How to Catch a Feral Cat
The Waiting Game
Wild cats are scary, yet timid creatures, only coming out when they are absolutely sure no human anything else that might come to harm them is around. But, really, you can never tell if there's a feral cat around unless you have one of your trusty spies along with you, be it your pet barn cat or your dog.
So this is where the story starts. Yesterday evening, Mom had gone out, like she or I do every evening, to call our two critters, Spider and Button (a.k.a Muffy) to see if they wanted to go in for the night. Lately, over the winter we've had them housed in our large quanset shed where we store our tractors and a couple of our vehicles when they're not in use. Those two love it in there; it's warm, quiet, out of the wind, and comfortable, since we always have a few beds around for them to sleep in. Well, after Mom had shut the door, there was suddenly quite the blood-curdling yowl that lept up to her ears from inside the quanset. She opened up the door and found Muffy cowering in a corner, then darting out as soon as Mom stepped in, and Spider somewhere in the back of the quanset growling at something that she couldn't see, but he could. She said he was really mad by the way he was growling, but came when she called to put them outside. Just to confirm her suspicions when me or her check in the next morning, she left a few crumbles (those Whiskas Meaty Sensations dry cat food) in the dishes to see if they get ate up over night, and shut the door, preventing any escape for the feral cat or any conforntation in case our two decide to go in.
This morning, I woke up, dressed, and put a jacket on to go let the cats in for a bite to eat. And sure enough, the food bowls were completely empty, licked clean, and the other crumbles that Spider or Muffy had wasted as they feed from their bowls were also cleaned up. One of the beds was also on the floor (from being placed on the back of one of our pick-up trucks still being put together), so there was no mistaking that someone was indeed inside. So I just left the door open, and went to fetch the mail, thinking that maybe the critter would make a break for it when I had left. When I came back, it seemed like there was nobody around, but my sixth-sense was telling me otherwise. I sat under a tree until my two buddies strolled up (from two different directions, of course) to say Good Morning to me. I decided to use these two to see if anybody was still in there.
Upon entering the quanset, Spider immediately padded to the back. He came back, seemingly satisfied that no-one was there, or else just coming up to me to get a pet. But Muffy and Spider were still acting like they could hear something in the back there, especially when they were eating from their favorite dishes. I then opened up the big doors and sat in wait to see what else my boy would do. Sure enough, some more angry growling and yowling started up from somewhere in the back corner. I snuck, as quietly as I could (though it's really hard to be quiet with those rubber clogs I was wearing), to where Spider was pointing me to. He walked away, then Muffy came up. She could smell something, and started hissing quietly at something under the tarp. She was so nervous that she accidently turned on her brother when he came up behind her, but it only lasted for a tenth of a second (nobody got scratched, thank God) when I hissed at them to stop their antics. Figuring that if I made some noise around there, I grabbed a plastic electric fencing pole and started beating around the tarp to see if anyone or anything would come shooting out of there.
Then I thought of the skunk trap that Mom had bought a couple winters ago. I thought, gee why not? It's worth a shot! So I tramped to the garage, grabbed the trap from under our old show-winning 1950 c. Buick, and headed back to the quanset. I ordered my two friends out of there, shut the door, and set the trap and baited it with dry cat food. I made sure there was no other cat food for the feral cat to eat, by placing the other two dishes in the 5-gallon pail where we always store the cat food for easy access, and sealing it with the lid. Placing the trap towards the back where I had a hunch that cat was still around, I turned off the lights, shut the door, and walked back to the house, deciding to check on the trap around coffee time.
So ultimately, the waiting game has since began a few hours ago.
Caught one before
A few winters ago, when I was still in school in the city, Mom had the same problem with a feral cat that always came to clean up the cat food that was left in the dishes, only that time it was in the garage. I suggested, as well as family and friends, to buy a skunk trap and see if she catches anything. First time she set it she didn't catch anything. I then suggested to put a piece of carpet in there to hide the wire flooring, then maybe cover it with a blanket. It was mostly because she had placed it where there was carpeting already, and the cat might've seen the wire on the floor and not wanted to go in. Sure enough, she phoned back that evening to proudly exclaim she caught a big black tom cat, a bit of a devil from the way she said he was hissing and spitting at her. Mom then took him to the local vet clinic to have him put down, as he was too wild to be tamed into a loving, trusting house pet.
It was this that occured to me this morning, and thought it was worth a try. I may not have any luck, but you never know when you're dealing with feral cats that are quite hungry for food at this time of year. I haven't yet decided what to do with him if I do catch him (if it's a him; most likely it is from the way Muffy was curling her lip when she was sniffing around), but I think I'll just release him back into the wild, and make sure the quanset door is closed at all times. Cats can be smart, but they can also be dumb, so I can't risk a repeat episode if I (or Mom) leaves the door open even, during the day.
So we'll see.
Update (03/08/2010 @ 4:30 pm MST)
Well, I couldn't help but check back at around 1:30 this afternoon to see if I got anything. And it was then that I discovered I made a slight error that I promise myself to never make again: I had set the trigger too tightly, so that the cat wouldn't be able to trigger the release with his weight. The food was all gone but no cat in the cage. Damn!! I did catch him (at least by sound) on the tarp on one of the skidoos in there, and he moved back into his favorite corner again. Only this time I made more noise by ruffling the tarp on the other skidoo (there's one tarp on each skidoo, in case I've lost you so far), talking loudly and banging around a bit. I had left the door open, but didn't hear nor see him leave. So I shooed the cats (my two kitties came in during my noise-making) out, carefully reset the trap, and set to wait until about a half-hour ago.
No cat. I checked all over again, and came to the conclusion that maybe that feral cat did in fact escape through the open door during my noise-making schinanigans. So I put Spider and Button in again, and watched them for a bit to see their reactions. From the way Spider was acting, it was all clear.
So I am a little disappointed, yet releaved at the same time. For the bitter side, I didn't catch that cat. But for the sweeter side, I didn't have to handle a wild snarling, spitting, raging wildcat when I would have to take him outside and free him. Because who knows what feral cats have: rabies, leukemia, distemper, etc.; a scratch from their claws can cause a bit of an infection too, which is never good to have. And I learned something new today too! So I guess you can say that's also a plus.