Slidell — A pair of alert green eyes peered through a hole in a fence alongside a fast-food restaurant, focused with laser intensity on the prize: A tempting mound of canned cat food.
Within seconds, the brown tortoiseshell cat stepped through the fence to reach the food only to find herself caught in a trap set by Wendy Guidry of the Feral Cat Consortium.
The trapped animal had a few minutes of panic, frantically turning around in the metal cage, but Guidry covered the cage with a blanket and placed it in her truck along with another holding a female that sported the same coloring, probably a mother or sister, Guidry said.
When the two have been spayed and returned to the location — usually a two-day process — they won’t be contributing any more kittens to the feral population. And to Guidry’s way of thinking, that means preventing animals from suffering.
For most South Louisiana residents, spring means festival season or crawfish boils — a time to get out and enjoy beautiful weather and outdoor activities. But for Guidry and other volunteers with the consortium, spring means something far more challenging: Kitten season.
The nonprofit animal welfare group based in Madisonville has a singular focus: It traps feral cats, pays to have them spayed or neutered and then returns them to their territory with a clipped ear that sends a clear visual signal that the cat in question will no longer expand the feral cat population.
The consortium will remove cats if they are in danger, but as long as the feral cats are healthy, well-fed and safe, it makes more sense to return them, Guidry said. Otherwise, the same conditions that attracted the original ferals will lure new cats — ones that can still reproduce.
The capture of the two young females last week wasn’t the norm, because it was so quick and easy. Most of the time, cat trapping is an exercise in patience that can mean waiting for a long time for the animal to take the bait.
“It’s boring,” Guidry said.
But in other ways, the small colony of feral cats is typical. The group got its start when someone who had been hoarding cats released them, Guidry said.
As is often the case, there’s a person who has been looking after the colony. Guidry pointed out several bowls of dry cat food and some plastic shelters with bedding — all in a spot not readily visible.
“There are probably 100 colonies like this in St. Tammany,” she said.
Guidry had been in touch before the trapping excursion to ask that the colony’s caretakers withhold food for a day and a half — standard operating procedure that makes the cats far more interested in the bait.
She sighed when she arrived and found full bowls of food, despite her careful instructions. But one advantage the consortium has during kitten season is that pregnant cats are hungry.
“I don’t think she’s nursing,” Guidry said as she inspected the trapped tortoiseshell. Trappers avoid taking mothers with litters so the kittens won’t be left unattended. If they do end up taking a nursing mother, it means going back to find the kittens and taking on the labor-intensive chore of feeding them.
Guidry takes a break from trapping every year when kitten season hits its peak and virtually every female she finds is nursing a litter.
Normally, the consortium is able to trap about 10 cats per week, but this year, the group made a concerted effort to trap aggressively during March to get a jump on breeding season. That was possible because of a $100,000 bequest from former Covington resident and volunteer Gail Sheffield and the arrival of volunteer Kayte Beech, who lives in England and is visiting to learn the ropes with the hope of starting a similar effort at home.
“Since she’s been here, we’ve trapped 30 cats and helped facilitate another 30,” Guidry said. “She has stopped hundreds of kittens from being born in the next six weeks.”
And that is the beauty of the consortium’s approach from Guidry’s perspective. It’s a way to make a significant impact on animal suffering with a fairly minimal investment of time, money and even emotional involvement.
Even if only viewed from a cost perspective, Guidry points out that it costs money for animal control to catch feral cats, who are likely to be euthanized — another cost.
For animal rescuers, finding homes for a litter of kittens can be an eight-week investment. By contrast, “I can spay six females in eight hours of trapping,” Guidry said.