Tip-off about return-to-field cats: Basics of how ear-tipped kitties make it to the adoption center

Virtually pets

Earlier this week, Kate Hurley, DVM, presented a webcast in partnership with Long Beach Animal Care Services and Stray Cat Alliance to explain return-to-field in depth. Hurley is a shelter-medicine specialist who also works hard for the welfare of cats and dogs both inside and outside shelters. I attended the webcast, and during the Q&A asked why cats with tipped ears could be found up for adoption in shelters or rescues. Long Beach Animal Care Services director Staycee Dains and Anna Wong, who is the shelter’s return-to-field director, answered my questions online and went into greater detail to further explain the process when I spoke to them the next day.

Scratching Post readers might know that cats with tipped ears—that is, the kitties are missing one centimeter from the top of usually the left ear—are marked thus to identify them as cats who have either been trapped, spayed or neutered, and released to the place they came from (TNR) or part of a return-to-field (RTF) program, which entails (even with Manx cats) spaying or neutering, microchipping and vaccinating a cat who’s been brought into a shelter “however they got there, by a trap, in a laundry basket, by the scruff of the neck,” as Wong archly put it. Then, these cats can be released to their areas of origin, but that’s not a given. Sometimes, a few will wind up in an adoption kennel or a foster, and if the fur of fate is stroked in the right direction, they’ll find a forever home, hopefully never more to rove.

tuxedo cat with tipped ear sits in kennel near a window.

“Cats with tipped ears weren’t necessarily trapped,” said Long Beach Animal Care Services director Staycee Dains. “They are cats that were planned for RTF, and the tipped ear signifies they are spayed/neutered. Many friendly cats are ear tipped. A tipped ear is about their surgery, not their behavior or how they were brought to the shelter.” Stevie Nicks is one such cat; she was initially brought to the shelter and is available for adoption at Pet Food Express’ Cat Adoption Center. Photo by Kate Karp

Community cats, Wong explained, are those who live outside and may or may not have an owner. They might be feral, or roaming a community and loosely owned by a number of neighbors.

“They’re not a person’s surrendered cat,” Dains said.

When one of these cats is brought to the shelter, Wong’s team and shelter workers gather information and from it decide whether the cat will qualify for return to field, e.g., is the cat being fed out there, do they live in a colony where they’re receiving some care, is the environment safe, are coyotes roaming? Because the team doesn’t want the cat sitting there twiddling its nonexistent opposable thumbs waiting for data interpretation, they are spayed or neutered, equipped with a microchip, and vaccinated with the assumption that the cat will be returned but not produce more unwanted cats. The ear will be tipped while the cat is under anesthesia so the procedure won’t be painful.

An ear-tipped cat can wind up in an adoption kennel or a foster home if the team finds that, after all, the return situation would be unsuitable for the cat.

“So then, we’ll make a final determination,” Wong said. “I bring the cat back and put a hold on the cat so we can assess for PFE (Pet Food Express’ Cat Adoption Center). A secondary out could be a barn-cat program.”

I hoped to explain the return-to-field process as clearly as possible (and you can look at the PDF from Hurley’s presentation here if you want to find out more), but it’s Friday, time for the adoption column, and I have an ulterior motive. Meet a few of the cats from Pet Food Express, at least one of whom is a would-be return-to-fielder and all of whom have backstories. And want to go home. The Long Beach Pet Food Express is located at 4220 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach, and yes—you can go in person if you observe mask regulations.

Stevie Nicks (all your life you’ve never seen a feli-hine taken by her tail)

Video by Kate Karp

Mario, 5 years old and ready for love

Video by Kate Karp


Gigi, age 10, has a story, too, much of it sad. A return-to-field team volunteer fostered her when she was confiscated in a domestic violence case in which one of the members threatened to kill both her and people in the home. “She was so traumatized that it took us four years to undo the trauma,” the volunteer said.

During the final year when the foster began working from home, she became the “normal Gigi,” not leaving the foster’s side for a minute. “Foster-fail” was out of the question since there were other cats in the home, so Gigi went to Pet Food Express’ Cat Adoption Center. No trauma here!

Video by Kate Karp

Just fur fun

Best Friends Virtual Strut Your Mutt Day: Saturday, Oct. 24, register or donate here

The annual Strut Your Mutt dog walk, which has raised thousands of dollars for lifesaving projects, is going virtual like everything else. Best Friends has teamed up with local rescue groups, shelters, animal-welfare organizations and pet-community members for a virtual community walk and fundraiser to benefit homeless dogs and cats across the country. During this period of relative isolation, raising funds is more important than ever, so join up and participate in engaging opportunities to help throughout the season and build a virtual no-kill community. All funds raised go directly to lifesaving programs such as spay neuter services and adoption—and it’s all off leash!

Help wanted, help given

Low-cost vaccine and microchip clinic: Saturday, Oct. 17, 10 a.m.–4 p.m., spcaLA, P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village, 7700 E. Spring St., Long Beach, price list and details available here

Keeping a pet healthy and safe should be accessible to people who cannot afford it. The medical staff at spcaLA will administer vaccines for dogs and cats as well as flea/tick treatments, dewormers and microchips, which will increase a safe return home for your cat or dog if they get lost. The clinic will be held outdoors, with clear markers for social distancing. The exam area will be sanitized after each patient, and hand-sanitizer will be available throughout. Masks are mandatory and must be worn over the mouth and nose at all times. Please stay home if you are feeling ill or if you or someone you have recently had contact with has been diagnosed with or shown symptoms of COVID-19. Dogs must be on a secure collar and leash;

DIY Kitten Care Kits available free at Long Beach Animal Care Services

Kitten season is just about up, but kittens still enter shelters. It isn’t unusual to find nests of young, seemingly abandoned kittens during kitten season. It is a natural reaction to want to help, to save them. But before you jump in, consider these steps outlined here. If you are interested in obtaining a Kitten Care Kit made possible by Helen Sanders CatPAWS, please email [email protected].

Spay/neuter vouchers available at shelter

Long Beach Animal Care Services has spay/neuter vouchers available. They’ll take a healthy nip out of the cost of a procedure. Residents of any of the five cities served by the shelter—(see above)—can telephone the general number at 562-570–7387 to request a voucher.

The Spay/Neuter Project of Los Angeles (SNP/LA) is back in business for free and low-cost spay/neuter services, and they’re extending the hours of their vaccination clinics. The San Pedro clinic, located at 957 N. Gaffey St., will give shots every third Thursday between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. Call 310-574–5555 to see if you qualify for services.

Calendars—save the date, and save some pets!

Seal Beach Animal Care Center cat and dog 2021 calendar contests: through Sunday, Oct. 18, register here

You still have time to inscribe your dog or cat in the annals of an annual calendar and support a local rescue/shelter at the same time. Seal Beach Animal Care Center, a nonprofit all-volunteer animal shelter that keeps its pets safe until a forever home is found, is sponsoring two calendars, one for doggies and the other for kitties. Rules for the calendars can be accessed on the above link. Enter and vote for your best buddies ($1 per vote, $5 minimum)!

If you can see the bottom of the kibble bag:

Pet Pantry and Wellness Event sponsored by Michelson Found Animals Foundation: Saturday, Oct. 17, 10 a.m.–2 p.m., Southeast Rio Vista YMCA, 4801 E. 58 St., free services and pet food

Animal-welfare nonprofit Michelson Found Animals has helped over 7,500 pets since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic with free access to veterinary services, microchipping, pet food and other wellness needs. This event will supply families in need with vaccinations, microchips, teeth and ear cleaning, flea treatment, spay and neuter and pet food! Furthermore, to keep the humans healthy, free flu shots will be available for everyone. Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Michelson Found Animals founder Dr. Gary Michelson will speak to the need for more humane education and resources for underserved populations. Michelson Found Animals Foundation believes that “people and pets are better together,” and this event will further this cause.

Helen Sanders CatPAWS offers, through specific private donors, e-gift cards for people struggling during the crisis to buy food for their pets. The CatPAWS Spay/Neuter Fund, also privately funded, has vouchers available for anyone not able to go to the shelter for them. They also accept donations.

Pets of the Homeless’ home page gives a self-description as the only organization focusing only on providing food and care for pets belonging to homeless people. Businesses and other organizations across the country receive in-kind donations of food and other needs that the dogs and cats’ human families can pick up at outreach locations. The following Long Beach businesses will accept your donations:

Trendi Pawz, 3726 E. Seventh St., Long Beach

Belmont Heights Animal Hospital, 255 Redondo Ave., Long Beach

Paw Shoppe Pet Center, Inc., 6416 E. Spring St., Long Beach

Food and supplies are available at Beacon for Him Ministries, 1535 Gundry Ave. Long Beach, Mondays from 9:00 a.m. to noon and Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m.; and at Christian Outreach in Action, 515 E. Third St., Long Beach, Thursday from 9 to 11 a.m. Donations will be gratefully accepted at these locations as well.

Adopt, adopt, adopt

#MakeaDog’sDay, presented by Timmons Subaru: Thursday, Oct. 22, 3–7p.m., Pet Supplies Plus, 2086 N. Bellflower Blvd. (between Sears and Lazy Acres), Long Beach, adoption fees apply

Oct. 22 is calendared as National Dog Day. That’s every day to a lot of people who live with dogs, but sadly, not every dog has had its day. But during the month of October, Subaru of America will celebrate Subaru Loves Pets Month by donating $100 to shelters for every shelter pet adopted, with a special focus finding homes for pets with special needs—the one-eyed, the three-legged, the abused and frightened. On National Dog Day, Long Beach Animal Care Service’s very own Adoption Waggin’ will show up at Pet Supplies Plus to make it easy and fun for you to make a dog’s—or a cat’s—day by socializing with them and maybe take one home! Everyone wins—the shelter, you and, of course, the animals!

 Helen Sanders CatPAWS adoption center: Daily, store hours, PetSmart, 2341 Seal Beach Blvd., Seal Beach, adoption fees apply.

Window-shopping’s a neat pastime and likely has become more common during the pandemic. Helen Sanders CatPAWS has applied window-shopping to cat adoption; you can peer at several of the fine felines through the windows of the PetSmart adoption center in Seal Beach. Sadly, no ear scratching or chin rubs at this time, but volunteers can answer questions and provide you with adoption information! Be sure to wear a mask. You can find adoption applications and all the kitties here.

Long Beach Animal Care Services monthly adoptions: Every second Saturday of each month, store hours, Pet Supplies Plus, 2086 N. Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach, adoption fees apply.

Long Beach Animal Care Services shows up with its fabulous Adoption Waggin’ equipped with air conditioning, running water and comfy kennels with cats, dogs and bunnies waiting to go home. Masks and social distancing required for visitors.

The following pet-related businesses regularly feature cat, dog and rabbit adoptions, but as of now, adoptions are mainly by appointment. Click on the links for each rescue in case of updates or changes. These organizations operate through donations and grants, and anything you can give would be welcome. Please suggest any Long Beach-area rescues to add to the list.

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Kate Karp is the Pets Columnist for the Long Beach Post covering the world of animal activism, pet adoptions and lots of cute cats. She’s called Long Beach home since 1994 and has written for the Post for about 10 years. Kate’s day job is as a copyeditor, which she discovered a love for during her 30-year tenure as a teacher. She describes the job as “like taking the rough edges off a beautiful sculpture.”