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Emergency Evacution

We currently care for several colonies of neutered feral cats, numbering about 50 animals, on a large ranch in California. As in many parts of California there is a constant threat of wildfire.

We had created a fire evacuation plan for the cats, never seriously expecting to use it. However, one summer a fire did threaten the ranch and we were forced to implement the plan. It worked and we successfully evacuated the cats, looked after them for two weeks and returned them all safely once the danger past.

So how on earth do you go about evacuating herds of wild cats?

The answer? Food and Habit.

The day of the emergency is too late. This procedure has to be put into effect before it is needed. However, once the animals are trained the actual evacuation is surprisingly easy. We are sure this method can be applied to many different species.

Each day we make a loud whistle and put down a ration of food. Before long the cats know exactly what the whistle means and they come out from whatever bush, tree or barn they are in and run to the feeding place. Yes feral cats! They run because the last one there finds very little left to eat. So much for not being able to train cats!

It just so happens that the feeding place is a large crate. It has a trap door activated by pulling a long string. Running into the crate with a human standing nearby soon becomes part of the daily routine for the cats. To make the actual evacuation even easier for us, we put the crate in the evacuation vehicle. The cats are quite happy to jump up and eat in the crate, which is in the van. In a real emergency we trigger the trapdoor, close up the van and drive away.

Side note: We taught the cats to use a cat door set to “in only”, however they soon learned to defeat the locking mechanism and promptly let themselves out. Research and development of an unbeatable one way cat door is ongoing.

So far the cats are winning!

For the smaller colonies of one or two cats, we simply feed them in the typical humane trap with the door held open. It is true that immediately following the Trap Neuter Return procedure the cats are wary of the traps, but in our experience it is not long before they start accepting them again.

Using these methods one person can have 35 cats ready to go in about 10 minutes. In our situation the rest take longer simply because they are widely scattered and it takes time to drive to each location. Nonetheless one person can have all 50 loaded up and on the way to safety in about 45 minutes. With help the time decreases significantly.

Perhaps some of these ideas will be useful in your animal care situation.