A Day In The Life

One of the most frequent occurences for me at our adoption clinics is to see the look on faces of people or hear the surprise in their voice when I tell them that we ask for a $100 donation for each cat or kitten adopted.  By way of a digression, I always make a point of saying that it’s a donation, sometimes even adding “This is an animal rescue, not a pet store.”  I go on to explain that the cats have been spayed or neutered, vaccinated and de-wormed, treated medically and fed and cared for by us; most people begin to see that $100 is dirt cheap.

To those who do not, here is the response I would rarely verbalize.

During kitten season, I often spend an hour each day walking the large townhouse complex where I live, essentially stalking stray and feral cats.  I know a lot of them because a lot of them are cats I have trapped, altered, and returned outdoors since they could not be socialized.   When I see a new cat, I observe its size, try to figure out the sex, and make a mental note of where it was I saw it.  For all I know some of these cats are outdoor pets but I never assume that; any cat I see, I see as a potential parent to a future litter that will become my responsibility.

The cats I mentioned—those who could not be socialized—are part of a feral colony I maintain.  Many people are against these colonies for reasons that are probably obvious, but a colony of cats who have been altered and are observed regularly do not constitute the nuisance some anticipate.  Even if they did, they serve a valuable service in my particular situation—each night these cats gather where I feed them and every once in a while someone new shows up.  It might be a lost or abandoned cat, might be another feral, but whatever they are and wherever they came, from they are now on my radar and I add them to the list of cats that require my services.

That’s part of it.  But there is more—there’s the trapping.  Whether it’s an adult feral or a kitten who might eventually be socialized, it is not always easy.  I think the challenges of an adult feral are obvious— they do not trust people all that much and are highly suspicious of the trap I have set for them, however appealing the food inside might be.

Kittens are worse.  My complex has a lot of trees and a lot of landscaping. This is not a community laid out in a grid, but a place with buildings at different angles, meandering paths here and there, and a great deal of planters with thick shrubbery that make good hiding places for a cat and her kittens.  In every situation I have dealt with so far, I did not know where the kittens I was looking for were until they were at least a month old, often closer to two months, old enough that their mothers allow them to venture out on their own.

This being the case, it’s urgent that I trap them quickly. Most of the time, feral kittens older than two or three months cannot be socialized well enough to be adopted.  The moment I see a litter I know how I will be spending the next few (or many) nights.  Once it’s dark out, I revisit the place(s) I have seen the kittens,  bait and set my trap, cover it with a towel, then try to look invisible.  This is more difficult if the noise I have made (and the smell of the food) attracts some of my ferals—and it often does.  I end up trying to shoo an already-fixed cat away from the trap without discouraging the kittens I am trying to get in it.  I swear a great deal during this process (you don’t even want to know how much or how bad).

Sometimes I get lucky and have a litter trapped in a few nights, other times it has taken me weeks and I still did not get them all.  Some died in the meantime, others simply refused to fall for my scheme.  There is a lot of self-questioning when this happens: why didn’t I stay out an hour longer that one night; maybe I should have used fish rather than chicken; did I remember to wash the cage after the last cat was trapped, or did it still smell of that kitten’s fear and sweat?

Once they are in my possession, what comes next?  They move in. My own cats are often not too thrilled with the situation so my bedroom (or what once was my bedroom) becomes the fostering room.  I treat them for diarrhea, mange, ringworm and other assorted fun things, and try to socialize them.  Just like every other aspect, sometimes it’s easy, you have them purring in your lap in a day or two; sometimes it’s hard, you submit to numerous scratches and bites before you eventually win them over, or maybe you never do.

Meanwhile, my back hurts from sleeping on an air mattress in the living room, my nerves and blood pressure have my doctor wagging her finger at me, and in one extreme case, a cat bite sent me to the ER with a case of cellulitis so bad that I required levels of antibiotics usually reserved for someone in the hospital.

What I am saying, in my usual long-winded way, is that this is often a very difficult job, and one for which not a single member of Purrfect Cat is paid.  As I said when I began this, we are not a pet store and the people who adopt from us are not paying for the animal; they are making a donation towards the next litter we find or the next feral cat we will spay.

But given that many of the people who visit our adoption clinics do see it as a payment, I think it’s safe to say that the wear and tear on our bodies, our minds, and our homes,  the vacations we have to plan around our fosters, the dinner with friends we miss because we are at the emergency vet with a sick kitten, the weekly loading the cats up in carriers to take to adoption clinics, that for your $100 you just bought yourself a pet worth more than any pedigreed cat seen in the pages of Cat Fancy magazine.

Suzanne, Amy, Meg and Jo, my fosters from last year; easily worth tens of thousands of dollars if you know what to take into account when calculating their value.

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Rule #1: Forget Everything You Think You Know

I have been stalking a feral cat for weeks now because I knew (from her behavior) that somewhere she had stashed a litter of kittens.  She represents my worst attempt at trapping a feral to have her fixed.  She was on her third litter when I finally trapped her and then she outwitted me and got out of her cage.  Ever since then she has been “trap wise,” not coming anywhere near me if she saw me with a trap.

I knew she had cooked up a fourth litter and went about looking in the locations she had kept her previous litters, including a massive bank of spider web-covered juniper bushes, but no luck.  Finally, after a couple of weeks I saw a kitten through the fence boards around a nearby townhouse in my complex.   And another kitten a few houses away.  I knocked on doors and asked around and it seems that everyone knew about the kittens aside from me, the guy who is looking for them.

I was rewarded for my efforts with a few diatribes on the cat population in our complex.  I wondered why none of these annoyed people had thought to call an animal welfare group or pet rescue, rather than just pissing and moaning about the kittens.  I thought of the brochure for PCR I had thumb-tacked to the mailbox kiosks; a brochure that clearly nobody has given a second glance, despite their issue with feral cats.

After more knocking on doors and more questions I finally came to the yard where the kittens spend the majority of their time. The woman I spoke with was at first very eager to help me catch them, but changed her tune when she started to see me not as a pet rescuer, but more like animal services.  I assured that none of the cats (aside from those terminally ill) trapped by me have been euthanized.  Either they are socialized and adopted, or they are fixed and returned outdoors if the former is not possible.

But I knew my words were falling on deaf ears as she gave me excuse after excuse why she should not help me.  Mostly things like “They are too young, they need their mother still.”  Wrong.  If they can climb trees and run from yard to yard, they no longer need their mother, and in fact might already be too old for me to successfully socialize.   I don’t know how this will turn out but I am not especially optimistic, suspecting I will have to trap them once they are older, get them fixed and toss them back out for a lifetime of feral living.

There are hundreds of Old Wives’ Tales about cats and dogs, most of which are a complete rubbish, despite how much they have persisted over the years.  If you find kittens or puppies, forget everything you think you know and call someone for help. There is no guarantee that your local pet rescue can take them off your hands but they will at least know what can be done to effect the best case scenario for the animals given your location and situation.  And call right away, with lots of information—specifics on where and at what time of day you saw them, for instance; quick response and correct information can make all the difference.

Do your part and we’ll continue to try our best to do ours.

Cat of the Week: Cotto

With kitten season about to begin, many of our teen-aged and adult cats still available will seem less desirable to many prospective adopters.  Fuzzy, playful, rambunctious kittens can be fun, but older cats have their upside, too.  Many have a personality that is well-developed so you know what you’re going to get when you adopt them, and for those who do not romanticize kittens climbing the curtains and getting stuck behind a clothes dryer, adult cats can be a welcome relief.

This weekend we were happy to see two—Mia and Giselle, adopted, but there are still quite a few to pick from.  Cotto is one such cat and he is, to some degree, a special needs cats.  Not in the conventional sense—he does require a special diet or medication, nor is he is sight- or hearing-impaired.

Cotto, in a nutshell, could easily be one of the cats you see on a TV commercials for animal welfare; one of those sad-looking cats and dogs that sit cowering in cages while a plaintive song plays in the background.  I know people who hate those commercials.  They hate the way the images and music manipulate the viewer into an emotional response, make them feel guilty for not running to the local shelter and bringing home a dozen assorted pets.  I even know a couple of people who think the commercials exaggerate the plight of these animals.

That last point is the one I must take issue with.  The volunteers of Purrfect Cat have collectively seen things that would make most people vomit or weep, or both.  If you think people in cat rescue are just cute old ladies who coerce strays into the house with a saucer of cream, think again; we’re tough-as-nails bad-asses who put our physical and mental well-being in harm’s way every day.  We have taken litters from the sad and disturbing homes of hoarders, we have pulled dead kittens from car engines, and rescued them from people who torture pets for sport.

Cotto is one of the latter.  He is the only surviving kitten taken from a home where a very bad person did very bad things.  This has left him shy and ill at ease with new people, particularly men.  When he sees someone new or is approached quickly he is likely to hiss or cower, but once you begin to pet him and he knows you aren’t a threat, you feel his muscles relax and his mind ease a little.

He will never be a playful, gregarious cat, but for someone who wants a mild, sweet cat who likes to be pet and held and loved, he could be a very good choice.  And the odds are good he will be your companion for a long time to come; he has been to hell and survived, so he’s got a lot of spirit and strength in him.