The feral cats on my block

May 14, 2012 at 10:26 pm (Uncategorized)

(I keep thinking there’s some sort of period piece/larger lesson/greater meaning to be gleaned from this story, but I can’t put it together, so I’m just going to write it out the best I can. Note: may be terribly boring. Sorry about that.)

(left: Batman. right: Nurse.)

Our neighborhood has had a serious feral cat issue since we moved in, over ten years ago. The population of the cats sort of peaked a few years ago, then dropped a bit, and now seems to be exploding. It’s easy to understand why there’s so many of them all of a sudden:

  1. There’s been a steady population of about 20 cats that are stubbornly afraid of people and, as a result, untrappable. We had a family on our block who was all about trap-neuter-release, which is a humane program meant to control the population of wild cats – basically, all you do is you trap a stray cat, bring them to a vet, the vet neuters the cat, and then the cat is returned to the streets that he/she calls home. You still have that cat roaming the streets, but it’s not like the population is being added to. TNR works really well… except for the fact that we’ve had this core of cats that have just been impossible to catch. So they remain unfixed and producing kittens.
  2. Said family, mentioned above, lost their home this winter. They had a medical emergency that lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, which lead to them selling their house and leaving town.
  3.  On top of that, several other people have also lost their homes, leading our block to have a few vacant homes. It’s hardly the ghost town that I read in the NY Times parts of Phoenix is, but there are still large, lumbering homes that are completely empty. And believe it or not, when you have a large enough feral cat colony in a neighborhood, they will move into one of those empty homes and take it over. (Yes, there is one place on our block commonly referred to as “the house that all those cats own.”)
  4. Lots of people feed the strays.

So, add all those up, and you have a perfect storm of many, many cats. It some ways, it’s kind of cool, because hey, I like cats. And in other ways, it’s just sad and pitiful to think of these poor creatures surviving out there on their own.

The king of all the cats, the mayor of Catville, if you will, is this one guy named Riceball (I don’t know where the name came from). She’s a neutered female who is so friendly and sweet that several people have tried to take him in and adopt him. She won’t have it; Riceball inevitably escapes through some window or door to the outside, and winds up right back on the street, where she seems perfectly happy. In fact, whether it’s heavy snow, 3am, blazing hot sun, or pouring rain, chances are you can scan the block and – yep, there’s Riceball, happily moseying down the street. Nothing ruffles that cat.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are Batman and Nurse, pictured above. Batman doesn’t seem feral at all – he’s an unneutered male and he was very skinny when he first showed up on the scene a couple of weeks ago, but he’s so affectionate and sweet that several families are vying to take him in. It’s actually been a few days since I last saw him, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has already adopted him, although he seems to have quite a good thing going in terms of working all the various houses on our block for food (he’s put on a considerable amount of weight in a short period of time).

Nurse, meanwhile, has been around for at least three years. I started calling her Nurse after the band Nurse With Wound, because she has a perpetual wound on her neck. It’s really sad and gross – it’s this open sore (scrape? maybe?) that is about 1″ at its smallest, but often flares up to 4″ or 5″, taking up much of her neck. The theory is that she hurt herself at one time or another and then keeps scratching at it, making it worse, over time.

Nurse is extremely filthy, horribly wounded, and terrified of everyone and everything. You can’t get near this cat. She runs away quickly, usually hissing over her shoulder. Our neighbors who were all about TNR made her a special priority to catch, and were never successful (she would be one of those core cats that just can’t be caught and keeps having kittens). (Also, note: the pic above was taken through a window. Nurse would never be lazing around relaxed when a human was walking closely by.)

The first time I saw her, I honestly thought she would die within a couple of weeks, the wound on her neck is that bad… but she’s been hanging in there for years, feisty as ever. There is truly no cat in the world that I would love to give a home to more than Nurse – even if it’s just for enough time to let her neck heal and give her a place to rest and recuperate, and then she could go back out there again, if she wanted. My heart really breaks for this cat every time I see her, even though most of the times I see her she’s shooting me hateful glances and hissing at me.

Anyway. To get to the point: a couple of weeks ago, it was late on night and pouring out. Batman was on our porch and Jeff and I felt so bad for him. Do we bring him in? What if he has fleas or ticks or something he can give our dog? We decided against it. But our porch is protected by a roof and I brought down a box with a towel in it that he could lay on, to add some extra protection. He would be fine for the night.

Next morning, we wake up, and Nurse is laying in the box. Oh wait – Nurse is pregnant. I forgot that part. Yes, pregnant Nurse has completely taken over the box that was meant for Batman and now totally owns it, and Jeff and I can’t help but notice that as she lays in there, she looks more comfortable and relaxed than we have ever, ever seen her.

But there’s a problem. It’s not really our porch, you see. We live in an apartment building, and that porch is shared by seven different apartments. Would the people in the other units take kindly to a cat living in a box on our porch for an indefinitely period of time? Probably no, and I could understand that.

So I had a great idea. I would make a Super Awesome Amazing Box and hide it in the garden, tucked behind the bushes and up against the building (seriously, unless you really spend time looking for it, you don’t know it’s there) and get Nurse to move in there. I took an old box and made it deeper, to accommodate a mother and kittens comfortably, and then covered it inside and out with plastic, to make it waterproof. On the bottom, I lined it with soft flannel.

The first box got taken away. So I anxiously checked the second box, just naturally assuming that Nurse would move on in. And of course, being a cat, she had zero interest in it. The box laid out there, empty and lonely, with no cat in it for about a week. I put food in it and everything, and no dice.

About a week later (this is about a week ago from today), I was headed out the door with my dog Oscar, and we walked by Nurse. It was very strange, because instead of getting up and running away as she always did, she actually just laid there. It was the closest I have ever gotten to her. I looked at her and I got this Oh shit, she’s going into labor flash, and then she looked at me – the first time ever that she looked at me with something other than hate in her eyes. I kept walking with Oscar.

When we came back maybe half an hour later, we heard mew mew mew coming from the bushes where the box I made her was. Holy shit, she actually used it!!!!!! I kind of questioned my sanity or thought maybe I heard a bird or something else, just sort of my mind playing tricks on me. But later that day, on the way out from the building, I heard it again. And then over the next few days, occasionally mew mew mew! and I totally knew it was for real.

Now it’s been a few days and I haven’t seen/heard anything from the box (it’s tucked away enough that in order for me to really see inside, I’d have to risk disturbing the cats to look so I don’t want to). I’ve been leaving offerings of water and food on the porch so that Nurse can get to the just a few feet from where her kittens, I assume, are. It’s all sort of weird and magical. And I guess I just have to wait to know what’s going on, which is hard.

Anyhoo. Here’s a song by Free Kitten, just to finish things off:


1 Comment

  1. Andrew Thornton said,

    The wounds on her neck might be from when she’s mating. A vet I used to volunteer with would call them “love bites”. Apparently male cats will mount the females and hold them down by biting their necks. Biting the backs of the necks causes the females to become immobilized, as a kitten is when it’s being carried by the scruff of the neck. If she’s constantly having kittens, this might be the source. Since the wound is caused by the mouth, it is also highly possible that this is another way that it’s getting infected.

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