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Would You Secretly Trap and Neuter a Neighbor’s Cat?

An intact tomcat with a collar visits my backyard, and I hear a female cat in heat. I want to prevent unwanted kittens, but I'm not sure how.

Keith Bowers  |  Apr 13th 2016


This is maddening.

I’ve said it a lot this spring, late at night. From across my backyard fence, I hear a female cat in heat, pushing out that long, slow wail that mixes desperation, confusion, fear, and desire. From another yard I hear a male cat with a different pitch. His two-pronged frequency broadcasts acknowledgment (to the female) and warning (to other males). The call and response continues. Will they find each other? I rush into the yard. “HEY!” I shout, clapping loudly 10 or 15 times. Silence. For now. Yet I can’t know whether they’ll eventually find each other.

Daphne, my wife twice over, issues a warning to the night air we both know is mostly empty: “I better not find a cat giving birth to a litter of kittens in our yard!”

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Photo via Helena Jacoba / Flickr

In that yard we’ve seen at least one intact male cat, a big gray stocky boy whose testicles are a feline billboard advertising his fertility. Two other frequent cat visitors might be intact males, but when I run them off they exit tail-down, so I can’t tell. Some of these cats — including Big Gray — have collars, which suggest they’re pets. Yet I’ve not gotten close enough to Big Gray to see whether he has an ID tag, and I know better than to restrain a cat who wants to be free.

Even if I could identify his owners, I wonder whether I could persuade them to have Big Gray neutered. The fact that he’s roaming free, balls and all, suggests that the owners don’t know — or don’t care — how much he can contribute to cat overpopulation.

This is maddening.

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Big Gray walks with the certainty of this cat. Photo by Kevin Neagle / Flickr

Then there’s the female in heat. I’ve not identified her in daylight hours — how would I know her if I saw her? — but I know she’s out there. Boy, do I know. The noises of her and the tom have left my cat Thomas freaked the hell out, his head darting between window and bedroom door, looking for intruders, for an hour after I chased off the wailers.

This is maddening.

I talked over the situation with Catster’s resident behaviorist, Marilyn Krieger. Our talk gave her the idea for her most recent Ask a Behaviorist column, which covers ways to keep outdoor cats out of your yard and away from your home. That column has great tips. I could take any or all of those measures. That said, keeping the cats away won’t stop them from making kittens. I want to stop them, but how?

This is maddening.

Relevant backstory: I have trap-neuter-return experience in this yard. About a year ago, Daphne and I trapped a big white intact tomcat who came into our yard to spray and cause general mayhem. He was so big and white and fierce, we nicknamed him the Bumble. He showed up injured from a fight one day, bleeding and slow-footed. So a couple of days later we trapped him, got him to a vet, turned him loose, and ended his troublemaking ways.

But the current situation has complexities. First, the Bumble is clearly a stray, whereas at least one of the intact toms is a pet. If I wait until I can check Big Gray’s ID tag and contact his owners, how many female cats might he have impregnated? What if his owners reject the idea of having him neutered? Then, if he comes back without his balls, they’d surely some looking for me. If I were to set a trap, how many cats would I catch before I got Big Gray? I’ve not even touched on possible legal ramifications of fixing another person’s pet without their consent, or the neighborhood badwill that doing so would generate.

I feel like I must do something, but every choice is problematic. So, dear readers, I turn to you. Have you been in such a predicament? What did you do?