Written by Stacey Mantle
The day starts out like any other as you approach the trap you’ve been watching for the last hour. The neighborhood cats are weary of you, but they shouldn’t be – you come to offer help, not harm. The long hair white male with bright blue eyes stare back at you, and you realize he can’t be more than a year old. He ceases his efforts at escape as you approach, and eyes you wearily – his bright blue eyes piercing. He’s already shredded the newspaper lining, and turned over the can of tuna flavored cat food you used as bait, no longer interested in the food, and it’s only been 4 minutes or so since you’ve trapped him.
It will be at least 8 hours before he is free from the cage, but that can’t be helped. Softly apologizing in what you hope is a calming tone, you quickly glance over him, checking for potential problems that must be solved while he is still under general anesthesia. His long hair is matted and has been torn out in the throat area, you spot several fleas, and notice his ears are infected from mites. Jotting down the information on a clipboard, you then throw a towel over the top of the cage before loading him into the back of the truck. You’ll have a grand total of six cats trapped by morning, if your luck holds, and that will be after releasing the ones that have been ear-tipped, because you know they have already done their time.
Today is October 16 – National Feral Cat Day as it is become internationally known by animal rescues thanks to the committed efforts of Alley Cat Allies.
It is a day to recognize the growing problems of feral cats, and their place in our lives whether we are aware of it or not. National Feral Cat Day is more than just thinking, though. It is a day of action – where veterinarians nationwide volunteer to offer their services to these felines.
By 4:00 am, you have maxed out your traps. The contents in the truck contain a pure black male, who you noted was deaf; a calico female who recently gave birth; two gray male shorthaired cats; a tiger striped female, and the first one you caught – who you’ve affectionately nicknamed Booger, due to a lack of creativity, and the late hour.
The site for the spay/neuter clinic is as wild as the hundreds of cats that have shown up for it, trapped and distressed as they await their unknown fate. You sign in, and the volunteer thanks you – thanks you – for making more work for them! Cat people are truly a noble people. You think to yourself.
You are trading out your spay/neuters today by volunteering with the "aftercare" section. And so, after your cats cages are tagged, to assure a return to the same location, you enter the hospital. It’s quite a spectacle. On duty are five veterinarians, and too many volunteers to count. Your assignment is in the hallway of the hospital on a long cardboard table. You will be checking each cat as they come through for anything that can be solved in less than ten minutes.
The assembly line has already begun, and you stand at the table, next to another volunteer assigned the same duties. There is no time for talk, as one by one, volunteers move the cats from the operating table to the hall table where you have set up due to a lack of space. The cats will be ear-tipped and spayed or neutered by the time they get to you. Your job is to clean their wounds with Betadine, check for mites and fleas and remove or treat, vaccinate each animal, brush or cut out any types of mats that could cause problems, and pass them off to a volunteer who puts them in the tagged cage. All of this must be done before they awake, and although you’re a writer used to deadlines, the pressure nearly overwhelms you as the endless assembly line of cats keep coming through. You’ve been there only an hour and already you have pushed through 12 cats. At one point, you’ve had four cats lined up on your table. But you console yourself with the knowledge that these cats will now live because of you, and suddenly the fatigue drifts away, and you find the energy to push forward.
The cats are groggy and in foul moods when they awake in their cages, stacked eight-high in the hallway. It’s a necessary discomfort, and one that will end soon. The other volunteers, mostly new to the world of cat rescue, are talking softly to them as they try to calm them, and you have to tell them to just throw a towel over their cages because trying to calm them seems only to infuriate them, and by now – you’re tired of listening to the yowling.
Eight hours and nearly 190 cats later, everyone is exhausted and ready for a good nights sleep, but your day is far from over, despite being up for nearly 24 hours straight. You pick up the six cats you brought, making sure that they are the correct ones, and load them into the truck. They will need to be observed until nightfall, and then set free once more. This time, however, they will not be transmitting diseases, or breeding. They will be calmer, and maybe, with a lot of luck, one day domesticated. You smile softly to yourself, knowing that the phrase "domesticated cat" is an oxymoron, but hold to the hope regardless. It has been a good day, and one that will remain in your memory for a lifetime.
You will care for this colony of 18 cats, you will feed them, build a shelter for them, and observe the animals without ever touching or petting or holding any of your charges. They are your responsibility now, but since you have put so much time into educating your neighbors, you hope that additional help will soon turn up. It is a massive responsibility for one person. However, it is well worth it - for you alone have been responsible in saving these animals lives, and making your neighborhood a disease-free area.
Booger stays in his cage for a moment and glances up at you. You almost feel like he is saying thank you, although you’re somewhat certain he will never forget the horrors of the day. You repress an urge to reach out and pet the thick hair, knowing that to do so would most certainly result in a trip to the hospital. Finally, without so much as a glance back, he lunges from the trap to disappear behind a nearby hedge. You sigh and wave goodbye, because it’s all you are allowed to do. Nevertheless – a warm glow spreads over you, because you know that today was one of your truly successful ones.
To learn how you can be of assistance during National Feral Cat Day, or better yet, begin efforts in your area to start a TNR (Trap/Neuter/Release) program in your area, visit www.alleycat.org for detailed information. And if you can’t participate, please try to make a donation, any funds are very much appreciated in continuing this national effort.
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