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A kitten's scream and a trapper's tale

I received a call late one evening from Susan, who lives in a rural area in Surrey. Susan has a farm and has trapped several stray cats. We spay and neuter (“fix”) them, and the cats that we can’t tame are returned to her as barn cats, where they live a good life with shelter and food.

Susan reported hearing a kitten scream from the neighbouring property. She said it was coming from the house that was a good distance from her property line. She could not access it, as there was a six-foot high metal fence, and it was pitch dark. There was no light in the house that she could see, and since they had dogs, she felt it wasn’t safe to enter. We decided to wait until morning for her to check out the kitten screams again.

The crying was coming from the roof area. I knocked on the door, but no one was home.

Sure enough, Susan called me the next morning that the kitten was still wailing. I grabbed my trapping gear, headed out, and met Susan on her side of the property. The kitten screams were very loud. We took two ladders and placed them on either side of the fence and climbed over. We were joined by a handyman that Susan had working on the farm that day. We walked across the field and approached the house from the rear. We could now ascertain that the crying was coming from the roof area. I knocked on the door, but no one was home. We noticed that a net covering a venting area under the soffit on the second story had fallen out, and it sounded like the crying was coming from there, but it was a very narrow opening. That would mean the kitten was stuck in the crawlspace of the house, as it had a sloping roof.

We decided to re-group and go back to Susan’s property for a much taller ladder and other supplies. While we were retreating, two dogs suddenly appeared from the front of the house, so we hightailed it over the fence. Luckily, the dogs were controlled by a woman approaching the fence. We quickly explained the situation to her, and she immediately allowed us back on the property. It turned out she was the caretaker of the property.

After I had identified myself, I asked for permission to enter the house to find the access hatch to the crawlspace. Once inside, we proceeded upstairs and found the hatch in a hallway, but to orient ourselves, I went out on a balcony that was located about eight feet almost below the opening in the soffit. At this point, I could hear the kitten who was still crying much clearer and louder. It sounded really close and did not seem to come from above. I took my phone and leaned over the railing to take a video around an outcropping of the wall. The video revealed that the kitten was not up in the soffit but sitting right in a crevice on the roof behind the wall. Susan promptly crawled over the railing, scaled the slippery moss-covered roof, and grabbed the kitten. Phew, that was a heart stopping moment! We got her!

The screaming kitten gets her first bottle.

The little tabby kitten seemed fine but was dehydrated and hoarse from screaming. I called Marion, our cat care volunteer, who luckily was available to bring some KMR powder (milk replacer for kittens) and a syringe with a rubber nipple. I first gave the kitten a bit of warm water, and then we quickly fed the kitten. As this was going on, I noticed two older kittens were circling my car and then jumped up into the back where I had an open can of cat food. The caretaker told me that the older kittens had appeared several months earlier, and she had started to feed them. We discussed that the kittens should be fixed, and I was given permission to trap them. I quickly set a trap for them.

The caretaker also told me that there was a female cat that had given birth to kittens under the huge patio behind the house about a month ago. The little screamer must have come from there, but how it got up on the roof we will never know.

With the kitten fed and secured, and the trap set, we went to the back of the house to look at the patio. I played kitten sounds and immediately received several responses from under the deck close to the wall of the house. The patio was elevated and on one side, it was built up with bricks. There were a few holes where an adult cat could easily enter under the deck. I got permission to remove some of the bricks to gain access to the crawlspace under the deck. Unfortunately, there was not enough room to crawl in there to get close to where the kittens were.

I was devastated – we had missed one, and it was in trouble. That was the worst sinking feeling.

In the meantime, the homeowner had arrived. After some discussion, we were given permission to remove a board on the patio with a crowbar, but the boards were screwed down and were 12 feet long. They would not budge. I then received permission to cut a board with a hacksaw large enough to get a camera in there. Susan’s handyman went back to her farm, got the tools, and cut the hole. I managed to get a flashlight down, so I could take a video. I took several and spotted an orange kitten on the video. Unfortunately, at this point, it was now mid-afternoon and Susan had to leave. I called our new trapper Therese, who immediately dropped everything and rushed over. In the meantime, I checked the traps I had set, and both cats were in the trap – a ‘twofer’!

Therese trying to grab a kitten trapped under the deck.

When Therese arrived, she suggested she would lie down on the deck with her hand stretched down under the deck with some smelly food. We could see on the video that there was an orange kitten just about five feet from the opening. So, we waited. About 10 minutes later, Therese could feel the kitten eating out of her hand, and she quickly grabbed it.

This was repeated about 20 minutes later – another orange kitten was caught. I had seen what I thought were two orange kittens on the many videos that I took. We played kitten sounds again to be sure there wasn’t one more down there. We received no response. We started packing up but set a trap by the door, where the caretaker had been feeding the mom.

Before we left, we listened again under the patio but heard and saw nothing, so we covered the hole again. We were convinced that we had them all. The homeowner agreed to check the trap all evening and a couple of times overnight.

Alia, who is an emergency bottle feeder for the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association (VOKRA) and who also works at a vet clinic agreed to take the kittens. Luckily, she was at work, so Therese took the kittens there to get checked out. Apart from being somewhat dehydrated and thin, they were in fairly good condition. I proceeded to our holding facility in Aldergrove to settle the two older kittens and managed to be home by 8 pm.

The four little siblings on their way to a foster.

I called the homeowner the next morning. They hadn’t seen the mom cat and none of the food in the trap had been eaten. Therese was supposed to pick up some other cats that morning, but that was cancelled at the last minute, so she decided to head back to the property to check the trap. Upon arrival, she asked for permission go in to the backyard again to double check for more kittens. As she approached and played the kitten sounds, she got a small squeak of an answer. She said that her heart dropped.

She quickly removed the board we had put over the hole and looked down. There was a black and white tuxie kitten lying on its side, we had missed it. It was very lethargic and very cold. Therese quickly grabbed it, put it under her blouse to warm it up, and started driving to the vet clinic in White Rock. On the way, she called me and told me that she had found another baby. I was devastated – we had missed one, and it was in trouble. That was the worst sinking feeling.

At the vet clinic, they warmed it up and got some fluids into it, and it slowly started moving again. We both agreed that we would never forgive ourselves if that wee kitten did not survive.

Later that afternoon, I drove down to the farm again for one more search. Unfortunately, we never caught the mom cat. There is still a feeding station set up, but none of the food has being eaten.

The kittens were subsequently transferred to a VOKRA foster, Jen’s house, where they quickly recovered and started gaining weight. The tabby screamer girl from the roof and the little tuxie were then transferred to another foster in Vancouver who is fostering to adopt. Greg and Stephanie named them Frankie and Freddie, and they are being spoiled rotten. The two orange tabbies are with Jen and will be available for adoption in a few weeks.

A big thank you to Susan for sounding the alarm. Thank you to Marion for bringing the KMR to the site. A huge thank you to my partner in crime, Therese, who single-handedly caught the other three kittens. And thank you to VOKRA for taking them in. It still takes a village.

Anne is a volunteer trapper with the trap-neuter-return (TNR) team at the Surrey Community Cat Foundation and works closely with other volunteers, VOKRA, and animal welfare organizations to ensure abandoned and stray cats and kittens are safe and healthy.

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