The summer of 2012 brought some new members to Grace Episcopal Church. Our rector, Arlene Lukas, called me about a mom cat with her four kittens that were living in our memorial garden. I told her about Haywood Spay/Neuter’s program helping community cats by Trap-Neuter-Return or TNR. I explained that if we were able to get these cats fixed, we would be responsible to care for them with food and the best shelter we could manage for outside cats. She said that the cats would be welcome and we (the church community) would care for them.
I phoned Susan Kumpf, who is the coordinator of Haywood Spay/Neuter’s TNR program, and requested help. She provided me with the needed traps to begin this process, and off to the store I went to buy the smelliest canned cat food I could find.
The first evening of trapping, I set a trap out beside our fellowship hall, baited it with some of the canned food, and left for a few hours. When I returned at 8 pm I was rewarded with one little kitten, mad and frightened, in the trap. I took my little prize home and released her into a cat condo in my garage.
The second evening, I placed a cage by another building, and voila, two kittens this time! They too were taken to the condo in my garage where their sister kitten was very happy to have their company. That left one kitten, and the beautiful Calico mother to capture.
Two evenings later I set the trap again, and to my surprise what I captured was not a feline. It was a very large furry critter wearing a mask! When dealing with trapped animals, you need to be very careful. I donned my husband’s heavy glove and a used a very big set of pliers to open the trap door and release Mr. Raccoon.
The next evening I set the trap again, and this time the remaining kitten was trapped. The mom was by the cage when I arrived, but scampered off as I approached. The last little kitten was reunited with his siblings. Every day I would feed them twice a day, talk with them, clean their litter, but they remained a frightened little group of kittens.
Back at the church I tried unsuccessfully to trap the mom. I moved the trap to a different spot each night. My only catch was a wily opossum that was really angry with me for having trapped him. Again, being very careful, I released him back into his territory.
Back at my garage, the kittens were getting bigger. One little orange kitten would start to purr when I put new food and water in the condo, but it was too frightened to let me touch him. The kittens were about eight weeks old when they were trapped. They needed to weigh at least two pounds before they could be fixed, three pounds for their rabies vaccination. Finally after several weeks, they looked like they were big enough.
After they went a night without food, I put on my big gloves and moved the kittens one by one into a crate lined with newspaper for their transport to Humane Alliance in Asheville. Susan Kumpf met me and loaded the crate into her van, along with some other community cats she was taking in to be fixed.
Back at the church, our Sexton, Peter, was helping me decide a good spot to place a bed for them and set up their feeding station. Since they were likely born under the sanctuary, we placed a large cardboard box filled with blankets under the side overhang of the sanctuary, away from harsh winds. All was in place to receive our new and improved kittens.
October 17th our kittens were released back into our memorial garden and fed at their new station. Over the next several days, Peter would check on them and report that they were sleeping in their box, and that they were eating well. Our Sunday School children selected names for each of the kittens and were taught about community cats being different from a pet cat. All of the children understood they were not to try to touch the cats, and the adults received some education, too. They learned how to recognize a fixed community cat by the missing tip on the left ear. These cats were our responsibility and they helped to educate us and to open our hearts and minds to the world around us.
The mom cat reappeared the following spring, along with a handsome big gray male. Again, I set the traps. I did catch the male, who was fixed, received his Rabies vaccination and dewormed, but upon his return to the memorial garden, was never seen again (he went home!). The Calico mom disappeared again and to this day, sadly, has not returned. TNR would improve her health and daily life.
Over the 15 months the kittens have been with us, only two remain. One, Miss Pink, is the friendliest. She eagerly awaits her morning meal staring into our fellowship hall through the window. Her sister Cuddles waits very close by to get her share. The members of our church enjoy taking the food out to them on Sundays. During the week, Peter, or Arlene Lukas take charge of serving their food. We have a nice waterfall and small pond in our memorial garden that provides fresh water for the felines. When our cat food supplies run low, we “pass the hat” during coffee hour and adult education classes to be sure we continue to have enough for our cats.
A prayer from The Green Bible Devotional: “All-knowing God, we have been negligent, leaving unattended all those whom you have placed in our care. Change us, move us, alter us so that we follow your path, the path of our Good Shepherd and care for the poor, the vulnerable, and the needy parts of your creation.“