Secrets from the field
Over the years we've learned a lot of tricks to help catch those cats and kittens. Below are some of our favorites. If you have a good one you'd like to share, send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You Tube to the rescue
How do you catch a frightened kitten who really, REALLY doesn't want to be caught? And has found a hiding place you can't access, like under a dumpster or shed, and refuses to come out no matter how long you wait, how inviting you make the trap appear or what kind of bait you use? When all else fails, try going high-tech! Cue up a video of kittens mewing on your cell phone and put it in under a drop trap or inside a box trap near the back. There's a good chance your little holdout will make a beeline to these other "kittens." One YouTube video worked for us.
Set the trigger lightly
To catch kittens who may be too small to set off the trip plate, rest the tip of the trigger against the trap's crossbar, not the elbow of the trigger. "Setting the trigger lightly" means it will take less weight to lower the trip plate, pull back the trigger and shut the front door. To reduce the risk of another kitten being struck and possibly injured by the front door, it's preferable to use the bottle-and-string technique when catching young kittens. So only use this trigger trick in situations where you can't continuously observe the trap and manually shut the front door. If you're only after the kittens, consider using a kitten screen in addition to setting the trigger lightly or using a bottle and string.
You've picked up a litter of young kittens. Now how do you trap Mama so she can care for them? Try this: put the babies in a carrier and place its front door up against the rear door of your trap. Drape a sheet over the carrier and trap, leaving only the trap's front door uncovered. Mom will only be able to see her kittens through the trap and to reach them, she'll have to go in. When using this method, never leave the little ones unattended and stop after an hour to avoid fatiguing them.
Do you take the same route to work every day? Chances are your ferals do too... well, not to work but just like little commuters, they've got their favorite routes to their feeding areas, shelters, playtime with friends and anywhere else they need to go. After it snows, you can discover their well-traveled paths by following the paw prints. Take photos and notes. Then when it comes time to trap, whether in the winter or later in warmer weather, you'll have a road map of the best places to set out traps.
It's late. It's dark. It seems like every cat you're after is solid black. When you're trapping at night, even simple tasks ("where's the can opener?") can be tricky. So why not make it all a little easier by putting down the flashlight and putting on a headlamp instead? A headlamp means you can use both hands to dish out bait, cover traps and do everything else you need to. There's a reason campers love 'em! With lots of models available, you can choose the brightness, beam distance, battery life and weight that best suits your needs. Available at larger sporting good stores like Paragon or on Amazon.
Love that butter smell!
Are your traps' moving parts moving as well as they should? Nothing is more frustrating than watching a cat go into the trap... then out again because something didn't work. Try using a non-stick vegetable oil spray to lubricate your traps. It's safe for the cats and can be found in the bakery aisle of your grocery store. Before you set out your traps, apply just a small amount to the trigger, trip plate hinges and any other sticky parts. Choose a butter-flavored spray to add a little extra temptation for the kitties. Be sure to thoroughly clean the traps after your project is over.
Garden hose handles
Sure, you love your box traps but have you ever wished the handles were a little kinder to your hands? After a long day or night of lifting and carrying cats around, those metal handles can leave fingers and palms aching and even blistered. Fortunately, there's a simple fix. Take an ordinary garden hose and cut it into handle-sized segments. Slice each piece open length-wise, slip over the trap handles and secure with duct tape. Voila! Garden hose handles are cheap, quick to make and will let you carry on a lot more comfortably.
Instead of using full-size sheets as trap covers, try fitted crib sheets instead. When cats have been caught, the pint-sized sheets act like big shower caps fitting snugly over the traps and not slipping. If you want to leave a trap partly covered during trapping, the elastic on the folded-back corners will help keep the sheet from flapping in the breeze. Inexpensive crib sheets (about $1) are available at most thrift stores. This clever tip is courtesy of veteran trapper Donna Bloomer. Thanks Donna!
Extending the trip plate
Are you using a trap with a narrow trip plate? Traps designed for animals other than cats, such as raccoons, often have narrow plates. Your smarter cats will step over or around the trip plate to reach the bait in the rear of the trap. One way to prevent this is by extending the trip plate with a piece of cardboard. Cut a piece a little less than the width of your trap and about 7 inches long. Tape it (duct tape is best) to the middle of the trip plate. Now it will be much harder for a wily cat to avoid stepping on either the cardboard or the metal.
Be kind to opossums!
Opossums are gentle, nocturnal marsupials who are great at climbing trees, sniffing out food and, yes, getting caught in feral cat traps. What they're not great at is seeing. Opossums have very poor eyesight, especially in daylight. That's important to remember when releasing one because if you just open the trap and turn him loose, the opossum will be terrified as he scrambles blindly for an escape route. To make the release lots easier, first carry the trap to a nearby tree in the immediate area so the opossum will be able to quickly climb and hide. Always cover the trap with a heavy blanket before lifting (to prevent scratches) and avoid rubbing against the side of the trap as you carry it. For more info about these amazing animals (North America's only marsupial!) check out the Opossum Society of the United States.