I looked up from working in my yard on a summer afternoon in 2014 because I’d seen a cat-shaped and cat-colored something moving in the corner of my vision. When I looked in that direction I did indeed see a juvenile fluffy orange kitty at the corner of the next street down, three houses and across a street away. I didn’t recognize the cat but observed its behavior for a few minutes to determine if it seemed lost and frightened or was a confident outdoor cat exploring its territory, possibly a juvenile delinquent on hormones considering a takeover of the neighborhood.
Some of my neighbors do let their cats outside and I don’t often win the argument for keeping them in, though I have ended up with a few of the cats over the years. Often the reason they are outdoors is some behavioral infraction, and somehow putting them outdoors is supposed to help them, and that may be this kitty’s story, of age for a first heat or beginning to spray. I try to get to know every cat I see and find out where it belongs and what the story is, or if it doesn’t belong to anyone, and here was one more.
This little one was a mix of bravado and cringing on the sidewalk when there was any noise of unknown origin so I thought it was probably wandering, but without much outdoor experience. I remember thinking it was also the beginning of a month in a neighborhood with a number of rental houses and apartments, and I’d seen how that often ended for cats through the years from the autumn I moved in here to find a backyard full of cats that had come from the street of rented apartments behind me.
So I put down my tools and slowly walked down the sidewalk. This neighborhood is quiet with little traffic most of the time so if he ran there was no street traffic to worry about, and I stood a chance of at least getting near him to see if there was a collar. I looked around at the sky and the houses and trees and glanced at the cat now and then so it wouldn’t feel me staring, and when it finally spotted me just a house away it crouched and started to run, then stopped, so I stopped. We played a little human and cat version of cat and mouse until I was just across the street. From that distance I could see the orange fur was kind of longish and might turn out to be medium or long, there was no white on chest or paws, and those eyes were still pretty round and kittenish. If there was a collar it was hidden in the slight ruff around its neck. Talking softly and still glancing around so that I was not staring threateningly I seemed to be gaining some trust as the cat was no longer flattening and starting to scurry but beginning to respond with upward tail swishes.
Darn, no camera. I had walked away and left it with my tools. If I couldn’t catch the cat I could at least get a photo and pass it around to find out where it belonged. I knew I couldn’t go back to my house to get my phone, my little point and shoot or my DSLR and expect the cat to wait.
I decided to keep eye contact, continue talking softy and slowly cross the street. I would probably have been able to capture the kitten and there would be no further story but for a noise somewhere a few streets away, possibly a siren on Main Street or something, and the kitten lost its nerve and turned around and took off down the sidewalk. I at least had one more question answered with his tail in the air as he ran away—intact male.
I followed in the direction he’d gone, and so began a two-year slow-speed chase around the neighborhood to try to catch this fluffy orange kitty. Few people had noticed him, no one knew where he’d come from, or if he lived anywhere. He would disappear for months and then I’d see him again on my street, sometimes spotlessly clean and well-fed, his fluffy fur without tangles, other times dirty and a little matted, and always leaving little messages on the steps and walls of neighbor’s yards. But I also saw him all over this hill, from side to side and top to bottom, so even though he usually looked clean and fed as if he lived indoors somewhere, he was certainly covering ground like the intact male cat he obviously still was. I do know a few people around here who have kept intact males…just ask Mimi about them.
The next year, and the next
Through 2015 I tried putting food out on a neighbor’s porch across the street where I’d seen a few older kittens from earlier that year and the fluffy orange kitty passing through, intending to trap any or all of them, but never caught any of them, partly because I came to find many more people than I realized fed cats all over the hill and it was impossible to get them hungry enough.
In February 2016 I had also joined our local Nextdoor group with the intent of networking about any cats, pets or strays, in our immediate surrounding neighborhoods who needed spay or neuter, and to organize the feeders and caretakers. Even as early as that the fluffy orange kitty was mentioned by several people on the streets around me. Several members posted on the original message when they saw him and offered to use their yard for a trap to catch him.
In March and April we began to trap the cats in the colony at the top of the hill and while we waited around the traps I walked around and talked to more neighbors in that area. Even though I saw him around at that time, we trapped two other intact males but not him. Several of us planned to trap him the next time he came around and I’d run there with a trap, but he must have been on to our conversations because when the trap got passed around, he was gone, though we didn’t give up asking around to see if he was owned by anyone.
But finally, when we had an arctic freeze at the beginning of December, he showed up again. Amanda Jean, who is the moderator of our Nextdoor group (and provided all the photos for this post) and who I had earlier helped with a stray cat who needed to be surrendered to a shelter, posted a few photos of none other than our orange boy and said he was eating under her front porch.
I hadn’t seen him at all since May, but he had come trotting down the sidewalk just a few days before. She had a winter cat shelter under her porch for anyone who came along and was happy to keep feeding him until we figured out where to take him for surgery and where he could stay before and after, and for a little assessment of his personality. Amanda has a dog and three cats, and her cats weren’t happy he was outside under their porch, and would not be happy if he was indoors in their house, and I have similar constraints here.
He was gone for a day or two and then was back, hungrier than ever, and it was apparent he was socialized and probably just frightened by his situation, showing up only at night or very early morning. The weather warmed a bit and then we were slammed with another cold front just before Christmas—when everyone was closed for a few days. Amanda was not only able to pet him but found him very friendly. We discussed a plan to trap him or just get him into a carrier and one of us would take him to one of the shelters, most likely Beaver County Humane Society (BCHS) because I knew they had room for cats like him. I also knew that they would notify either Amanda or me, whoever surrendered, if there was a problem with him, or they would notify HCMT/Pittsburgh CAT and if we had space we would often take cats like him depending on the issue.
He disappeared again but reappeared as the next cold front came in, and just after the new year Amanda messaged me that he was sitting on her front porch with her and she’d just put him in a carrier if I could get him to a shelter that afternoon. The timing wouldn’t work, but the snow and ice was collecting on his tail, and she decided just to take a chance and take him into her spare room for that night. An intact male with other animals in the house is a pretty good recipe for someone peeing where they shouldn’t, and outdoor cats can seem pretty calm until you confine them somehow, but she was willing to give it a chance. He was fine.
“He was extremely sweet, he was purring up a storm the entire time he was here, snuggling against me, and even climbing on my lap,” Amanda said. “At one point I brought a few blankets into the spare room and laid down on the floor and he laid down right next to me and laid his head on my arm. He is definitely a lover for sure, and will be someone’s lap cat.” She said he didn’t even seem very afraid to be in a new environment, even despite the fact that her house has the smells of a dog and 3 other cats, and that room has housed several other strays and rabbits as well, and she also moved him into a cage for overnight. “He made himself right at home immediately,” she said. “I think if he is timid or afraid at the shelter it’s just because he wants to be in a home with a human who cares about him.”
I contacted BCHS and confirmed they had the space and that our contact would be in the following morning. Amanda could surrender under her name and he’d get the full workup. If any socialization or medical issues impeded his adoption they would contact her or me and he could go to Pittsburgh CAT. He did fine on the ride in the car and being handled at the shelter, so there he was, finally, on his way to a forever home. He was named Clovis.
One thing I noticed wasn’t just that he stayed fairly clean of dirt and mats, but also of cuts and injuries. He might have been an intact male, but he certainly wasn’t a fighter. That possibly saved him from picking up FIV, easily spread by deep serious bite wounds during fighting with another infected cat.
Amanda and I followed him on the website and both promoted him for adoption, but he apparently developed a URI serious enough to need a foster home and medications soon after he arrived, so he was out for a while. He had been outdoors in some pretty brutal weather, and the repeated warm and cold can really weaken the immunity and the respiratory system on an animal living outdoors. By February he was back in and was adopted before we knew it. Who could pass up that fluffy orange kitty, an orange boy? I felt bad I hadn’t been able to catch him in all the time I’d been watching him, but maybe he came in at the right time so we could give him the best chances.
. . . . . . .
Rescuing a Cat
Rescuing a cat doesn’t take extra skills or even equipment, what it really takes is compassion and teamwork. We are all glad that Clovis turned out to be friendly and affectionate and with a little prep he could practically walk into a new forever home from the streets. But if he had needed socialization he would have been able to move to a foster home for a while, and if he had turned out to be difficult to socialize he would have been welcome to come back and join one of the caretakers in our neighborhood. It’s only because many of us are in communication about cats like Clovis and we will all work together to find a solution for them.
Neighbors and Community
Many people saw Clovis outside as well as me, and if we had known about each other sooner we might have been able to get him into a home a lot sooner. The Nextdoor group has proved to be helpful in networking about neighborhood cats, both pets and community cats, and lost pets too, and helps me to get in touch with people I don’t meet while I’m out walking around. But even when I’m trapping in a neighborhood that isn’t where I live, such as Overbrook last month, walking around and talking to people is a highly effective way to get information about cats in the community.
The other key to rescuing cats like Clovis is a shelter that provides affordable services and will work with people who surrender strays if the cat becomes ill or needs some socialization. That’s where a shelter like the Beaver County Humane Society can really work one-on-one with the community and provide both services and safety net for community cats that ensures their health and welfare no matter what they need. Providing that safety net includes three options if, for any reason such as medical or temperament, he couldn’t stay in the shelter: a system of foster homes, giving the person who surrendered the cat the option to take the cat back, and working with a rescue like Pittsburgh CAT and the Homeless Cat Management Team to provide services if foster homes are full, or to relocate him to a new caretaker. We are very lucky that shelters will work with cats in this way; it’s a goal for all shelters to save more lives.
Amanda and I messaged about options for Clovis before we knew he was so friendly, such as spay/neuter opportunities at clinics and shelters, and I could also share those with other members of the group. But going back to the beginning of Clovis’s story it would have worked out even better if I could have caught this guy when I first say him or brought him in sooner. With the pattern of his travels and absences and how friendly he was I would bet that one or two people took him in and then put him back out, possibly because he simply needed to be neutered to stop spraying—I’ve heard that story before. If they had known that a low-cost neuter had been available would that have made a difference?
In animal rescue we often say that domesticated animals are the responsibility of all of us because they are not wild, they depend on humans for survival. That’s why working together as a network, as a society, works so well when we need to bring animals to safety.
About Beaver County Humane Society
A few months ago I published a press release about BCHS losing $50,000 of their annual budget through budget cuts at the county level. They choose to do as much as they can to save every animal so that they never have to euthanize for temperament or space and to keep animals in their homes when behavior or finances cause an owner to consider surrendering a pet. They can only accomplish this with an adequate budget. Any donation is appreciated. It helps these committed animal rescuers save lives every day—and not have to make the decision to kill a healthy animal—and helps the rescues I volunteer for with our mission as well because not only do they send cats to us when they are full or cats need special handling, but we send some of our socialized cats and kittens to them for adoption. Working together works for animals. Visit the BCHS website for more information.
Somewhere I know I have photos of Clovis from around the neighborhood. I could not find them no matter how I searched my photos. I’ll probably find them next week. If I do, I’ll feature him.
Read other stories in my Rescue Stories series.
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