The sun begrudgingly shrugged its way up the horizon that chilly day break. Car tires trod heavily across the long, half-frozen driveway. Headlights spotlighted fleet-footed paws, old cat food cans. An old wooden barn hunkered to the side, an ancient horse trailer slumped nearby.
The humans gathered, exchanged introductions and took in the scene. It was the start of a typical trap-neuter-and-release aka TNR day for the volunteers, but an extraordinary day for the land owner and the four dozen or so mostly feral cats who claimed his rural Hunterdon County property as their home.
A quiet, soft-spoken man in an ear-flap hat and overalls, the land owner furrowed his brow in concern. A neighbor had called the local police on him—and yet a third neighbor two properties down—due to the overabundance of feral cats.
Unneutered male cats marked on her property, started screaming matches and were generally a nuisance; the complaint was nearly identical to ones that the TNR volunteers heard all the time. Whether in a tight-knit rowhome neighborhood or quasi-quaint-named streets dotted with new construction, the concerns were the same and no less legitimate. Feral cats multiplied, fought, got run over and left for dead, staged turf wars and potentially brought fleas and other unhealthy conditions with them.
The man in the ear-flap hat did not see the cats as nuisances.
OK, maybe the situation had gotten out of hand…
But like many feeders of ferals that the volunteers encountered, he did his best for the feline squatters, who had colonized the three-car garage and barn. Tucked in amongst forgotten tools, a Cub Cadet tractor mower and cast-offs from the man’s home, the cats had a shelter against cold winters and summer heat waves. The man supplemented their hunter-gathering with cans of food, many of which lay empty on the property like aluminum carcasses.
Today, the volunteers would do some gathering of their own. Their mission was to trap as many of the cats as possible in metal traps or cages that CAPIC Cats and others had lent for the occasion and transport them to the People for Animals’ spay-neuter clinic in Hillside. There, the cats would be individually evaluated, triaged, spayed or neutered and vaccinated.
Sporting freshly inked green line tattoos on shaved bellies and left ears “tipped” for quick identification as a spayed-neutered feral, the cats would be returned to the land owner’s property later that day.
As freshly opened cans of food tempted the colony’s “Dash-offs” and “Waries” out into the open and the “Friendlies” mewed and leg-rubbed for attention, the volunteers quickly laid their traps.
Work paused briefly when a local police car rolled onto the property. If the township’s animal control unit had to step in, the patrol officer noted, the municipality could charge the property owner as much as $150 per cat to euthanize the animals.
Frustrated and frightened for his colony, the land owner lost his composure. “Go on and shoot them all!” he told the officer. After a few tense moments, the officer left and the round-up continued.
Soon, the cages were filled with cats of every variety—long-haired seniors, gangly teens, black cats, smoke-hued, calicos, tiger-striped tabbies—all stacked around the barn.
The People for Animals “Spay Shuttle” van arrived and the volunteers and driver Bob, a beardless, Hagrid-like gentle soul, loaded 31 crates inside, two layers deep. This was a special residential run for the PFA van, which usually shuttles ferals between the Hillside facility and area Petco stores.
Harnesslife.org paid for 15 of the 30 cats that were actually operated on. The 31st had already been ear-tipped and spayed so it was only vaccinated.
Later that evening, the “shuttle” returned to the man’s property with the trapped cats, still in their temporary metal digs. With identifying info from the clinic clipped to each cage, the traps were organized in a single layer covering the floor of the multi-car garage.
The males would be released after 24 hours. The females would stay in the traps for two days. CAPIC volunteers would follow up the next day. The untrapped cats would need to be caught before the first 31 were released.
Another day, there’d be a different long driveway or faded barn, another public nuisance complaint or maybe only well-meaning cat feeders who would reach out to the volunteers for traps, advice, assistance. Harnesslife.org, and the other groups, will be there with your help and support. And lives will be saved.