Although feral cats are living wild and to some degree fending for themselves, they are, contrary to some people’s expectations neither vicious nor aggressive towards us humans but in fact rather frightened, keeping a safe distance. They will only attack us when they are cornered and threatened, like for instance a queen who is protecting her kittens in a hideout or a cat confined in a cage. Feral cats are not used to being handled and will not tolerate being held and moved about in people’s arms and therefore they cannot be “put” into a basket like a domestic cat.
When people contact us for help with neutering feral cats, I immediately establish that we use special equipment and that nobody must touch the cats other than us. Nevertheless, we are often assured that these cats are quite tame because they rub around the feeder’s legs and can be stroked when they are eating. “I can pick him up and put him in a basket for you” is, to me, a frightening announcement and sometimes it is not easy to stop these well meaning and determined people from having a go; I can only warn them by telling them of other people’s – and my own – disastrous experiences.
The first case was Edith, a cat loving elderly lady in Hyde Park who adored “Mumcat” and, despite my warnings had her in her arms before I had finished baiting the trap. The cat struggled desperately and I shouted, “Let go, let go!” However, Edith was determined to win and held tight until her wrists and hands were badly bleeding and I had to take her to A & E at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. Soon after, Mumcat was easily caught with a cat trap.
Mumcat’s daughter Tweetiepie was particularly problematic because she could not be persuaded to go anywhere near a trap, yet she needed to be caught urgently as she was heavily pregnant, and this time I was to be the victim. I decided to hide behind June, her feeder, and reach over June’s shoulder to seize her by the scruff while she was eating. I had a bad premonition during my bus ride to the park and I repeated to myself “if it hurts, I hold on, if it hurts, I hold on”. I was still muttering these words when I entered the ornamental gardens at Lancaster Gate. June was in a hurry and told me to be quick and I took the first chance to get hold of Tweetiepie’s scruff, grabbing her comparatively low above the shoulders so that Tweetiepie was able to turn her head round and sink her teeth into my wrist. It did hurt and I did hold on and so did Tweetiepie, until I had pushed her deep into the top-loading cat basket, pushed the lid down on my arm and closed the top…and then… I fainted. Despite some strong antibiotics, my right hand was out of action for three weeks and resembled a pink rubber kitchen glove.
Another have-a-go hero lived – conveniently, as it turned out – practically next door to St Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton. As we were sitting in the car on his driveway watching the trap, he came out of his house, shouting, “What are you doing sitting there in the front when the cat is at the back? I’ll go and get her for you”. I stormed after him “Please, don’t, wait!” and found the front door slammed in my face. A minute later the man reappeared with a struggling ginger cat in his arms and despite my warnings to let go he held on until the blood was streaming through his white shirtsleeves, reminding me of Polanski‘s Lady Macbeth. Embarrassed and in pain he hurriedly disappeared indoors, muttering several “bleep” words.
Because of my own bad experience and that of others, I only handle domestic cats and stick to using traps when I have to get hold of feral cats or kittens. In our article “Which Trap is Best” we give some advice about the choice and use of cat traps, which by the way are friendly boxes containing attractive food for bait and have no resemblance at all with the cruel traps used by hunters and poachers.
© Elke de Vries – CAT 77 Fieldwork AdvisorShare this...