Trapping feral cats is a game of patience

Feral cat warily studies traps.
Murphy has already been trapped and neutered. He knows better than to go in again, but the smell of food does make him think.

“There goes Felix.”

The orange tabby sniffs around two cat traps and begins nibbling at the pieces of food scattered around the entrances that are supposed to tempt other ferals to enter the wire cages.

From her SUV parked a dozen metres or so down the driveway of the house where she’s set the traps, Kamloops and District Humane Society executive director Barb Zibrik watches. And waits. And watches and waits.

She carefully set the traps in the yard (with the owner’s permission) with most of the ‘bait’ at the back, past the foot plate that springs the door closed.

Felix was caught, neutered, vaccinated and released long ago. But Zibrik keeps coming back to capture more of his colony and he’s not so fearful that he won’t reap some of the rewards of the bits of food that he knows come with the traps.

“He’s such a pest,” she says with affection.

Feral cats check out cat traps.
Felix, the orange tabby, has already been caught and neutered but the gray cat hesitating near the traps has not.

Zibrik then points to a soft-gray female who skirts the traps, obviously interested in the food but too wary to get close.

The cat is from the same litter as another female Zibrik trapped and released the previous week.

A long-haired calico observes the goings-on from under a parked truck, but won’t go near, either. She’s also on Zibrik’s to-catch list.

That list has about 20 cats on it right now. That’s a huge improvement from where it was when she began trapping in the neighbourhood two years ago. Since 2012, the society has trapped, spayed, neutered, vaccinated and released 102 cats from this area alone. For a small, entirely volunteer group that gets no funds from any level of government, the KDHS does a lot of behind-the-scenes cat management in Kamloops.

There are times, however, when it gets discouraging. Especially when there are cats who seem impossible to trap.

Zibrik perseveres, knowing she’s made inroads and that overall, the cats are better off for her efforts. The life of a feral cat is often short, but if it has been spayed or neutered, at least other homeless felines aren’t adding to the population and starving or spreading illness.

Feral cats check out traps.
Felix and a gray cat, both wild, move nearer to traps set out by the Kamloops and District Humane Society.

While she waits for a cat to get caught, she identifies the others who gather on the sidelines. Some were born last year, others have been around for two or three years. Some have been caught — they get one ear clipped so they can be identified at a distance. Zibrik even remembers which ones have had siblings spayed or neutered.

The 20 felines remaining on her list are the most apprehensive. One flame-point Siamese (creamy white with orange tips on the ears and face) almost seems to taunt her as he checks out the cages and later hangs around near Zibrik’s SUV.

“There are two gray ones that will never go in the trap. I think one of them is female.” The unstated implication is she’s probably pregnant, too.

One of the feral cats needing trapping.
A flame-point Siamese cat who has eluded feral cat traps set out by the Kamloops humane society.

In her own neighbourhood, she tried trapping a wild black cat. Someone’s pet Siamese kept going for the ‘bait’ and would get himself caught. He’d wait patiently for Zibrik to release him, sometimes days in a row. If only getting the ferals was so easy.

The wild ones rarely enter a trap twice. Once they’ve been caught, they don’t want to go in again. Particularly when it has ended with a trip to the vet.

After more than an hour, Zibrik packs it in. The vet clinic is about to close and she doesn’t want to take a trapped cat home, then have to haul it to the vet in the morning — it’s just that much harder on the animal.

Last week, on a drizzly evening, she was surprised to capture three elusive females They were all quite young, too, so getting them spayed prevented a lot of unwanted litters.

It’s those successes that spur Zibrik to keep returning. The society’s efforts have resulted in feral cat colonies dwindling, or even dying out, in some parts of town.

As she packs up the cages, an older tom cat, white with gray patches, spectates from atop a pile of scrap wood. His ears point out sideways instead of being perked upright (Yoda ears), a clear indication of ear mites. Later, he shakes his head and scratches.

Zibrik can’t get near him, but some of the neighbours can. She’ll give them some medication with the hope they can deal with it.

These ferals have people feeding them and trying to help them, but even so, they have hard lives. Ear mites, other diseases and winter exposure take their toll. Kittens face those threats as well as poor nutrition from mothers who have up to three litters a year. Some day, Zibrik hopes this colony will also fade away.

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