Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 favorite, back by popular demand. It was originally posted on February 26, 2013. Enjoy!
Written by Patricia Gordon of Calgary, Alberta – Canada
When a neighbor’s lost pet flyer appeared in my mailbox, I did not hesitate to contact the family with an offer to search for their cat. Having cats myself, I imagined the sinking feeling knowing a loved pet was out there scared and lost.
Although the days were still warm in late September, Calgary’s temperature dipped considerably in the evenings. I suggested to my neighbor that we look for her lost cat together. We called out O’Mally’s name, hoping he would hear us. At one point my heart jumped as I went to investigate the shape of a small creature hiding under a Douglas fir tree next to the Canadian Tire Garden Centre. But then my heart sank; it was just a young jack rabbit I concluded. We did not find O’Mally that night. I knew he couldn’t be far away. Intuition told me to return to the garden center. I had a feeling O’Mally was there.
I went back to the garden center, calling out O’Mally’s name through the fence, expecting a grateful cat to come bounding towards me, but no cat appeared. As I walked around the railings I noticed a small rabbit, only now as this creature appeared to me in daylight I realized it was not a young wild rabbit but rather someone’s pet. I tried to approach him, but he fled.
To my delight, after four days, O’Mally the cat finally returned home. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about the young rabbit I had seen in the garden and worried he might get hit by a car. I checked all venues for reports of a lost rabbit, but there were none. I then realized that as with so many pets, he had been abandoned. But how was I to catch a rabbit?
That first week I researched ways on how to humanely capture a rabbit. I bought a fishing net, a hockey net, large towels, but no luck. He was too smart and quick. There were times when he got mad at me and pounded his tail. I knew I couldn’t push my rescue attempts too far; he didn’t understand I was trying to help him.
I remembered a no-kill rescue group, Pound Rescue, had been involved in rounding up hundreds of rabbits in several communities in Calgary, Alberta, after irresponsible owners dumped their un-spayed/un-neutered domestic rabbits into the community. One of the ladies from Pound Rescue, Linda, offered to loan me a cat trap.
We decided to meet where I usually found Dalton (I named him Dalton after the road near his hiding place). A trap seemed the only option to catch Dalton, since he was smart enough either to stay close to the garden center railings, which he could quickly dart under if he felt threatened, or the two larger fir trees he sheltered under at the back of the center, which were not accessible using a net. We decided to ask permission from the store manager to set up a trap inside the garden center (which was now closed to the public), but in a location where Dalton hung out and where the trap was still close enough to the railings so that even from the outside of the fence I could make frequent checks on the trap. Linda filled a container with vegetables and placed it at the back of the trap. She loaned me another trap which I would take with me on my visits to Dalton since we didn’t want to leave a trap on the outside of the fence other people had access to.
The Trap Was Sprung, But Someone Else Was Inside
The next morning on my way to work I checked the trap. Although it was dark, I noticed the door was shut and my heart leaped! I retrieved my torch and beamed the light into the trap. My jaw dropped when I heard a meow. I knew rabbits didn’t meow. In the trap was a bewildered cat. I immediately contacted Linda. At first I thought the kitty was a stray desperate for any kind of food to nibble on; however, Linda reassured me that it was well fed and healthy and yet another one of those cats let out at night while their owners slept safely in their beds.
After work I would fill the back of the trap with fresh vegetables. Sometimes Dalton liked his new offerings, but sometimes not. He certainly wasn’t always that hungry as he happily munched on the dandelions and tall grass, but he did occasionally enjoy a change to his menu. To my disappointment, some nights I wouldn’t see Dalton and then I’d worry about him. As the days passed by I began to doubt if he would ever be caught. The vegetables in the trap inside the garden center remained untouched.
Dalton Drew a Local Following
Dalton was starting to gain several supporters. It seems this abandoned little black rabbit with the cute white paws and a white blaze was capturing the hearts of the locals. Sometimes passersbys offered to help catch him, but their encroachments scared Dalton. Sometimes residents gave words of encouragement, or they would ask if I had caught the “little one” yet. I realized many residents were concerned about the “little guy.”
On one visit, I spotted a mother and her little boy looking for the rabbit; she told me her son was having problems sleeping because he was worried about the rabbit. I reassured the child I would catch Dalton and when I did he would have a good home to go to. Dalton was also becoming the topic of conversation amongst the elderly residents in the apartments overlooking the garden center, and I was affectionately referred to as “the lady in the purple coat.” Unknown to myself, some of the residents had observed me crouching under the trees feeding Dalton. Talk about a neighborhood watch! One lady, Jean, looked for Dalton using her binoculars, so often I received phone calls from her informing me she had spotted him, or when she became concerned because she hadn’t seen Dalton for a few days.
During the weeks that followed, Dalton and I were building a relationship. I became excited when I observed Dalton slowly going into the trap I brought with me. I noticed, though, he usually entered the trap once and ate whatever was closest to the door before darting out. Any further attempts to lure him into the trap during the visit were futile. I tried to make the trap as natural as possible surrounding the sides with twigs from fir trees, and placing leaves and grass on the base of the trap. Despite the initial ventures into the trap there were days when Dalton wouldn’t go in it at all, even though the aroma of the apple or tomato juice made me feel like a salivating dog.
Sometimes it would appear that Dalton had stepped on the springboard which should have triggered the door to shut, but it didn’t. I began to study the trap and realized I had never considered Dalton’s weight. When my cat Parker casually walked into the trap each time, the spring board released the trap door; however, Dalton was much lighter than a cat, thus I realized there was a problem. I knew I had to find a way of triggering the trap door myself.
I began testing the trap using pieces of a wire coat hanger, but that attempt failed because I couldn’t apply the pressure I needed to without causing the trap to move; thus, I only managed to frighten Dalton and he darted out of the trap leaving a tasty serving of vegetables behind. On another occasion I tried, ironically, taking an old pair of the TV rabbit ears apart so I could place one of the antennas through the trap and position it on the springboard under the leaves; however, in my desperation (the nights were getting colder), I triggered the trap too early and as quick as lightning, Dalton was out of the trap.
I felt deflated. I wondered how much longer I could go on trying to catch Dalton when I was possibly putting my health at risk; I had lung problems and was prone to developing pneumonia. I kept thinking of the little boy, the elderly residents, and of course Dalton who I knew would not survive the cold temperatures. I thought about the times Linda and her group had gone out in the bitter cold and rescued dogs that had been abused, abandoned, or left for dead. I couldn’t give up.
It Was 18 Degrees Below Zero
Over the next few days, I tried to be patient despite the cold, but time was running out. Winter had come early to Calgary. It was -18 and had snowed most of the day, and now a blizzard was expected. That night I couldn’t catch Dalton. I put some straw at the base of one of his favorite trees, and I brought a cat cube and covered it with tree clippings thinking it might provide him with some warmth. The next night I went looking for him hoping to see some paw prints in the snow to track his whereabouts but there were none. I went to the places I usually found him but he wasn’t there. My heart sank. I made the slow journey home believing Dalton could not have survived the wind and the cold. I thought about him as I slowly went to sleep.
On my way to work the next morning, I crossed the park making my way to the garden center. The grass in the park had been covered with a foot of snow, and the fir trees had turned into mountain peaks and slopes. There were no sightings of small paw prints. I thought about Dalton all day. Although I felt he could not have survived the last two nights, I decided to look for him again. I called out his name. Behind the garden center I looked under the fence and then my eyes caught the sight of a shivering Dalton. I felt so sorry for him. I knew there and then if I couldn’t catch him that night I would never see him again.
I Ran Home to Grab a Blanket
Despite the deepness of the snow, I ran home as quickly as I could to grab the trap, food and a blanket. I was hoping Dalton didn’t think I had abandoned him. As I quickly filled the trap with food, I knew I was not going to use any gadgets to trigger the trap, but rather instead of positioning myself at the back of the trap trying to lure Dalton towards the food, I would place myself closer to the front of the trap and quickly flip the trap door to close it. This would require an element of speed on my part. I was breathless when I reached the area I had last seen Dalton, but would he still be there?
I looked under the fence and the poor little guy hadn’t moved. He was still shivering. I positioned the trap near the fence but despite not having eaten in two days, he wasn’t moving towards the trap filled with food. Perhaps he was too cold to move I wondered. I threw some smaller pieces of vegetables towards him. He was cautious at first and then possibly because he was so hungry, he gradually hopped forward and ate the offerings. To my astonishment, he then headed for the trap and without any hesitation hopped towards the food at the end of the trap. Seeing Dalton inside the trap I quickly flipped the door and it shut within the blink of a second. Dalton was caught! High above behind me I heard a yelling of “Halleluiah”; it was Jean. To my surprise, Jean had watched the whole episode unfolding through her binoculars! I waved to her and yelled that I had to get him home. As I said the words “home” I knew Dalton was finally safe, and the promise I made to the boy had been fulfilled. I threw the blanket over the trap and crossed the park carrying the trap for the last time.
I set up a crate in a room for Dalton, but I was determined that once settled he was not going to be a rabbit that lived in a cage. That evening I warmed some towels for him to snuggle up with. To my surprise Dalton hopped out of the crate and snuggled beside me. I started to laugh. I couldn’t believe after all these weeks of trying to catch him here he was snuggling beside me!
Since so many people in the community expressed their concern for Dalton, I wanted them to know he was safe. I put up “Good News” announcements. Jean spread the word to the residents in her building.
Within two weeks of being caught, he was neutered, microchipped and tattooed. I would not allow Dalton to be abandoned again; therefore, he became part of my family. Dalton has added so much joy to our household; he taught me a lot, especially the importance of endurance and compassion.