TNR: Unicorn

Two weeks back, Jason and I managed to catch and TNR a little calico girl we called Feather. Feather had brought with her two male cats, King and Unicorn. While King remains elusive, spreading himself around and getting food from every source he can find, Unicorn decided to continue hanging around and making himself comfortable in our yard. That was absolutely perfect for us, because it meant that we could trap-train him and get him in for TNR – as well as get a nasty-looking neck wound cared for!

Unicorn earned his name by being a rare male calico. For the most part, he’s white with black-tabby patches, but he has one orange-tabby patch on his back leg, which makes him a calico. Only 1 in 3k calicos is male – so rare that vets can work for decades without ever seeing one – and somehow we ended up with a feral male calico in our yard!! Male calicos are almost always sterile as well, because the only way they can have calico coloring is to have an extra X gene. Only 1 in 10k male calicos can produce offspring, which means that it’s unlikely Unicorn has been in any way responsible for the population of feral cats in our neighborhood. However, neutering is still recommended, because with the decreased testosterone levels, neutered male cats are less prone to fighting/aggression, which cuts down heavily on disease acquisition and spread. Given that Unicorn was following an unfixed female around, has a neck wound most likely from fighting, and chases any cat he sees, a decrease in aggression is a good thing!!

(trap training)

Anyway, we began trap-training Unicorn right after Feather was released, and he took to it immediately. At first, we tried not to let Lord Grey, our fixed feral cat, go into the trap to feed, but it became clear that this wasn’t going to work longterm and decided to focus solely on LG not getting trapped once we actually set the pressure plate. Furthermore, as Unicorn came to the yard more often, sometimes sleeping along the fence or just hanging out, he and LG began to interact more often. LG stopped running as much, and there were some standoffs that weren’t too aggressive. Soon, LG started staking his claim to our yard, getting the food first, and Unicorn would sit nearby, trying to pressure him into giving up the food. Not as if we didn’t put out a gigantic amount of food several times a day over the last few weeks – they both got plenty. But it has been interesting to watch them interact. Makes me wonder if they’ll end up friends once Unicorn’s testosterone levels fall away (about a month after neutering).

(LG was determined to eat first and wouldn’t let Unicorn into the cage)

By Jan 13, Unicorn was ready, but the vet didn’t have available appointments until the 20th, so we used that time to get him even more comfortable in our yard. Unlike Feather, who was super skittish and never** came back for food after her escape, we’d like Unicorn to remember this place as his food source. Community cats with a home base and dedicated feeders tend to fare better in the long run, and we’d like to welcome Unicorn into our fold. He’s so beautiful, with giant tomcat cheeks that indicate he’s probably at least a few years old, and I do think he and LG can become friends. We also tried to get him used to our presence, staying outside or easily visible in the windows when he was eating.

On the 20th, we took him in for his surgery, and then held our breath to hear what was going to happen with the nasty-looking neck wound. Fight wound? Bot fly? Burst ulcer? Not healing due to FIV or other immune issue/disease? I can’t tell you the relief when the vet called to say that neuter surgery went well and that they cleaned the wound to see that it was just from fighting, fairly shallow, and just very dirty. It should heal on its own, didn’t even need stitches. Hurrah!


We picked up Unicorn later that day and learned that he had been “shockingly angry” with the vets. Doesn’t surprise us, tbh. He’s an old tomcat with a lot of aggression. Unlike most of the cats we’ve TNRed so far, he didn’t sit passively in the cage and stare at us wide-eyed if we lifted the towel to peek at him. There was a lot of hissing and spitting any time we checked on him, even after surgery when he was loopy on anesthesia. The boy was big mad.

Weirdly, though, the next morning he was perfectly calm. We opened the cage for his freedom run but he apparently didn’t realize it, so we pulled the towel back to motivate him. He sat there staring at us like he was terrified, but no hissing/spitting. After a moment, he backed away from us a little more, realized (finally) that the cage was open, and scrambled out and away. Ha! So far, I haven’t seen him return to eat, but 1) it’s only been two days, and 2) I haven’t been home much over those days so it’s possible he’s returned without notice. I’m pretty sure he’ll be back someday soon! *ETA: He returned for the first time that I saw the day after I posted this. Woohoo!

**The afternoon of Unicorn’s surgery, Feather came back to our yard for the first time since she sprinted out of it on her Freedom Run. She and LG had a little standoff in the yard, and then she ran when Jason brought some food out for the two of them. Hopefully she comes back again, and over time learns that our home can be trusted as a source of sustenance. And at least we know in the meantime that she’s alive and well! *ETA: She returned the afternoon of this post and had herself some dinner, hurrah!


About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
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