For several years, I resisted getting a cat. As I approached the ripe old age of fifty, I feared becoming that person–and the memories of Rex, the golden-hearted cat, still filled me with sadness. His death was suspicious, and like the death of my beloved Pyewacket when I was ten years old, it is not so much the loss that hurts as the notion that another person could intentionally inflict such pain. So I avoided pet parenting for a long time.
A couple of years ago, though, we adopted an elegant, beautiful lilac point Siamese named Chloe. The name was given to her in the shelter, or perhaps by her previous owner, and it suited her well. She has a deep meow that she uses often to comment on the day-to-day, and a sensitive stomach that flares during moments of emotional duress, such as my departure from the house for longer than a few hours. It is hard to imagine arriving home and not hearing the thump upstairs (a jump off my bed) and the quick clicking of her claws on the stairs as she runs to greet me. An older woman once loved Chloe, and the scars of the woman’s departure to a nursing home, and her family’s inability to love the orphaned feline, seemed to stick with Chloe for a very long time. To this day, she avoids laps, but will snuggle in other ways. I imagine some deep fear of abandonment that affection brings out in her, but Chloe may just be Chloe, and we love her for her quirks.
As we invited Chloe into our hearts, other animals seemed to start settling in our yard. Urban as we are, we still see a variety of beasts and birds, from chipmunks to falcons, but the deer and foxes tend to stay in more wooded areas nearby. Still, we had a turkey nest in our tiny yard two springs ago. And last year, the cats arrived.
Just before July 4 last summer, a family of cats appeared in our yard. A short-haired calico we called Mama Callie and a tall tuxedoed gent named Mr. Boots moved in with their four kittens: Red, Tab Hunter, Little Miss Boots, and Little Callie. Once or twice they ventured into our kitchen, but by the end of the summer, an occasional bowl of cat food left on the porch had become a more regular ritual.
We realized also that others had seen the cats, and cared for them, as well, and we studied the philosophies of feral cat support, as we realized that we would probably never pet the cats, much less be able to keep them as pets.
Trap-neuter-release seemed to be the kindest option, but we also realized quickly that it is not such an easy task. In the fall, a neighbor’s son and his girlfriend came into my yard to trim back bushes that bordered his mother’s property. They mentioned the kittens, but also left a large pile of dead branches in my backyard, and a sour taste in my mouth with their bossiness. So I ignored them until the cats started disappearing a few weeks ago.
Red, or Mr. Red as we call him now as he has grown up, had been gone for several days before I started walking the neighborhood to look for him. I saw the mother of my yard invader, and sat with her for a good hour last week. We spoke French, as she is from Montreal, and shared our common love for the cats. Her son and the girlfriend also told us about the woman who had trapped Mr. Red. Our visiting home cat had been trapped and neutered, and was due to return soon.
I was happy about the plan until I realized that the woman parked outside had cameras planted along our property, and was trapping kittens and cats throughout the whole neighborhood. A cat I had seen once or twice was captured, though I told her that I thought he was someone’s pet kitty. She had him neutered, without trying to reach the owner. I learned that she was making the trip regularly from over an hour away to trap cats. When I called the shelter she claimed to represent, they told me that they were not aware of her or the cats she had been capturing, so I shut down cooperation with her immediately. I suspect she has been in my yard when I have left, or at least spies on it. I have been equally tempted to set up cameras on her.
Feral cats need a community to protect them, and I am currently seeking a reputable program that will agree to help me trap them and neuter them as we can safely do this without disrupting a lovely family of cats who live peacefully in our neighborhood. We will build winter shelter again, and feed them, and protect them as much as we can, but I do know that they are better off living with other cats they know, and with people who do care about them–more than catching them and releasing them somewhere far away, where they will have to compete with unknown cats and hazards. I wonder about this woman who spends her evenings parked in a car with traps set, where she takes the kittens she finds, whether she has found a financial gain in all this, or has convinced herself of some moral high ground in trapping all outdoor cats. Whatever has happened in our community, though, it has convinced me all the more of the importance of communicating with neighbors, and of respecting kindness and generosity.