On Sunday morning, with a chill in the air and lingering frost, the carrier doors housing cats numbered 1, 5 and 16 were swung open near the entrance to a Lower Sackville mobile home park.

The three cats, who each took off like a shot, were the last of the animals trapped, spayed or neutered and then returned back to their natural home in Manor Park, with winterized shelters and amenable residents in place to feed and watch over them for illnesses or injuries.

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Of the some 40 cats trapped, only 10 were returned, with the remainder adopted or waiting for adoption, including three kittens. Four adults were euthanized for illness.

After the three sprinted for the woods, no doubt relieved to be back in their familiar stomping grounds, I sat in my car for several minutes and with misty eyes reflected on the week that had been.

The exhilarating and exhausting work started the Sunday before, with trappers arriving after dark, vehicles jammed with humane traps and plastic carriers should they succeed in nabbing a cat.

We knew they were out there. We had seen them and had gotten many calls about stray and roaming cats in the park, which has about 250 mobile homes.

We had set our sights high.

Wouldn’t it be great to get 20 cats caught in three days? We hoped we could get that many.

The first night, we caught 25. In about two hours. The words fish and barrel were thrown around.

H.E. double hockey sticks. This is for real.

We had already partnered with the SPCA’s spay and neuter clinic to do 20 surgeries Wednesday. And after the first night we had 25 cats.

Enter air traffic controller-major general Linda Felix of Spay Day HRM (whom I volunteer with). Spay Day HRM is the umbrella group for the project, which had been in the planning stages for a few months.

Felix promptly got on the phone, and the next day the first of the cats were shipped off to have their surgeries at another veterinary clinic.

We still had plenty for the SPCA and more nights to trap.

We also had to scramble to borrow more kennels (thank you SPCA, Homeward Bound and others), as well as get more food dishes and litter boxes.

Night 2: Be vewwy, vewwy quiet. There are more out there, and our trappers are ready and waiting with their stinky food as bait. Of course some of the pressure is off because of our first-night success, but we are determined to help as many kitties as possible.

While this was a trap, neuter and return project, we were also committed to finding homes for as many as possible since several seemed quite friendly despite living outdoors.

We also wanted to get our hands on some kittens spotted in the area.

On Monday night, the trapper ladies (cat rescue is almost entirely the domain of women) were once again successful, snagging another six, along with an owned cat who had a horrible untreated wound after being shot with a BB gun.

He, too, was brought into our care as the owner couldn’t afford veterinary treatment. We neutered him as well. After receiving treatments for the gaping hole in his back, he will return to his family.

End of Day 2: 31 cats trapped. And we still had our big spay day at the SPCA to come, with the pressure eased by news the clinic would do 22 surgeries. Phew.

In the meantime, we had also been getting calls from residents who had been feeding cats around their homes and had grown attached to them. Could we fix them, too? Yep. We sure could, and we did. And some of those cats ended up indoors afterwards. Through the winter, we plan to focus on unaltered owned cats in the park that also contribute to the overpopulation problem.

On Tuesday, the night before the bulk of the surgeries, volunteers with veterinary experience came in and tested the cats for various diseases and treated them for fleas and parasites, a money and time-saving measure.

Then came the big day. Bright and early, the SPCA van pulled up to our shelter and 22 cats were taken a few short kilometres away for the spay-neuter production line, the first such one-day effort for the clinic, which opened in the spring and has since been providing the service to low-income households and rescues.

At the end of the day, with everything running like clockwork, the kitties returned to their temporary home for a few more days of rest and relaxation.

In subsequent days, more were spayed and neutered at other clinics, and we hit the jackpot late in the week by finding three kittens under a trailer that we had been hearing about, bringing our grand total to 40 (a number likely to go up as we are also helping another park resident with cats around her property).

Our other exciting day was Friday, when two staff members of the SPCA came and picked out about 13 friendlies that they will shelter and find homes for.

There were so many moving parts and crucial elements to the venture, it makes one’s head spin.

We are forever thankful for the blessing and help of the park’s owners, the SPCA, Carnegy Animal Hospital, PetFocus Veterinary Group, our expert trappers and caregivers, litter scoopers, floor sweepers, winterized shelter makers, laundry doers and kitty cuddlers.

We are also grateful to those who stepped up to foster, and, perhaps most importantly, those who donated crucial goods and money. This entire project was paid for by funds raised by Spay Day, the Tuxedo Party, 2nd Chance Charity and others.

Another significant part of this operation was our temporary shelter. Without this nondescript but exceptionally functional building in a Dartmouth industrial park — donated for the week by some very generous individuals — we couldn’t have pulled this off.

We are also exceptionally thankful for the park residents who stepped up to care for these cats before and after their return. One publicity shy resident, in particular, went above and beyond to feed and monitor the cats’ safety while continuously looking for help for them.

While this may not be the biggest trap, neuter and return project ever done, it is the biggest one to touch my heart.

Pat Lee is an editor at thechronicleherald.ca and a volunteer with various animal rescue organizations, including the Nova Scotia SPCA.