I set my alarm for ten-til-six in the morning, an unholy hour for the woman who never gets up on time. I woke up at quarter-past-five, over half an hour early, and lay in bed unable to sleep. I was excited, like a little kid again on Christmas morning. As I rolled over, the little cat tucked into the curve of my body began to purr. She kept purring until my alarm went off and I got out of bed without even bothering with the snooze button. I dared a quick shower, then, just as the sky was shading from black to blue-grey in the east, I stepped outside. Today I would be trapping my first cats.
Trapping feral cats might seem like a strange thing to get excited over, but I was hoping to catch one of the kittens today. They were the most bold, the first to come to the food I’d been laying out for weeks. I would sit and watch them from only a few feet away as they vigorously crunched the hard kibble in their little jaws. They would glance up at me between bites and if I shifted or moved they’d pause, ready to spring away. Over time they got used to me talking to them. Even the third one had started to join her braver siblings. The adult cats would sit farther back and wait for me to go inside before approaching the pile of cat chow.
It was cold as I went outside and began to fiddle with the metal trap, inserting the tripping rod into the back plate they would step on to spring the door. The grass was damp and so was the newspaper I’d spread in the floor of the trap. I had left it out for two days and two nights, the door secured open, so the cats could get used to it. The morning before I’d watched from the corner of the carport as the two kittens wandered inside to get the tiny amount of kibble I’d sprinkled on the newspaper. There was no food other than that. I wanted them to be hungry when I set the trap for real.
After I’d set it to spring, I added a small amount of kibble. For the wary adults, I may need to use more tempting wet food, but the kittens would come for the dry pellets. I stepped back and whistled, long and steady. Little white shadows popped out of the ivy that coated the fence between my backyard and the neighbor’s junk pile, where the local mother cats nested to have their kittens. They bounded out onto the grass in wide arcs, eager to approach but wary of the human. I whistled one last note then stepped back.
They hesitated less than the day before, quickly finding the open door of the trap. The larger one entered and began crunching away, then the second stepped in, then out, then in again. The third one came to look through the bars, but made no move to enter the trap. I held my breath. I wanted to catch as many as I could and I also didn’t want any of them to get thwacked by the dropping door. It came down at an angle intended to push the animal into the trap, not crush it and it wasn’t very heavy, but they were so small. Crunch, crunch, crunch. The first one stepped forward, then forward again and “SNAP!” It wasn’t as loud as I remembered when I was sitting right next to it in my bedroom two nights before, figuring out how to assemble and set it.
I blinked (so quick!) and then almost jumped for joy. I had two! But they were not happy, pushing at the thick metal wires of the now closed trap, yowling and hissing. Their sister had fled, but the two adult cats nearby didn’t seem too upset. I moved in quickly to drape a cloth over the trembling cage, then set out a proper breakfast for the rest of the neighborhood, not wanting to dissuade them from their normal schedule. The Siamese mother was the first to approach the kibble and didn’t seem distressed about the confinement of her kittens.
Two! I caught two! I went inside to both share my joy with my online friends and give the adults an opportunity for breakfast. A few times, I came out to check on the trap, which seemed to have stopped trembling, as I waited for our ride to arrive. We transported the kittens to the local, non-profit clinic. I wrote Uno and Dos on their intake forms next to my name. Two little bundles of fluff I was now responsible for.
In the afternoon, a friend and I returned to pick them up. The receptionist informed me that I’d caught a boy and girl, just as I suspected. They were curled in two small balls on the bottom of the cage, woozy and tired, but awake. They didn’t move when we reached through the bars to pet them, just watched quietly. I took that as a good sign.
When we got them home, I opened the back of the cage and reached in to pick them up. The little female hissed at me, so I reached for the male and transformed his slight, warm body to the cage in my bedroom I’d set up for them. There was a litter box, a bowl of water, and empty food dish, and an upper shelf with a cut-up piece from my old bath robe. I placed him on the floor, so he wouldn’t try to jump down from the shelf while he was still dizzy from the anesthetic.
I pulled on a pair of leather glove to reach in for the female, but they weren’t necessary. She hissed and growled but didn’t try to bite or scratch. My heart warmed at her gumption. I love grumpy animals most of all. I deposited her with her brother. They immediately crawled into the litter box and curled up, cute and quiet. My cat, Isis, watched all this silently from her cubby on my desk. We bid them farewell and went out to dinner.
Two hours later, I returned home, let myself in, opened my bedroom door, stopped dead, and then started laughing. The white piece of old robe had been pulled down and was soaking wet. Both the full water and empty food dish were flipped over. To ad insult to injury however, there was water, litter, and worse, wet litter spread all over the entryway of my bedroom, from the mapchest on which the kittens cage sat, to the far wall, across my shoes, over my book-bag, and onto the foot of my bed. The miscreants were were curled up in the litter box, exactly where I’d left them, still heavy-eyed and quiet. Isis was still in her cubby, curled neatly with her paws tucked under.
It was a larger mess than I’d ever seen in proportion to their size. I chuckled as I scraped cemented litter off the bottom of their kennel pan using a spatula. I giggled as I made circular motions with a disinfection wipe on my bedroom floor. I talked warmly and soothingly to the hissing bundles of fur as I reordered their new home and shook my head as I took the soaked bits of robe, now half covered in grey cat litter, out to the laundry.
How?! I wondered to myself. How could such small critters create such a great mess in such a short amount of time? And then look so innocent and unconcerned about the whole thing? It was ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous and one of most endearing things I’ve seen in a long time. The poor little creatures must have been very frightened to make such a mess, yet here they sat, serene and quiet, curled in the litter box practically on top of each other.
In the days since, the mess has not repeated itself. The kittens are healing nicely. They’ve begun to mew and play with each other and their small mouse toy. They continue to hiss and growl, but they also let me pet them and pick them up without biting or clawing. They’re very hungry, and demolish the wet food and kibble I give them each day. And even when they’re spitting mad and glaring at me, I find them absolutely lovable. This is the easiest “charity work” I’ve ever done or am likely to do. Don’t know why I didn’t start years ago.