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The Feral Cats


 

One night, in the old apartment, I heard what I thought was the baby downstairs crying. It was late at night and I worried that he had been left alone on the porch, or left alone in the apartment with the windows open. I was debating whether or not to call the police, when I finally decided to go downstairs myself and take a look. I was outside on the front lawn at one o’clock in the morning, barefoot and in my pajamas, and the only spot of light was on a cat standing ten feet from my next door neighbor’s door. The cat turned to me, and cried.

Looked something like this picture from wikimedia

Looked something like this picture from wikimedia

            I was reassured, at least, that it was not the baby downstairs who had been wailing for hours, but I wasn’t sure what to make of the cat. He seemed to be calling to my next door neighbor, who had an arrangement with a lot of other cats, and dogs, in the neighborhood, concerning food. I asked the cat if he wanted to come inside, but he declined, and went back to staring at my next door neighbor’s side door, ever hopeful.

            I’d never really known about feral cats before then, but suddenly there seemed to be feral cats everywhere. Another neighbor set out bowls of food and water on her porch for the cats, and made snuggly cat houses for them when the weather got chilly, just in case they were desperate enough to accept the warmth.

high class cat house from Alley Cat Allies

high class cat house from Alley Cat Allies

            I couldn’t imagine where all of these cats had come from. They didn’t look like siblings. It might have made sense if one stray, abandoned cat had managed to have a litter on the streets, but where did all of these unmatched cats come from?

            When we first moved into the new apartment in May, I assumed that every cat I saw wandering the grounds was a pet who lived in the complex. I was relieved, because it meant we really had found a pet friendly co-op. I didn’t realize that a number of cats were feral until months later. This concept is so strange to me. Whenever I see a dog out on his own, I make sure he gets home, either following behind as he finds his own way, or using Cricket as a prod, or just going over and looking at the tag and calling home for him. I can’t imagine leaving a dog out on the street. And yet this seems like what’s done with cats all the time. Are the cats better at surviving on their own, or better at avoiding capture? Or are people just scared that bringing feral cats to the shelter will end in euthanasia, rather than adoption?

            I found out about the feral cats because people were feeding them out behind the work shed, as a matter of Co-op Board policy. It had been decided that it was okay to feed the cats, in the hopes that the cats would clear out any spare mice.

            The feral cats here are very quick to run up and hide in the woods when people are around, but they leave behind dead mice and piles of bird feathers, to let us know they’ve done their jobs and earned their keep.

            We have one resident cat who seems to be the big man on campus and his name is Muchacho. He is not a feral cat. He was the first neighbor to welcome me to my new home, rubbing his head on my leg as I carried boxes up the walkway. Muchacho is elderly. He had surgery a couple of months ago to remove a tumor, but within a few days he was back out strolling, with white bandages wrapped around his middle. He is dark grey and overweight and not fast. He can adventure as long as he wants, knowing he has a warm, safe home to return to, and as a result, he can be friendly and charming and relaxed in a way the feral cats can never be. The feral cats have to be hunters. They have to be on their guard. I wonder if some of our cultural expectations of cats come more from these feral cats than from a big old guy like Muchacho who is almost like a dog.

Muchacho

Muchacho

My friend

My friend

            But also, I wonder if Muchacho’s ever present self is the reason why the feral cats here don’t cry at our doors at night. They know who runs this place, and it’s not the people.

"I've got my eyes on you."

“I’ve got my eyes on you.”

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

96 responses »

  1. I have a soft spot for cats. Great post!

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  2. I love kitties and cats so much! I favorite dogs for a bunch of personal reasons, but cats rock! My heart goes out to all the feral cats in the world. Great post! & Muchacho is adorable!

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  3. Great post! So nice to hear that there’s love and care for those unwanted cats.

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  4. I wish I had some feral cats around here so I could chase them, but my person says she feels sorry for them.

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  5. How heart-warming to learn there’s a co-op board with a heart!

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  6. Muchacho is gorgeous!!!!

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  7. I love cats. While waiting to be rescued, I shared quarters with cats. Prisoners don’t turn on each other.

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  8. Muchacho is so handsome! I’ve seen a few cats run around here, can never tell if they’re just outdoor cats or strays..

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  9. Guilty here of feeding stray animals. Have aquired one stray cat that started showing up at our door…she (now named Whiskers) has made herself to home. Makes a total of five cats for us. We still feed the strays.

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  10. Reblogged this on Arizona Libra Gazette and commented:
    Love this…

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  11. It’s a big problem here too Rachel. I don’t know what to do, except help the ones that you can help.
    God bless them,, especially for the next couple days

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  12. That’s great to hear that your co-op is caring for the feral cats. that’s so wonderful! they are good to have around, and I’m sure they appreciate the food and attention

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  13. I’ll bet you are right!

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  14. Reblogged this on Dog blogging… and commented:
    My cousin and his wife adopted a feral cat once. Once….

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  15. Rachel,
    Almost word for word is right next door. There was one and three… Now oh boy! When my neighbor opens his door he’s like the Pied Piper no no… a tv commercial where they come a runnin from EVERY direction? I remember pulling into my driveway as he was bringing out like 7 bowls of food. I swear I wanted to start singing “Born Free” cause there was a Lions pride union meeting they all were attending. Now it’s 10 degrees out and his garage doors open/up just a smidge for those kitty’s. They’ve been in there for months and I cannot. even imagine. As Muchacho I somehow was chosen by one. He grovels to me instead of meowing. Very odd as I grovel back whilst cooking on the bbq. So when he even hears me he makes himself available to the grilled meat. Ten others try to come somewhat close and he makes this horrible sound and off they go.

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  16. Muchacho looks so handsome. All that gorgeous grey fur!

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  17. Loved the piece on Feral Cats. As you probably know I have a soft spot for Cats and a softer one for Feral ones, they have a hard life. Actually years ago I was driving in South Lonodn and noticed a crowd on the side of the road all looking down.

    I stopped to see if I could help, the crowd was rather diverse, with children and a rather nasty pensioner and they were staring at a big, but thin wounded Tabby Cat.

    The poor thing had been hit by a car, which of course because it was London had disappeared, the pensioner was loudly offering his advice, which was to kill the Cat – it was only a stray and old.

    I asked him if because things are old you should get rid of them and then without waiting for an answer loaded the poor cat into the back seat of my car and headed for a Vets I knew.

    To cut a very long story short the poor Cat had to have several operations to set his leg and then to reset the leg when it didn’t heal properly and was housed at the vets for about eight weeks.

    But when it was time to bring him home something really generous happened and the Vet suggested that he and I split the bill for ‘Bumper’s’ treatment and boarding. I called the poor injured Cat ‘Bumper’ because that is what I imagined he had been hit with!

    I had visited ‘Bumper’ most days during the time and we got to know each other rather well as he filled out substantially on a diet of two square meals a day.

    Bumper loved his new house and wasn’t at all put off by the fact that he had to share it with five other Cats, in fact he settled in really well, especially considering that he may have to have had to use his paws for fighting when he was on the streets.

    Bumper didn’t like to go outside much, except when the sun shone and used to spend most of his days lying on my desk sleeping, waking occasionally to gently knock something off my desk to ensure that I would pay some attention to him and give him something that he probably had never had much of before a jolly good stroke and his ears rubbed.

    We were lucky enough to enjoy Bumpers company for many years and not once in that time did he ever act as though he had been anything other than a ‘house Cat,’ if that phrase is not too insulting for a really rather excellent chap.

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  18. Thanks for a great post. I like cats like Muchacho very much (even his name is just great!)

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  19. Great post, and I’m impressed your coop let the cats stay. Cats are such individuals. I really miss having them around, but unfortunately Lulu has decided only one rescue is allowed on the property…:-).

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  20. (wags tail) Good job, Muchacho! Woof!

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  21. What a handsome boy Muchacho is. My oldest cat, the boss-cat Mac, had to go to the ER yesterday. He couldn’t walk. He either injured his ankle or was stung by a scorpion. We still aren’t sure which, but he’s much better today! He’s 16 and has health problems, but it’s not his time yet.

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  22. lovely post Rachel, great story too, it’s an interesting neighborhood you live in 😉

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  23. Awww Muchacho looks like my baby Charlii! Its wonderful that the board allows the tenants to feed the cats, its sweet to see a community helping homeless animals. thank you 🙂

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  24. lovely post he is a dear oldie , and it’s good to see the tenants feeding the cats. I hope Muchacho gets plenty of treats and cuddles. oh and of course all the others , bless them all.

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  25. According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are more than 70 million feral and stray cats roaming the streets. Because stray cats often carry dangerous diseases, the best thing that you can do to protect your domesticated cat against serious illness is to keep it indoors. Cats fight and spread feline leukemia which about half of all feral cats have. Cats kept indoors live twice as long as cats that are allowed to roam outdoors especially if feral cats are nearby. I love cats and once shared a house with 5. If you love your cat keep it indoors.

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    • Agreed. And there are other reasons to keep your pets indoors. The number of wild birds killed each year by domestic cats (feral and pet) is staggering. Domestic cats are a non-native species, introduced by humans, that badly disrupt the ecosystem and against which our native birds have not evolved sufficient defenses. As a cat lover, I hold out hope that humane Trap-Neuter-Release programs will keep feral cat populations under control. But the evidence is mixed, particularly as long as there are always new recruits to the feral colonies. There is really no good reason to allow your pet cats outdoors anymore. For their own safety (as arealniceguy points out) and for the safety of wild birds, it really is best to keep your cats inside. I say this as a devoted cat lover and former owner of wonderful cats.

      Charming post, Rachel. That Muchacho is a charmer.

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  26. Yes, I too have never quite understood why people leave cats outdoors while dogs are in yards or inside? My cat Morticha was 100% indoors and was a very happy girl. So happy that she in fact lived to the grand old age of 19!

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  27. Your feral cats are very lucky, not many apartment blocks allow people to feed them. Very sensible and encouraging!

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  28. hey i hope u remember me!! i started writing my book in an website called wattpad please check it out !! my books name is Infiltrated

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  29. Great post chica! When I was growing up my parents let our cats come in and out at will. I never thought anything of it. I wouldn’t do this now, however; because there are SO many bad things that can happen like my sister’s free-roam cat who got cancer that the vet said may have been caused by eating rat poison. Celeste 🙂

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    • Oh no! My fear for the cats is always about cars, especially on a busy road like ours. But you can learn to avoid cars by the noise and the look of them, how do you learn what rat poison tastes or smells like unless you’ve tried it.

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  30. What a handsome man cat Muchacho is. This is a fantastic post. Bless all the people around your place who feed the feral cats. Hugs

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  31. I liked the Cat story… I have had cats my whole, sort of long life… currently have a Maine Coon cat that finally listens to me a little when I tell him to get off of the dining room table, but of course he takes is own sweet time…

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  32. I like cats, too, but have had several unhappy experiences with them.

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  33. I’ve always found a particular irony in that the police will take action if a baby is crying all night, but don’t give a meow if a cat is doing the same. We are a specist society indeed.

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  34. Great post. I have 3 cats that were on the edge of being feral from “cat colonies.” I feel bad for feral cats, but at least the situation where you are seems to be better than most.

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    • I don’t know how good it is here. The cats get food, but I don’t know how they survive otherwise. I wish there were a way to find them all homes. I’m just not sure that they want them.

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  35. Thank you for your Likes, Rachel. I enjoyed this post very much. What lovely neighbours you have. It was good to read. I once tried to catch a lost dog in a busy high street, panic on its face, its lead streaming out behind him. I tottered after him best as I could (ME/CFS notwithstanding) in my heels and two minutes later in the opposite direction came staggering back the same way. Sadly I never did catch him. And indeed, cats can certainly emulate dogs to the extent mine even woofed at one stage. But then he was a strange little soul…

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  36. I’ve also fed feral cats and cried for them. One of our neighbors in a rental house was allergic to cats and had a cat trap put in the front of their home (the neighbor was there for about a year and moved on). The cats that were trapped weren’t the vigilant feral cats, but the trusting cats belonging to people in the rural neighborhood. It was harrowing as many loving cats were hauled away and given the death penalty before their owners could do anything about it.

    There is a feral cat spay/neuter clinic about an hour away that will seal the incision very well, and release cats back into their territory. I wish there were more of these clinics available.

    The one caution about feral cats is the danger of Toxoplasmosis. Feral cats don’t always bury their feces, and tend to leave it in all the wrong places.

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    • I can’t imagine catching cats just to send them to their deaths. Catch them to help them, sure. The spay/neuter clinic idea makes sense, because then the cat can live in the wild if that’s what they really need to do, without risking more kittens being born into that state.

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    • Anyone who has a tabby for a pet should keep in indoors at all times for it’s safety and health. A house or apartment can be made to have plenty of kitty adventures and doing that will double the life of the feline you love. If you want let your cat outdoors it will get to fight disease carrying feral cats, possibly run over by a car, or picked up by animal control.

      Feral cats by nature can seldom become house cats and are decimating America’s bird populations. More birds are killed by cats than anything else according to recent studies. I lived on a farm and fetal cats had their place (Keeping mice and snakes out of the barn.) but were never pets like out house cats were. We were never allowed to touch them due to the high health risks from their scratches.

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  37. It’s a shame that the feral cats need to kill the birds. It’s a problem in parts of our Australian local bushland park. So sad to see the feathers…

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  38. I love cats. They are intelligent, independent, loving, cuddly (when it suits), wonderful beings. They can suck up your stress and make you feel better by snuggling and purring. Wonderful companions in my opinion.

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  39. Just tweeted this and two other delightful posts of yours 🙂

    Reply

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