Yoshi’s Choice

Little Yoshi is on his way home, though it’s not the home we were hoping for when he was trapped in early August.

Yoshi is one of 13 kittens trapped during a big trap-neuter-return (TNR) project I’ve been working on since June for Rescue Angels of Southern Maryland. The homeowners have worked diligently to get all the kittens and adults so we can stop the cycle of cats in their yard. We’re almost done! (More on that on the blog soon.)

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All of the kittens were placed in foster homes, and a handful of them have already been adopted out. The transformation of the kittens from frightened outdoor cats to lovable kittens – and in some cases, major lap cats – has been nothing short of amazing. We have some of the best foster homes!

It didn’t go like that for Yoshi. He was in foster care for more than two months, but he was still terrified of humans. He didn’t want them to pet him or even to be near him. It was clear that Yoshi was trying to tell us something: People aren’t his thing, and he doesn’t want to be an indoor cat.

Yoshi was born outside to a feral mom, and he was on the older side when we trapped him. There was always the chance that he would resist socialization even if his siblings and cousins warmed up to the idea of life on the inside.

So the other night, Yoshi slept in my garage, and yesterday, he went home. His caretakers are happy to have him back. After a couple of days inside to help him remember where home is, he’ll be freed in the backyard. He’ll be reunited with his mom and other adult cats in the colony that he knows.

He’s been neutered, vaccinated, and ear tipped so that he can live a happy life outside – without bringing any more kittens into the world. There was a time when I would have felt sad for Yoshi. In an ideal world, every cat would have a loving indoor home, but we know this is not an ideal world. Instead, I am glad that Yoshi has a loving outdoor home where he can live out his years as a happy cat.

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A TNR Newbie’s Basic Toolkit

I am by no means an expert cat trapper, but I have learned a lot in the last 18 months or so that I have been trapping neighborhood cats in my yard. One important thing I have learned is the value of having all of your equipment and tools handy so you’re ready when a cat steps into the trap.

Here are the things I keep handy when I trap.

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Trap: I love my “Fat Cat” Tru Catch trap. It’s bigger than a typical cat-size trap, so there’s a little extra space for kitty while he or she is recovering in the garage after surgery.

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Fork: To go with the trap, I have a Tru Catch fork. I use the fork to keep kitty to one end of the trap while I clean or put in fresh water and food. It allows me to take better care of the cat while it’s in my trap, and it keeps us both safe (and kitty in the trap!).

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Leather gloves: I’m vegan and have refused to buy leather gloves for myself for years. I don’t wear leather clothing or shoes. But, I get the safety reasons for leather gloves. Sharp teeth and claws can’t get through the leather and to my skin; other fabrics and materials just don’t provide that coverage. My husband gave me these gloves last Christmas with a pair of Kevlar knitted gloves that go most of the way up my arm. I’m not 100 percent comfortable with it, but I understand that I need to be safe. If I get sick or hurt, I may not be able to help as many cats (or worse). It’s a balancing act for me.

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Carabiner: It’s a small thing, but this carabiner gives me a lot of peace of mind. It keeps the sliding door of my trap closed. I know it’s unlikely a cat will open it and escape, but I feel more comfortable with the door latched. Cats are smart!

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Blankets, Sheets, and Towels: As soon as you get a cat in the trap, you should cover it. This relaxes the cat and stops it from thrashing around in the cage. I leave the trap covered with a blanket or sheet the entire time the cat is recovering in my garage. I use the towels under the trap in the garage so that the cat isn’t sitting directly on the cold floor. The towels are also helpful for catching urine and feces. It makes it easier to keep the trap clean.

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Newspaper: Since it’s tricky to get a blanket or towel into the trap (and in my experience, the cats are going to spill water and food in the trap anyway), I use newspaper over the bottom of the trap. This catches waste and makes it a little more comfortable (hopefully) than sitting on the wire bottom of the trap. When the trap is set, the newspaper helps cover the trip plate.

Bowls and food: I have a separate set of bowls and food for outdoor cats. I feed my outdoor cats a middle-quality food; it’s better than cheap store brand food that is full of fillers, but it is not as expensive as the grain-free food we give Aine, Emmett, and Seamus. I try to strike a balance between quality food and my budget; I need to be able to afford to keep feeding the outdoor cats.

An expert on speed dial: Whether it’s a fellow trapper, rescue group or TNR-friendly vet or vet tech, have someone you can call when you have questions or run into difficulties. Most times, the process will go seamlessly, but every so often, you’ll hit a snag. I’ve been grateful for my friends at Rescue Angels of Southern Maryland who answer my calls and texts when I have TNR questions.

What else would you add to a beginner’s TNR kit?

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Why are community cats ear tipped?

How can you tell if a cat is stray, lost, or feral?

One way is to look at its ears.

If a cat is part of a managed feral cat colony, chances are good its left ear will be tipped. Look closely at the cat. Is its left ear missing the pointy end? That’s an ear tip.

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Fireheart

If that seems extreme, consider the alternatives. Some caretakers have their cats tattooed, but in order to see whether the cat is tattooed, you need to catch it. Remember how many tries it took me to get Fireheart? (At least four!) It’s even harder to get a cat who has already been trapped.

The ear is tipped while the cat is under sedation for spay or neuter. The cut heals quickly and doesn’t cause the cat any pain. In fact, the ear tip can save the cats life!

When an ear-tipped cat is turned into a shelter, shelter employees can quickly see that the cat is part of a managed colony, and they can work to trace the cat’s home. Without an ear tip, a feral cat will be killed in the shelter, sometimes upon intake if the facility is full.

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Spottedleaf

In our suburban neighborhood, we had our backyard cats ear tipped and microchipped. There are a lot of people around here, and I want to make sure these cats can continue living in peace. Even if these cats are turned into a kill shelter, their ear tip and chip will let the shelter know which rescue group manages these cats.

I used to dislike the look of the ear tip. I think cats are beautiful, and tipping their ear changed their appearance for me. But after we trapped Ghost and had him neutered, I changed my mind. Before, he was just a stray cat wandering the neighborhood. Now he’s the neighborhood cat, and his tipped ear shows that I care about him. (Not to mention he won’t be fathering any more kittens!)

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Ghost

And I think that ear tip is just gorgeous.

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Reflecting on a Busy Cat Week

If you were to ask me why I got back into rescue, I’d tell you about the past few days. It was the most eventful week since I got back into cat rescue a year ago.

We started fostering just before Christmas last December, first for Roo, who was adopted a couple of months later, and then for Judy, who only stayed with us a week before moving on to another foster home. Then, in March, we took in Dickens and Poe, the two skittish foster brothers who needed time and patience to learn to trust humans again. Last Saturday, Dec. 10, they finally went to their forever home together. Being able to help cats bridge the gap from shelter or outdoor life to a forever home is one of the reasons I got back into rescue. Last weekend was bittersweet because I loved those boys with all my heart, but I was so happy to see them go home with a true cat person.

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Dickens

Then, the next day, we set the trap for backyard cat Fireheart. Instead of catching him, we landed little tortie Spottedleaf. Caring for feral cats was the reason I got involved with Rescue Angels of Southern Maryland, the organization is foster and volunteer with. Rescue Angels has an active TNR program, and I had learned the hard way that feral cats stand no chance at our local shelters.

Spottedleaf

It was hard to let Spottedleaf go last Wednesday. I knew the weather was going to turn cold on Thursday, but she had let me know without a doubt that she was totally over being in a trap in my garage. My son and let set her free on the back deck where we’d trapped her.

Two days later, we finally caught Fireheart. We’ve been feeding Fireheart in the yard since July, and I got used to seeing him in the yard. He was a frequent visitor, often coming during the day. Fireheart was neutered and vaccinated, and on Thursday, I brought him to the same caretaker who has Bluestar, another of my backyard cats. I already miss seeing him in my yard, but I know he has a safe forever home and that he is reunited with his buddy Bluestar.

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Fireheart

So, it’s kind of been an up-and-down week. Each transition has been a mixture of joy and sadness, which, I have learned, is sort of the essence of rescue work. You let these animals into your heart, and seeing them off to their forever homes – whether inside or outside – brings tears of joy and sadness.

It also brings a realization that the work is never done, that there are more animals that need someone to care for and love them.

This busy cat week has ended, but I’m fairly certain a new one will begin soon.

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Backyard Cat Update

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.

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Fireheart on the deck last summer.

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.

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Bluestar in my garage last month.

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.

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Ghost last week following his neuter and ear tip.

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Ghost Goes Home

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’m sure we’ll see him again. Be well, buddy.