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Alley Cat Allies Drop Trap Review

Lisa A. Pierson, DVM


 

June 6, 2010 update: The main article on this webpage was written in July, 2009.  Since then, Alley Cat Allies withdrew its first drop trap model from the market and went back to the 'drawing board' to fix some major problems with their original design - discussed below.  While many improvements have been made, there is still a fatal flaw in their trap.  The netting that they are using (black netting - not the original orange netting shown below) has holes that are too large.  If you see the picture below where a 4 month-old kitten is sticking his head through the netting, you will understand why the netting being used on their newer traps is still unacceptable.

As noted below, there is no point in making a drop trap that cannot be used to trap kittens. I have trapped hundreds of kittens with my drop trap and I cannot imagine why anyone would make a trap that is so restrictive.

I also contacted the very experienced people at FixNation in southern California.  They have been using 15 of my drop traps (no...sorry....I don't make them commercially) for the past 4 years and they have trapped hundreds of kittens with them and have never injured a single one and no kitten has ever escaped from the trap.

Can you just imagine how frustrated you will be if a mom and her kittens are under an ACA drop trap with netting that will not hold a kitten?  You would miss a great opportunity to get a mom and her entire litter - or just multiple kittens -with one pull of the rope! 

Or...think of how frustrating it will be to have an older kitten under the trap....and sit there thinking...."Do I dare pull the rope?!?...Will this trap hold this kitten/teenager or are the netting holes too big?!"  I would be ripping my hair out in utter frustration.

Also keep in mind that each time you pull the rope, cats and kittens that are nearby will now be frightened by the trap and then they will be less apt to go under it.....wasting more of your very valuable time....and increasing your risk of never catching them.

The netting that I use has holes that are only 5/8 inch square.  I would never use a trap that has netting with holes larger than 1 inch square and I really prefer a net with 3/4 inch holes - or smaller - because the smaller the netting holes, the less apt the cat/kitten will be to put a head or leg through it and get injured.

If you do purchase this trap, I would highly suggest that you replace the netting to a more suitably-sized hole - no more than 1 inch square and preferably smaller.

See Gourock and look at their Golf Impact (not barrier) Netting.  They have netting that has 3/4 inch square (not diamond) holes that would work well.  Their website is a bit confusing so you should just call them.  The last time I checked with them (several years ago) you could order a small panel of a specific dimension.  The traps that I build require a 5' x 5' piece but the ACA traps are only 3' x 3' so I would get a section that is 4' x 4' so that you have plenty to work with.

Gourock's netting is not cheap but it is a high quality product that will last for a very long time.

Make sure that you really secure the netting well!  Never underestimate the ability of a panicked feral cat to get though a very small hole!  Make sure that the corners are VERY well secured!  The corners seem to be a common place for a trapped feral to try and get out of the trap.

If you wish to make your own trap - or hire someone to make one for you - see my Building a Folding Drop Trap page for a pictorial and instructions on how to make your own.

I wrote to Becky Robinson (president of ACA) several weeks ago regarding my concerns but she never replied.

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July, 2009

As many experienced trappers know, a drop trap is a necessary tool for efficient feral cat colony management.  Since designing and building my PVC pipe folding drop trap 3 years ago, I have caught more ‘un-catchable’ (with a wire trap) cats than I ever imagined I would.  I never go out into the field without my drop trap.  In addition to my own drop traps, I built 10 for FixNation, a high volume spay/neuter clinic, and they have been in constant use for the past few years so I am very confident in my design in terms of efficiency, safety, and durability.

For more information on how I build my drop traps, see  Building a Folding Drop Trap  Please note that I do not build them for commercial sale since they take far too much time to build.

Recently, I was asked to evaluate a drop trap being manufactured and sold by Alley Cat Allies (ACA).  I was very excited to hear that there was finally a second commercial source of drop traps. Laura Burns of HubCats, to the best of my knowledge, is the only other source of this valuable TNR tool.

Please see Laura’s review of the ACA drop trap here. 

I find this to be a very awkward situation because I know that ACA is trying to make a commercially available - and affordable - drop trap which is desperately needed!  However, there are so many negative issues with this trap that I had to completely re-build it to make it suitable - and reasonably safe - for use.  I am very worried about the ACA traps that are already out there.  In my opinion, based on my years of trapping experience, cats will be injured - or will escape - with this trap as it is.  Unfortunately, many people will not even realize that a cat has been injured with this trap.   

In my very strong opinion, the ACA drop trap should be recalled.  This trap is not only dangerous, it is also very poorly built.

Above all, do no harm.

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ACA Drop Trap Evaluation: 

I received the ACA drop trap and was immediately disappointed.  One screw had already fallen out into the box and there were other screws that were loose and the net had already torn.  This trap was unusable right out of the box.

When trying to get it to stand up, it looked like a Laurel and Hardy comedy routine as it kept collapsing.

The same problem was experienced when visiting with the FixNation staff and working with their ACA trap.  I am not sure how ACA ever got this trap to actually stay in a square form – given the ineffective hook and eye that was used and how it was placed on the trap.  Even if they did get it to stand up, any wind or a cat rubbing up against it would cause it to collapse and fall very easily – especially when using a single, versus double, stand.  When building a folding drop trap, you need to make sure that it is VERY steady with no chance of collapsing on its own.

To all of you who have purchased this trap and have received from ACA a new side hasp, if your trap is made with pine as the one they provided me is, do not use the new hasp with the screws that were provided. You cannot use regular wood screws into soft pine and expect them to stay tight after being jarred over and over again when the trap is dropped.  Given how important these screws are to the integrity of the trap, I would not even use them if your trap is made of plywood which does have better purchase than soft pine.  If either screw on this hasp fails, the trap will either fall down on its own, or the hasp will come undone once you have dropped it on a cat.  If that happens, the cat could escape or be injured.  Please note that the screws that ACA is using have very shallow threads with very little purchase into the wood.

Here is a quick summary of the changes that were necessary to make this a *safer* and usable trap. I will go into more detail below:

  • It needed a new net.

  • All of the screws needed to be replaced with machine screws and nuts - several of the screws fell out or were falling out - the hinges were loose.

  • The sides only provided for a 1/4" tail gap and this is dangerous; tails WILL be severely injured!

  • The eyescrews in the door needed to be lowered.  (The traps that ACA has already sold do not have eyescrews but they put them on the one that they provided for my review.)

  • The trap that ACA sent to me did have the new side hasps but I replaced both screws with machine screws and nuts.  I removed the hook and eye because it was of no help in keeping the trap square.

  • A double stand needed to be built to increase the safety level.

  • It needed handles.

  • Bungee cords were applied to the door.

More detail:

1) The netting is unacceptable.  This trap will catch cats - no doubt - but the netting will tear and cats will get out. Once the net tears, the trap will be useless until the top is replaced.  I shot a movie showing just how easy it is to tear the netting and sent it to ACA.   I used very little force to tear the netting.  I tore it in several places just before removing it and replacing it with suitable netting.  

Quick story about our group's president trying for a 'baby machine' for 3 years:  I made her a drop trap with netting similar in strength to the ACA netting  She dropped the trap on that cat and just like a can opener.... the cat ripped through the netting and was out in a heartbeat. It was a HUGE disaster.  Needless to say, I got a very angry call from my friend at 2AM....just after she lost this cat. 

This trap’s net was even torn when it arrived on my doorstep as shown here:

If it tore like this with basic handling, just think about what would happen with a panicked cat (as most trapped ferals are) pushing hard against it.  Add in teeth and claws damaging/weakening the plastic and you have a cat that is now out of the trap. 

People really underestimate the TINY hole that a feral cat can escape from and just how strong they are. This trap just has to tear in one place for an adult to escape.

This netting is also unacceptable because of the size of its holes.

Kittens can escape without any tearing given how big the holes are. 

I set it up in my foster room and Calvin, a 4 month old kitten, quickly stuck his head up through the netting. An adult cat could also push its head through it very easily when panicked.

 

A trap that can't be used for kittens would be of absolutely no use to me.  ACA states that this trap is not to be used for kittens but what is a person supposed to do with a mom and a litter under the drop trap? Or just a litter of kittens without mom?  I say "pull the rope!"   I caught 5 kittens with my drop trap the other day.  5 sets of reproductive organs with one pull of the rope is very efficient trapping! 

It makes no sense to use netting that limits the size of animal that can be caught or to use one that is so easily torn.

Plastic also does not hold up well under repeated bending.  Bending weakens it.  Sunlight is also hard on plastic and even though this trap is supposed to be kept out of the sunlight, people may not adhere to that recommendation.

2) This trap is very heavy for its size.  When I posted on one feral cat group about the fact that I use a heavy trap (30 lbs), I did not realize that ACA’s trap was so small.  My trap's inside dimensions are 44” x  44”.  The ACA trap is a very small 34” x 34”.  10" makes a very big difference when dropping a trap on a fast animal.

My PVC pipe trap is also fairly flexible which is going to be much less apt to hurt a cat than a heavy wooded trap but the bottom line is....pay attention to where the cats are when you pull the rope!  Any trap can hurt a cat if the trapper is careless.

Don't pull the rope if the cat's head is not in the food bowl.   I have broken this rule on occasion but I am very experienced and know when I can get away with it.  However.........

This video illustrating just how fast a cat can spin around and run out from under a trap - even a trap as large as mine. This movie is also a great example of what NOT to do when using a drop trap on a cat. I got overly confident since this cat was fairly tame - not very skittish. He was stuck on the roof of a hospital and nobody could approach him. Attempts had been made to trap him in a conventional trap. I wanted to video catching the cat but by the time I turned on the camera and got my hand back on my rope, the cat had started to turn around. I decided to pull the rope anyway which proved to be a big mistake in this instance although I have gotten away with it many times since then with other cats.  I always warn people to wait until the cat's head is in the food bowl before pulling the rope. This cat got out from under the trap before it dropped.  This is much more apt to happen with a smaller trap.

(As a side note, the cat in the above video was perfectly fine after escaping from the trap.  He was later trapped and is now in a safe and loving home.)

With the ACA trap, cats and kittens stand a much higher chance of getting hurt - especially with INexperienced trappers.  That is a key issue.  Many people purchasing this trap are inexperienced with drop trap usage. 

That said, I will not trap with a light drop trap since cats will be more apt to get out from under them - especially if trapping more then one cat.  If one cat goes up and lifts up the trap even slightly....while the other one is down....the 'down' cat can escape from under the trap.  When I drop a trap over a cat, I want to know that the cat will not be able to lift the trap up.   My personal solution is to use a heavy trap but one that is bigger than the ACA trap.

I understand why people build small drop traps (easier to store, handle, and ship) but, personally, I hate them.  They do injure tails and there is less room for error.  I can see having it be 36” x 36” in a NON-folding trap because of the difficulty of storing and transporting a large, non-folding trap but with a folding trap, we don't need to be so stingy with the size.

I have dropped my trap on 4 adults and 1 teenager at one time.  However, I would NOT recommend that anybody without sufficient experience – and a large, heavy trap - attempt this.  (Obviously, you also need enough transfer traps to handle every cat that you trap unless you catch some with earclips that you will be letting loose.)

3) If someone is to use this trap, they need a double stand - for safety reasons.  There is no way that I would set this up on a single stand and then have to sit there and hold my breath wondering if that raccoon, cat, or kitten was going to knock it down on the head of another animal.  I would be a nervous wreck.

Single stands can be adequate for fixed traps but they are not as safe when used with folding traps unless that folding trap is very rigid when open – which this one is not.

Here is a picture of a cheap (under $2) and easy-to-build (time - less than 5 minutes) PVC pipe stand:

There are no negatives to using a double stand - there are only positives.  I am much more relaxed when using a double stand because I know that only *I* can cause the trap to drop.

4)  Regarding the spring-loaded eye hook:  Geometrically.....there is no way for that one hook to hold it open in a *steady* position.

5)  The feet for the tail gap are not doing the job.  The feet are only 3/8" tall and when the sides were put on, they were applied lower than the front and so there was only a 1/4" gap.  I cringe when I think of all of the tails being painfully injured by this heavy, wooden trap crashing down on them.

This picture shows a towel under the trap to simulate the body of a cat as if his head would be in the food bowl. Notice where the tail would be. It would be right under the edge of the trap.  (The kitten under the trap is only 10 weeks old.)

Too many people do not realize how these traps do injure tails because the trapper can't see it and the vet never looks. The cat is under general anesthesia just to be spayed/neutered. Nobody is radiographing its tail.  Aside from blunt force trauma to the tail, cats can also experience 'traction' injuries whereby the tail is stuck and the cat runs off - pulling on the tail and causing neurological damage.

A cat's tail is 12-13" long.  At the base it is ~3/4" thick....mid-way it is 5/8" thick...and about 4" from the end it is 3/8" thick.

Because my trap is 10" wider than the ACA trap, I can get by with a smaller gap but I still make it a 5/8” gap just to be safe.

When re-making the ACA trap, after removing the netting, I removed the side panels and raised them to leave a 3/4" gap.

Laura from HubCats pointed out that the above measurements only hold true if on perfectly flat ground.  If the ground is not flat and has bumps in it, that ‘tail gap’ can be quickly closed resulting in an injured tail.

6) The screws are not adequate for this trap. This wood is like butter and there is no purchase for the very shallow-thread screws that are being used.  Machine screws and nuts - preferably, nylon lock nuts to keep them from vibrating loose -  need to be used given the jarring that this trap will have to withstand.

When I first opened the trap, I noticed a screw on the ground.  It had fallen out of one of the hinges.  The one next to it was half way out, and the third one could easily be unscrewed with just my fingers.  This is a picture taken straight out of the box. Also, notice the inadequate gap between the bottom of the trap and the floor.

When I tried to tighten the other screws, they just spun and spun and spun.  There was no purchase. This wood is so soft that you don't even have to drill a hole to put a screw in it. You can just screw it in without drilling. 

Hex head screws were used. These are the kind that most people do not have a tool for.  Everyone has a Philips or a slotted screwdriver but not everyone has a socket set handy.

Considering how the hinges and screws loosened up just from being transported across country, one can only imagine what shape they will be in after the trap is dropped a few times.

It is my understanding that some of the original ACA traps were made with plywood.  Plywood has better purchase than the wood used on the trap that ACA sent to me.  However, I would still not trust the use of anything but machine screws and nuts even in plywood. 

I removed all of the screws, drilled holes completely through the wood, and replaced them with 1 1/8" machine screws and nylon lock nuts. 

7) I am a stickler for using bungee cords to attach the wire trap to the drop trap so that there is no way that a cat could escape. 

This is especially important with a big, powerful tom cat that can hit the end of the wire trap hard and separate it from the drop trap.  ACA put eyescrews on the door of the trap that they sent to me but eyescrews were not put on the original traps that they sold.  I use Tomahawk 608s that are 12" tall.  The placement of screws on the ACA trap are 9" from the ground so they would work ok with my trap although I like them at 8" to pull more centrally on the trap.

Some people use 9"x9" traps so the placement of the eyescrews on the drop trap that ACA sent to me would be too high for this size of a trap.  They should be about 6" or 7” from the ground. That way, all heights of traps can be accommodated. 

8)  It is very frustrating - not to mention hard on one's back - to handle this trap. There is nothing to keep it closed and there are no handles to carry it by.  I added handles to it.

The bungee cords that I applied to the door hook onto eyescrews that I added to the back panel.  This keeps the trap closed.

9)  I would be very nervous about following ACA’s recommendation of turning the trap on its side and using the front door to transfer unless you are using a trap divider This suggestion is being made if the user does not have a trap with a guillotine back door.  If you do this, you may very well have a cat escape so be very careful.  Inexperienced trappers usually underestimate just how fast and strong a feral cat can be when in a panic.

I realize that this is not the critique that ACA was hoping for but my first and foremost concern is for the animals and their safety.  I am hoping that with ideas from experienced trappers, ACA will come up with a safer trap that is built to last.  It will most likely have a higher price point (my trap costs ~$100 just for the materials) but quality and safety are critical issues that need to be addressed before this trap is put into use.


Updated June, 2010

Lisa A. Pierson, DVM

DrPierson@catinfo.org


 


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