Compassion and Cats Gone Wild
Compassion, it will get you every time. The human compassion to help other living creatures. I think it is certainly stronger in some, particularly women. Take my wife for example, Nina.
She loves animals. She’s a supporter of many animal charitable foundations that protect and aid animals of all kinds. One group that she helps is named The Feral Cat Project and its mandate is to trap, neuter, return or release (TNR) feral cats to their colonies. Volunteers humanely trap the cats, which are spayed or neutered, vaccinated for rabies and they are ear-tipped for identification (so people know which cats have been TNR’d). Any very ill cats are euthanized, put down and cremated. Very young kittens are adopted into homes. The feral’s are re-introduced to their same colonies to live out the remainder of their lives sans producing feral kittens. So you see it’s really returned, as they try not to just release them any old place.
Feral cats are wild cats in case you haven’t heard the term before. I was new to these miniature wild cats until my sister in-law moved into a house that was situated in what must have been a feral cat colony in downtown Toronto. These cats, or their relations from years past would have been domesticated cats, house pets. They have been abandoned, people move and decide they don’t want a cat anymore, they may think they will do well in the wild. They catch birds right? They do, but it would seem only for sport, domesticated cats don’t eat them except as a last resort. These cats have kittens in the wild, the kittens will be Feral, they grow up and have kittens and so becomes the problem. The start of a vicious circle where the Feral’s multiply and start to take over a community.
Can you picture it, a gang of cats terrorizing a community. It isn’t really about that, it is a perception problem more than anything else. People in the community sometimes feed the Feral’s and this can create more problems with neighbours who may not be fond of these wild cats. The Feral’s are timid, they don’t trust people and you cannot touch them. You could if you could get them to come close to you but that does not happen very often. The people who don’t care for them are the ones who blame them for killing birds, messing up gardens, leaving feces, a nice term for cat shit, on the ground, the grass, the driveway. And worst of all, leaving paw prints on freshly washed vehicles and the list goes on. Yes, it’s true that things can get out of hand between the Feral care givers and the Feral haters.
This story is about Nina, one persons quest to make a difference. To make peace between the opposing groups and ultimately to help Feral cats. Of course it’s from my perspective as an observer. I’m the husband, partner and co-conspirator in this plot to tame the wild cats.
I believe our first experience with Feral cats was back in 2000. The big thing that year was the “Millennium Bug”. A potential computer problem that was going to cause a World melt down. The calendars of many computers were only good to 1999. It was any bodies guess as to what might happen after that. Worse case scenarios, companies going bankrupt, stock markets crashing and bank accounts getting lost. Such a distant memory and an idle threat to boot. This was also the year my sister-in-law, Josie moved into a new house, well a different house. It was new for her but quite old, having been built-in the 1950’s. Once settled into her house she casually made mention to me that there were a lot of cats in the neighbourhood. I nodded, but didn’t think anything of it.
When Nina & I went to visit Josie at the new place we pulled the car into the shared driveway. So as to still be sharing I pulled up very close to the front steps and directly in front of the stairs. I noticed many eyes from the front porch, as I got out of the car three cats quickly scurried over the side railing furthest away from us. I saw them running down the narrow alleyway between the two houses on the other side of the driveway. Nina also saw a couple of cats on the driveway side.
Nina made a comment about how funny that was to see so many cat scurrying about. But we didn’t think too much about it. After dinnertime when my sister-in-law said I have to go feed the cats Nina & I both looked at her like she was nuts. I asked, “You have a cat?”
My sister-in-law was feeding a community of feral cats. How many? A lot of cats! At one point I think there were about 20 cats. Some of these wild cats had been around for two or three generations.
This is when Nina got involved with the cats. It was autumn when we first visited and as winter came to the city the cats had been worn down, some of the cats get sick and in the winter they die. Others get run over by cars and still others are trapped and taken out of the community.
Nina recruited me to help her build a cat shelter. She started to study how to best make cat shelters that would help the feral cats. My sister-in-law had a shed at the back of her property, just a small two door plastic shed with a couple of shelves about 4 feet wide and standing approximately 8 feet high. Having been roped into this renovation project I set to work on getting the supplies required to build a cat apartment building as per google’s online instructions.
Google indicated Styrofoam was required, builders glue, duct tape, strapping and some screws. I organized all the supplies, then Nina and I got to work on building the cat house one weekend in the fall. This would be the following year from when Josie moved into the house.
Getting right down to work I opened up the sheds two doors, the unit was empty, all the storage paraphernalia had been removed. I measured and cut the Styrofoam, opened up the builders adhesive and caulked the panels of Styrofoam with the heavy duty glue to the walls of the shed. Nina’s job was to hold the panels in place until they dried. One of the shelves was left in the shed to provide more space for the cats. One of the two doors needed to have a small opening at the bottom to act as the cats trap door. I made a rectangular opening in one of the doors, I got a heavy piece of plastic drop sheet and I cut a piece to fit over the opening. I drilled and bolted this light weight flap to the inside. The cats would be easily able to push through the flap to get into the shed.
The feral cats now had a cozy apartment for the upcoming winter. I sure hoped they would use this thing. When we finished I noticed that we had an audience of feral cats watching. As Nina went to approach them they vanished. We found out later the cats weren’t using the villa as they didn’t like to push open the plastic flap, lazy cats.
Josie removed the flaps. Once she did that, the shelter became a feral cat hotel. The next step according to Google information was to obtain bales of hay. I think the hay is an insulator and moisture absorber. Nina and I went out to our local farmer and bought a couple of bales. The farm was very close to our house and we delivered it to the cats. The farm was in distant Stouffville. A rural community about 1 hour north of the city of Toronto. The farm, it was actually a ranch that took in horses for shelter. While we waited for the owner to grab the bales of hay for us we introduced ourselves to the horses . There were quite a few horses. Nina gathered a big handful of dried grass and was feeding one of the friendlier horses. While we were giving the horses attention a big old tom cat came wandering over and started rubbing against our legs as if to say, heh look at me too. We gave the cat some attention, the horse got jealous and tried to kick the cat. A little more grass for the horse and then we had to go with our fresh bales of hay.
During the week we delivered the hay to Josie’s cat hotel. The bales were opened up and spread out on the floor, the bench and the remainder we left in the shelter to use as another bench. After all of this construction it was time for us to take a break. Josie brought out a tray of snacks and a bottle of red wine. We sat down at the picnic table and I poured a glass of wine for us and cut some bread and cheese, we were enjoying a light snack.
I felt as though we were being watched. Small marble like eyes we’re peering out at me from over the fence from on top of the garage and on the branch of a tree, we were surrounded. I noticed a bucket close to the garage your standard plastic bucket perhaps taller or larger than normal. It may have once held paint. But it was nice and clean now. I grabbed it and made my way back to the bench. I placed the bucket upside down between my knees and proceeded to drum on it as if it were a conga drum. I figured this would scare the cats away. It only scared Nina and Josie away, they left with the empty tray the glasses and the wine. “Excuse me”! I grabbed my glass and motioned for a refill before the bottle departed.
With a fresh glass of wine ready to sample I launched into my soulful bucket banging. The cats started to meow, the strangest of sounds, a mix between a crying baby and a blues harmonica. I continued to drum, reaching down into my soul for some of my African roots. My family is originally from the south of Italy somewhat close to north Africa. The rhythms came out naturally, the cats joined in and a cacophony of sounds was produced. I ended on a grand crescendo, to applause. The neighbour who rented the basement apartment was clapping, obviously having been forced to listen through her little window that led to her small abode. I toasted the cats, gave my thanks and finished my wine.
Nina and I packed up, done for the day.
Paul J. Youngman
(An excerpt from my book Cat’s Gone Wild, soon to be released.)
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