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Three years ago, Carol Tudor agreed to help a friend who was trying to corral a feral cat and her kittens in a condominium complex. She learned about TNR and borrowed a trap. The mission was successful, and she decided to get some training and volunteer to help RMACA with other ferals.
An environmental engineer who works for a consulting firm, Tudor has become an accomplished feral trapper. In her spare time, she's tackled colonies with as few as six and as many as thirty cats. Residents are encouraged to do their own trapping, but if the neighbors are too elderly — or apathetic — Tudor helps out.
"Most of the time, people are thrilled to have me there," she says. "We get a lot of calls from elderly ladies. They're home all day; they see the cats come and go. They put out food and more come, and then there's a litter of kittens and they don't know what to do.
"A lot of times, they're skeptical," she adds. "They ask me, 'Are you really going to bring my cats back?' They become quite attached, even though they can't touch them."
Some of the highest concentrations of ferals can be found in mobile-home parks and salvage yards. Tudor recently pulled 22 cats out of a trailer park near the city shelter. Rising foreclosures have aggravated the problem; people clear out and leave the cats behind. If the colony proves to be too enormous for one trapper to handle, the volunteers will combine forces, stacking the traps in SUVs or station wagons and booking blocks of time at the Feline Fix for the surgeries.
Tudor is working with Des Marais on negotiations with the apartment complex that wants to eradicate its colony. She recently sent a letter to the pest-control company, offering to take the cats off the company's hands and fix them. "They're happy to let us take them," Tudor says. "They just want something in writing that says we're not going to bring them back."
Developing a relocation plan for up to a hundred ferals requires persistence and patience. Tudor and Des Marais have found a few rural citizens who wouldn't mind having a couple of barn cats to deal with rodents, but Tudor still hopes to persuade the apartment complex managers to allow at least some fixed cats to stay. "It's better to have forty feral cats than forty fertile cats," she says. "It's going to take a lot of barn homes to accommodate all these cats. I may end up with some in traps in my house this week."
(At press time, the relocation plan was still under review by the property's management; it's also possible the cats could be turned over to another rescue group.)
Trappers often wind up being the principal ambassadors of the TNR movement. They have to get permission to go on private property to set traps, explain to neighbors what they're doing and why they're bringing the cats back, warn people to keep their own cats indoors during the trapping operation — and, if possible, solicit donations to help pay for the whole process. In some cases, their greatest obstacles are not the local cat haters, but the crazy cat lovers, including some of those sweet old ladies who feed the ferals.
Feeders can be the bane of an effective trapping operation. When she's not assisting Cordeiro with surgeries at Feline Fix, Holly Aubart works with another vet in the Divine Feline van, and she's seen how the feeders can get in the way of a total colony fix.
"We have people who are considered caretakers, who are feeding the cats but not fixing them," Aubart says. "They get overwhelmed, and they have to choose between feeding and fixing. They choose feeding, of course. But all that does is make it so that you have to feed more."
In order to lure the cats into traps with tasty bait, trappers ask locals not to feed the ferals just before the operation begins. Some feeders refuse to cooperate. "They won't withhold the food, which makes it more difficult to trap," Aubart says. "Some people will actually hold a couple of cats back because they like having kittens around. That defeats the whole purpose of TNR."
One feeder in Lakewood has gained particular infamy among the fixers. The woman has set up numerous feeding stations, regularly spaced over several blocks. Aubart estimates that she's feeding 180 or more cats. But she refuses to get involved in fixing them.
"She feeds all the time," Aubart sighs. "Other volunteers have tried to help her, and they've given up."
Crazy cat ladies aside, Aubart may have a deeper acquaintance with feral cats than anyone else in the state. She works at the Feline Fix four days a week and with Divine Feline two days, assisting with dozens of surgeries. Then she comes home to her own feral cat colony.
A few years ago, a woman in Swansea decided to leave her house to the RMACA in her will, on one condition: The organization had to feed and protect the feral cats that frequented the property until they died a natural death. Aubart agreed to become the caretaker of the colony.