For the past couple of days I have been busy preparing and executing a plan to trap spay/neuter and release feral cats who live across the street from me under a house that has been for sale for way too long. It is the first time in my life I have done this. I don’t think I set out to do anything about them, events just conspired to make my actions happen. Mainly it was that I adopted my own kitten this year and he goes outside on supervised walks now and that is when I started noticing them.
Getting involved with feral cats make me think about inequalities in our human society. There are disturbing parallels.
For example, I found out that what I thought were three sibling kittens are in fact a male 2 years old, a female one year old and another female 10 months old. I had heard from another neighbor that there was a momma cat that was hit by a car and had six kittens and she took three. I thought these might have been the other set as they were so tiny. They weighed 7.5, 6 and 5 lbs, respectively -- after the probably 2lbs each they have put on since I started feeding them. My own kitten (the only animal we have currently) is 9 months and about 12.5 lbs, nearly twice the size of the two year old. The vet says if ferals don’t eat as well as a domestic cat, they stay small.
Speaking of vets, they were very nice and competent, but the closest one to my house that participated in the Spay Neuter Release program I am going through is in a poorer area of the city right next to the noisy freeway entrance. I have two vets within walking distance of me and they don’t participate. Not that I blame them. I am sure it is much easier to pay their downtown rents with the full-priced customers from my neighborhood, and the reduced rates at the other place are easier to cover with lower rents that go with unsavory parts of town. In fact, maybe they even stay in business through hard times with the constant income of ferals from more affluent neighborhoods like mine.
To mark a feral cat they have to tip the left ear. That is a universal sign they have been spayed or neutered and they carry the sign with them for life. People normally don’t adopt ferals because they won’t warm up to a humans and their civilized lives so easily, so that is why if they are beyond a certain age, they are released back from where they came.
A non-spayed feral cat in a span of 10 years is capable of having 150 babies. It was a let down to me to realize that their mother is still out there. And I think I know who she is. I have seen a fluffy, very pretty cat come to house a couple of times to watch these three eat (and maybe eat leftovers herself). She was so pretty I thought she must belong to someone, but now that I think about it she was very skittish. I wonder what her life is like if she is having babies every few months, and how many she has lost for whatever reason. She was there when I caught the last one in the trap, just watching me.
Feral cats look at you with a quiet, forlorn stare unlike the mischievous, playful, possessive or loving looks I get from my own little guy. It is like they know their situation in life and have so many fears of something worse.
In the morning when my guy goes out he likes to play. The one feral he plays with wants to eat first before he can play. It reminds me of the philosophy of Head Start programs – that kids can’t learn if they are hungry.
I have had some people on my street thank me for trapping and fixing the cats, and tell me they have thought about it and just didn’t have time, or whatever. But then they also say they didn’t want to feed them because they would start hanging around their houses as well. The problem would become theirs. They warn me that helping the cats will make them mine.
I also instructed the vets to vaccinate all the ferals. They told me almost all feral cats carry feline leukemia, though, and if they already have it, the vaccine won’t help. So, even if my kitten is vaccinated he could get it. “But my cat plays with one of them,” I told the vet tech. She told me just to let him enjoy his life and not worry too much about it. Still, I’ve thought about making my cat own cat stay indoors from now on; about segregating and protecting him somehow from them. The literature also says that once they are “fixed” other ferals will shun them and not join their colony because they can’t reproduce.
And then there is the question of making them dependent on aid. I can’t see myself not continuing to feed the cats now if they are hungry, but I wonder whether perhaps I should wean them off the quantity of food to make them truly more self-sufficient so they go and catch mice or other things that cats can live on in a suburban area. But that’s a tricky thing to do in practice. It takes some thoughtful policy.
It is a tough life for feral cats, but if more people trapped and fixed them, maybe the shelters wouldn’t be full of them, and a higher percentage of cats in general would find a home.
When all is said and done, maybe these have. ☺