Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Cats of Summer 2017

Yes, this still isn’t a cat blog. I just had a story and some pictures to go with it, so....

Mama Kitty (far right) watches her two white kittens.

The first thing I noticed about Big Pink when we first visited it last summer—aside from the fact that it was going to need a lot of work—was a big orange cat walking through the backyard like he owned the place. Which, in a way, he did. He was one of the numerous feral cats on our side of Monte Vista that occasionally took refuge in and around the wood-framed chicken-wire cage in the northeast corner of our back yard.

I haven’t seen this many cats roaming around a neighborhood since I used to live in the old working class/college student neighborhood south of Rosewood Drive in Columbia, SC. Even most of those belonged to people. These cats are completely free, and with the exception of that one very special kitten who came up to us on a moonlit night in September, they are very wary of humans. It was nearly a year before I learned how they survived, even in the deepest, snowiest, below-zero pits of the long San Luis Valley winter.
From left to right, the Yeti and Clarence the Cross-Eyed Siamese keeping watch from atop a rail of the chicken-wire cage in our backyard.

The answer to that mystery came as part of the answer to another mystery, when the cats started disappearing. I had names for most of them, and when I no longer saw the Yeti (big, raggedy white cat), Tomzilla (large orange tabby), or Tuxedo Rags, or Clarence the Cross-Eyed Siamese, or Mama Kitty, or any of the various kittens that showed up after the last snow, I was becoming concerned. Was Monte Vista Animal Control finally getting serious about the feral cat issue? This couldn’t be the case, as I had read that the man  in charge of Animal Control had recently resigned. 

One evening I saw the orange female we call Mama Kitty (we’re certain she’s Luna Toonie’s mom) trotting about the perimeter of our house, looking for her two white kittens. It was heartbreaking to watch.

Then Mama Kitty disappeared.

I’d figured that was it for the feral cats here on my side of Monte Vista. I could only hope they met a more-or-less humane end.
This photo, as with the other depicting these cats, was taken after they began returning to their old haunts. Not all of them are in evidence, though.

Then Clarence showed up again. I almost didn’t recognize him because his once-matted fur had been cleaned and groomed. It was at a community picnic that I met the neighbor who had the answer to these mysteries—and was indeed responsible for them. 

When a veterinarian in Alamosa who works with these ferals ran a week-long special on spayings and neuterings, our neighbor began setting traps for the cats. She got every one she could, but not all of them. She noted one was already pregnant, although she did catch the orange Mama Kitty before she could get knocked up again. That was good to know.

In course of conversation I learned that the cats use several of the many abandoned houses about our neighborhood for shelter during the worst weather. Also, there are people who leave bowls of food out, including the neighbor.

Still, there will be some suffering. There already is some suffering, as I note that the cats that have come back have not put back on their weight. They were already losing weight before the great mass trap-neuter-release; I suspect a food source has either run out or been closed to them.
This is the best photo I have of Tuxedo Rags, from when he crossed our porch last January. He was looking pretty beat-up just before he disappeared. He’s also one of the few who has not returned to the yard. I suspect he may have been put down.

To die of “natural causes” as a feral means to either get run over by a car, mauled to death by a dog or a rival cat, freeze, die of poisoning, or starve. I’m sure I’ve missed some. None of these are pleasant, painless deaths.

And yet, they are free. I’d link to the post if I could remember any keywords, but someone once posed the question of whether the shorter lifespans of outdoor cats weren’t of far better quality than those who spent their days indoors, as our five cats do. For as red of fang and claw as nature is, so are the ferals, and enjoy the opportunity to exercise those very instincts with which they were born. Whereas our cats spend their days lounging about floors and furniture when they’re not looking longingly through the window to a world denied them.
Miss Luna Toonie here literally came out of the night and chose us as her family. Although she shows the normal curiosity for what goes on outside, she doesn’t like actually being outside. It’s safe to say this one has no regrets.

It’s one of those things for which there are no pat answers. All we can do is leave a bowl of food out on the porch, and hope the ones who need it worst find it first.