STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) – Catching a feral cat takes patience, timing and, in late December, a good tolerance for cold.

On a residential West Side street on a recent afternoon, Janine Paton and Linda Harper set up traps baited with tuna, smoked herring and soft cat food.

They are trying to ensnare the wild cats and kittens that live around an apartment building where a woman who fed them was threatened with eviction. Paton and Harper waited at the far end of the lot, trying to make as little noise as possible.

The women are volunteers with the nonprofit group Friends of Felines. They plan to spay and neuter the cats they trap. So far, they’ve seen at least three sets of kittens, some living in an abandoned car.

After the cats are caught, volunteers will try to socialize them, then put some of them up for adoption. The rest are released where they were captured after they can no longer breed.

It has been a difficult season for cats, the women said. Harper estimated that Friends of Felines has seen about five times the tame – likely abandoned – cats in 2008 as the organization did in 2007.

Cats are prolific breeders, Paton said. Because of warmer winters, they most likely are breeding later in the year, and more winter kittens are surviving, she said.

Their first catch of the afternoon, a female black and orange cat, ventured into the trap early on.

“We’ve been here a lot, and she’s always the one who runs into the trap, grabs something and runs away,” Paton said. In a month, the women have trapped about eight cats from the parking lot behind the apartment building. They estimate at least twice that many live there.

Once a cat is captured, the tip of its left ear is nicked off so trappers can avoid recatching those that have already been spayed or neutered.

The women put out an automatic trap and a manual one with a long string attached to its door. Harper pulls the string when a cat wanders inside.

Occasional moments of suspense punctuate their wait, as cat after cat investigates the traps without entering. A black cat noses about the threshold of the trap, only to be scared away by a neighbor’s approach.

The elderly woman who has been feeding them called, “Here kitty, here kitty,” as if to summon them to dinner.

Friends of Felines has about seven core members, and many others help occasionally, Paton said. In the past year, they trapped about 350 cats, Harper said.

Neutering a cat costs about $100, and spaying starts at $130. The cats often require other veterinary care, which Friends of Felines pays for with donations.

Cats that aren’t adoptable go back to where they were trapped, in a practice called “trap, neuter, return.” Cats are social animals, and, ideally, someone regularly feeds and monitors the colony of spayed and neutered cats.

After trapping is complete, the population of a colony stops growing and, over time, declines. A feeder looks after the colony, keeping an eye out for newcomers.

Friends of Felines works with 20 to 30 managed colonies, Paton said. At the West Side street, it won’t be possible to establish a managed colony because the building manager forbids feeding cats. But a woman who looks after a colony close by might be able to help, Paton and Harper said.

About an hour and a half after the first catch, a black female cat slinks into the trap, and Harper pulls the door down.

Later that night, they catch a third – a big orange tomcat.

Paton hoped to catch some of the kittens, but three adult cats made for a productive night.

“The worst thing we can do is just let them continue having kittens,” she said.

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