The agony of decision making

I would have never described myself as someone who has trouble with decision making. Nor did I ever imagine that I would rather flight than fight and that I could / would experience anxiety. I know I am an emotional being. I know that I can be nervous and sentimental. I can be a worrier, even though I know worrying about tomorrow is not a like a downpayment on the pain that might or might not come tomorrow. Worrying does not lessen its pain or worry. On the contrary, it adds to anxiety today plus: it may be about something that will never happen!

Mitsy brought all of that to the foreground and as such her role in my life was almost like that of a guru. From the moment I realised that this was a (semi-)feral/stray cat, that was going to deliver her babies outside, on her own, I started to agonise about these questions:

  • Is it up to me to take care of Mitsy? Who am I to interfere?
  • And what does that even mean, taking care of a (semi-)feral cat?
  • Would she co-operate or would she out-smart me?
  • Was I to accept responsibility for the bigger issue of
  • (semi-)feral/stray over-population in suburbia, while at the same time I personally had never ever dumped a cat or otherwise contributed to the issue?
  • Did I have the guts to welcome a (semi-)feral creature in my house? Was I up to the challenge?
  • Could I get hurt? Could my rental property be damaged?

The only way to lessen my anxiety about all of this, was to collect as much information as I could and even in the days of internet, this sounds easier said than done because there are so, so many different approaches out there!

I discovered that some of the rescue organisations that advertise themselves as cat rescue experts, were surprisingly tight-lipped when I asked for details. There was no readily accessible practical information about what trapping means to the cats involved, and what kind of behaviour the rescuer could be faced with. The videos I found after doing an extensive internet search, rendered clearly edited materials that showed the most positive scenarios. The rescue organisations I talked to personally, either specialised in a particular component of the rescuing, or they would simply tell me that they had experienced people for trapping, care-taking and releasing, but closed their ranks when I asked to come and participate; after all, how else would I ever build experience?

Some bluntly told me that I would never see the cat again after it was trapped. Of course, all of this happening at the height of Covid-19 closures did not help. I can fully understand that rescue people have no interest in inviting the danger of infection into their homes. I was a bit miffed when my offer to become a volunteer was simply refused by some – saying that they had plenty of volunteers.A lot of rescue people have little trust in people they do not know. You may tell them that you will honour their request for anonymity, never disclosing their full name, address and other contact information. But their experiences have been so bad, that they simply don’t believe (in) you. Their reality has too often been that, the moment their location becomes publicly know, unknown persons dump litters of kittens and other unwanted critters over their fence. It is an ugly truth, but it must be true. How else would I explain them playing their cards so close to the chest? In fact, the Trap-Neuter-Release course I have now completed, contains an explicit plea to never disclose the exact location of a cat colony or a rescue/foster home. Because it may invite people who poison the critters living there. And other bad behaviour. Sad!

Our current world does not like to be confronted with an ugly reality. It scares people and it may discourage them from ever getting involved in a rescue operation. For a long time now there has been a trend to sugarcoat situations that might be offensive to somebody’s personal preferences; or instill fear. I am thinking that this is why there are so few videos of trapping operations showing a cat going nuts in the trap. I am not an advocate to show pain and suffering. On the other hand: I have now experienced first hand the anxiety of ignorance. The worst scenarios played in my mind from the moment we had ordered our humane trap. I did not manage to find experts at trapping.

The one rescue organisation that was willing to let us use their traps, did show and tell us about what to do in which situation. But they were also of the kind that does not want to give details about what follows after trapping. To the point that they refused to continue working with us when they heard we wanted to take on the caring for this (semi-)feral/stray ourselves. When we asked if we could come and ‘visit’ after Mitsy was trapped (naieve, I know that now), or even come to see the kittens to meet them and see if we wanted to adopt one of them, we got an unequivocal ‘No’. There was no wiggle room. When this organisation realised that we were serious about taking care of Mitsy, they dropped us like a hot stone. At least, that is how it felt to us. To them this was in the best interest of the animal.

When it comes to loving animals, feral or domesticated, the world is painted in black and white. You either love them, or you don’t. And when you do, there is a tendency to become a fanatic, a militant. Or worse: a ‘know-it-all’. Which can make you arrogant, entitled, judgmental and close-minded. I can recognise a bit of myself in that, I won’t lie. A long time ago I was a manager at the Humane Society’s Head Office in my country of origin. I did that for 3 years and then I had to give it up. So many miserable actions by humans passed in front of my eyes, I just could not take it. Had I stayed on, I would have become miserable myself, hating all people who mistreat animals, whether on purpose or from ignorance. Not trusting anyone with animals. Or even from feeling too much love for non-human critters. Hoarders, for instance, do not hate animals. They just look through the lens of a saviour, taking care of as many as they can. No longer seeing clearly that there is such a thing a too many.

Once you have been disappointed multiple times by people not keeping their promises or being naive and trusting, it is understandable that you turn your back. Take care of business with the knowledge you have built and do the best you can to save animals from neglect, abuse and other situations. It is natural. But does it solve the issues? I don’t think so.

Here are some of my observations.

The power of information and guidance

Once I have self-identified as a willing volunteer, I need honest information and guidance. Even if it is ugly. If I cannot handle that, I am not fit to be a foster. And that brings me back to our own situation with Mitsy. We were perfectly able to figure out how to operate a humane trap. That was the least of our concerns. But we needed guidance and even mentoring during the follow-up. We needed someone to fall back on in times of doubts and emergencies. We needed the facts about how Mitsy could potentially react, if things went wrong. And we needed escape scenarios. Just in case. Scenarios that were a sure thing. How else were we to know if we were going to be up to this task? I had a lot of simple questions about very practical stuff:

  1. How do I know the trap-mechanism is too powerful for the animal I want to catch?
  2. How do we prevent that a part of the animal’s body gets hit and injured by the triggered door? (I had nightmares about amputated tails and decapitated bodies….)
  3. How do we get the animal from the trap in a safe holding place (building, room, carrier, crate, etc) ?
  4. And, coming back to prepwork: what kind of (crate) shelter is most effective and secure for both mother and kittens, while still being safely accessible to us? Or should we use a room? And what would that room have to look like?
  5. How would we refresh food and litter in a space with a feral, fearful, aggressive or otherwise unpredictable cat?
  6. How would we get her and the kittens to the vet, if she stayed feral for the most part, and needed to go in for spaying?
  7. After trapping, would the animal ever trust us again, if there was a chance of domestication?

We had to invent lots of wheels ourselves and we ultimately found some rescue people willing to share all of their experiences with us. Elsewhere in this blog are posted reminder lists, practical tips and tricks that worked for us. We made notes of everything. So that we would come as prepared as we possibly could.

This is the message I took from it all:

It was up to us to make the decisions and find solutions, ultimately. So it was important to build confidence based on facts and experiences of others who were willing to share their tips, tricks, warnings, guidance and resources. In the end, the network and experience of the rescue group we decided to work with was what we needed most. And still need.


Note: as I am writing this, we are now half-way through the project. Things are going well, set-backs have been minor, but we still have a ways to go. I will update this website as the project is continuing. My hope is that my experiences will help others decide if they want to help hands-on, or rather not get involved and/or support the many volunteers who do this stuff with their wallet… It is all valid and it is all totally up to you!

Milestones / Pivotal moments

On the main blog page, I am keeping track of what I like to think of as Milestones. A.k.a. pivotal moments. There are many moments that you can only recognise with hindsight. These are also the moments that can give you nervous breakdowns.

We started out with a pregnant cat in one dog crate in our basement. The crate was not to keep her prisoner, but to keep her safe. We know now that Mitsy is not completely feral. But she is not domesticated either. And not yet completely predictable. We know now that the flight-instinct is stronger in her than the fight-reflex. We did not know that when we started.

After the kittens were born and turned out to be strong and healthy, who was to say that she would ever let us approach them? Which is why, initially, we figured Mitsy would stay in the basement crate until they were 6 weeks old. Then, we thought, we would hand the family over to a more experienced foster or place them in Adoption Centres.

It is thanks to Mitsy being receptive to our company and care that this did not happen. After 4 weeks, we doubled her living space by adding another dog crate of the same model. Three weeks after that, we moved the whole family to an upstairs spare room, because the kittens were growing fast and started to crowd Mitsy to the point of exhaustion. For a while, they still spent each night in the crates, but during the day they were free to roam the room. After another 4 weeks they got the whole room 24/7, because at night they were all over poor Mitsy, who barely got a moment to nap. She was a living vending machine of milk and was constantly accosted by one or the other kitten. Two weeks into that it became clear that the room would also soon become too small for 7 rambunctious cats and we had to start thinking about moving the most resilient ones to the rescue Adoption Centre.

Keep reading our blog entries to find out how the project progressed and reached full circle…