A TNR Story: One Town Cat’s Volunteer Tale

A TNR Story: How We Caught Our Cats

By Gretchen Roberts

This is a long tale of love at first sight.

One late afternoon I was lounging on the deck of our house. I was gazing at the woodpile in the backyard when I saw a large calico cat making her way to the top of the pile. She sat down and started sunning herself in the late summer warmth. Then another movement drew my attention. A tiny gray tabby came out from under some of the logs and began a slow climb to the top of the pile to sit next to its mother. Immediately I said to my husband, “This is absolutely unacceptable!” I’ve always been a believer that cats don’t belong outside. Some cats may be successful in surviving in the outside ecosystem – if you can call being thirsty, hungry, and sick surviving. Suddenly, I saw yet another movement! Almost invisible as he tentatively looked out from the shadows, was a very small coal black kitten. That was that. I had to act.

We had a group of people local to our village who helped catch, spay and release feral cats and I was soon on the phone with them. They brought us a humane trap and set it up. They left us with strict instructions to not, even for a minute, leave the cage unattended since a trapped cat will become extremely agitated when enclosed. They told us to cover the cage immediately, otherwise the trapped animal will become so upset that it could hurt itself. So our vigil began. 

First, in went mom, whom we had already named Persephone. The cat people, just about to drive away, were pulled back to our yard by my husband. They transferred Persephone to a cage and left her in a quiet room in our house, to be picked up early the next morning. There we sat for an hour or so when wham! The trap closed and the little tabby was captured. Now the minuscule black kitty was truly alone. All we could do to help him was wait, powerless, hoping he wouldn’t run away in his fright. We were rewarded by the familiar sound of the cage door swinging shut. We left our hiding place and approached the terrified kitten. We got him into the huge cage with his tabby sibling and put them in a quiet downstairs room. My husband had already been to the store to buy the requisite items for two scared little tykes, so we were prepared – or so we thought.

Night came and we trundled off to bed, feeling relieved that these two little lives had been saved and Persephone would be cared for. Early next morning, we were awakened to the sound of little mews echoing throughout the house. We quickly checked their cage and it was empty. Mystified, we searched for our two tiny houseguests. Somehow these squirmy little creatures had escaped their cage and were running around, mewing their hearts out, no doubt calling for mommy. Persephone was probably distraught that she couldn’t rescue her babies. My heart ached for her.

To this day, 23 years later, I still haven’t figured out how these little cats managed to escape their confines. Now we had two small, scared kittens hiding somewhere in the house. We left out water, kitten food and a litter tray. The next day, none of the food had been eaten, so I had this bright idea of offering them some very odiferous ham. All I was thinking about was getting something into their empty bellies. So started the ham saga.

As I put down the ham in a quiet corner of the main room, I yelled “Ham!” and left. An hour later the ham was gone! Yay! We congratulated ourselves and repeated the performance. Once again I yelled “Ham!” and I left the bait. An hour later it was gone. This ritual continued for a few days. Then I changed the routine. I began to sit in the same room while they scarfed down the ham. I gradually moved closer each time I gave them ham. I remember so vividly my excitement at having these two little cats living with us. Finally, one day, I put the ham on my knee and, overwhelmed by his love of ham, one little guy put his tiny paw on my knee so he could reach the piece of ham. It invoked the same feeling as when a little child reaches for your hand and my heart soared. It went this way for several long days until they were completely on my lap, allowing me to pet them. That is how Mr. Dooly and Jasper came to share their lives with us for many years to come. Even as adult cats, the word ham remained music to their ears, to the point that we needed to spell out h-a-m.

Our Jasper, black with a white locket, passed away suddenly one evening at the age of four years due to what the vet thought was an aortic aneurysm. Jasper had started life as the smallest of the pair and was quite weak the first several days at home. Our vet said that he had so many fleas when we caught him, he would have died of anemia if left outside. Mr. Dooly, a beautiful mackerel tabby had to be put to sleep at 19 years and four months of age due to Stage 4 kidney disease. That was one of the most painful days of my life.

I can’t write anything more except to say they were a treasured gift from a wonderful mother that I still regret not taking in. Sadly, the summer after, Persephone was fatally struck by a vehicle while making her way to our fenced-in backyard. I still think of her and think of what a good mother she was. Ultimately, I wish she knew her very special babies were loved for the rest of their lives, with soft couches to snuggle on, welcoming laps for cuddling, kisses on the head and…ham! But that is another story for another time.