Thursday, December 02, 2010


Down town, in the Park and Ride parking lot, underneath a thick canopy of trees at one end is a picnic table. Earlier this year, while taking cardboard to the recycling center that also occupies part of the area, we noted a small pile of catfood on the cement, beside the picnic table, with about six kittens eating and lounging. Their mother slunk away as soon as she saw the car pulling into the lot, but the kittens scattered only when I got out of the car.

They were all feral.

I was angry to see the pile of cat food; I'm sure that someone thought they were being merciful and generous and kind to the darling little kitties. Maybe they even thought that the kittens would come to recognize the food-giver and look upon him/her with affection, maybe even save his/her life when he/she fell down a well and needed someone to run for help. Maybe the person with the cat food thought that if the beautiful kittens grew strong, they'd become great ratters and hunt mice and gophers.

Honestly, I don't know what they were thinking. I do know what I thought: Coyote fodder. Disease vector for rabies and feline distemper. Scavengers tearing into people's garbage. Catfights and their festering wounds.

Two blocks down the street from the Park and Ride lot is a deserted paper mill, with hundreds of trees planted on its property. I've seen coyotes there. Coyotes find cats delectable. This little town is near the river; seeing hawks and owls around town is not unusual. Hawks and owls also love little kitties. Perhaps the person who was feeding the kittens loves coyotes and hawks and owls and wanted them to have plenty of easy-to-catch prey.

I've seen close up an eyeball ripped and blinded, infected and oozing puncture wounds, lacerated ears from catfights. It's not pretty. Those adorable kittens start fighting seriously if they are still alive after about six months old. It's what they do when they establish territory and mate. Encouraging feral cats to stay around one area is just leading them into violent encounters.

More than a decade ago I had the opportunity to watch, over years, a family of semi-feral cats living in a barn on a ranch. The owner fed the mother cat and kittens, and they were adorable to see playing among the haybales in the barn. The kittens grew older, and mated; some years a passing tom would add his genes to the pool. But as they inbred, they started having problems. The kittens were not as healthy as the original batch. Pretty soon some stray cat brought distemper among them, and the owner of the ranch was quite unhappy seeing dying cats and kittens on the porch, in the hay, around the big yard. The ones that survived had long-term problems; after a while I saw none of them that didn't have hideously pus-filled eyes. I don't know what happened to the sick cats; I was away from that ranch for a few years. When I last visited, they had no cats, and no cats were ever mentioned.

In the case of the mother cat by the Park and Ride, and the mother cat in the ranch barn, maybe it would have been more merciful to live trap her and -- if euthanasia is too sad to contemplate, have the cat neutered, and then let her free to hunt.

All this unhappy thought comes to me because we had to go out and buy a trap. Last night we caught an unneutered male cat ... inside our garage. It was annoying enough to find evidence of a stray cat in one's garage, him having torn open bags of pretzels from the pantry out there, but this bold kitty didn't leave it at that. He actually came into the house looking for more food, and Fourmyle, (the cat in the picture above) left off sleeping in Alex and John's pillows and chased the stray out of the house.

The city's Animal Control came and took the cat away. If the owner, if he has one, goes to pick him up, the owner will be fined; if the cat isn't feral and the owner doesn't pick him up, there's at least a chance someone will adopt him ... and he'll be neutered before he can be adopted. And if he is feral ... well, he won't be for long.

Don't encourage feral cats to breed, please.

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