How to catch a cat in a HavAHart trap

My employer shared the letter with me not because there was really anything I could change or that could be done about what had happened. It was more to let me know that she had received it and because it was too good not to share.

A few weeks previously, a couple had brought us one of their adopted feral cats for a bite wound on its back end. They had warned us about how the cat was and told us to be careful with her. We had listened and had found the small gray tabby to be a wonderfully easy patient. She snuggled up on us during her exam and we loaded her in to her carrier without incident when her owners came to pick her up. I find this to be true of many adopted feral cats. They turn into big loves so long as you let them set the terms.

We did the recheck in our Ludlow office. The owner was present for the recheck, she had not been present for the initial visit. I took the feral cat out of her carrier, she was nervous but after some chin scratching she rubbed up against my hand. When I went to lift her up to examine her abdomen the owner tried to intervene. The cat did not approve of the intervention, my response to the intervention or both. She exploded around the room, knocked the blinds off the windows and then hid behind the sink. I retrieved her and finished the recheck. The issue had resolved and would not require any further attention. The feral cat and her owner returned home.

The letter arrived the following week. I don’t remember the details anymore, I had saved it for a few years but must have discarded it recently. The basic premise was that I was an inept veterinarian who didn’t know how to handle feral cats and shouldn’t be allowed near animals. I do remember that the word “idiot” was used eleven times in the one page letter. It was directed at me every single time. Needless to say I was not this client’s favorite veterinarian.

Fast forward one month, exactly one month from the day of that fateful recheck exam. The same owners bring in another feral cat, this cat had just been captured by these feline rescuers and was still mean as could be. It likely goes without saying that they did not want any of the veterinary services to be performed by me. Completely understandable.

Then the cat got loose in the cat ward. Bear with me while I paint the cat ward into your mind. It’s a rectangular room, eight feet wide by sixteen feet long. There is a single door at one end of a sixteen foot wall and two large windows along the other. At the 8 foot wall nearest the door is a treatment table and scale for weighing cats and a cat kennel bay on the other end of the room. All in there are 10 feline kennels in that room. The cat ward also serves as the location for the server and data lines for the hospital so there is a shelf in one corner and a hole in the ceiling for all of the data lines to go throughout the practice.

We attempted to capture the cat but he wedged himself behind the kennels against the far wall in the cat ward and would hiss and strike at us as we tried to get him out. Fortunately, the kennels are on wheels so I wheeled the kennel away from the wall and climbed on top of the kennel to get at the feral cat. The plan was to corner the cat on one side of the space behind the kennel by advancing a broom towards him. Once he was in a position he could not bolt from I was going to jump down, throw a thick towel over him, scoop him up and return him to his carrier. Seemed easy enough.

Instead of being cornered, the cat decided that it was fighting time, he attacked the broom that I was advancing towards him without any semblance of fear. My plan had been to use the broom to guide him gently out from behind the kennels, his plan had been different. Once he latched onto the broom and realized it was good for climbing, it took less than a second for him to be crouched next to where I was laying on top of the kennels. We locked eyes. I sat still watching him as he glared at me, waiting for him to attack me. Instead he hissed once in my face, turned and jumped up through the hole in the ceiling and was gone. I sat for a long moment in silence. All I could think to say after that moment had passed was, “I can’t believe that actually happened.”

I got down from my perch and went to the hatch that led to the crawl space attic above the cat ward, stood on a stool and shined a flashlight inside. Two glowing green eyes peered back at me and after looking around the small crawl space, I decided he didn’t have much room to hide and I could probably capture him with the net. So I climbed up into the crawl space with a four foot long loop net and planned to capture the escaped feral cat. I was of course, wrong. The crawl space had roughly one million tiny places for a feline to fit that a human might not even see let alone climb into. And it was approximately 1000 degrees Fahrenheit in there. After a few minutes up there, I retreated to the safety and comfort of the treatment area and thought about what to do next.

We decided to set a catch and release trap with some cat food in the attic and wait until morning. My boss told me she would call the owners of the feral cat when she arrived at our Ludlow office for afternoon appointments and explain everything to them. That seemed fair, I hadn’t even lost the cat. I was just trying to be helpful. What we didn’t take into account was that we were at the tail end of road construction season here in Vermont and the commute took her considerably longer than usual. As a result, appointments started a little late in Ludlow and she struggled to keep up. In Rutland, the owners of the feral cat stopped by to pick up their cat.

I must have rehearsed what I was going to say to these people fifty times in my head before I stepped into the cat exam room. I was going to explain to them that I (the veterinarian they called an idiot in the letter they wrote to my employer) lost their feral cat in the ceiling of our practice. Then I was going to get out of the room. As soon as I closed the door behind me, my mind went completely blank. I stood there for what felt like an hour before I decided that I had to just go for it.

I do not remember a word that I said to them or a single word they said to me but I do remember that they didn’t smile. Not once. They left and we set a HavAHart trap with some canned cat food up in the attic.

You can get your own here: HavAHart

The next morning the cat was in the trap. We called the owners, they picked up the cat and we never saw those cats or their owners again. I saved the letter for years but apparently discarded it recently. I suppose I am ready to move on.

Thanks for reading.

Best Roomba for Pet Hair!

How to pull porcupine quills out of your dog.

They are about the size of a large cat, near sighted and they don’t run. Instead they sort of dreamily lumber around in the dark making odd grunting noises and barely acknowledging you if you follow them around with a flashlight. I like to think of them as beavers who joined a punk band, got burned out on tour and are returning back to their roots.

Unfortunately, your dog likes to think of them as giant chew toys. To be fair, it probably does seem like a lot of fun, a waddling big rodent that rustles when you get too close. To a dog that probably seems irresistible. I imagine that the thought process in a dog encountering a porcupine goes something like this, “Oh man, this is going to be awesome, it’s wiggling at me this is going to be so much fun!” Smack “Oh man, this is pretty terrible, I’m not having any fun.” But there are always repeat customers. We had one dog come in four times in the same Spring for quills one year. Depending on the client, I will often relate it to tequila and college students. It’s one of those things that seems like a great idea and a really good time and then suddenly, it’s no fun anymore. But they often go back another day for more.

Dogs almost never get into porcupines first thing in the morning. It’s usually evening, you’re letting them go out for one last pee before bedtime, you’re half asleep while you stand at the door after you let the dog out and he or she comes back with a face full of quills. Well great. Now what?

The following instructions are only intended for people who are within an hour drive of the developed world. If you find yourself a day’s hike out in the wilderness and then your dog gets quills there you can skip the steps and go to the bottom. If you’re that far out in the wilderness and don’t have a hemostat. Shame on you. Be more prepared next time.

Steps to removing quills from your dog:

1. Call your veterinarian. Darn it. You thought I was going to tell you how to do this at home. Did you forget I’m all about the money I can make from clients? Seriously though, porcupine quills are no joke. Here’s an article explaining their shape and why pulling them out awake might be a terrible idea. It’s at least worth a phone call to speak to a veterinarian and explain the situation. Calling the vet should always be free.

2. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions. For one or two quills, I might have you try to pull them at home. Sometimes even one or two quills requires some form of restraint and professional attention. If there are quills in the mouth or quills around the eye or especially, quills near the shoulder area I will always recommend we remove them for you. Always. These evil little buggers are composed to move in a single direction. Usually they migrate out to the surface but not always. Scroll to the second to last paragraph of this article to see what I mean.

3. Be ready for this to take more than one episode. If your dog does a good enough job on the porcupine there may be quills that we can not reach on the first go round. As these move toward the surface, sometimes a separate procedure is necessary to get everything out.

If your veterinarian told you to try to pull them at home or you are out in the wilderness please open this photo in a separate window. See the tool this person is using to remove them? You need a tool like that, pliers might work but hemostats are better. “But Heath, I don’t have hemostats.” Here’s a pair for less than $15. Hemostats

If you’re spending time in the woods these would come in handy in multiple situations. If you fish, even more so. Look back at the photo. Grab the quill down in the dark section and pull straight back to remove it. One quick motion, no twisting and no bending. If your dog bites you during this, that’s on you. Sorry. That’s one reason why we sedate them.

If you’re unlucky enough to find your dog with quills, give your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency clinic a call. And if they do it once, chances are they will do it again.

Thanks for reading.

Amazon Echo Dot

A Walk in the Woods

“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” Thoreau.

The above quote by Henry David Thoreau only fits this story if the reader is enamored to irony.

This was hands down one of the best experiences of my career. I learned a ton, messed up huge, looked like an idiot and still somehow came out of it all with an awesome new client who owns two awesome dogs. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

It was an odd phone call on a Thursday afternoon. One of the clients I have been fortunate to get to know personally called with a problem. Actually, the problem belonged to a woman she had just met. I got the rundown from my client and decided to call this woman I had never met about a problem I sort of understood. Right now anyone in just about any service profession knows that this situation can only lead to hilarity.

The woman – let’s call her Becky – had adopted a dog – let’s call her Sandy – from a rescue group. To say this dog had a rough life before being placed with the rescue group would be a touch of an under statement. The poor dog did not know how to live with people and would not come inside. So they were keeping her in an outdoor pen. The problem was; she escaped the pen and had been living in the woods by their home for a few weeks. She would eat food they left out for her and she stayed near their home but she was living in the woods. Winter was coming. As was hunting season. We wanted to have her inside before the flurries and the shooting started.

I thought long and hard about how to trap a dog that was living outside and didn’t want to be trapped. I called and emailed all of the people I could think of. I looked it up online, synthesized what I found online with responses I received from a few experts in the field of wildlife medicine and finally arrived at a plan I thought had a decent chance of success. I called Becky back and we set up a day for me to come out to the house and try to sedate her and capture her.

The day was mild but overcast. A technician and I – let’s call the technician Jess – drove out on the gravel road into a thick hardwood forest with expansive pastures and the beautiful homes that can only belong to craftsmen. The type of homes that someone has to build over a lifetime rather than have thrown up in a few months as a second home near their favorite ski mountain. We pulled into the drive of Becky’s house and met her husband – let’s call him Dave – we chatted a few moments while I laced some canned dog food with the tranquilizers we were going to hopefully capture Sandy with. I made friends with their older Labrador retriever – we’ll call her Lacey – and we discussed the plan. Then we loaded ourselves into the back of an ATV and rode down a carriage path into the forest. We stopped a few hundred yards short of where she was typically fed and we found a comfortable point on the forest floor to wait. It was an old growth forest with tall and sturdy Sugar Maples making up majority of the population. The gravel road was a few hundred yards to our left and just about twenty yards to our right was a steep hill that led to a marsh pond.

The sun burned off the cloud cover while we waited patiently for the dog to eat the laced meal. The plan was simple, after she ate the food and was properly sedated, we would sneak up on her and contain her with a slip lead on a pole. This is sometimes endearingly referred to as the “rabies pole.” Once she was on the rabies pole we were going to place a muzzle on her and lift her into a large crate. There she would peacefully sleep off the tranquilizers and we would get back to the office so I could see afternoon appointments. It was a foolproof plan.

Unfortunately, I’m not a fool. I’m an idiot. And the plan was not idiot proof.

Becky sneaked quietly up to where Sandy ate and placed the laced dog food. We waited patiently and quietly out of sight while Sandy made her way over and ate the meal. It took about forty five minutes for her to become drowsy and eventually she bedded down in some tall grass and didn’t move for over ten minutes. It was time to make our move.

We quietly made our way out to the gravel road and traveled down until we were lined up with where she was laid out on a small knoll. We crept through the brush until I caught sight of her and then with the rabies pole in my hands like a spear held by a gladiator, I began my approach. She saw me coming – likely from the road – but waited until I actually thought I was going to get her on the first attempt before she decided to make a drunken run for it. I was horrified she was going to stumble down the hill and end up passing out in the pond, so I gave chase.

Sandy stumbled her way through the brush because she had been drugged. I stumbled my way through the brush because I am just under six feet tall and uncoordinated. There were a few times where I came close to her but she eventually gave me the slip all together and I made my way back to the house. A little discouraged but not defeated. I still had another dose of tranquilizer. If she wanted to make like she was the Keith Richards of dogs, I was going to indulge her. When we made it back to the house I had Jess return to the office in my car. This was taking a little longer than I expected but I was determined to have Sandy in custody before I left that day.

I mixed up another batch of drug laced canned dog food and we locked Lacey in the house. We were waiting for Dave to get back with the ATV and decided to grab a few glasses of water while we waited. I set the plate of drug laced dog food down on the porch and stepped inside for a moment to place my empty glass by the sink. I opened the door to return outside and Lacey brushed past me on her way back into the house. I went to pick up the plate and noticed something wasn’t quite right about it. In fact everything was wrong. The plate was completely clean. Licked clean. By Lacey. The old, not scared very docile dog had just received a rock star worthy dose of tranquilizers. You know that pit of your stomach feeling when something goes terribly wrong? You know that skin too tight feeling when a well thought out plan has gone completely sideways and there’s no hope for success? I had both of those feelings at the exact same time. I could have burst into tears. Thankfully, before I did that I caught sight of the bumper sticker on Becky’s car that read, “Proud Mother of a United States Marine.” I couldn’t break down and cry over a little set back like sedating the wrong dog and not being able to capture a loose dog on the first attempt in front of a woman who had raised a Marine. She probably wouldn’t have known what to do and might have had to put me down out of pity. So I swallowed hard and tried to shrink the lump in my throat before explaining to Becky what had just happened. She took it surprisingly well and I did my best to explain that Lacey was going to be just fine and would sleep off the dose she had taken while simultaneously trying to keep her from seeing my fingers crossed in hope behind my back.

We went back out in search of Sandy and while we had a few more attempts at snaring her with the rabies pole, we ultimately concluded that it would be best to return another day. We went back to the house where we found a passed out Lacey  blocking the kitchen door. I moved her to a dog bed in the living room, apologized for the outcome of the day and walked to the end of the driveway to sulk, call work and wait for a ride back to home base. I dialed my wife to hopefully get some words of encouragement and my phone beeped at me twice to remind me it needed to be fed some electricity and then powered itself off. I sat back and tried to enjoy what had become a sunny and warm Autumn day.

Jess picked me up about fifteen minutes after I called. I took over the driver seat and we drove mostly in silence the whole way back to the office. Once at the office I immediately set out to purchase a blow gun with injection darts and prepared to make a more aggressive attempt at capturing Sandy.

I received a text message a few days later that Becky had finally captured her. I am happy to report that both Sandy and Lacey are doing fine and neither dog has lost any of their faith in me. Fortunately, neither has Becky.

I still haven’t used the blow darts to restrain an animal but I practice all the time and am pretty good with it. So if you ever have a need….

Thanks for reading.

Amazon Echo Dot