Stray Cat Strut

by Editors


Stray Cat Strut

By Kathleen Ginder-Vogel

Life in a college town has its share of peculiarities: a population that swells and ebbs with the seasons; a larger-than-average number of blondes; flocks of pedestrians that rival New York City; and inexpensive pinot noir. When I moved to the college town I currently call home, I was surprised to find one unexpected feature: a large population of feral cats.

The San Francisco Bay Area, where I used to live, has many feral cats. So does the Mauna Kea in Hawaii, if you can believe it. No-kill animal shelters and other “cat networks,” in which volunteers trap the cats humanely, take them to a clinic to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and examined, provide a wonderful service in these types of areas. I consider myself fairly educated about animal issues; my cat was adopted from the Palo Alto Humane Society and I am raising a guide dog puppy for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. However, when I moved into my current house, on a main artery of a bustling college town, I only thought in passing about the two stray cats living in the dilapidated garage of my neighbor’s house.

I assumed my neighbor’s landlord was more responsible than he is, and I assumed the cats were probably former pets that had gotten away. I never asked my neighbor if he thought the cats were spayed or neutered; had I, he would have told me what I know now: they had already parented a litter of kittens; the calico cat is female, and the tabby cat is male. I was too new to the area to think much about the situation: I had my own cat to settle in and a bunch of boxes to unpack, a job to find, and a new community in which to get acquainted. Two stray cats on someone else’s property just weren’t my priority.

However, fall became winter, and the cats disappeared into hibernation. The landlord was forced by the city to tear down his eyesore of a garage. Spring came, and I was fully woven into the fabric of my new community. I was about to get my guide dog puppy, and my cat loved her new house. I started seeing the stray cats around again, and they seemed responsive to my voice. I began to wonder about them, yet I still took no action.

On a warm evening in May, I regretted my inaction: our neighbor came home from work to four kittens playing under his landlord’s abandoned car. The two stray cats, a.k.a. Mom and Dad, were guarding them.

I know enough about feral cats to know that two unspayed or non-neutered cats can produce multiple litters of cats, who go on to further populate the area they consider home. I know enough to know that I don’t want a cat colony behind my house. Most importantly, I care enough to save four kittens from life as strays.

Feral cats face the risks of living without shelter, veterinary care, or consistent, healthy meals. I believe animals deserve to have safe, comfortable, happy lives, just as humans do. The world isn’t fair, but if I see another living thing in an unhealthy situation, I’m going to do everything within my power to improve it. We began by giving the cats food and water and observing our very shy little furry friends eat, play, and grow.

Next, we called Forgotten Cats, a Delaware organization dedicated to spaying and neutering feral cats. They sent a volunteer to our home to teach us how to use the humane traps, and we agreed to pay the fees the organization’s veterinary clinic charges to get the cats spayed, neutered, examined, and vaccinated.

We trapped all six cats in a week, and the kittens went into foster care to get used to the idea of being pets; we assume they were adopted readily but have not received an update. Mom and Dad cat were returned to their territory, behind our neighbor’s house. We have continued to feed them, having promised Forgotten Cats that we will remain responsible for them. This means that if we move away, and the cats are still living, we’ll either trap them again, take them with us in a cage, and release them to the outdoors once we know they won’t run away; or we’ll find a home for them nearby.

It is interesting to bind your life to another living thing out of compassion. We named them Zinnia, because we found her kittens right after we planted our zinnias in the spring, and Edgar Allen Poe, because he looks like a hardscrabble kind of guy (also, Poe lived in this area). We wrote the organization a check: $60 for each of the female cats and $50 for each male. The cats now have steady food, shelter, and people to interact with; we have mouse cats and no cat colony. It’s a fair deal, I think.

They could be more vigilant: a groundhog and a possum family have moved in, too, but I’ve warmed to the idea of having a small menagerie in my yard. It seems in keeping with the wacky town in which I live.

Copyright 2007 Kathleen Ginder-Vogel

Bread and Circus contributing writer Kathleen Ginder-Vogel owns the freelance writing business Poppy Communications.