We had the carriers in the back of the car, the two conversational young long-haired black cats commenting on the journey. We found our way to the urban neighborhood, up steep streets, around narrow curves with tall narrow homes above and below on both sides, a fair number of them boarded up or simply run down, and one or two open spots like missing teeth, rising up above the city to one of the very old neighborhoods, and found the approximate block address we had been given for their release. Finding a grassy area at the top of a tree-covered hillside with homes on either side we decided it was a likely spot for stray and feral cats to find accommodation—quiet, shelter, safety, but homes nearby and likely the caretaker who had apparently been feeding these two.
But we didn’t know who had dropped them at the shelter, and you don’t release a colony cat just anywhere. They need to get back to their territory, or they will die trying. We asked a few people passing if they’d seen cats anywhere, specifically two young black cats, and we heard suggestions of other places near but not near the block we were on, nor had anyone seen these cats; we were also glad no one seemed hostile to the idea of cats in the neighborhood.
After the conversations and a little more exploration, we decided we were likely close enough that they could safely find their spot, which might also be in an abandoned home, an old garage, or inside the open foundation of a house that was now only a memory.
I looked at the two inside the back of the car, in their individual carriers. They engaged in frequent discussions, sending brief meows from one carrier to the other in a kind of call and response, the first slightly higher pitched than the other, “Meow-meow…meow-meow…meow-meow….”, and now stopped and looked at me with round gold eyes. They were clearly not feral. Feral cats don’t talk to each other. They looked frightened, but not hostile, like two cats who had escaped the house and had no idea what had happened to them, not cats who’d never shared their lives with humans. And yet, they’d been trapped on this street and taken in, and this was where they were to return.
Placing the carriers side by side on the grass at the top of the hillside facing the trees, we could hear them sending brief meows to each other. We looked at each other over the carriers and agreed to open the doors at the same time. Reaching down, we pulled the door clasps and opened each door, and…
Nothing happened. The cats were silent, and not one whisker appeared at either doorway. We looked at each other and laughed.
“This has never happened!”
“Maybe they just need some time.”
As we looked at the carriers the cat on the left came to the door of his carrier and cautiously emerged and without even looking around simply run around the door into the other carrier. I quickly reached down and closed the door.
“We’re not releasing these two,” I said , then looked in to see the two huddled together in the back, with big round gold eyes.
“Not until we find out more,” Michelle agreed.
So we canvassed the street, though on a Wednesday morning there weren’t too many people home. Ultimately, we saw one long-haired gray cat on a small porch and headed for that house to meet the cat and hopefully the owner. Sometimes cats really are guides to things we need to know.
A woman emerged from the door and we introduced ourselves and asked about the gray cat, who had gone inside, and if she’d seen two long-haired black kittens in the area.
It turned out she had, and the orange cat and two others she had inside were hers, cats she had rescued from the street. She and her son had been feeding those two black kittens in the open garage across the street. She had no idea where they had come from, they were not friendly and affectionate, but they were not dangerous. She felt she could not take them in, and while she had fed cats outdoors—that was how she had adopted the ones she had now—she was concerned for their safety if they remained living outdoors. Her son had lured them into a carrier together using food, and when they were inside simply shut the door, and taken them to the shelter to surrender them.
We talked to the woman for a while, asked if she might decide to feed them anyway if we released them in the garage, or if she might actually foster them for later adoption, and a few other options that would not mean dropping them off with no real caretaker or taking them back to the shelter. She politely declined all offers. We left her with information about the Homeless Cat Management Team just in case more cats would show up. It was clear she didn’t realize the two cats had little chance of survival in a crowded shelter in August; in fact their lives had only been spared because HCMT had been alerted to the two and agreed to take responsibility for them so they’d had their surgeries instead of being assessed as unadoptable and lost their lives that day.
“Somebody dumped them,” I said to Michelle as we walked away. “Someone saw her cat or other cats, or just a convenient street and dropped them of. Two scared kitties ran into the garage and stayed there.”
Michelle and I reconnoitered back at the carriers, and she decided to message the rescue group about the situation, and see if there were any other options for these two cats including the possibility of foster and socialization. They might be a little old for that, and everyone was full of kittens, but it was their only option for remaining alive.
. . . . . . .
These were two of three stray black cats who were trapped and taken to the shelter in August. In one of the occasional runs I make to the shelter to pick up cats after surgery in the afternoon, I packed these three in my car for the ride home; they would stay somewhere overnight to continue recovering and be released back to their home neighborhood the next day.
Since it was a warm late August afternoon they had stayed on my porch in their carriers with light covers. Typically I don’t hold these cats overnight because I have no good place to isolate them, but the person who was to pick them up couldn’t make it here and my bathroom was temporarily open between the loss of Kennedy and the arrival of Smokie so I arranged them in and outside my tub, gave them food and water, and shut out the lights so they could relax.
The third cat in the group was a female from an entirely different area, a small town just south of me, and she had been intentionally trapped as a feral cat in a large colony of cats who were apparently being neglected and permitted to breed. Several people had checked the area and talked to several businesses who were familiar with the cats. A friend of mine had patronized one of the businesses and found out more when she went to park behind it and a little tabby kitten had run out into the alley, and turned out to be quite friendly. She is allergic to cats, but let me know, and the rescue group also went to look, set traps and caught several cats and kittens in various degrees of friendliness.
This female was solid black and completely silent, never moved when I was near her on the porch or in the bathroom, though she carefully watched me. I named her “Girly” because it was the first word that came to mind. She was a young adult and had been pregnant, so she would stay with me for an extra day of recovery and observation. Feral cats are spayed and their kittens aborted because they can’t be released back to their territory to give birth to their kittens in hopes we’ll find them again later, because likely we won’t. Keeping a feral cat in a cage for the duration of her pregnancy and the months to raise the kittens is stressful on a cat who is not socialized, and many will spontaneously abort their kittens, or refuse to eat or drink or injure themselves or their kittens trying to escape because they feel the situation is unsafe. The spay surgery is completely safe at that time though the incision is a little larger, so she gets an extra day and as much food and water as she can take in while she’s recovering.
Though clearly feral, I safely opened Girly’s carrier door and slipped a dish of canned food and a bowl of water in for her without any open hostility from her. When Michelle and I returned from our unsuccessful attempt to release the two black kittens, she helped me to move her to another carrier with a clean pee pad, which was how feral cats take care of the necessary stuff while in recovery.
The next day I placed her in my car and drove to the spot she’d been trapped. A u-shaped alley and street led off of and back to a residential street, and I pulled in on a hot summer afternoon and slowly drove around looking for safe spots to let her go where she might not run into traffic of any sort. And around. And around. I saw the wooden pallets along a fence my friend had described, and the gravel lot described by the person who had trapped the cat. I had not released a cat in years, and never one I hadn’t trapped, one whose home territory and even caretaker I wasn’t familiar with. I thought of the two boys from the day before, and of at least one of the other cats who’d been trapped, and wondered if she, too, would turn out to be friendly. Would she run off out of fear? Would I let her go when I should have kept her? I really did not have a sense that she was socialized in any way. She was keeping herself safe by being silent and undetected.
Eventually I parked my car by the gravel lot, and sat quietly to get a sense for the area, any loud noises, people, traffic patterns. I would set this girl’s carrier in the shade beside a car in the lot where it was open to the rest of the lot and the row of houses where she had likely lived, open the door, and see what she did. I did as planned and stepped back with the carrier door open. A few seconds went by in the perfect summer afternoon, then she appeared in the doorway, looked around, and darted across the parking lot, behind the cars, around the corner of the house and down the sidewalk, disappearing around the third house. Though she would live on the street she would have food and shelter and the company of other cats familiar to her, and she would not endure constant pregnancy and childbirth, kittens and herself to be fed and protected against humans and predators. She knew exactly where she was. She was home.
. . . . . . .
The two boys found a foster home that day, and are now named Leo and Lucifer. Leo is apparently having an easier time of it, though Lucifer isn’t sure of humans yet.
And two kittens came back from their foster home to the shelter and were neutered the same day as Leo and Lucifer. They recovered from surgery and the next day one of the kittens went out onto the adoption floor and found a home right away.
The other kitten was frightened, acting unsocialized, and couldn’t be handled. He was not adoptable and would not be put up for adoption. If a foster wasn’t found he would be euthanized that night. Again HCMT was contacted to see if they could help in any way, even to find a colony for him to live with.
Guess who that kitten was?
Last night was the first time he sat on my lap when he wasn’t in the kitten room. You can read more about Smokie here.
All cats must have a chance to be who they are, whether they are socialized or not, pets or feral colony cats. And during this week to celebrate feral cats, we should remember they have just as much a right to compassion as our pets.
Thanks so much to Michelle Elgersma for helping me manage all those cats!
Help Feral Cats This Winter
We not only provide spay and neuter surgery as well as vaccines for the community cats we care for, we also provide emergency veterinary care, food when necessary, and we make shelters for them to live in over the winter. We’ve had a few shelter-making parties with Rubbermaid containers and styrofoam coolers, but we are running short of supplies. Right now we need $188 to buy tape and plastic so we can convert coolers into shelters this weekend and a few weekends in the future, so we can distribute shelters to as many cats as we can. Anything you’d like to donate would be greatly appreciated, though these donations are not tax-deductible. You can Paypal to email@example.com.
Read more stories in my weekly Rescue Stories series.
Read more Essays on The Creative Cat.
Can’t adopt? Foster! Can’t foster? Donate or volunteer.
There are so many ways you can help cats who need homes and care. You may not have room to adopt another cat, but can foster a cat or kitten for a few weeks. If not that, you can volunteer at a shelter or with a rescue, or donate. You do this because you love your cat, and by doing so you help all cats. No matter which of these actions you take, you help to save a life, and make life better for all cats.
- Adopt one of the cats I’ve posted here, or from any shelter or rescue near you, or from Petfinder, to open up a space for another cat to be rescued and fostered.
- Offer to foster cats or kittens for a shelter or rescue near you.
- Volunteer at a shelter or rescue.
- Find a group of volunteers who work with homeless cats and help them with their efforts.
- Donate to a shelter or rescue near you.
If you can foster kittens or adults cats to help prepare them for a forever home, please run to your nearest shelter and find a cat who needs you! Anyone can help with this effort at any level, even if all you do is donate to a shelter or rescue so they can help to pay for the food or medications needed for their foster, or the spay/neuter/veterinary care during a clinic.
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