I knew I wanted to help these cats as soon as we returned.
The first step was to start feeding them. Soon, we developed a schedule and I learned not to put food out at night as I watched an opossum help itself to their dinner. LOL My daughter thought the opossum was cute and named him Nibbles but I wanted to help the cats more than the opossum. I started feeding them at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.
I also built them a shelter from a rubbermaid tote, a styrofoam cooler and straw. They never used it since they seemed to find it more comfortable under my studio but at least it was there for them. It didn't take long for me to discover that I didn't have two cats, I had three. I would sit outside and watch them from a distance and slowly, was able to move closer to where they were eating. They became more comfortable with me and the two younger-appearing cats started playing in what is normally my herb garden, on the kids' old playset and in the rhododendron bush. We had the huge advantage of having a great view of them from our kitchen and office windows so we could observe them throughout the day. I, of course, became even more attached to these little panthers.
I had the advantage of talking to rescue groups and learning about TNR when I sold jewelry at Kittydelphia and the Catsbury Park Cat Conventions. I heard so many inspirational stories and wanted my cats to have similar successes.
However, even though I was talking to friends who rescued I needed some actual training and more tangible info. I called a local animal shelter, AWA and attended a TNR clinic mid-January. I learned how to use a humane trap and the process for getting the cat into the trap. I was also given a list of local resources. The next day I started sending emails to those rescues and organizations. I scheduled a TNR for today with one group and another for February 13 with a different group just in case I wasn't successful on the first try.
Time was passing and the cats and I were getting more comfortable with one another. The two younger-appearing cats soon discovered that by jumping into the window box they could peer into my kitchen and see what we were up to in the house. My indoor cats were also very interested in these outdoor kitties!
I looked outside and the cat I pegged for a male was sitting forlornly on the hose cabinet, not anywhere near the trap and food.
We had to wait a couple of hours until their appointment time. I checked on them now and then and all was silent. It's true that putting the blanket on the cages does calm them and helps them to settle down.
When the time came, my husband helped me load the covered cages into the car and we drove them to the mobile vet's clinic. We submitted our forms and decided that in addition to the free services of getting them neutered, vaccinated for rabies and distemper, and having their ears tipped (An eartip is the universally recognized symbol of a cat who has been spayed or neutered and vaccinated. Eartipping is a standard part of most Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs, because it’s simply the best method to let everyone know at a glance that a cat has gone through a TNR program (info from alleycat.org)) we'd also pay to for each to get a wellness exam and have a flea and tick preventative.
Then it was more waiting. We didn't get the call to pick them up until almost 11pm. We discovered that my assumptions about their genders was correct! Two are female and one is male. My daughter has named the females Onyx and Raven and the male is Pluto. My son wants to name them after composers like Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff but those seem a little complicated for the little cats. ;)
Vet estimated their ages to be between 1 and 2 years. I'm not sure about that but I'm glad that overall they're healthy and seem to be recovering nicely. I will hold them in their traps for a few days, giving them time to heal. I know the male could be released tomorrow but he is bonded so much to the others that I will probably keep him with them and release them all together.
I will be posting updates now and then on my Instagram account. If you'd like to follow along and also see what jewelry I'm making my link is www.instagram.com/sleepycatjewelry. If you're interested in following really inspirational TNR advocates I highly recommend The Mad Catter, Forgotten Cats, and The Cat Hustler.
If you live in Burlington County in New Jersey and hope to TNR the feral cats in your community I recommend reaching out to Friends of Burlington County Animal Shelter. They were my connection to getting my cats scheduled at the mobile vet clinic and loaned me the traps. They also provided me with instructions on trapping and the care the cats would need after their surgery.