So, per my prior post, I attended the "Helping Homeless Cats" class at the local Humane Society last Thursday. It was definitely an interesting experience, and I am really glad I went.
The turnout was pretty low -- I think only three names on the sign-in sheet, and maybe six or seven people in the room total (including presenters). I already knew a lot of what appeared in the informational part of the presentation (e.g., "how to set a humane trap"), but I also learned a few new, useful things (e.g., "make a list of all the cats in the colony, describe each cat, and include a picture if possible").
I was also just really pleased to see that Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is apparently in the process of "going mainstream". It took a long while for shelters and adoption agencies to get a clue in that department, because for so long the default for "unadoptable" cats (a group with includes the vast majority of ferals) was to simply put them to death in order to "free up space" for socialized, more extroverted felines.
What seems to be finally getting into more people's heads is the fact that shelters and animal-control facilities are simply inappropriate for feral cats, period. Shelters are designed for displaced domesticated animals (for whom, hopefully, the shelter will serve merely as a stopgap between homes), not wild ones. And by the time a feral cat becomes an adult, it is likely that he or she is running an entirely different "operating system" than a domesticated cat. In other words, just because cats CAN be tame* it doesn't mean that all non-tame cats are suffering for the mere fact of not being inclined to sit on human laps.
Yes, they may face dangers such as cars and other predators than companion cats who spend all or most of their time indoors-- but in this regard feral cats are no different from other medium-sized wild animals (e.g., raccoons and skunks). And you don't generally come across anyone suggesting that raccoons and skunks all ought to be killed "so they don't suffer outside".
Okay, wow, that got a bit tangential. Where was I? Oh yeah. At this meeting I saw what was probably the MOST DEPRESSING VIDEO EVER. Seriously, I had to leave the room partway through it because I started crying. :/ I know it had a purpose -- that is, to show the contrast between what happens to cats who get picked up by animal control vs. the happy, healthy lives they can live post-TNR.
But GAH. I don't ever want to see anything like that ever again. I mean, I KNOW what goes on in shelters and animal control when they've got "too many" feral cats. I don't fault the people who made the video -- they didn't DO the horrible things shown, they just documented them in order to jolt people out of complacency. But I wasn't complacent to begin with, so for me it was just like...staring into a bottomless pit lined with graphic images of everything that is fundamentally wrong with humanity.
Again, I can see why the organizers felt the need to show a video like that. And it did ultimately end on a positive note (i.e., happy kitties congregating around their food in a well-managed colony situation). But I figured I would mention the nastier bits just in case anyone reading this ends up going to a similar meeting -- basically, be aware that you may be in for some absolute nightmare fuel if they start up a video about "homeless cats in your neighborhood" or similar.
But again, despite having occasion to get extremely upset partway through, I am still very glad I went to the meeting. I did, after all (as I'd hoped) get to meet some folks with actual trapping/TNR experience and ask them a ton of questions (I wrote copious notes beforehand).
Also, I was quite relieved to learn that no, you don't HAVE to actually go in and trap all the cats in a colony at once. I'd read on various sites that it was BEST to do things that way, but apparently I was taking it too literally. Getting everyone TNRed in one go is the ideal situation -- however, it isn't the most realistic one. Mass trapping days are notoriously hard to organize and while they do tend to make the papers when they occur, they're more the exception than the norm. It's a lot more common to just have a few traps and maybe one or two people helping out the cats.
So now I at least feel like the project I have in mind is actually doable. Because between Matt and his parents, there are certainly enough vehicles and drivers to take in three or four cats at a time in for their surgery. The parents also have a nice garage (not a drafty nasty one...it's got indoor plumbing and plenty of space) where the cats could presumably recover overnight. And I can definitely handle the trapping part myself...that's just a matter of putting the traps in logical places and attending to them once they've been sprung (i.e., covering them with a blanket so the caught kitty can calm down).
On that note, after the meeting I also had a bit of an epiphany about traps, and THIS I think is going to really help make things more feasible. One of the things that was previously making the project feel ridiculously daunting was the fact that I would likely need to rent or borrow additional traps (I've already got one) from the Humane Society or similar place. Which would mean I'd have to work out transportation first to pick up the traps, THEN to transport the cats in them to their surgery appointments, THEN to bring the cats back to the colony, and THEN back to the shelter empty once the cats were released. And just THINKING about the logistics of all that was turning my brain into something resembling melty unflavored gelatin.
But! Then it dawned on me: if it's okay to bring in maybe three or four cats at once (rather than twelve or fourteen), maybe I can just...get a few more traps! I can't afford the really fancy, sturdy ones, but there are plenty of perfectly functional, less expensive models out there. So I did a bunch of Amazon searches using different terms and criteria and eventually found THREE traps (one single and one kit of two) that wouldn't break my budget. They should arrive next week, which means we could be trapping by next weekend, depending on when we can get appointments.
I figure I will just make appointments for as many cats as I have traps and hope I can get one in each. And then there will only need to be two trips made: one to bring the cats to the clinic, and one to bring them home, rather than four trips minimum. That should make things WAY more manageable. Plus, with four traps I may end up being able to help out other locals doing TNR -- I may not be able to drive, but I will certainly be able to lend out my traps!
(Above: Photo of two feral cats from the local colony. Rosie, the grownup cat, is already spayed and ear-tipped so that people can recognize her on sight as a TNR-ed kitty. The small black kitten -- who still needs a name -- is one of the next in line for TNR.)
OH. And also. The Humane Society is going to be having some days this month (not sure which ones, I will have to ask) where feral cats can get spayed or neutered for FREE. Which is just awesome, awesome news. So yeah. It may be raining outside right now, but things are definitely looking brighter on the kitty-assistance front!
* Re. the word "tame"...I actually kind of dislike the notion of cats being called "tame", but when I use it here all I mean is "socialized to humans". In general, though, for me "tame" has icky connotations of passivity. And I think that anyone who thinks socializing cats means making them passive or tolerant of being yanked or tossed around by small children, etc., has WAY the wrong idea. But it's shorter to write "tame" than any of the other, more complicated explanations of what I mean by "socialized to humans" so I do it sometimes. For what it's worth.