Do you believe in miracles?
Read the story of how a colony of cats beat the odds, survived being catnapped and all made it home in time for Christmas.
For a lot of us, caring for the feral cats in our neighborhood is as important as caring for the pets that share our homes. Even though these cats may not be comfortable enough with people to enjoy being petted they are still a pleasure to have around.
Making sure they have the basic necessities, such as food and shelter, and seeing them enjoy their life outdoors is something many of us have been doing for years.
TCS member LavishSqualor is fortunate enough to be able to provide several feral cat colonies with a safe haven at various properties throughout Orlando. However, even though these cats are spayed or neutered and vaccinated, not everyone was happy about their presence.
The story begins in early March 2018.
“I work as regional manager for a property management firm in Orlando. We deal primarily with large apartment complexes. This morning one of the managers for a complex in my portfolio called me to tell me that several residents there had paid a “trapper” to trap and dispose of an established feral colony on the property.
I immediately drove the hour and a half to the property and spoke to the staff and several eyewitnesses. They’ve all told me essentially the same story – that three men showed up with noose hooks and pellet guns and removed the eight de-sexed, vaccinated and perfectly healthy cats that made up the colony. They put them in covered plastic tubs (not carriers) with no air holes and took them away in the back of two pickup trucks.
They were paid $200 and have most likely murdered those cats. The property manager, several members of maintenance and I have gone through every cat at the local shelters and ours aren’t there.
This is one of the most upsetting things that has happened in a long time. It’s not like the cats were jumping on cars or anything. This property has garaged parking. When questioned the residents told me that they just didn’t like the cats looked! One person claimed he was allergic but the cats are outside, not in his apartment!”
TCS members were understandably distressed to hear this. Straight away people began to offer their condolences, understanding how awful it must be to lose a whole colony of cats this way. Some offered messages of support:
It goes beyond the simple care and maintenance but actual love for all the cats who live on your property. To hear that the tenants would think it was in any way legal or moral to kill cats who were peacefully living there is beyond any imagining.
I’m sorry. I hope you get justice, and I’ll be praying that if you find the trappers they’ll tell you they took them to another shelter or released them somewhere else.
Others tried to suggest ways to track down the trappers to find out exactly what had happened to the cats.
Are there security cameras so you can see who the trappers were?
LavishSqualor had already begun to take action against those responsible:
“I served notice on every last resident who was involved. They will have to be out by this time next week. Let them try to fight it; they won’t have a leg to stand on. We tell people at application that there is a small feral colony on that property so they were all well aware. Their signed acknowledgments are even on file.
I know the name of the trapping service too.
Tomorrow I’m going to the State Attorney’s Office to try to get the trappers charged criminally. After that, I have a meeting with our company attorneys who are going to sue them civilly. It won’t bring back the colony but it will sure keep them from making the same mistake again.”
While it was satisfying to know that the trappers and the residents who hired them would be forced to face the consequences of their actions, the main concern was still that the cats were missing and presumably had been killed. At times like this, it’s hard not to blame yourself. As LavishSqualor said:
“I know that we took very good care of that colony and that those cats had much better lives than most, but I do wish now that I’d brought the older stray home to live with me. The vet claimed he was probably at least fifteen. I just knew that he was terribly used to being outside and that he had all his other cat friends there.”
However, a few days later there was the first little bit of positive news.
“First of all, the “trappers” as I call them did not kill the cats. They claim that they dumped them about four to six miles away from the property in a wooded area. They showed me exactly where yesterday morning, and then me, they and around twelve volunteers from the complex spent the entire afternoon searching for the colony. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any of them.
The guys who trapped them are unlicensed. (They) advertised their “Removal Services” on Craigslist. They are merely a group of young idiots who wanted to make a buck. They’re not necessarily bad kids; they just didn’t think.
I’ve spoken to the county shelter where the trappers live. They are willing to supervise community service hours for them there and at two other animal rescues.
If they had killed the cats I’d never be amenable to this but given their
circumstances, youth and overall stupidity I’m willing to cut them a break.”
The possibility that the cats might still be alive cheered up everyone who had been following the story. Some TCS members have experience working with feral cats, others have had cats go missing and managed to bring them home again. Tips and suggestions on how to find the missing colony cats and bring them back poured in.
Any chance you could put out live traps where the cats were supposedly dumped?
OK, 4 to 6 miles away isn’t too bad. Cats will be able to find their way back from that distance. A good way to attract cats is to make up a mixture of Asian Fish Sauce ( Nam Pla) and water, put it in a spray bottle and squirt the trees and bushes near where you are going to set up the camera and leave some food.
I like the idea of putting out trail cameras if you know the exact location.
LavishSqualor began the long process of trying to find the missing cats.
Volunteers from the apartments have been out today with food and straw from the beds where the colony slept. We’re still hopeful that they will make their way home.
Then, one week after the cats had been trapped and dumped came some more good news. LavishSqualor posted:
TWO OF THE CATS MADE IT BACK TO THE PROPERTY!
The property manager just called to tell me. She said one orange male showed up this morning and then his tuxedo friend showed up a few minutes later. Both were fine. They ate some food, groomed each other, then rolled over and took a nap! That’s two down and six to go!
This was so good to hear, as it gave everyone hope that the cats might all have survived their ordeal.
As TCS member rubysmama said,
I’m so happy to read that 2 of the cats made it back home. Mostly I’m just happy that the trappers were telling you the truth.
Less then a week later there was more cause for celebration. LavishSqualor told us,
“One bit of good news I had this morning is . . .
Wait for it . . . wait for it . . .
Three more cats came back, including my fifteen-year-old boy!!!
I’m driving down there this weekend to bring him back to Orlando. I hate to take him away from all his buddies but I really do want him to live out the remaining years he has in comfort. To have been outside all these years he’s such a lapcat. The minute you sit down . . . BOOM! You have a lap full of cat!”
Even though none of the other TCS members had ever seen these colony cats, we had all become thoroughly invested in their story. Hearing that this older male cat had not only survived but was going to get a proper home was the kind of happy ending we had hardly dared hope for.
I think I’m starting to believe in miracles.
But there was more. LavishSqualor came back to report that:
“I was all ready to take in the fifteen-year-old stray but it looks like the property manager has beaten me to it! She’s got him and his friend at home with her!
She says that they’ve done great, no hiding whatsoever, and that they’re eating and using the litter box like champs. She’s named my boy Oreo and his friend Cheddar.”
Cheddar, on the property manager’s desk
Oreo, now 15 years old and adopted into a loving home
A few days later a sixth cat returned, much to the delight of everyone who had been following the story.
LavishSqualor told us that the cats were soon making themselves at home and enjoying all the extra attention.
The colony members have flourished but are probably confused by all the attention they’ve received from the residents. Since the cats returned, the residents have been buying them toys and treats to make up for the cats’ ill treatment at the hands of the trappers.
Six of the eight cats to have not only survived being trapped and dumped but also to have managed to find their way home unscathed was more than any of us could have hoped for.
Unfamiliar territory can be deadly for a cat, even a feral cat that is used to being outside. Displaced cats usually try to find their way back to the home they knew before, but in doing so are exposed to all kinds of dangers. As well as crossing roads they have to cross the territories of other cats, dogs and wild animals.
This results in fights and injuries and they become even more scared and disorientated. This, along with the struggle to find food and water, means many cats never make it back home again.
As the weeks turned into months and there was no more news of the last two missing cats we started to fear the worst. LavishSqualor never gave up, regularly going back to the spot where the cats had been released in the hope of catching sight of them. But it seemed that they may have been lost forever.
Then, on December 13th, a full nine months since the cats had been dumped, we got the news we had all been longing for.
“You guys are never going to believe it, but the last two cats returned this
morning! The property manager called they were lying on the lanai with the other cats this morning when maintenance got back from cleaning up the grounds. They were just basking in the sunshine and flipping their tails as if nothing unusual had transpired. She said that they don’t look thin or injured in any way.”
We’ll never know where those two cats had spent the summer. Did they find someone to care for them while they were gone? Did they manage to take care of themselves so well that they didn’t need to rush back home?
These secrets will be kept by the cats.
We’re all just so glad that they’re home again and we have a reason to believe in miracles.
The property’s maintenance staff member, Omar, with Cookie and Midnight.
See the full thread here.
Trappers On My Complex
Additional writing by @Norachan
More about caring for Feral Cats here.