Tuesday, July 31, 2012

COLUMN: Kitten Wrangling

My Isobel meets a very pregnant Daryl the Feral

I think it'd be neat, at least once in life, to be a genuine hero. Who among us wouldn't want at least ONE minute of pure unadulterated greatness where people give you medals and Barbara Walters wonders what kind of tree you'd be if you were a tree. The problem is, I just don't know if I'm cut out to be a hero. I don't exactly have the kind of skill set that lends itself easily to heroism. You don't often hear someone yelling, "Omigod! We're all gonna die! If only there were someone around to write about it in a snarky manner!" I'd also like to think that I'm relatively good at my weekend DJ job, but no life has ever been saved with a well-timed Justin Bieber remix. But this week, I'm at least a junior hero.

The whole thing was really my fault to begin with. About six months ago, I noticed a feral cat sneaking around the backyard. I know you're not supposed to feed strays, but this one had the sad-eyes thing down to an artform. I couldn't resist sneaking it a little food. Well, cats aren't exactly dumb, and this one -- Daryl the Feral, I called it -- was no exception. It didn't take long before he was waiting every night when I got home from work. Worse yet, a quick survey of the neighbors revealed that ol' Daryl was running the sad-eye racket up and down the block for multiple meals.

But one day, I noticed Darryl was getting kinda fat -- fatter than Fancy Feast. This cat was less Daryl Strawberry and more Daryl Hannah -- and she was in a family way. Well, how can you turn away a PREGNANT cat with sad eyes? So I -- along with most of my neighbors -- kept right on feeding her. But one day she DIDN'T show up, and I knew we had to have kittens somewhere. This thought made me go "awww" until I happened to look out my front window the other day. There was Daryl, running across the street for her nightly sad-eyed begging, but a few paces behind, FIVE itty bitty kitties were following -- and they were NOT looking both ways before crossing the street. Had it not been for a passing driver to be quick on the brakes, I would have witnessed a kitten holocaust.

There is absolutely NO way I could bear willing witness to kitten carnage in front of my house. It was time for action. That action was to call up my friends, Dispatch/Argus reporters Lindsay Hocker and Anthony Watt. Lindsay & Tony are animal lovers and she's volunteered for years at area shelters, so I knew their expertise would come in handy.

I quickly learned two interesting facts about kitten rescue missions:

(1) Kittens don't exactly WANT to be rescued. In my mind, we'd go over to that porch and kittens would jump into our arms with purrs and cuddles and wordless thanks. Yeah, not so much.

(2) A kitten rescue operation quickly draws an awful lot of unwanted attention. As we baited live traps, we were joined by a surplus of neighbors and passers-by, all of whom thought themselves experts at the task. One neighbor just dove onto the porch in a bare-handed rodeo- style attempt at kitten wrangling, while another good-hearted passerby insisted that kittens only respond to "ocean whitefish, unless they're West End kittens, coz they wouldn't know the difference." (Drum roll.) This same good-natured fellow wandered around the yard while making a noise that can only be described as "wooooooop," because presumably that's how one lures kittens on his home planet.

Instead, we opted to put out some live traps baited with -- well, okay, I went to the store and got some ocean whitefish, because maybe Woop Guy was right, who knew. Anyways, we set out the traps to no luck, other than accidentally catching Daryl herself, who was less than thrilled about the experience. Instead of sad eyes, it was ANGRY eyes, hisses, and claws aplenty. It wasn't our intention to nab mom, but while we had her, we might as well get her spayed and avoid The Great Rock Island Cat Uprising o' 2012.

In the meantime, rodeo guy had corraled ONE kitten. But at the night progressed, that was all we could snag. We were doing a GOOD thing here, right? So why did I feel like the hunter who killed Bambi's mom? Instead of saving five kitties, we rescued ONE but left four without their mom.

One of the 5 kittens now at Moline Animal Aid

The next night, we returned with reinforcements. Within hours, we'd managed to catch three more kittens, along with a hapless neighborhood stray -- a cat I have now named "Durrrr" -- who managed to walk into the same trap TWICE. I'd like to say the kittens were super happy about the situation, but they were more like little whirling dervishes of tiny teeth and claws. For obvious reasons, I named one "Bitey," but Lindsay was set on "Cupcake." We compromised and dubbed him "Biteycakes."

But the unspoken awfulness was that one got away. And when I woke up the next morning to find no kitties and empty traps (well, except for Durrrr again,) all I could do was hope that #5 had been caught by a neighbor. I wandered out one last time across the street, stopped, looked around, and about had a heart attack. Not two feet from my shoes, there sat #5, looking up at me like, "'Sup, dude?" But before I could even breathe, he shot like a rocket into the brush. I raced home, called up the Kitten Posse, and for the first time in my life was able to direct quote the movie "Short Circuit": "NUMBER FIVE IS ALIVE!"

Lots of things happened this past weekend. Gumbo Ya-Ya. Race for the Cure. Fun, excitement, summer weather. I couldn't tell you about ANY of them, because we spent the ENTIRE weekend searching for the world's most elusive kitten. By this time, the mission at hand had superceded such notions as property lines and trespassing, and to ALL of my neighbors, I issue a sincere apology for creeping around your yards. Time and again, we'd spot the kitten, get within an arm's length, and lose it. This was no mere feline -- this was the Golden Snitch of kittens. Time and again, our traps would go off and we'd find no bait and no kitty.

By Sunday night, we were spent. Our trespassing ways had merited our first police call (SORRY!) and earlier that day, I'd already dealt with Animal Control thanks to the accidental catching of a less-than-amused raccoon. But the officer had given me one tip. Rather than bait the traps with wet food, he recommended we use sardines tied to the trap with wire. That way, Houdini Kitty couldn't just reach in for a snack without setting off the trap.

That night, I set out some sardine traps, and within the hour, I heard meows. After SIX days of trying, I caught the Golden Snitch.

I guess I feel kinda heroic in the end, even though most acts of heroism don't involve hissing raccoons or trespass warnings. As you read this, Daryl the Feral is at the shelter recovering from surgery and will soon return to the neighborhood that misses her. One of my friends has decided to adopt the Golden Snitch. And there are now four adorable kitties -- including my pal Biteycakes -- at Animal Aid Humane Society in Moline waiting for a hero like you.

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