The last 7 days have been some of the most stressful in recent memory. Last Thursday I got word that we had a Toby Project mobile spay clinic booked … for the following Tuesday. We had been planning a big TNR (trap-neuter-return) project for the feral cats living behind my neighbor's house for a while but booking the truck was the big unknown.For those who may not be familiar with this service, people can schedule a mobile spay/neuter clinic through the Toby Project or the ASPCA. This means a big truck with a vet clinic inside will show up to your block and will fix 25-30 cats in a matter of hours. This is a godsend for feral cat advocacy community, as it means the cats don't need to be transported far to get fixed. In truth, trapping feral cats itself is pretty easy. What's hard is all the other aspects of TNR, which can involve carting said cats all over town, between colony location, holding spaces, surgery, and recovery space. In our case, we really kept it in the family: we trapped cats at our neighbor's house, then housed the trapped cats in a spare room of our house. Then the spay truck arrived and parked in front of the house. We took the cats down to the van, and a few hours later brought them back to the spare room. Done and done. Sort of.
Obviously for a project with so many moving parts, scheduling is a big part of it. We not only needed the clinic, we needed lots of traps, trap covers, trap dividers. We also needed food, water bowls, tons of newspaper, and a bunch of other incidentals along the way. In an ideal situation, the booking of the clinic would allow for a couple of weeks' notice to get everything in order. Instead, we had 5 days to get everything ready.
First step was getting traps. There are several 'trap banks' around Brooklyn for just this purpose, but they usually require 2-weeks' notice. I contact them anyway and was promised a few traps each from 2 banks. Friends' donated the traps they had, and an incredibly nice lady answered my desperate-sounding Craigslist ad for traps, donating another 5 to the bunch. The trap banks came through better than their word, ultimately providing 17 awesome traps. We had more than enough.
Next was the actual trapping. I wanted to start Saturday to make sure we had time to get all of them, but the neighbor was throwing a birthday party then, so we would have to wait until Sunday. This was just as well, as Saturday was a blur of running around, picking up traps, dropping kittens off at an adoption event, and buying supplies. Sunday we started off on the wrong foot, as I discovered I didn't set the traps up in the recommended way: cats were stepping over the trip-plate to get the bait. I managed to capture several by sneaking up behind them with a broomstick and hitting the latch on the trap when they weren't looking. Later, a friend showed up with the rest of the traps, so we set these up properly and soon we were catching cats left and right. 3 times we caught two cats in one trap, which is pretty rare, but shows how close the cats in this colony are.
We had caught all the cats except one, an orange tabby male who had been adept at slipping into the trap and eating the food without getting caught. He was getting full so I upped the ante by getting some fried chicken from the local Crown to bait the traps. at first he didn't go for it, but then we left a trail of chicken going into a trap and he fell for it. Snap!
We left a few traps out and checked out the haul: 15 cats, not counting the male cat trapped in front of my place the night before, as well as two kittens trapped there on Friday. So 18 total new cats. 2 cats turned out to be Didi and Horace, cats we had already fixed in the past year, and one cat was a nursing mother who had 2-week old kittens to take care of (we plan to get the family soon, when the kittens start walking around). So we kept 15 cats; no more were caught (unless you count the mother cat, who immediately went and got herself caught again after we let her go!)
The ferals were all very well behaved, so taking care of them was fairly easy, if time-consuming. We took the day off Tuesday, the Toby truck arrived around 8 am and soon after we were hauling cats down and into the truck. We were sharing this truck with some cats trapped by CARE for Cats, Inc., who were instrumental in getting the truck to begin with. They graciously gave us most of the slots, so we were able to get 19 cats fixed. In addition to the ferals we also got our kittens fixed (we have 5 but one was still too small to be fixed). The Toby truck fixed 26 cats for us total.
Recovery has gone well, though we are going through newspaper and cat food like nobody's business. The cats have all bounced back fine, and we were able to release the male cats last night. Tonight we will most likely release the females. Then it's a frenzy of cleaning traps in order to get them back to the trap banks and donators. We're a little sad to see them go, but it's all part of the deal.
See all the photos of the project here.