Every week, under cover of darkness, a group of Canberrans prowl through derelict buildings and lonely industrial areas in search of a particularly slippery quarry: stray cats.
Armed with torches and roast chicken, volunteers lie in wait for hours to catch homeless felines, desex them and - if all goes to plan - find them loving owners.
"We always have permission to be there but some places are spooky after dark," said Anna Reimondos of Street Cat Alliance.
It can get downright hairy on occasion too, with rescuers scaling trees or climbing through drains to woo street cats back to domestic bliss. But all this hard work (not to mention costly vet bills) comes at their own expense.
Now Canberra's rescue groups say they are struggling to keep going without government funding as demand soars.
The RSPCA is funded by the government to take in cats across Canberra and will collect strays on occasion, but most of the legwork is done by about five local groups relying solely on donations.
"Canberra's at a bit of a cat crisis," said Amanda Doelle of Canberra Pet Rescue. "And it's getting worse because we're not getting to the source of the issue."
A coalition of rescue organisations have now raised serious concerns with the ACT government's draft cat management plan, which sets out a bold vision to rehome strays and reduce the impact of feral cats on wildlife over the next decade.
They fear the strategy will transplant methods of controlling wild regional populations, such as the use of toxic 1080 bait, to the city's street cats without getting to the heart of the problem: reproduction.
"There's no research on how cats are actually affecting Canberra wildlife," Ms Doelle said.
"And if you take out a few cats it just creates a vacuum effect with more resources for other cats to move in."
One cat will have at least three litters a year on average.Amanda Doelle
While the groups back affordable desexing along with increased predator-proof fencing, they are also calling for a funded trap, neuter and return (TNR) program for animals which cannot be rehomed, a method which has been used overseas to bring down stray populations long-term.
Last year, Street Cat Alliance took in 120 cats, most of which were rehomed, and returned 21 desexed through TNR.
"We don't want cats hurting wildlife," Ms Reimondos said. "But we almost never find cats near homes or bush."
Groups say most cat colonies roam industrial parks and office blocks and - in one recent case - a police evidence warehouse.
"A lot of the workers that know these cats are very protective, we never return cats where they're not wanted," Ms Reimondos said.
"We get tradies secretly feeding kittens. We've even had cases where staff moved cats the day pest control came and then put them back when it was all clear. The community already trusts us to manage these cats without euthanasia."
A RSPCA ACT spokeswoman said TNR might conflict with some existing animal welfare and pest control laws but could be a good option in areas where strays had a limited impact on wildlife. It would need to be well managed and resourced long-term, she said, but would be difficult to recommend as a broad strategy.
A government spokeswoman said there were no plans to use 1080 bait on unowned cat populations. As cat containment expands across the ACT, Domestic Animal Services has beefed up its facilities to take on felines short-term and, in the coming months, the RSPCA will also launch a low-cost desexing program through a $25,000 government grant.
"[We're not] considering funding cat rescue groups, however they are welcome to request funding through the budget process," the spokeswoman said.
Minister for City Services Chris Steel said public interest in the new cat plan had been strong, with more than 4000 people taking part in a survey and more than 100 writing submissions. All feedback would be considered carefully in finalising the plan, he said.
While rescue groups have hit out at one of its main proposals for more mandatory cat containment, Ms Reimondos said keeping cats indoors was a good strategy, not only to protect wildlife but to ensure the pet's own safety.
"But we have heard concerns from people, particularly in rental properties, about the cost of containing cats and from people who've had serious problems bringing usually outdoor cats inside," she said.
The RSPCA supports a staggered roll-out of cat containment that keeps animal welfare front of mind.
Federal and state governments across the country have begun cracking down on feral cat populations in recent years to protect native species.