure I will recruit someone else in the neighborhood to take care of Ghost. After all, he lives here, too.
When humans go hungry, their pets go hungry, too. And when money gets tight, some folks make the heartbreaking decision to surrender their pet as a money-saving measure.
This is hard on families and animals. We’re lucky in Southern Maryland to have three pet food pantries that work to help pets and their people stay together. Each county has a pet food pantry. Contact them directly if you need assistance or if you’d like to donate.