Thanks for coming back to read the rest of the story. I spent last week telling you about our vacation week - a week that ended in rescue work. We had discovered a feral cat colony in a run-down abandoned hotel. I got in contact with a local rescuer for help. She offered us a trap. So - back to the story.
We had planned to celebrate my birthday on the Thursday of the week at the cottage. I was in contact with a wonderful cat rescuer named Anita on Thursday morning. She runs her own cat rescue organization called Spay The Strays. After lunch that day, we waited to hear from her. She gave me directions and we drove out of our tropical paradise and away from everything we had come to Florida to experience. We drove for over half an hour, making turns and looking for landmarks. We found Anita’s home in a quaint subdivision that bordered a very small lake. We poured out of our vehicle and she came out and met us in her driveway. We hugged like old friends. Here was another soul drowning in this work but doing it anyway. We talked a bit and she showed us the sick kitten she had trapped that morning. We loaded her trap and drove the half hour back plus another ten minutes to the abandoned hotel. No cats. We surmised that the Florida heat keeps the cats hidden away until evening. We would go back to the cottage, have a quick birthday party for me, and then come back and set the trap.
Younger Daughter still wanted to do a little decorating for my “party”. So Husband and I ordered our Chicago-style pizza and left the cottage to go pick it up. When we got back, there was the “Happy Birthday” banner stretched across the kitchen window like we had done for Older Daughter’s birthday. On the table, Younger Daughter had put together a centerpiece which included a couple of pictures she had torn out of a magazine - one was of a sunset on a beach and the other was of a black & white kitten. Both girls piped up and said the picture of the kitten was for good luck - luck we would need to catch our damaged black & white cat later that evening. By this time we were calling him Domino (for obvious reasons - black & white and wobbly). When I blew out the candles on my little cake, the girls both said to make sure to make a wish. I knew what they wanted me to wish for - a Domino in a trap. I wished.
That evening we drove to our destination. At first we didn’t see even one cat. It had been a little later in the evening when we saw the cats the previous night. We would wait. I had come with dry food and canned food. I didn’t have a way to leave water for the cats. When we were at Anita’s, I noticed the back of her truck was packed with food and also with a dozen jugs of water. She explained that in Florida it was as important to supply water as it was to supply food. She manages many feral cat colonies in her county. She spends hours and hours every day of her life taking care of feral cats and strays. More about her organization soon.
That Thursday evening turned into almost four hours of watching, waiting, hoping, observing. We had the trap in two different places before it was over. Husband held the cord and was prepared to pull it if our Domino ever entered that trap. But hour after hour dragged by and he never showed. Several nursing moms went in the trap and looked frantically for the food they could smell from inside. But we couldn’t take any of those sweethearts home - they had kittens hidden somewhere in that nightmare. Some toms cautiously investigated the trap but not one went in. We couldn’t figure out why. It was the nursing moms, we guessed, who were hungry enough to throw caution to the wind. Time ticked by. I was continuously worrying about being on property we shouldn’t be on. And we were all worrying about why Domino wasn’t showing up.
There was one precious nursing mom who was solid gray, but get this - she had a beige face (never got a pic of her). All gray with that face! She was one of the females who went in the trap repeatedly. She was also one of two moms who ventured very close to our vehicle where we were silently waiting. Oh, how I would have loved to bring her home. But those gals had to stay. I wondered how many litters were in that abandoned hotel. We counted over twenty different cats while we waited - some male, some female. For every female, there was a litter someplace. The kittens must have all been very young because we saw only two the whole time we were there. Thirty or forty feet from where we were stationed, we saw two orange stripeys, probably eight weeks old, playing and bouncing. They played with each other off and on the entire time we were there. Amazing. No matter what the conditions, babies will play.
And then we saw Domino. The sun was setting fast. Our time was limited. In another thirty minutes we wouldn’t have any light to see who was going into the trap. We held our breath and hoped that Domino would move towards that trap. We watched as he moved out of hiding. I still couldn’t figure out what exactly was wrong. Had his back been broken when he was younger? Back legs? Was this a condition he was born with? Or possibly a head injury with sustained neurological damage? He walked around (too close to the ground), wobbled occasionally, and fell if he ran too fast. I had to have him. I felt like I couldn’t stand it. I had absolutely NO control - he was either going to walk into that trap or he wasn’t. Over the next thirty minutes, I don’t think any of the four of us even breathed. But Domino never even got close to our trap. As the darkness enveloped us, the feeling of failure was heavy. Anita had to have her trap back by late the next afternoon. We could come back in the morning, but the cats typically stayed tucked away during the day. I was going to have to leave our Domino behind. I watched him slink under one of the tarps and disappear into the night.
The girls got out of our vehicle and started towards the trap. One would get the trap while the other walked along with the cord, rolling it up on the way back. They only had to walk a few dozen feet, but it was so dark now. I was straining to see them, so I decided to step out and join them. Suddenly, Older Daughter threw up a hand and motioned for me to stop. I could see Younger Daughter creeping closer to the trap; it looked like she was in pounce mode. Oh no, I remember thinking. Those girls are gonna try to grab one. Just as I was about to protest, I saw Younger Daughter forcefully say something to Older, and then Older yelled to pull the cord. It all happened very fast.
In a flash the girls picked up the trap and started scooting back towards the vehicle. The cord was dragging behind. They ran around to the back and threw open the door. I was asking - What? What? And they were saying - We got one. As we pulled away and started for the main road, they started explaining. Just as they were going to retrieve the trap, one of the orange kittens was investigating the entrance. In a split-second decision, the girls decided to go for it. This was not a nursing mom. This was a baby - a weaned baby. It was the starfish story all over again. No this wouldn’t change anything in that colony. But this one baby would not grow up and live like that. We had all wanted to get Domino. He needed us. This kitten didn’t need us at that moment. But his life had just taken a turn towards dramatic improvement. We got him back to the cottage and I got a chance to look him over. He was beautiful. I looked into those precious eyes and I told him we would take care of him. Without thinking, I called him “Sunshine” and realized immediately that the reason I did was because he looked nearly identical to a kitten I had saved years before and named “Sunshine”. That kitten had been thrown from a vehicle into a ditch. When I found her, she was so badly broken that she had to be euthanized. Yep. I would name this little guy “Sunshine” - in honor of the previous one, and as a reminder of where this guy came from - The Sunshine State.
Once we got Sunshine comfy for the night, we took a later-than-usual walk. We were sad that we hadn’t gotten Domino. We would make one more attempt the next day, but we weren’t very hopeful. And now, we had a new problem. Sunshine had a brother or sister back at the colony. It started sinking in that the sibling left behind was now without his best buddy, and so was Sunshine. And we were out of time. We had some daylight-only hours tomorrow to try again, and then we had to get Anita’s trap back to her and start packing up for our two-day trip home. The pressure was on.