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The First Time I Saw Mariposa


…was just about a year ago, May 15, to be exact. The photo above is one of a series I took of her that day, until other cats began to show up. She is the same size and shape today, but without the wary expression. I’m not sure how old she was in this photo, or how old she is now, but it doesn’t really matter.

In September 2017 a message was shared on Facebook about a kitten someone had taken in, then put back out in the yard of an abandoned house. It turned out the address of the place was very close to my house in a small neighborhood across a small creek from me. I drove over and found a house by the description given of a cat tree on the back porch, as well as by talking to a very helpful woman walking her dog. The house, a duplex, was empty and a shambles, not fit for anything to live in. Indeed there were a few kittens there, and adult cats, but I also saw a big black cat with big white whiskers with a heart-shaped white spot on its chest who was eartipped, meaning someone had done some TNR at some point.

And I also saw a kitty who might have been Mariposa, but I’m just not sure. The kitty was the first I saw when I pulled up out in the alley, standing next to my car to watch for activity. I pulled out my DSLR and added the zoom lens. When a saw a kitty appear at the basement window, I snapped a photo, then slowly crept across the grass to get as close as I could for a better photo. The sun was so bright that the contrast flashed out highlights, and the overgrown shrub by the window kept moving in a breeze and my lens wouldn’t focus where I wanted it to. But here is what I got.

When I enlarge these in Photoshop, the first version of it looks like it might be a kitty like Mariposa, but the second closeup really doesn’t look like a long-haired kitty. So many kitties there had the same genetics and looked similar that it could have been any other kitty. But I still wonder.

Below I explain the timeline between that day in September 2017 and May 2018 when I really did see Mariposa and we stepped up our plans for trapping. I had found out the house was abandoned and might be demolished, found out the former owner and the bank, didn’t really clarify their plans for the house but did get permission from the owner to trap there and talked to neighbors about the plan for trapping and to hold onto their outdoor cats or mark them as owned so that I didn’t cart them off.

Although my town has a no-feeding ordinance, I also managed to arrange with the borough manager to explain what I planned and he passed that along to the police and public works, just in case someone called the police when they saw people walking around at night with flashlights, or there were any accidents or injuries while we were there. I also had some fosters to hold them and trapping plans pretty much arranged, and I would take any ferals to my friend Birgitta’s farm.

May 15, 2018


Just minutes after I pulled up and got out of my car and again stood to watch the yard for feline activity, a little cat came up from the basement door just behind that scrubby tree. The concrete slab at the top of the steps is right behind her. It’s clearly Mariposa, and I know that now, but at that moment she fit the description of at least three other cats in the crew. She was very cautious, even though I had seen the feeder had put food out just on the other side of that scrubby tree. She waited, watched and listened for a few minutes.

Then she crept along under the scrubby tree, out of sight, until she appeared again at the dish of dry food. It looked as if the water had been spilled and the canned food was on the concrete without the piece of cardboard underneath. Perhaps there had been a scuffle after the feeder left and all the cats had been scared off, including Mariposa, who was now brave enough, and hungry enough, to come back out to eat.

She checked around the yard before she began to eat. I’m not sure if she saw me, but she seems to be looking right at me. I tried to send her good vibes because I didn’t want her to be frightened and leave the food.


Then she started to eat.

Other cats began to appear and I photographed them as they did.

The mother cat.
The mother cat.

Just three minutes into eating other cats began to come to the food bowl, and Mariposa stopped eating. Under the shrub you can see a tabby cat crouching—he’s a large long-haired tabby with no white, the daddy of at least half the colony. You can also see a black cat near Mariposa, and this would be Koshka, the longhaired black cat who we knew was pregnant.

Mariposa stopped eating, turned around and left.

And that was all I saw of her that day, although I stayed for at least an hour and photographed as many cats as I could see, and I thought I saw her several other times. It turns out those cats were possibly sisters, possibly mothers, definitely related who all looked very much the same. Initially, I had thought she was a cat named Sammy, who the feeder had described. But Sammy had a white floof on the end of her tabby tail and I hadn’t seen that with Mariposa and thought I’d missed it. But then I saw a cat who really did have a white floof on the end of her tail, a while after Mariposa had left, so was this her again, or another cat?


Hmmm…and then I saw another tabby cat who was longhaired with white paws and had a similar crooked white blaze. I didn’t get a photo of Braveheart then, but here they are in their traps, Sammy, Mariposa, and Braveheart.

When I showed the photos to the feeder, she had no idea there were three longhaired tabby cats with white paws and bibs, and no idea at all the smallest one existed. So Mariposa went unrecognized, at least by humans, until we compared photos that day.

She was trapped fairly easily, and at that time I named her Betsy because she was small and very cute, and the name suited her. All the people who held the cats I trapped tested them for temperament, and Elle fostering Betsy/Mariposa said she was easy enough to handle, moving from a crate to the carrier and back with little trouble. She seemed to enjoy watching other cats, and in time seemed to enjoy a little petting and even being taken out of the crate to sit on a lap for a few moments. Aside from Mariposa, I took the cats I’d trapped who did not have kittens to Meyersdale, then brought Mariposa home at the beginning of August last year. Because she would be in the adoption system I chose a name that hadn’t been used by any cats in the previous year to avoid confusion. Looking at those pretty ears with the ear hair I thought she looked like a butterfly, which was already used, so her name became Mariposa.

We’ve come along way from her first few days here.

Under the cabinet.
Under the cabinet.

But even a week after that I could handle her enough to take a selfie and introduce her. And the rest is history.

Mariposa and me.
Mariposa and me.

She is so intuitive, intelligent and flexible, and I guess that’s what helped a small kitty survive in a big colony of not very nice feral cats. The way she’s managed herself here, in the bathroom for three months, then keeping herself limited to one room, then another, then finally coming downstairs a month after coming out of the bathroom, shows how aware she is of not only her surroundings but her own needs. Normally, I need to block off areas so that kitties don’t go running around the house and getting scared, but Mariposa said she didn’t need to know about those places right now. She has cautiously approached each of the other cats and carefully introduced herself, and has never gotten into an altercation of any sort with any of them, though she can easily read when they’re not in the mood for her snuggles or play. She found her place in the household, and has always trusted me, cautiously at first, but as long as I’m aware of her body language she’s never made any aggressive moves toward me. She never said a word in her first few months, but now she’s developed a little vocabulary of chirps and trills and every so often a soft meow. She has been the easiest former feral cat I’ve ever socialized, and really, she did most of the work.

All that intuition and sensitivity she used to keep herself alive and safe in the colony she now uses to manipulate me. Right now, as I’ve been writing this, she’s been sleeping on my lap, which is not typical of her in the afternoon, but she is no doubt sensitive enough to feel me thinking about her. But I’m so happy she’s brought her big white mittens and long white whiskers into my life.

Did she long for a home indoors with people while she lived there? Did she welcome the people who came with the funny foods and the wire cages? Did she use her intelligence and intuitive nature to just go along with the plan and get herself socialized in the process, as she’d always wanted? I guess we’ll never know, but if that’s what she was dreaming of, her dreams came true. She’s getting easier with strangers, but who knows, maybe she’ll just stay.

Below is a description of what happened between September 2017 and May 2018 as I researched the house and planned the TNR project.

The plans that led up to the big day

A tux kitty who lives in the abandoned house.
A tux kitty who lives in the abandoned house.

In September 2017 a message was shared on Facebook about a kitten someone had taken in, then put back out in the yard of an abandoned house. It turned out the address of the place was very close to my house in a small neighborhood across a small creek from me. I drove over and found a house by the description given of a cat tree on the back porch, as well as by talking to a very helpful woman walking her dog. The house, a duplex, was empty and a shambles, not fit for anything to live in. Indeed there were a few kittens there, and adult cats, but I also saw a big black cat with big white whiskers with a heart-shaped white spot on its chest who was eartipped, meaning someone had done some TNR at some point.

It was also clear that someone was feeding them on the porch and on the side of the house. I asked the helpful woman if she knew the who feeders were and if she could help me get in touch with them. She gave me a few names and said she’d talked to them now and then and they didn’t live in the neighborhood, but didn’t know any more.

She added that she and other neighbors had heard the house had been purchased by someone and was scheduled to be demolished some time in the future. That changed the usual game with a situation like this. If the house was to be demolished, we would not return the cats after surgery, we would remove them, and I’d have to hold them until I found a place for them to go, and fosters for any kittens and friendly cats. I had taken a dozen cats to my friend Birgitta’s farm the previous year and adding to that seemed like too much. Well, this was going to be some work to organize.

I used one of my trusty HCMT doorhangers with all the information about TNR and added my name and number, leaving it on the doorknob for the feeder, or the homeowner, or whoever else might be able to give me information. I also started on the search for the home’s owner and any possible leads on its future, starting with the neighbors, then researching real estate records, then talking to the borough. Weeks went by and I heard nothing, stopped there a few times and often saw no cats at all, though there was debris from food.

Finally in November the feeder called me—she was dialing the wrong number, mistaking my handwriting. Wow, did we have a lot to talk about! It seemed like the number of adult cats was in the teens, but then it seemed some of them were owned cats or already TNRd and possibly fed elsewhere too. I was never clear on how many adults to expect, but figured a dozen would probably cover it.

She had also heard the rumor about the tear-down, and I explained to her all we’d have to do. She mentioned there were a few other feeders in the neighborhood and I explained that we’d still have to move them or they’d keep coming back to this place, but if the other feeder would be able to take them on we could start to lure them there with more and better food and start stopping the food at the abandoned house. We could also TNR at any time since we wouldn’t have the restrictions of having to hold and then physically move them elsewhere. December turned in to January as no one wanted to take on full-time feeding of that many cats, I asked Birgitta how she would feel about a dozen more adults. She said she could handle that as several of the first batch had moved in with neighbors, two of them actually in the house, which was part of the plan from the first place. So they had a place to go, and now there was trapping to plan, and who would hold them until I made the drive to Meyersdale.

I found an owner from years ago and knew the person, but my contact information wasn’t correct after over a decade. Eventually I did get in touch with him and after several conversations secured his permission to trap there. Then I made the visit in May.

But the first week in June 2018 the feeders arrived on Sunday to find the grass and shrubs cut and “no trespassing” signs all over the place, and the neighbors saying it was people “from the bank”, presuming the bank repossessed the house. It was actually the original owner who had been cited by the borough for the condition of the house and hard, and he wasn’t happy to find us there despite the no trespassing signs. I reminded him of our conversation and he told me his sister had already advised him about an organization that would come and trap the cats and take care of them. I asked who that was, and it turned out to be HCMT. I laughed and told him that HCMT was already there because if he called them, I’m the closest person and I’d likely be the one to take care of the situation. We convinced him we had already made progress and we might as well finish.

As I trapped that week I posted nearly each day with updates on who we’d trapped and how the situation was progressing. You can find it all under Dunbar house TNR progect.

I haz fam-a-lee!
I haz fam-a-lee!

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6 thoughts on “The First Time I Saw Mariposa

  • Pingback: Rescue Story: Mariposa's Journey ~ The Creative Cat

  • Lovely and what great work you are doing,im from the Uk and we dont have the same feral cat issue as in the usa but i am a huge fan of jackson galaxy who i learnt all about neutering and returning ,while we dont have a huge problem over here my parents have had a feral cat in the garden for years well abandoned at some point someone really loved her she was so distressed she was creeping in peoples windows trying to find her home wouldnt let any one hold her or shut her in still not a big fan ,my dad built her a box of wood in the garden she used it for 2-3 years before trusting them enough to come in my dad was able to coax her in one day and she got scared tried to bolt through the cat flap but instead took the flap with her once the hole was in the house she seem to feel safe enough to come and go lol and now sleeps next to my dad all the time

  • databbiesotrouttowne

    mariposa; hay ewe gorgeouz….we gotta bet oh 18 centz anda sax oh friez ewe WILL stay 😉 ♥♥

    • Once she socializes to other people, she will have her choice. In the meantime I’m loving her up.

  • Aww, what a story! That last image of Mariposa surrounded by black cats, makes me think of a caramel dipped in chocolate.

    • She’s really special! And she dipped herself–they were sitting in formation and she stepped into the center.


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