CAT TRAPPING MEMOIRS
Don't be alarmed - these two stories are from people who trap stray and feral cats which are neutered/spayed and either re-released or rehomed.
MEMOIRS OF A CAT TRAPPING MAN
Our introduction to feral trapping came in the Spring of 1994, when we casually ticked a box on a CPL checklist, I suppose the appeal of trapping lay in that long dormant "hunter-gather" instinct, which to date had only been used during forays to Asda on a quest for a TV dinner: Lynne, typically, had done the hunting and I had gathered the bill at the checkout.
In the following weeks we forgot all about feral trapping until onto the doormat dropped a brown envelope containing what appeared to be an IQ test ... well, having undergone a barrage of psychological tests and successfully managing to fail abysmally, we were deemed suitably daft enough to go on our first mission.
Shirley (Reading East's Feral Trapping Officer) was to accompany us, ostensibly to provide on-the-job training, but secretly, we later discovered, she was hoping for an evening's free entertainment. We'd arranged to meet her at a site in Beech Hill.
"How will we recognise you Shirley?"
"Oh, I'll wear a red carnation," she joked.
Well, the carnation turned out to be superfluous to our needs because, on arriving at the site, we saw a figure clamber from a Land Rover dressed like a member of the Special Patrol Group, clad in body armour, gaiters and crash helmet - only the red carnation tucked behind the strap of her gas mask gave away her identity. She charged forward, baton down, riot shield held across her chest.
"Come on you lefty swine!" she shrilled. We recoiled in fear.
"No ... Shirley ... it's us ... we're here to help you!"
She paused. "Oh ... are you? I'm sorry. I must be confusing my case load again! Ah well, we might just as well catch some moggies then."
So at 18.00, Shirley began to teach us the rudiments of feral trapping. At 18.02, having told us everything she knew, we stepped forward, encouraged by a gloved hand in the small of our backs. I held the cage and Lynne rattled a box munchies calling wistfully ... "Puss, puss, puss ... dinnertime ..."
Needless to say the first visit was not a great success, but after three weeks we had refined the techniques sufficiently to bag our first moggy, a rather dejected looking tabby who wasn't so much trapped as surrendered to us. Nevertheless we felt triumphant. Lynne posed for a photograph with her foot on the cage, tin opener tucked casually into her bandolier.
Since then our success has grown and we have to date trapped about 12 ferals. There has though, developed a pattern to this - our luck is greatest when I wear "catnip" aftershave (IT'LL DRIVE HER WILD) which repels Lynne but seems to attract moggies to the extent that I literally have to fight them off!
TRAPPING or DARK SECRETS AT THE RESCUE SHELTER
The casual visitor to the rescue shelter may hear furtive mutterings such as, ``We are going trapping tonight''. It takes little imagination to visualise steel jaws clamping onto an innocent animal's paws. Do furry pelts dry in the breeze deep behind the kittening pens? Has the Shelter a new source of income?
Please calm down. It is really very simple. The female feral cat is a mobile mass production unit designed to manufacture litter after litter of tiny furry bundles. Without that vital visit to a veterinary surgeon, one pussy can soon turn into dozens.
Rattling the `Munchies' packet and plaintively calling ``Puss'' will not bring that feline madam to your side. Should you succeed in cornering her and seize a leg or tail, you will find yourself in need of surgery.
Thus the cat trap is used. It is a metal box with long rectangular sides and top, while the front and back ends are square. The floor and ends are solid metal, while the rest is open wire mesh. It is heavy for a mere human to transport. An ingenious spring device means that one square end can be fixed open, but should a curious pussy enter and tread on a vital little plate inside, the end snaps shut with a loud clang. How is pussy tempted inside? Pilchards are recommended because of the strong smell and are place on paper at the far end of the trap. With the entrance fixed open and an old blanket draped over the top, we have an irresistible dark tunnel wafting delicious aromas into the night air. Evenings seem to be the most successful time.
A typical request for cat traps will be from someone who knows of someone with a ``problem''. You will be sent to Lavender Cottage, one mile up an unmade track at the far end of Gipsy Lane, three miles outside Much Hadham. Skilled navigation is essential for cat trapping.
Upon arrival you will see no cats. You will either be told they are out hunting or they live in that shed. This will inevitably be ramshackle, full of old boxes and cobwebs. Peering inside through a curtain of stinging nettles, you may be rewarded by the sight of two or three pairs of pussy eyes all with the same message, ``Tee hee hee. You can't catch me.''.
You must bait your trap and expect a long wait. It may well entail going home and returning daily to the site for weeks.
The cat is not injured by the trap, but in her fright may throw herself about inside. Covering the trap with a blanket helps to calm her. A glass panel at the far end of the trap ``tunnel'' can be raised to let the animal out, but then we must start again.
Cat trapping folklore is rich and varied, some examples being:-
'We have had that trap for days and all we have caught are three hedgehogs and a chicken!'
'We keep on catching the ginger tom from next door'.
'We have caught 'a big one' we have never seen before.'
One rescue worker received a message that the cat was caught. 'Fine,' she said, 'I'll be along at ten thirty'. When she reached the site she was greeted by 'We let it out - we did not think you were coming.'
Another feral cat managed to snatch the pilchards without setting off the spring. Either she had an extraordinary IQ or the spring needed a spot of oil.
Trapped cats go straight to the vet for spaying or neutering and, hopefully, after a short convalescence can be returned to site, if being fed. The vets have a system of marking the ears of spayed females (called 'ear-tipping') to prevent the trauma of a poor animal already 'done' being sent in a second time.
Opinions vary, but trapping must be better than putting down strychnine as happens at many a Mediterranean hotel.
Veteran rescue workers reading this humble account may have further comment to add. PER ARDUA AD ASTRA is a suitable motto for the RAF. Weary cat trappers would settle for PER ARDUA AD FELIX.