Training With The Cat Ninjas

It started as it usually does: the Executive Director of Pets Alive, Kerry Clair, texted me and asked if I could pick up 6 cats in Brooklyn and bring them up to Middletown, NY. Sure, no problem.

It turns out that these cats belonged to a woman who had passed away. Years ago, she had made an agreement with Pets Alive to take her animals after her passing. (Speaking of which, have you made your arrangements yet?) I spoke to her lawyer who was the executor of the estate and arranged to meet him at the apartment. He mentioned in passing that some of the cats were “not so friendly”, which should have been my first warning. He didn’t have carriers for them, which should have been my second.

I met him at the apartment in the morning. It was kind of a wreck – messy and dirty, with destroyed furniture. The cats had ripped the linings out of the bottoms of the dirty upholstered furniture and holes in the mattresses and box springs so they had places to hide, and the smell was none too good. They had been well cared for – a man came every day to give them food and water and clean out their litter boxes. They were also… well, some were not so friendly. I suppose one could say semi-feral. Shy. Oh, and also scared and fairly pissed off.

I scooped one of them into a carrier immediately, but the rest I couldn’t even get near. They’d see me coming and scoot away. I’d brought a trap just in case, but just one.

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I texted Kerry to report the news. Now, you see, I’m a dog guy. Give me a nasty, aggressive dog and I’m happy. I get that. Cats? Still somewhat of a mystery to me. I’ve never had cats of my own and I don’t have that much experience with cat body language. Their handling is also very different and, to me, much riskier. Dogs have one sharp place you need to avoid. Cats are made of sharp. I’d rather deal with an aggressive dog than a mildly irritated cat, it’s like juggling a ball of flaming razor blades.

Kerry had an idea. I took my one cat and headed up to Middletown to pick up more traps, trapping supplies… and The Cat Ninjas.

Kerry called in Audrey Lodato and Arwen Saro-Lewis of Beacon, NY’s Mid Hudson Animal Aid, a free-range No Kill cat sanctuary where, importantly, they mix feral, semi-feral and social cats in indoor spaces and work to socialize less social cats as much as possible and with great success. They’re expert cat handlers. Cat Ninjas. We loaded their gear into my car and headed back for Brooklyn.

When they said they thought it would take 20 minutes, I was kind of skeptical, but they showed me the net they planned to use and talked me through the game plan. Hey, better them than me.

I think it took them more like 15.

In that video Arwen and I cut off the corner exits while Audrey moves in on a cat on top of a dresser. She makes this look easy. It is anything but easy, especially with a cat who was very worked up and frightened.

They also used some net technique, using a fishing net to capture cats and then scruffing them through the net. Also, not easy.

I know this looks stressful to the cats, and it is – but it’s more stressful to chase them around indefinitely and to get them worked up or to leave them sitting in traps for hours and hours. Faced with time pressure, this was an excellent solution and the cats calmed down immediately once they were in covered carriers.

IMG_5937In short order Audrey and Arwen had the remaining cats rounded up and we took them back to Middletown.

And that was it, I thought. The estate executor had assured me that there were 6 cats and 6 cats only, and we’d taken 6 cats out of the apartment. Until the next morning, when my phone rang and there were evidently a few more.

We’d now talked to the vet who took care of the cats – at one time they knew of 10, but the cats were so difficult that the vet rarely saw them; they were only brought in in true emergencies. The vet considered most of them semi-feral.

Back to Middletown for some supplies: more traps, a net, and Daniela Regier, a Cat Ninja who runs Pets Alive’s TNR program loaned me some toys – a motion activated camera, a heat meter, and some lure. I went back to Brooklyn to see what I could do.

When I walked back in, two cats scattered. Using the techniques Audrey and Arwen had showed me, I quickly rounded them up, netting one and cornering the other when she crawled up into the back of the stove. These two were crafty hiders – one found the smallest place she could fit into and held absolutely still, and one liked to crawl into furniture and play dead, holding still even when poked or jostled. To get him I eventually turned the sofa over and drove him out of the shredded lining.

I set up the motion activated camera and set a trap, but I’m 99% sure we’re done there. I hope. Tonight, I’ll go back and check pictures.

Many thanks to Audrey, Arwen and Mid Hudson Animal Aid (support this fantastic No Kill cat sanctuary!) for assisting me and teaching me how to catch cats! These guys now have their very own room at Pets Alive’s cat house and it looks like some may not be so feral after all… they’re very scared but they have some good possibilities, and they’ll soon be meeting volunteers who will help to socialize them more.

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Don’t forget to make your plan. Know what would happen to your animals if you passed. And please, for my sake… tell somebody how many there are.

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  • I’m not sure how many pets I may have when I die (assuming it’s not today). Let’s just put it at “more than 6”. Keep looking.

  • mikken

    Hooray for experienced cat wranglers! Those poor cats lost the only person they knew and felt safe with, so no wonder all of the changes and commotion left them even more skittish. And bless you for being brave, John! Cats are not only made of sharp, they’re astonishingly flexible!

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