Saturday, April 18, 2015

Finding and trapping cats after a natural disaster

After a natural disaster where homes are destroyed, many people assume their cats perished. But cats are very resourceful. They stay safe and they hide, usually within six blocks of where they went missing. Sometimes they live in the debris of your home. Cats have been found hiding in bedsprings or sofas in destroyed houses. They are just waiting for their people to return.
When a lost cat does venture out, he is likely to be very wary. Friendly cats may appear feral and talky cats may keep quiet. They will revert back to their normal behavior after readjusting to being safe. If you are trying to catch a cat, you will want to wear gloves to handle any cat, even friendly ones to prevent even an accidental scratch.
Animal rescuers in Joplin, whose team perfected cat trapping, have shown that trapping cats after a disaster works best if several blocks of neighbors band together to work as a group. The idea is to trap identified cats whose families are searching for them, while taking notes and photos but leaving friendly cats whose families have not come forward.
April Brill, one of the cat trappers from Joplin shared these detailed instructions:
  • Make sure the team is far enough back that animals are not spooked. (I usually drive around for a while). Periodically check the opening of the trap by using a flashlight/spotlight. If door is still up then drive around checking other trapping locations. If you leave a trap, you have to chain it to prevent loss. You should never leave a trap unattended for more than a brief period.
  • Place traps near the site of the feeding station in late afternoon or early evening. Night trapping is most successful. Place newspaper inside, without covering the trip plate. Place a paper plate or saucer, with a few spoonfuls of tuna, on the trip plate. You may need a "grabber-type" tool, used to take items down from a high shelf, to slide the plate into the trap. Dribble tuna juice outside the trap in a trail for a few feet.
  • Take pictures/ use wildlife cameras for descriptions and to see which animals eat after it is too dark to see.
  • "In order to trap the animals, you must know where they are and who they may belong to. Trapping is only one single part of a multi-faceted plan. If you trap an animal, how do you know who the animal belongs to without a list and description of the missing ones? Here is a quick rundown:
  1. Set up feeding stations which are carefully monitored so you know who is eating there.
  2. Once you have a good idea of which pets are there (trapping ferals is not recommended) remove food for a day or two.
  3. Get together a team of people to trap, using live traps. Be sure to test the traps for sensitivity. It doesn't do any good to use a trap designed for 15 lb animals if you aim to get smaller animals.
  4. Place a light weight cover over the trap, such as dark colored sheet or light blanket. Be careful to not weigh down the area that springs the trap, and leave the opening free.
  5. When traps are tripped, take the animal to a location you have previously picked. This place needs to be secure and quiet, and it is a good idea to have animal crates available. Have the potential owner look at the cat as soon as it is in a safe, contained room.. The goal is not to remove all the cats, but to get cats home who have homes. If you trap friendly cats who are the "wrong" cat, put them into the shelter system set up for disaster animals so they may be photographed, advertised and identified and claimed by their family.
  6. Take pictures of each animal, and note a thorough description. If animal allows touching remove from trap and place in crate with a small amount of food and water, and a blanket for comfort."
Successfully reuniting means knowing what cats are out there. You can do this by spotlighting. Brill has really turned herself into an expert on this subject.
"In order to spotlight effectively, you need to know where the cats are feeding/gathering/bedding down.. Spotlighting discreetly is an art. You don't want to make the animals scatter and you especially don't want to draw attention to your activity.

I typically carry a small LED flashlight. Spotlighting needs to be done at night, but I start at dusk watching the designated area for activity. I drive slowly with the windows down, and quickly shine the light along the level of the ground. When I see the bright reflections of the cats eyes I stop the car and grab my million candle, hand-held spotlight.

I tend to spotlight a few nights in a row to establish the cat's patterns. Then I try to go back to that area during the day to see if I can catch another glimpse. You'd be amazed how one nighttime look can differ from the cats appearance in the daytime.

I quickly shine the light on the cat, making a mental note of every detail I can get such as size, breed/coloring, tail, etc. Most times you only have a few seconds before the cat runs off, so speed is important.

I then write down the location, date and time, and description of the cat. I compare this to our spreadsheet of lost animals. If there is a cat from the spreadsheet that matches the description of a cat I spotlighted, I will call the owner and request permission to trap. In Joplin there are laws regarding trapping. If you plan on trapping you need to research the trapping laws for your area, or you could be in violation and receive a hefty fine."

Now that you know how to locate and trap a cat, where do you find a trap? Tomahawk Traps has a page of humane cat traps. You may also fine a local feral cat initiative that will loan you a trap.

How long should you look? Read about this cat found 18 months after the Joplin tornado.