Planet Haolewood

A toolbox, a change of underwear, and a surfboard.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Feral Cats

Have you ever pondered the feral cat situation? Last August I moved into an apartment in Berkeley, California where I met Lucy. Lucy is one of those cats that likes to play hard to get. She mewed coquettishly and pranced about all squinty-eyed and rubbing up against things but she would not let me pet her. Today I met a cat on the other end of the spectrum. It had strangely squished looking ears and lay on the counter of the Moloa’a fruit stand where I was munching on an avocado sandwich and slurping on a smoothie with four different kinds of fresh tropical fruit. Squishy Head was completely oblivious to everything around him, completely focused on his continued studies of napping. I don’t know for a fact but I suspect Squishy Head has been working on those skills most of his life. Even a passing lizard did not arouse his predatory instincts so much as the swish of a tail. It was only when a toddler went from petting him to virtually smothering him with his enthusiastic affections that Squishy Head was moved to get up and slink on down the counter a little ways. My point is that Squishy Head didn’t mind if you pet him. He didn’t mind much of anything at all.

But I’m not here to blog about Squishy Head. He probably has his own blog. I’m here to blog about Lucy and other feral cats who do not have internet access. Lucy WAS certainly a people cat. She knew how to communicate with people. She new how to say, “look at me aren’t I adorable” and, “why don’t you feed me?” This cat had clearly targeted me as a sucker. She persistently hung around the front door and greeted me when I came home or came around my back window. I was hooked. The fact that she wouldn’t let me pet her only made her more enticing. I thought if I was patient she would warm up to me but it never happened. I bought cat treats which she ate out of my hand. Once she accidentally rubbed against my leg, but whenever I reached out my hand she bolted.

I talked to my neighbors and learned a few things about Lucy. She did not belong to any of them. She had lived there for at least seven years and the previous tenant of my apartment had fed her. I never learned how she got the name Lucy.

Lucy expected me to feed her and not just the occasional kitty treat. I didn’t want to adopt a cat, especially a cat that wouldn’t let me touch her and I didn’t think Lucy wanted to be adopted. It was clear she was born feral. She was accustomed to being around people but she was never held or pet and she did not want to come inside. So should I feed her? That question brings me back to the “feral cat situation.” Do you remember that from before all the Squishy Head stuff? Feral cats are common most places where people live. They are neither pets who have a human looking after them nor wild animals with their own place in the natural world. Many cities consider them a problem and while extermination is going out of fashion, cats that are truly feral cannot be rounded up and given out for adoption because they will never become pets. Only kittens who are handled by humans can do that.

So is it wrong to feed a feral cat? I had no reason to believe that Lucy was spayed. By feeding her would I be contributing to growth in the feral cat population? I didn’t plan to necessarily live in that apartment for long. Would it be responsible for me to feed her for a few months and then move leaving her without a regular supply of food?

There are cat people out there who advocate a “trap-neuter-release” strategy for dealing with feral cats. In other words it’s ok to feed them but you should trap them in a cage, take them to a vet to “fix” them and then release them again so they won’t go on to breed and make more feral cats. Seems like a good idea and I can’t help but think that this would be a much tidier blog were that what I had done. Maybe I should invoke poetic license and make up a story about trapping Lucy and taking her to the vet but the truth is that I just starting feeding her. She seemed hungry.

Enter The White Cat. Turns out while Lucy may have known how to work humans for what she needed she was not so adept and positioning herself within the feral cat hierarchy. The White Cat was not at all charming, He ran away at the first site of a person. He was dirty and looked –well- kind of like a stray cat. He would slink around in the shadows near the back porch where I fed Lucy and as soon as I was gone he would scare her away and eat her food. I was outraged. This interloper was stealing food from MY Lucy. What to do? If I stood by and waited I could ensure Lucy got her food since The White Cat was afraid of me and would not approach while I was there. But why did I begrudge The White Cat food? I had no more responsibility to feed Lucy than I did The White Cat. Besides Lucy seemed to know how to look out for herself while the White Cat had a sort of desperate, pathetic quality that made it seem like if I didn’t feed him he’d surely perish. So I figured I would just put the food out and whoever got it got it. The result was daily feedings for The White Cat while Lucy looked forlornly on. Later I discovered that feeding The White Cat distracted him enough that I could sneak some other food to Lucy while he ate and he wouldn’t try to steal in from her.

In May I put out the last cat breakfast and left the sealed container of cat food on the back porch in hopes the new tenant might find it and get the idea to feed the cats. I expect Lucy had similar ideas. I didn’t solve Berkeley’s feral cat situation. I didn’t even solve Lucy or the White Cat’s long term problem of finding food. I just fed them for a few months and I figure that’s better than nothing. Did I do the right thing? You be the judge.

If you’re still reading at this point I commend you. Perhaps the rather long and rambling story of some cats I fed once is not as interesting as some of my other blog entries, like the last one about the mailbox, for example. You may be wondering what this has to do with a toolbox, a change of underwear or a surfboard. “What about the feral cats in Hawaii?” you may wonder. There are feral cats here along with pigs and goats. (For more about feral goats see “Operation Billy Goat”) Mostly there are feral chickens and LOTS of them. I haven’t started feeding them yet but there is this one sad looking hen that keeps hanging around my back door. Hmm…

For more info on feral cats check out (it’s not a joke)


At 8/18/2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bueno yanqui,no entendi un carajo de lo que dice tu pagina,suerte en la vida y que te garue finito.tenes que buscar el significado en el diccionario lunfardo.nose que escribirte.nose si queres pasa a firmar mi fotolog.suerte.gabriela

At 8/28/2006, Anonymous A-Lee-da said...

Hi Boreas, I'm just now reading all your blogs...
In Logan, Utah I fed feral cats and captured four in cages and got them fixed (I also left a bag of food on the back porch hoping the next tenant would catch on). I read lots of literature on the subject. They say killing feral cats doesn't work because the existing population will just produce extra litters to regain the same numbers. Feeding them is good and nice. They depend on caring humans, they do not have the hunting skills or resources (not enough mice and such in the cities) to survive without nice humans. We, the humans, created them because they are all decendent from domestic cats that were abandoned. And it was definately the right thing to feed Lucy and Mr Aggresive White Cat because it made you feel good!
Three Cheers For Feeding Feral Cats!


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