Bine, Pika, Chachi and Tommy.
These were the first four on my list for group sterilization / castration. Because they trust me the most, because they are the easiest to handle. The veterinarian ordered 4 cats to be brought for the first appointment, which seemed quite a challenge to us.
On the eve before out operation we had some chicken for dinner, I saved the boneless leftovers for morning baits. It was clear to me that everyday dry kibble would not be temting enough in cat crates. When we went downstairs, our candidates were not far from the entrance. Pika and Chachi were curiously sniffing around the two crates, that’s when Tamer and I realized it was really happening. I threw some chicken bits in the first crate, Pika went inside. Ta-da! We quickly closed the door and covered it with a piece of sheet to make it easier for her to calm down. For some reason, Chachi was not very suspicious and followed Pika’s example: went for the chicken bits, we closed the door, covered the crate with a sheet. We couldn’t believe we already had two out of four cats.
Next in line was Bine. He, too, did not cause any trouble, as expected. But – where was Tommy? I started to worry that we wouldn’t catch him in time and we would have to look for another candidate. “Let’s circle around the mosque. Maybe he’s in the back,” I said. And so he was, coming towards us around the corner. He seemed a little surprised (“What are you two doing outside in the middle of the night?”), but visibly excited to see us. Chicken bits in the crate, then Tommy in the crate, door closed. Done! We couldn’t believe we really succeeded. The adrenaline was flooding us from the moment we left the building and stepped out into the street. And now?
Then we had to the transport these 4 cats to the vet at 7.00 in the morning. There was little meowing, but luckily the ride was not long. Dr. Ingrid, a German expatriate in her 60s, seemed a little surprised at her door for a moment. We didn’t disappoint, we really delivered 4 full cat crates. We weren’t just making it up, when we told her at our first meeting that we wanted to help as many cats possible in our neighborhood.
“In a few hours, I’ll let you know to come back to pick them up.” Around 1pm I received her message and we headed outside again. Less than an hour later we returned with 4 feline patients. I prepared our hallway for their recovery: litter box, 2 box-beds, water container, some food. I closed the kitchen, but not well enough. It soon turned out to be too tempting to explore. Lesson learned for next time, and when they leave, all kitchen surfaces will have to be scrubbed this time.
How come I even let them out of their crates? Because these are my beloved ones from the street. All less than one year old. I gained everyone’s trust months ago when they were still growing. My Bine, who came to me first. And Chachi from the other corner, who won me over with his signature jump towards my palm: “Pet me!” And Pika, Bine’s sweetheart, the youngest of the gang, will now be the first female in the neighborhood who will never have to have a litter. And last but not least, Tommy. My dancer Tommy, who for weeks seemed like he would never let me get too close to him. Now he is number one among those who sometimes occupy my lap.
My fantastic four have recovered by that same evening. I have to admit that I kept them “just in case” for about an hour longer … I sat with them on the floor of our hallway and wondered why I had to say goodbye to them. In response to my unspoken question, I heard Tamer sneeze from the living room. Cat hair allergy.
Later in the evening it was time to say goodbye. We didn’t force them back in their crates. We went downstairs from the second floor together. At the main gate they stopped and it seemed as if they were wondering- what now?
The cat gang remains inseparable. As if they formed an even stronger bond that day. From the balcony I see them playing together, napping … And when it’s time for dinner, they are always first to greet me – together.
Victoria, Fiona and Ferdi.
Less than a month later, it was time for the next three. I had notes in my calendar when seniors Victoria and Fiona gave birth. I wrote to the vet for an appointment and insisted that the next TNR operation should take place before the end of Ramadan. I was afraid that the females would soon be in heat again and consequently leave the kittens from their last litter. I followed them closely, in addition to feeding them in the evening, I started a morning routine as well and became quite a cat detective.
“How are we even going to catch them? It’s not going to be nearly as easy as with the first gang,” Tamer and I wondered. We didn’t want to use cages / traps because we could accidentally catch a male which wasn’t a priority, and we would scare them at the same time … Dr. Ingrid warned us that we should not underestimate the cats’ intelligence, as they have very good observation skills and learn quickly.
One week before the scheduled appointment, it came to me: training. Just like domestic cats, one could just as well train street cats. True, Vicky and Fifi are still pretty feral, even after one year of feeding them, but they show me a great deal of trust, they know me. So for the next 7 mornings I carried one of the cat crates with me in addition to my cat bag of food and water. I removed the door from the crate. At each feeding station, I laid it on the floor and continued with the usual routine of food piles and fresh water. I also poured some food into the crate and thus aroused the interest of all the eaters present. To my surprise, Tommy showed the most enthusiasm for the carrier. Quite often he simply sat inside with his back towards the exit and had a snack in peace.
I started noticing that many cats like to follow me to the next feeding / water station. Everyone likes a second portion. So after a few days, I was forced to change the direction of my route so that I could discover Victoria and Fiona’s hiding place. On “D Day”, we had to get them alone, without Tommy or anyone else who would insist on his crate ticket and thus sabotage our plan.
The last rehearsal on the penultimate day was encouraging. Both Victoria and Fiona expressed a great deal of interest in the crate and even poked their heads into it. “We’re gonna pull this off!”
The next morning came, this time tuna was the bait. We first fed everyone else and then headed to Victoria’s lair. By car, because it seemed that the whole gang would follow us by foot. In silence without sudden movements, I laid the biggest crate on the floor. A piece of tuna at the crate entrance, another piece a little deeper inside … I knew we only had one shot. Victoria sniffed the bait and looked at me, I was squatting silently and blinking at her slowly. Then Tamer approached, thinking we could finish up quickly. “Wait,” I said as Victoria dodged back out and tried out the emergency exit a few more times. I didn’t move and instilled confidence in her that I wasn’t presenting a threat. Boom! We have her. We have Victoria. The fiercest female from our street, who has had 4 litters of kittens in the past year, and this will now be her last.
“Let’s go after Fiona.” Of course I was spotted again by other cats, including Bine … The tuna obviously smelled great. I had to step towards him and take him in my arms to release him further away before any other cat notices me. He followed me again, but this time he understood he had to keep his distance. Oh, Bine, you genius. We caught Fiona too. Tamer placed both carriers in our car that already had the AC running.
“Shall we take another one?”
At the car, the fantastic four gang with already clipped ears was hanging out and there was Ferdi too. My climber Ferdi, who came for breakfast, didn’t suspect a thing, and we didn’t even have to ask him twice to come on board. Tamer didn’t even need my help, he just closed the little ginger boy by himself and carried him to the car.
This time we didn’t wait at home, we immediately drove to the vet and arrived a little early. Luckily we were able to sit with the AC in the car and when 7 o’clock struck, we carried the patients inside the clinic. We came to pick them up in the afternoon, just like last time. I prepared the hallway again, but this time I didn’t intend to let everyone out, because there could be a fight … Only Ferdi was able to explore and stretch, but after a while I locked him back in the crate.
In the evening we released them at the same spots where we caught them. All three were also given water and food, away from any potential tuna enthusiasts who might disturb them. The next morning I visited all three separately. I was most pleased to see Fiona, who was reunited with her kittens, and I managed to interrupt her just as she was nursing them. I can say that the joy was not mutual, so I moved away from her lair as quickly as possible. Victoria hid her pair of kittens better, but greeted me with a raised tail when I visited her. And Ferdi – was just like always. The fiery youngster climbed up my abaya again and licked my palm as I tried to pet him. All three of them recovered well.
I am most grateful that we managed to catch Victoria and Fiona. Proud that we did this without unnecessary stress that would affect them negatively. I find it hard to describe the joy I feel. The joy of helping 7 cats up until now in our neighborhood already.
*TNR refers to the Trap-Neuter-Release method, used by volunteers working with stray cats and dogs, meaning they prevent suffering from countless pregnancies and fights for territory.
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