Trapping Cats: Part 2: How to

Predator Control: Be Strong Families. You can do this.

Get comfortable with the idea that this is not personal. Rather, it’s your yard. You pay the mortgage.  You pay the taxes. You pay for the upkeep. You–not a stray cat, not an irresponsible cat owner. 

Some cat lovers online will claim it’s illegal to trap cats on your property. That’s not true. Most communities have regulations against nuisance animals, which stray cats are. [I’ll post Juneau’s ordinance at the end of this article.] By traps in this article, I’m talking about live cage traps with a door that springs shut. Traps in the City and Borough of Juneau ordinances are defined as the kind designed to maim and kill animals. Humane live traps don’t meet that definition and are expressly allowed by the ordinance. You want to be clear on the regulations

The Trap:
Live traps are wire boxes that have a trip latch on the floor. A cat goes in, steps on the latch, the door closes behind it. Buy a trap big enough for a large cat. Ours is a 10” x 12” x 32” Havahart live trap. Bait the trap with cat food or something fishy like sardines or cat food. Catnip works good too. For best results, and poetic justice, hang a little bunch of feathers from a string over the food. Cats are visual hunters and will go after movement. They hunt at night. Nearly all the cats I’ve taken were trapped after dark mostly between midnight and six a.m. They see well in the dark because their eyes have special layer of cells called the tapetum lucidum (bright carpet) that reflects light back to the retina. Cover the trap with an old towel or tarp to keep the rain off and to keep other animals from pestering the cat once it’s caught. This covering will keep wild cats more calm when you transport them. If it’s below freezing, check the trap every hour the trap door is open. Close the trap before you go to bed so a cat won’t be stuck in there overnight and get frostbite or freeze.

What to do when you catch one:
As you walk up to a trap with a cat in it you will know right away if it’s a house cat or not. House cats meow. Feral and wild cats will be dead silent until you cross some invisible perimeter into their space. At that point they will explode into the side of the trap like a punching fist. Ears back flat, hair on end, hissing, spitting, growling like a dog, there’s nothing warm and fuzzy about these animals. Don’t open the cage. They’ll bite and/or get away. Put the towel over the trap and use the handle. Hold the handle firmly because some cats will start jumping around and you don’t want to drop them. This may sound unpleasant when you haven’t done it before but it’s really satisfying if you pretend you are a little bird and you’ve been given giant size and the ability to catch the cat that was out to kill you.

Take the cat to the shelter inside the cage. Let the shelter people take it out. If you’re going by car put a tarp down or, better yet, if you’ve got a big, clean plastic container stick the cage in that. We live eleven miles from the shelter and I sometimes take the cats by bicycle. Secured to the carry rack with bungee cords, the cats stay calm as long as they’re covered. It’s good form to give the shelter a donation, even a few dollars, to feed the cat while they look for it’s owner or try to rehab it.

Take the cat to the shelter yourself rather than asking an animal control officer to pick it up. I did that one time when my wife had the car and I didn’t want the cat to sit in the cage all day at our house. Well, the animal control guy let it go right in front of me. I told him to take the trap and all and I’d pick up the trap later.  He insisted that he’d just put the cat in a cage in his truck. Told him it would get away. He did it anyway. The cat saw freedom and went berserk, the guy jumped back scared. The cat got away.

What if it has a collar?
This is something you want to sort out before you walk up to a trap with a cat in it. Are you just going t let it go? In my case the answer is, No. All cats go to the shelter. That said, collars are not really an issue where we live. Of all the cats I’ve trapped only Two with collars. One was a flea collar without a tag that was so tight the shelter people had to cut it off . Many house cats have a microchip implant. The shelter scans it and calls the owners. Our shelter supposedly charges people to get their cat back and it costs more each time. After bailing their cat out of the shelter a couple of times it seems that people will be more likely to keep them indoors. The problem is, not every employee charges. When they don’t, trapping the cat isn’t much of a deterrent. I’ve had it happen that a cat I’ve taken to the shelter by bicycle, was back in the neighborhood before I was. That sort of thing leads people to kill the cats.

If they hunt at night how do you know you’ve got cats in the yard?
Signs of stray cats include tracks in mud or snow, the smell of cat urine under the porch, cat feces in your garden or sandbox, your fragrant herbs eaten down to the ground and dead birds. When we first bought our house we had all of these signs. One day, after finding a little sharp shinned hawk killed by a cat in our back yard I bought a live trap and caught a cat that very night. Caught eight more cats in the first thirty-two days. Imagine that much hunting pressure on birds like varied thrushes that fledge on the ground. Our town of only 31,000 people has an estimated 10,000 cats most of them are outdoor cats. That’s a long-ago estimate from someone no longer around. Nobody really knows because nobody counts.

If this is a big deal, why don’t we hear more about it?
Good question. People in the Environmental Movement have told me, off the record, that they won’t take action on cat predation because little old ladies who love cats would quit donating money to the movement. There are a few exceptions, like the American Bird Conservancy which is way out front on this one, but they can’t protect birds that just flew three thousand miles to your yard. It’s up to you.

Here are Juneau Alaska ordinances about ‘objectionable animals’. (emphasis added) Long story short, you can trap them.
08.45.010 – Objectionable animals.

(1) Prevent the animal from disturbing a neighborhood or any number of persons by frequent or prolonged noise, barking, howling or other noises;

(2) Prevent the animal from defecating upon, digging upon or injuring public property or a public thoroughfare or private property without the permission of the property owner;

(3) Prevent the animal from snapping, running after or jumping at vehicles or persons using the public thoroughfares within the City and Borough;

(4) Prevent the animal from snapping at, jumping upon or otherwise menacing, injuring or frightening persons, domestic animals, or livestock; provided, that this subsection shall not apply if the person is trespassing or otherwise acting in violation of the law; and

(5) Prevent the animal from snapping, harassing or otherwise disturbing or injuring any wildlife.

(b) Any animal found in violation of subsection (a) of this section may be immediately impounded by an animal control officer or enforcement agent.

(c) A person who owns or is in lawful possession of property upon which there is an objectionable animal or who observes an objectionable animal on public property or a public thoroughfare may take the animal into custody and hold the animal in a humane manner pending transfer to an animal control officer or enforcement agent; provided, no animal may be held in such private custody for more than 24 hours. A person who takes an objectionable animal into custody under this subsection shall:

(1)Immediately call the animal shelter and request that an animal control officer or enforcement agent take custody of the animal; and
(2) File a written statement at the animal shelter describing the incident. The animal control officer or enforcement agent shall take custody of the animal and shall take the written statement of the person holding the animal. The officer or agent shall issue to the keeper of the animal a citation or warning and may impound the animal if the keeper cannot be found immediately.

Trapping nuisance cats is legal here and most places. You want to look up the regulations.
Sometimes cat people will pull something like this out of of a city ordinance (this one from Juneau).  What the cat people don’t say is that ‘traps’ in this case means traps designed to kill or injure animals. Live traps like the one in the photo are specifically exempted. That is, they’re legal.
08.45.030 – Trapping prohibited.
Except if done by an agent or employee of the federal, state, or municipal government on official business, it is unlawful for any person to set traps within one-half mile of any public or private street, road, right-of-way, or highway within the City and Borough.

From the definitons: Traps means devices for catching and holding wild or domesticated animals, including snares, cages, nets, pitfalls, or clamp-like devices that spring shut suddenly, but not including a live-trapping device consisting of a cage apparatus designed to trap an animal without injuring it.