Above, a line of pawprints in the snow from my front yard to the gate into my back yard during this past frigid week. Often it takes a snowfall to know there are feline visitors to our yards. What cats are these? How can cats be out in this weather and not freeze to death? What do I do about it? I’ve been observing the cats in my yard, and in my neighborhood, since I moved here 28 years ago. I know which cat left these prints, going and coming back, because when it’s not snowy I observe the feline traffic by watching my own cats, who keep close watch on their territory; he is one of the ferals already being fed who has been visiting daily. But sometimes pawprints in the snow are the first indication that there are cats outdoors in your neighborhood. If you don’t know who the cat or cats are, keep watch, set up a trail camera, somehow find out who the cats are and make sure they have food and shelter, and if they don’t, make sure they do.
It’s amazing what some cats can live through, but when the weather bottoms out with nights below zero and they have no real shelter they are in very real danger of freezing to death or developing an illness from constant exposure. I help to keep an eye on the cats and other pets and animals around my neighborhood, as I always have. When situations come up I first give people instructions and guidance on how to handle it be it trapping ferals, bringing in friendly cats and fostering, safe ways to catch a dog, and wildlife issues, because I can’t run out to every circumstance, and this time there was an interesting twist in a young couple I met by accident who were feeding cats and willing to help that no one even knew about.
But sometimes it’s an emergency and there is no time for instruction. On Thursday night a rescuer in one of the groups shared a message from, ironically, a neighbor of mine who I didn’t know, but lives in a neighborhood where there are other cat owners and rescuers. She spoke up about the cats on her street crying outside, tiptoeing across ice and looking for warmth, neglected by their owners. I met there with the rescuer, Melanie, on Friday morning to see five cats out in the morning cold and pretty much identified the house they came from. Melanie fed canned food to a couple of them, the others ran into a yard. This neighborhood is on the same street as mine and the house is really only two blocks from mine, but because of the terrain, a steep hill that makes the street a dead end, then begins again at the bottom of that hill (and a few blocks farther turns into a set of municipal steps down to the street below), I rarely drove on this portion of the street.
Melanie had purchased containers for shelters, so as we decided the best way to help these cats I decided I could make the shelters with help if need be, and I would contact others I knew in that neighborhood for more information, and I took the food to give to the person who had posted and was feeding.
I had seen leftover bales of straw in a shelter along the trail when I’d been there recently and asked if there were one or two extra, knowing I’d eventually use it for cat shelters, or if not I’d use it in my garden in the summer. So after I left Melanie I went right out to the trail when the temperature was about 4 degrees and windy and made a half-mile round trip to the shelter to drag a bale of stray straw back to my car across the snow with a bungee cord, thinking of how many ways I could die in this cold if I fell and no one found me. And ironically I missed the message that Denise at the top of the hill had some straw left from shelters for her ferals, but I like having a bale of straw in the back of my car, I thought.
I then stopped at the local discount store for smaller shelters that would fit inside the larger shelters Melanie had bought. I would put the smaller shelter inside the larger, cut holes that lined up, and then tuck straw under and around the smaller shelter as insulation, and add more straw inside the smaller shelter for a cozy bed for a kitty. The lid snapped on the smaller shelter with more straw on top, and the lid snapped onto the outside shelter, making it fairly airtight. Then I went home to warm up and get some work done, and try to contact the person who had messaged and the other cat people I knew in that neighborhood throughout the day.
The woman who had originally messaged offered to have shelters in her yard and to feed them, giving me her address and a description of her house with her makeshift shelters and a bowl of food outside. By the time I’d confirmed that the sun had set and the temperature dropped with more wind and it was about 7:00 p.m. and back to 4 degrees. But I couldn’t handle the thought of those cats outside with no shelters, so I decided I’d make them as quickly as possible and head over there. Everything was still in my car because I have no space in the house—even my own empty containers are out on the deck right now—and the bale of straw was in the back of my car and certainly not coming into the house. I cut the openings in the containers in the house, carefully supurrvised by my very lucky warm and well-fed rescues, and decided I’d just open up the back of my car and stuff them with straw out there on the street. Usually the openings for the kitties are round but because of how the face of the container was molded I had to make them square, which saved a little time, and stuffing them with straw went quickly. I ended up making all three in about 45 minutes, possibly because it was so cold outside I just wanted to get it done. They weren’t the neatest shelters I’ve ever made with straw hanging out here and there.
I took the food Melanie had purchased and stopped at the house where she had fed the cats that morning, and the house where I thought the concerned neighbor lived. Someone was watching from inside and then came out to talk to me about the cats and the shelters, and then a woman drove up with pizza and joined in. I asked her if she was the neighbor who had contacted us and she said no…and we all realized at once that I wasn’t at the house I’d been looking for, but I had come to the right house nonetheless. They had also been feeding for a year or so, knew of the cats across the street AND had been looking for information on TNR. I told them all about our clinics and trapping and they agreed that if they could borrow traps they’d trap any cat who needed to be fixed, watch the trap, hold them overnight or more, and be happy to help. I replaced a shelter they had with one of the ones I made and they already had cat food, though they have two dogs, because they feed all the time. Bonus!
I headed down to the original neighbor’s house where that morning I’d seen a gray cat on the windowsill outside, and replaced her boxes with a shelter on the porch, put the other on the side of the house, and gave her the food. I told her how grateful I was she had spoken up and we could help her and the neighbors with these cats, especially knowing that the calico and tabby I’d seen that morning were females and not spayed.
Those cats are covered with two kind neighbors, others in the neighborhood who care, and having them in the network. Hopefully we can TNR them in the next month or two. After all that it was time for hot cocoa and cuddling with my VERY lucky housepanthers!
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This award-winning art was inspired by working in post op at the May 25, 2014 Homeless Cat Management Team TNR clinic. I’ll make a $5.00 donation to HCMT for each poster sold to help spay and neuter more cats so there won’t be so many to rescue. Quantity discounts are available if you want a stack for a clinic or event. Read more about this artwork and purchase a print of this sketch.
All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission, although links to your site are more than welcome and are shared. Please ask if you are interested in using and image or story in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of an image or a product including it, check my animal and nature website Portraits of Animals to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.
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