Best ride-along ever: My evening with the cat trappers

I volunteer for a couple of pet-welfare organizations, but I mainly write about the people who do the heavy lugging. Like community-cat trappers—I’ve wanted to help for a long time, but I was always too slammed, too nervous about lurking around in the night and lying in wait, too delicate in the sensibilities to coat my hands and clothing in eau de sardine.

The people who do this, though, don’t seem to care about any of that. They’re wholeheartedly focused on bringing down the feline population in both shelter and street and to save cats from dying in both places. There’s also a sort of ecstatic bliss called trappers rush, but I’ll get to that later. I wanted to tell their story in a couple of articles and I wanted to do it firsthand, so I asked Anna Leonard-Wong, head cat herder of Long Beach Animal Care Services’ Return to Field Program, to recommend a trap. Every trapper has their preference among brands and types, and Anna likes Havahart, so I ordered one.

I dressed for the weather (so I thought) in a long-sleeve shirt, my Live Love Rescue sweatpants, a sweatshirt, sneakers, Smartwool socks and a knit hat that makes me look like Chico Marx. At 7 p.m., I met up in a parking lot with rescuer/adopter/trapper/awe-inspiring human Teresa Fernandez, founder of The Cat Cove, and two volunteers, Paige and Ken. The three of them had already trapped two kitties before I got there. That was the first thing I learned: cat trapping has no set schedule. Here’s more.

I’ve only set a trap once, and that was in the daytime, years ago, at a mobile-home park when a bunch of us trapped a momcat and her weaned babies who were camping under a trailer. But even if I’d put the trap together yesterday, I couldn’t tell you how I did it. Maybe if girls had been allowed to take shop when I was in high school, I’d have the skills to remember, but I didn’t benefit from cooking or sewing classes, either. Even the cats wouldn’t have eaten what I cook now. Speaking of food, here’s Teresa on trap setting and bait placing.

 

“And now, we wait,” Teresa said. That’s another thing—cat trapping is a waiting game. We stood around for a very long time, blankets at the ready if a cat ventured into the trap. It was getting really cold and I wanted a blanket, too, but I was determined to stick it out. If these guys can do it night after night, I could do it once.

Finally, we got one…

 

… and then another. It was now downright polar. The cats had blankets and fur coats, the volunteers had heavy jackets and gloves, and I had a lousy sweatshirt and wool socks. It was around 10 p.m.—and then we heard the faint meow of a kitten. He’d inserted himself into a narrow tunnel under a pallet. None of us could reach him, and he wouldn’t be coaxed, even with the rotisserie chicken.

“Time to call out the big guns,” Teresa said.

That would be Brandy Gaunt, whose name coincidentally shares the same initial consonants as “big guns.” Brandy’s the sole proprietor of Jellicle Manor, the headquarters of the Jellicle Cats Rescue Foundation. I’ve known her for years, and she’s all magical realism.

“Brandy is really good at getting cats out of tough situations,” Teresa said. “Whenever we have something difficult and need the magic, Brandy’s usually the one we call for help.”

At 10:30, Brandy left her warm, feline-lined house and zipped across town to help extract the kitten. She brought along a catchpole, which unfortunately was too wide to fit in the narrow space. She paused in less time than it took a light bulb to flash over Betty Boop’s Grampie’s head and then grabbed bricks to fit the trap on the level of the exit to the hidey-hole. We grabbed bricks, too. Ken put the trap at the mouth and covered it with a blanket, and the rest of us started banging out a fierce beat on the top of the pallet.

people in hoodies and sweatshirts at night, readying a trap to catch a kitten. Several bags of fertilizer in background.

Thick as bricks, Cat Cove trappers set up a Rube Goldberg-ish mechanism to rescue a kitten. Photo by Kate Karp.

“Whooooo!” someone yelled. “There he goes, right into the trap.”

gray tabby kitten in trap

We named him Frank. Later, we found out that he was a she, so we adjusted it to Frankie. Ain’t she cute? Photo by Kate Karp

I got it, then. I understood what trapper’s rush was. I knew why cat trappers do what they do. I can’t sufficiently explain it—you had to be there. I’ll get to that, too.

It was after 11 p.m. Teresa called her transporters, Ana and Pat, who immediately materialized. The cats would be driven the next day to FixNation to get spayed and neutered and vaxxed and chipped and ear-tipped for future identification. Brandy referred to it as the spa day.

By now, the earth was rapidly spinning away from the sun, and I couldn’t feel my fingers. I opened my mouth to tell everyone how valuable this was for me and how I felt like a mere mortal amongst a superspecies (and I don’t mean the cats this time), but my upper lip wasn’t moving like it should and I sounded as if I had a mouth full of sardines. Ucch.

I drove home, my car smelling like a Fourth of July picnic from the rotisserie chicken goo still stuck to my trap. That was OK—we had three adult cats and an adorable kitten who wouldn’t be covering the planet with more of them. I still felt the joy, too—it was the best ride-along ever. But despite the car heater, I still had a chilly feeling—there are so many roaming cats, and will a few trappers make a difference?

“I know that it seems that we’re just trying to empty the ocean with a thimble,” Brandy said to me later. “But a better way to look at this picture—I don’t know where I got this number from, it was some research I was doing—for every cat you fix, you prevent 600 over the course of that animal’s lifetime. [Note: Estimations and time spans vary, but it’s still a lot of preventable unwanted cats considering that the kittens will eventually create more kittens.] If a trapper comes to me after fixing a cat, I say, congratulations—you’ve just prevented 600 unwanted cats. For the guy that does 10, the number’s even more impressive.”

Oh, and Brandy thought you might like to see how Frankie’s doing. She’ll be adoptable very soon. Feral, my foot.

 

Want to be there and help prevent unwanted and dead kittens? Contact any of these organizations to learn to trap cats in your yard or around your house. Many of them can use help in their own colonies and organizations. Plus you get to experience trapper’s rush. Nothing like it.

Virtually Pets

 Here’s the adoption part of the column. All of these beautiful cats once lived on the street and are now ready to curl up on your laptop and knock anything lighter than “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” onto the floor All cats have been spayed or neutered, vaccinated, dewormed and deflead, tested for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus, and microchipped. Email [email protected] for adoption information.

sleek black cat lying on a blanket in a kennel.

Young Mina was found in the same area that we went trapping in. She was trying very hard to fit in. She’s terrible at feral, though—she’s friendly, loves belly rubs, and gives head bonks.

tuxedo cat, black with white streak from between eyes to muzzle and white socks, on pink floor.

Wally is a young adult male who’s fine in the company of other cats. He’s dressed for the ball—the one he’d like to chase.

SEalpoint Siamese relaxes with pink toy ball on white pillow with pink and blue animal designs.

Nani is an adult female. Thank you, Cat Cove.

Things to do, pets to support

Please send any Long Beach or Seal Beach pet-related events or projects to [email protected]. Posting subject to approval.

Events

Fix Long Beach Free Spay/Neuter CAT!!! Clinic: Saturday, Feb. 8, 7:30 a.m.–2 p.m., Somerset Park, 1500 E. Carson St., Long Beach, free spay/neuter appointments for qualifying people; free microchips, shots, flea-med doses, dewormers and nail trimmings $10 each.

Cats are prolific creatures, and that doesn’t mean that they crank out romance novels by the bushel. It’s the romance part of it that’s important. The best way to mitigate shelter euthanasia is to tamp the source, and that’s why we’re here. Our shelter and rescues are packed with cats and dogs, and everyone doing rescue is chasing their tail trying to get them all adopted. The best way for our community to help out is to turn off the taps at the other end so that more won’t be born. Remember: it’s the law to fix your pet in Long Beach, and Fix is here to help you do just that. Appointments are available for future clinics—make one at [email protected], or PM us on Facebook. More information is available here.

Trots Dogs Behavior Management Class Series: Saturdays, Feb. 8–March 14, 1–2 p.m., Trots Headquarters, location shared with participants, $395 per student

Summer’s just around the corner—likely, the weather will be here before the actual season—and you’re going to want to step out with your BFF on their leash. Teacher and pack leader Jojo is providing a series of classes that comprise walking, safe personal space (for the dog, of course), behavior with guests, socialization and creating food boundaries (yours, of course). The final session is a pooch party that will let your buddy practice all the things they’ve learned. There’s a maximum of eight spaces and a minimum of three paid participants is necessary to get the class going. To sign up or for more information, email [email protected].

16th annual Bulldog Beauty Contest: Sunday, Feb 9, 10 a.m.–2:30 p.m., Marine Stadium, 5255 Paoli Way, Long Beach, $10 advance registration, $20 on-site. Free to spectate, or reserve seat for $5, cash only

Welcome to the most diverse doggie contest in the world! It may say “bulldogs,” but oh, how it’s grown—contests for all ages, sizes, breeds, mixes and levels of cuteness; dogs with disabilities—even for kids, in the Junior Handler category! The event is sponsored by Haute Dogs, Councilwoman Suzie Price’s office and the Port of Long Beach. There’s more info than a mere blurb can handle—visit the page for all the info!

Valentine’s Yappy Hour: Wednesday, Feb. 12, The Dog Bakery, 5–7 p.m., 4818 Broadway, Long Beach, free event

It’s a date with your darling doggie! Take your waggy Valentine to a sweet soiree and watch them enjoy free samples from vendors and snacks. The event will feature raffles and free goodie bags, and best of all, all the canine cakes and cookies will be 10% off, so you can buy more of what your pal likes. Imagine going to a bakery and everything there is good for you! And for the dog.

Stray Cat Alliance Lonely Hearts Cat Adoption Event: Friday, Feb. 14, 1–4 p.m., and Saturday, Feb. 15, noon–3 p.m., PetSmart, 2550 Cherry Ave., Signal Hill, adoption fees apply

Stray Cat Alliance does every good thing possible with every cat they come across in L.A. County, including Long Beach. From trapping, spaying or neutering, vaccinating and then releasing community cats to the field to adopting out any healthy socialized kittens or friendly adult cats. On Valentine’s Day weekend, you’re invited to find your sweethearts from the bunch who are looking to live happily ever after. Speed dating has never been such fun!

Meatball Fundraiser: Saturday, Feb. 22, 11 a.m.–5 p.m., Seal Beach Animal Care Center, 1700 Adolfo Lopez Drive, Seal Beach, choose your donation amount

If you could help pay for a cat’s surgery by eating a meatball sandwich, would you do it? Sure—best conflation ever. A dear little tuxedo named Hazel was brought in to the center gasping for breath and partially paralyzed, likely the result of having been hit with a car. The Center paid for her costly surgery and she’s doing fine. If you come for lunch or an early dinner—meatball sandwiches either carnivore or vegan, salad, dessert, beverage—and choose a donation of any amount for reimbursement of Hazel’s medical bills, they’ll hear the cheering in Philadelphia.

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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.”
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