At 6 a.m. I tumbled out of bed, fed the alcohol cats breakfast, pulled on some clothes, and left my apartment. In the blue winter light of Boston I walked, through the Public Garden, down Arlington Street, to the animal shelter. We covered the floor of the vet clinic in sheets of plastic and gathered all of the supplies that were carefully boxed and labeled from the previous clinic. At 8 a.m. the trappers arrived. We tagged each cage with a number and surgery card, surveyed the cats to make sure they were not sick or injured, and lined them up in the heated garage.
One by one, each cat was brought into the welcome area of the vet clinic where they were sedated, weighed, and given Genteel (a Vaseline-like gel that protects and moistens their eyes). Most cats, let alone feral ones, aren’t super happy about getting poked with a needle, but Deb was swift and a couple cats jumped back, completely unaware that they were about to be given an injection. For the more difficult ones, a pitch-fork–like instrument kept the cat to one corner of the trap, making it easier to get at them.
Next the cats went into pre-surgery, where they were given a basic exam and shaved. The females are put onto spay boards—essentially, a clear board with rope along the edges so that the cat’s limbs can be tucked under them and secured out of the way. (Don’t worry, I didn’t take any photos of that.) Then of course comes the surgery part. In addition to being spayed or neutered, all feral cats who come in for TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) have their left ear tipped. This means that the very top corner of their ear is cut off so that just by looking at the cat, a trapper knows it has already been spayed or neutered and doesn’t need to be trapped again—which is important when dealing with ferals, as trapping them is extremely stressful and shouldn’t be done more than necessary.
In the post-op room, Marna (a fellow cat volunteer) and Margaret were taking care of everything else: ear cleaning, applying more Genteel, giving vaccinations, taking body temperature, and giving sub-cutaneous fluids. (For non medical-savvy readers, sub-cutaneous, or sub-cue, means the needle goes under the skin, as opposed to in a vein or into muscle. Sub-cue is usually pretty easy to administer in dogs and cats because of the loose skin of their scruff.) Once the cat was done (and at this point just beginning to stir from anesthesia), they were wrapped up in a towel with microwaved bags of rice for warmth and taken in their traps back to the heated garage for recovery. Their breathing and consciousness were monitored to make sure they didn’t have any complications as they awoke.
Even though I was on the volunteer schedule for admissions/labeling the cats and trap cleaning (both of which I did), it was in the post-op room that I spent most of my time. I’ve given sub-cue fluids to a cat I pet-sit for, so I get along just fine with needles, and know how to use/dispose of them properly. But vaccinations and rectal thermometers were new, and if there’s any time to learn, it’s when the cats in question are sedated. (Just thinking of Smirnoff at the vet is enough to deter me from trying it on a fully conscious cat!)
After observing carefully for a while and asking questions, I was allowed to give the whole process a try (with supervision, of course). I checked everything off in my head (as well as on the surgery card).
Take temperature. Check.
Clean ears. Check.
Squeeze Genteel into eyes. Check.
Give FVRCP vaccine sub-cue in front leg. Check.
Give rabies vaccine sub-cue in hind leg. Check.
Apply dose of Revolution (flea/tick). Check.
Give shot of Ketofen (anti-inflammatory). Check.
Give shot of Yobine intra-muscularly (pain relief). Check.
(It’s here that I’m glad I volunteer at a shelter where people are so willing to teach you things.)
At about 12:30 p.m. I walked out of the Animal Rescue League of Boston, my feet aching from standing all morning, looking bleary-eyed into the light-filled sky. It was warmer as I walked back to the station and I removed my gloves. There were so many more people walking and driving around now, and I wondered if many of them had just woken up. I thought that maybe I’d go home and take a nap.
Out of the 20 cats who came in today, two were kept. Melinda, a 4 month-old black female and Sampson, an adult orange male were deemed “adoptable”—in other words, not feral. Those cats were also microchipped and given a cage in the shelter. Twenty is actually a low number for the feral clinic. Marna and Margaret were chatting about a previous clinic in which they spayed and neutered 90 cats all in one day. But yesterday it had snowed, and many trappers claimed they had found it difficult to trap the cats while snow was falling on the food, and one of our extremely dedicated trappers was away at a family event. Still, 20 cats is still 20 less animals reproducing, and every little bit helps.
Spaying and neutering is the most important part of population control in domesticated animals. It’s sad to think that while zoologists are rushing to save endangered or threatened species like the panda or tiger, millions of dogs and cats are being euthanized in shelters every year in the United States.