Trap it Up: How KC’s dog and cat trappers find the metro’s lost and stray pets
Every day solo catchers and group trappers work tirelessly to locate, humanely capture, “fix,” and safely return Kansas City’s loose dogs and cats to proper shelters.
Most of the city’s wily trappers donate their time to ensnaring scared, lost pets, and they do it for their love of animals—and the game.
KC Dog Trappers is a volunteer-run group working to crack lost and stray dog cases.
Sandi Jones, the founding trapper, fell into the work in 2016 after coming across a lost dog post on a metro lost and found Facebook page. Jones set out to catch the dog and dubbed the sneaky pooch “Swartz.”
Jones experienced a series of setbacks throughout her first trapping excursion, which included the theft of a trap. After several months, Jones successfully trapped Swartz and was hooked on the process.
I got the call to watch Jones and fellow volunteer Crystal Carney work their magic on a weekday afternoon. I was at work, but this is what PTO is for, right? So, I dropped everything and headed out to Raytown, Mo.
As Jones, Carney, and I drove to the trapping site, Jones filled me in on Karma’s story.
Karma, a tall, sinewy Italian greyhound, got loose from her owners in early April. Although the trappers know Karma is nearby—they’ve caught her on their heat-sensing cameras—she keeps evading the group’s traps because she’s so slight. To solve this unconventional problem, the trappers have placed a rock on the trap’s trip plate to make the trigger more sensitive.
Jones explains this is the perfect location for a lost dog to hide. Canines tend to camp near areas with several water sources and cleared, mowed pathways. This spot has both these features thanks to recent rains, ponds, streams, and the nearby towering utility lines, what Jones refers to as “dog superhighways.”
“Through our experience and good samaritans, we can generally locate a loose dog,” Jones says. “Once located, we’re fairly successful at luring the dog to our equipment. If we get a dog on camera, it is rare that we fail to safely capture the dog.”
There are two humane traps at the trapping site—one 5 feet, the other 6 feet. Each trap is baited with enticing food. The trappers also have heavily sprayed the area with a liquid they call “chum.” It smells like barbecue and is irrespirable to hungry hounds.
Jones says they are most successful when working with invested owners and when everyone involved in the trapping process listens to their tried-and-true instructions.
Jones notes that it’s common to work with owners who are, understandably, emotional and, at first, unwilling to listen to a trapper’s invaluable direction. Jones firmly explains to owners that this is an analytical process, not an emotional one. After all, these women do this work because they’ve been in the owners’ shoes.
Although that may rub some people the wrong way, Jones is OK with that. “I’ll be that bitch who gets your dog home,” Jones says while praising her army of trappers doing whatever it takes to get their clients a successful outcome.
How to TNR a Cat
Generally, TNR is a 24 to 48-hour process.
- A caregiver sets a humane trap, lines it with cardboard and newspaper to protect the cat’s paws, covers it with a tarp or blanket, and baits it with stinky food (Lawton recommends the small cans of Fancy Feast fish and shrimp).
“If cats are fed only inside the trap and nowhere else, they tend to get hungry enough to give it a try,” Lawton says. “It can help to prop the trap door open for a few days to get the cats used to eating inside. Then you can set it for real when you’re ready.”
Interested trappers can buy traps online (Tru-Catch is a great option) or rent one from a local animal welfare organization.
- After the cat is trapped, transport them in the secured trap to the clinic, performing the surgery and vetting. Do not touch the cat! They are likely angry and scared, and you should avoid getting bitten or scratched.
- Pick up the cat from the clinic and keep them inside, in the trap, for 12 to 24 hours while they recover. Ask the clinic staff what they recommend.
- Release the cat where you found them or help them find a forever home if they are social.
Never hesitate to contact an animal welfare organization for trapping help, tips, and advice.
Caring for KC’s cat colonies
When it comes to trapping, KC’s cats aren’t left out.
While some solo and organization-based trappers work to catch and transport single strays and help cat parents find their lost kitties, most cat trapping work focuses on controlling the metro’s stray cat population.
If you’ve ever seen an outdoor cat with an ear tip—the surgical removal of a small portion of the cat’s ear—you can confidently assume the cat’s received vetting and is fixed, and likely, others are nearby.
The Rescue Project, a volunteer and foster-based organization, is just one of the many groups providing animal welfare outreach throughout the city. One way The Rescue Project does this is through TNR (trap, neuter/spay, return).
Holly Lawton, the organization’s TNR coordinator, works to trap community and stray cats to get them altered and vaccinated.
“I’m a cat person and have always been painfully aware of all the stray cats in the world,” Lawton says. “Years ago, I noticed some cats living in the storm drain near a busy Chipotle and found some help in learning how to trap and find a safer place for them to go. After I caught my first cat on my own, I was addicted.”
Lawton notes that although cat overpopulation is an overwhelming problem, it’s heartening that altering one cat prevents dozens of other cats from being born.
“It really does matter, and we have to take what seem like small steps to make a measurable impact,” Lawton says.
Fixing for feeders
Vona Rothfusz, the founder of The Real Fix, operates a little differently. While her organization is equally committed to TNR, Rothfusz specifically works with “feeders,” also known as those who regularly care for specific cat colonies.
Rothfusz’s organization works to trap colony cats and helps caregivers pay and prepare for the TNR process through video calls and group chats. Currently, Rothfusz does most of the organization’s trapping and teaches interested trappers how the equipment works.
While Rothfusz uses different humane traps, her favorite is a large, custom-made trap that can catch up to seven cats at a time.
“This trap was made by a veteran trapper who retired, gave it to someone else who no longer does trapping, who gave it to me,” Rothfusz says. “If they cluster feed, where they all come around the bowl, that’s the best way to do it.”
The city’s trappers and TNR advocates couldn’t do it all without the help of supportive veterinarians, clinics, and shelters.
Thankfully, Great Plains SPCA, an area shelter providing community outreach services, noticed the need for TNR clinics and started providing services in 2019.
The organization’s TNR clinics currently serve approximately 60 to 70 cats four times a year. The clinic also accepts TNR appointments on a weekly, appointment-based basis.
Shelter life isn’t for everyone
Although cat lovers, shelter workers, and rescues wish all community cats could end up in homes, most aren’t cut out for shelter life or adoption.
“They haven’t had any prior social interactions between humans, especially during their prime socialization window as a young kitten,” Montle says. “Most community cats won’t allow handling or attention and are happier living alongside humans without interactions.”
While KC’s dog and cat trappers work separately to trap different species, they all strive to capture companion and community animals who need help and to—as Bob Barker likely said when off-mic—control the fucking bonkers animal population for the love of all that’s good.
Do you have a lost pet or know a stray who needs trapping?
Message KC Dog Trappers on Facebook (for lost or stray dogs)
The Real Fix (for colonies only)
The Rescue Project (for community cats)