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2017-11-22 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Oscar’s Odyssey last Sunday had to be the strangest day of his life. Oscar, a handsome and hungry, long haired tomcat, was just one of 73 feral cat patients at the free Last Hope TNR (Trap/Neuter/ Return) Clinic held at My Pet’s Vet in Huntington that day.

Never before had Oscar been confined in a humane trap, traveled in a vehicle, been so far from his familiar territory or experienced such odd interactions with all sorts of humans handling him. He must have been bewildered, though you’d never know it. Oscar remained dignified and stoic. He never uttered a meow or any sound.

Oscar showed up outside my friend’s apartment building in West Babylon months ago. She took care of any strays there, and kept the population tightly under control. One other male is a regular resident; and a 17-year-old female gradually acclimated and became an inside pet. Oscar kept his distance from the other male’s feeding station. He ate in another area. Although he was a healthy weight, Oscar would wolf down as many meals as you would like to give him.

Oscar being prepared for neutering Oscar being prepared for neutering Actually, preparations for Oscar’s Odyssey began weeks ago, but he didn’t know that. A humane trap became his dining room, but he didn’t know that either. The trap was wired open, and his meals were served far inside it so he’d get used to walking in and continuing to the back of in the trap for food, beyond the trip plate which closes the trap when it is set.

Trapping must be synchronized with a feral cat’s appointment to be neutered. To ensure the cat will step on the raised trip plate on trapping day, the cat has to be hungry. Most of the time cat caretakers hold back food for one meal so the cat is very hungry. This wasn’t necessary because Oscar is a hefty cat with a voracious appetite. He downs every meal with gusto, so he had his regular supper the night before his Odyssey, and still ventured into the “set” trap Sunday morning without hesitation. This suggests no one had ever attempted to trap him previously.

Oscar recovering in his trap Oscar recovering in his trap Snap! Gotcha! In that instant Oscar became a prisoner and a “patient” patient. He didn’t struggle or thrash against the trap to escape. He just hunkered down, watching calmly to see what would happen next. A towel was placed over the trap to keep him warm and secure.

I was Oscar’s health care proxy and chauffeur for the clinic. It’s a good idea to line your vehicle with something protective like a shower curtain before loading a cat in a trap, especially a male. There wasn’t a peep out of Oscar on his way to Huntington, although you have to wonder what is going through a feral cat’s mind riding in a Jeep, feeling the sensations of the road for the first time. Do they realize they are going somewhere else?

Dr. Bridget Brooke is so kind to lend her hospital to Last Hope for many TNR clinics. She also was one of six volunteer veterinarians that day. Everyone- vet techs and volunteers- donates their time. Sunday’s clinic had reservations for over 80 cats. Pouring rain the day and night before decreased the number of cats trapped.

A total of 73 cats showed up, including seven kittens and one adult determined tame enough to enter Last Hope’s adoption program. The adult was a pet cat previously neutered abandoned at a cat colony. These lucky cats would also be FeLV/FIV tested, microchipped and not be ear-tipped (the universal sign a feral cat is already altered and vaccinated against rabies). The clinic costs Last Hope about $2,000 which came to $27 per cat Sunday.

Oscar was one of the last to arrive. The lobby was packed with covered traps. There is plenty of paperwork to assure caretakers get the correct cats back. Each trap gets two tags with the cat’s description, ID number and trapping location because during surgery one tag is tied to the cat’s leg so he goes back into his trap or transfer carrier. There is also a list of tasks like giving fluids and vaccines checked off on the tag as the cat proceeds through the surgical pre- and post-op stations. Often the cat’s sex is not checked off until after surgery because it’s hard to determine until anesthetized, unless the cat is a calico or tortoiseshell. Tri-colored cats are females. Mature intact males tend to have bigger heads.

Having six vets and 73 cats translates to about 12 cats per surgeon. But the math isn’t precise. Males are done first because neuters are much faster than spays. Some vets prefer to do just males. The doctors treat hernias and wounds or even extract bad teeth they find along the way. You hope for more males than females in the mix but that rarely happens.

Oscar progressed through the stations- knock-down with first a tranquilizer needle through the trap, castration, fluids, pain meds, an ear notch, Revolution for ear mites, Advantage for fleas, rabies and distemper combo vaccines. Then he goes back into his trap minus his leg tag. He moved to the first recovery room while still under sedation. In the next recovery room a small plate of canned food is placed in the trap while the cats are still monitored closely. Those quivering or thrashing while waking up may need a warmer blanket over their trap. (When doing pediatric spay/neuters, post-op kittens are placed on warming pads.)

Once fully awake the cat in his covered enclosure is moved back to the lobby and labeled DONE. We start calling caretakers for pick up. Each cat receives a vaccine certificate but no rabies tag since ferals don’t wear collars. Males should remain overnight in the trap inside a warm secure spot before being returned to their colony or original location. Females need to be recovered for about five days before return.

Oscar had nothing to say on his return trip but he did give me the evil eye each time I moved his towel to check on him. We tucked him in at our “secret” sheltered spot and covered him with a flannel sheet until morning. He bounded out upon release; then stopped for a whole can of tuna. Oscar may not be thrilled about his Odyssey, yet it was for the best. He’ll be healthier, less apt to tangle with other males and, most important, no longer able to add his offspring to the feral overpopulation on Long Island.

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