Monday, February 20, 2012

Feral at Heart

Rescuing feral cats has been a long-time avocation for me. Wherever I go, cats without homes seem to find me.

When I lived on the Arroyo Seco River, I rescued 15-20 cats. The local vet was very helpful in neutering them, and then I returned them to the outdoors. They knew they could always find food outside my door, and if they were cold, they knew how to ask to come in and sleep on the bed. One poor little kitten became trapped in the high branches of a tall tree and could not come down. He cried for four hours before I realized that there was no way he would make it down. So, I got out the ladder, climbed up to the top of it, than scrambled through the branches (thank goodness for all my childhood days climbing the apple trees on our farm) to reach the kitten and bring him down. As soon as he was close enough, he sprang from my grasp onto the ground and scurried away. A few days later, he appeared to be limping. I don't think there was any relationship between the jump to the ground and the limp, but I figured I had better take him into the vet. The neighbor's young daughter helped me corner him (a pretty dangerous thing to do, but the only way to catch him), and 50 bites later and a pure white coat tainted red from my blood, he and I were on the way to the vet. I ended up adopting that particular cat; it took me three months of getting closer and closer to him as he ate before he let me touch him. However, after he moved in with me, he would often push the laptop off my lap, curl up, and sleep.

When I lived in Jordan, I was affectionately known as the Cat Lady of Amman. I rescued more than two dozen cats there. Six of them I took in. The others I found homes for or placed at the no-kill shelter for others to adopt. Most of them were adopted out. One became a shelter favorite and spent her time running around freely with the staff.

One of the Ammani cats, Intrepid, seemed to tame quite easily. We brought him home with us when we returned to California.  A friend who works for the SPCA insists that feral cats are always feral, but when I tell him about the cats I have tamed and how they curl up and sleep beside me and on me, he hesitates to insist that he is right and I am not. This past week, however, I had to admit that perhaps a feral cat hangs on to just a piece of the wildness. Because another feral cat we adopted, Simone, bit the city vet, we cannot take her there any more. Fortunately, not long ago a retired vet moved into San Ignatio, and realizing that we are far from vet help, she has been coming to people's houses to help with their animals. So, she came for an update on cat care at our house. Deciding that it was time to trim nails, she asked me to hold Murjan (a domestic cat), who, like the good little doggy he acts like, held out one paw after another for trimming, purring and snuggling. "Why can't all cats be like Murjan?" the vet asked me after having to sedate Intrepid and Simone.

Intrepid was the problem, though. Drugged and dozing, somewhere near the end of the clipping process, he suddenly realized he was being restrained and his feral instincts leaped to the fore. Ripping through my flesh, he clawed himself out of my arms. I now have one long 6-inch-long scratch that is turning into quite a remarkable scar, many smaller scratches, and two deep gashes that would have required stitches had I gone to the ER. Instead, because it was a Sunday evening, I let the vet patch me up -- she did a pretty good job -- and went to the local medical clinic when it opened in the morning. The doc thought the vet had done well, said it was too late for stitches, and gave me antibiotics.

Oh, the joys of a tamed, er, feral, cat!


  1. I admire your tenacity, dealing with feral cats. I have always given homes to cats who need it, with a limit on numbers to three at a time, no more. I couldn't afford to feed more than that. However, I have never had a feral cat. I would be scared of the bites going septic. Take care.

  2. Hi Star, I don't worry about the bites (although, of course, I would prefer to avoid them) because doctors can treat them pretty well. The big issue would be if the cat would rabid, but there are not many rabid populations -- in fact, there are none -- in the areas where I live and have lived. I do check them out with the doctor, and they sometimes hurt, but it is rewarding to see a feral cat become tame and even affectionate and seem to enjoy having a dry place to live with food and attention. (Getting a new one accepted by current ones is also an interesting saga, but I have never had current cats not accept newcomers, of course with a lot of encouragement.)

  3. I have found that cats can turn on you in a moment. You have to respect their area and be careful not to upset them.

  4. Sounds like the voice of personal experience, JT!

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