Feral kitties

So, as chill and amazing as we seem and under control etc.  Something is stressing one of us out.

Four somethings, in fact.  (And the occasional opossum.)

About 3 weeks ago, a tiny black kitten got stuck in our garage.  It was cold and awful that first night so we didn’t let it out until the next day, and we thought we’d gotten it out the next day but the extra food etc. ended up having been eaten so it took another day with the door open for it to actually escape.

We put food on our back porch with the hope of the kitten and the mom reuniting.  And after seeing a baby tiger kitty, a mama tiger, and a scared black kitten we thought they had.  Over the course of a week or two, mamacat went from dull and scrawny to a beautiful glossy kitty.  She’d been taking good care of her kittens, but definitely needed more food for herself.

Regular feeding left them hanging out on our porch during the sunny weather.  The kittens remained elusive and skittish, but mama cat would almost get into touching distance when I fed them.  They disappeared during cold and rainy weather.  And I worried.

I am a firm believer that it is wrong to feed feral kitties without getting them spayed and neutered.  So I did web searches and I called our vet and DH called animal control and our local humane society and some other vets.  After talking to enough people we got instructions and rented traps and made a vet appointment and set out the traps.

We caught a little tiger kitten right off.  We transferred him to a carrier and set the trap out again.  Around midnight DH transferred two(!) little black kittens out of the trap into a carrier and reset the trap.  In the morning we found we’d caught an opossum but not mamacat.  Opossums are freaky and I do not like them.  Fortunately they only seem to come out at night.

The kittens spent that day at the vet, we found out the tiger was a boy and the black kittens both girls.  No fleas or FIV or anything that could harm our resident cats.  They’re small but 14 weeks old.  The internet suggests they’re too old to domesticate.  But the vet said she thought we had a chance.  In any case, they needed to stay inside to heal for a day or two.  Two weeks to heal fully, if wanted to do that.

And then the weather turned absolutely awful.  Sleety-awful.  So we kept the kittens inside in the guest bedroom suite.

Mamacat was heart broken.  She wailed for her babies.  While they were still healing up in their carriers we brought them out to the patio and they cried at each other.  But we failed at catching mamacat in the patio or in a trap.  Then we let the kittens into the guest bedroom so we can’t use them as bait anymore.  She’s since stopped wailing for her babies.

We caught another opossum two nights later.  And another two nights after that.  But still no mamacat.

And she’s stopped coming by every night, more like every other night.  She no longer lets me near while she eats.  She’s gotten good at eating food out of the first third of the trap, but no more.  (We can tell when we have an opossum, because they leave no scraps.)  The vet and the humane society say to keep trying.  Maybe she’ll be back when the weather gets better.  I suspect we’re just going to keep catching possums.

So I worry.  I don’t want mama to have more babies.  I don’t want the kittens to be out there defenseless not knowing how to hunt.  I don’t really know what to do.  If we let the kittens out we will probably catch them in the trap again instead of mama.  We don’t ever see the kittens– they eat and poop in the litter box and make amazing messes, but only when nobody is in the room.  When someone is in the room, they hang out in the guest bed box springs.

Most of the advice for taming feral kittens seems a bit cruel, separating them and caging them and forcing them to be petted against their will.  And all those sites say these kittens are too old anyway.  This one is a bit more gentle and hopeful, but I think we’re not doing it right either, what with the box springs instead of a cave, and not actually being there for them to watch while they eat.

So I’ve destroyed a family bond.  Mamacat can still have more babies.  And we have three defenseless feral kittens in our guest bed boxsprings who are unlikely to be tamed.  Also our HOA says we’re only allowed 2 cats, and we already have those.  (The city has our back on the feral cat colony thing although the woman at animal control had no idea what we were talking about when we mentioned it.  Still, their webpage is really clear.)  I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know if I’ve done the right thing.  I don’t know what the right thing to do going forward is.

And that’s the kind of thing that stresses me out.  Maybe not human lives at stake, but real lives nonetheless.

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39 Responses to “Feral kitties”

  1. L Says:

    TOTALLY feel for you! I have (after spending untold time, angst and money capturing, spay/neutering, and otherwise rescuing feral animals — cats and dogs — over the past 30 years) finally made it a personal policy that euthanasia is not always a bad thing. There will always be more feral animals (damn the humans that create/allow it!!!) and I am fortunate to have a vet who agrees and will put the poor things humanely down.
    There should be birth control in ALL pet food sold in this country; those who legitimately breed pets would be able to obtain birth control-free food only from a veterinarian. And don’t get me started on the feral HUMANS out there . . .

  2. bogart Says:

    Oh dear. How frustrating. It doesn’t sound at all like the babies were too small to be away from mama, so while I feel for her I wouldn’t feel too bad …

    I have a now ~10 year old dog who was one of 4 feral pups rescued at maybe the same age as your kittens? I have no idea how dogs/cats compare on this, but he is now a lovely and not unduly timid fellow, though it took awhile. My understanding from the people from whom I adopted him (his foster parents, I suppose, I got him at about 4 months) was that they did keep the puppies in a room free of hide-assisting furniture (nothing the pups could crawl under) while they were taming them, to the puppies’ horror. Of course, that’s easier to do (create an unhidable space) for puppies than kittehs.

    Is this the equestrienne grumpy? Might the barn where you ride or someone in that circle have a need for a barn kitty (or a team of barn kitties)? Of course barns are often already equipped with a plethora of feral or semi-feral kitties, so perhaps not, but a barn setting is one where food and care can be provided without the cat needing to be overly tame or cooperative.

    That doesn’t help with mama kitty, but really, I have no idea what to do on her if you cannot catch her, and it sounds like you’ve devoted considerable effort to that cause, to no avail.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      No, all the local barns are full-up on SNAP kitties. We have a really active county-wide Spay and Neuter program. Which is good! (One of the benefits is I get to watch well-fed feral cats playing and hanging out from the big picture window at my dentist’s office.) The no-kill shelters are also full-up… after several drought years, it’s finally wet again, so there seems to have been a population surge.

      • bogart Says:

        Oh darn. Well, you could try putting out word among the horse people if there’s a good way to do that (e.g. barn FB page or listserv). Because as I’m sure you know, you are not alone in being stressed out about this sort of thing and of course there are plenty of similarly susceptible people in the horse community. Even if there’s no barn that needs kittehs, you just need to find one or two sympathetic adopters, if they’re the right ones.

  3. Leah Says:

    I commend you on the spay & neuter. So sorry mama cat was difficult. You might try reaching out to local farmers. One of our friends had a cat that was essentially feral. He was fine when it was just them, but he was no good once they had a child. They ended up finding a home for him with a couple that owned a really small farm and needed a mouser.

  4. darchole Says:

    If they did see you put food out, and did eat it, then you actually did start socializing them at a young age. You can still have a go at trying to socialize them more. They’ll never be lap cats, but you should be able to socialize them enough to be a “buddy” cat, one who likes other cats and tolerates people enough they can live in a house without stress. Contact the no-kill shelters to see if they adopt out these kinds of cats, I know of at my location that does, then the shelter can advertise to adopt the kittens out as a “buddy” instead of a pet.

    • darchole Says:

      I also have a long family history of rescuing semi-feral cats and dogs (mostly cats), so I don’t have a problem having these sorts of cats, and have one now thats antisocial towards humans mostly, and only wants petting on a limited basis.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We’ve talked with the no-kill shelters (and the humane society and the city). They’re currently bursting at the seams.

      • Leah Says:

        Why can’t people just go and get their pets taken care of? Seriously, there are resources available for this. I know money can be tight for some, but it’s better to spend $50 (or less with a sympathetic vet) than to have to deal with unwanted kittens or make someone else deal with it. There’s a special circle in hell for folks who abandon pets, especially when those pets aren’t fixed.

      • darchole Says:

        If you have the time, you would foster them, and socialize them more, and all the shelter would do would be to try to adopt them out, until they had space.

      • OMDG Says:

        I can ship you the mouse that has been terrorizing my husband these past few weeks (when we finally catch it…) and you can see how they are as mousers. They might prove useful!

  5. Mo Says:

    I think you still have a chance with the kittens if you can keep them for a few months. The fact that their mother was willing to approach you for food suggests that they should have learned some tolerance for people from her, though they’re understandably very wary right now. Our cats were feral, trapped when they were about a year old, but they had been fed by people, which was apparently enough to make them adoptable (they spent a few months in the shelter before we adopted them, I have no idea how much effort people there put in to help with that). They’re terrified when they’re restrained in any way and are more skittish than the typical cat, but are otherwise friendly and affectionate. It certainly may be too late for these particular kittens, but it’s not impossible!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, it’s complicated by the fact that we have two middle aged kitties (one of whom was also a feral kitty herself– Bigkitty taught her how to be more house-cat like after we got them as adult kitties at the shelter) and a toddler.

  6. EMH Says:

    Is mamacat nowhere to be found? if she is still coming by every once in a while, then I would let the kittens outside. You can always release them if they get trapped again. If you worry about their safety and not being able to hunt, then I would keep food outside for them and maybe have a cardboard box or some sort of housing available for the kittens to protect them from the elements. Outdoor cats don’t live as long as indoor cats but they can still have a nice life.

    • Rosa Says:

      ditto this. They’re fixed, they’re healed, put them out and stop feeding them. They’re old enough to be weaned, assuming the worst of the weather is over. It’s over here and the stray cat that hunts in our backyard is back from wherever he hides when it’s -10 – I found footprints in the snow around the compost heap yesterday and our indoor (formerly feral) cat is guarding the windows again.

      For a couple years we captured and fixed adults, and found homes for farm cats. What I learned is that, if you can’t stop the original supply (in this case, college kids who dumped pets outside of town when they had to move) you can’t really affect the population. You did the best you could.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        They’re not quite healed yet. One of them had a tape-worm and is supposed to get a second treatment of something. But I think they’ll be going out soon. I don’t know. These decisions would be a lot easier if mama would just get caught so she can be spayed. Then I’d feel like we’d done what we could. But if the weather stays nice we may be able to gain her trust enough to catch her.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Mamacat is still coming by.

      We bought a doghouse. Merry Pet MPS002 Wood Room with a View Pet House
      We got it yesterday and caulked it.

      • EMH Says:

        That is a nice pet house! I’m sure the cats will love it. Hopefully the opossum doesn’t claim it.

        You are doing a wonderful service for these animals. I know you want to help Mamacat as well but you did fix and treat three kittens which is a huge help with the feral population. Bravo!

      • Rosa Says:

        oh that looks nice!

        It gets very very cold here (-20 a few nights in the last few weeks) and we get stray/feral cats that cuddle up in the pile of dead leaves in the lee of our privacy fence, so I am 100% sure they’ll appreciate your nice weatherproof pet house.

  7. chacha1 Says:

    I am actually +1 on letting the spayed/neutered kittens go. That may be enough to get mama cat to come back to the house on a more trusting basis and give you another crack at catching her so she can be spayed.

    There are igloo type shelters that are much better than nothing for outdoor & feral cats … and while I realize it is kind of weird to say to someone else “spend YOUR money on this situation” since you are asking, that’s what I would do. :-)

    It is possible that there was an additional kitten and mama cat’s newfound caution was due to fear of losing that one too. Plus, if you let the three foundlings go you will be well within your HOA cat-density limits and may actually have a better chance of socializing them, to the point that they can be sustained as a non-reproductive family colony, through intermittent contact vs. captivity.

    Thank you for caring and for trying so hard.

  8. J Liedl Says:

    Gah! I don’t know what kind of help I could give – maybe ask some of the no-kill shelter people if they know of any foster households, stressing that you have a toddler and other cats for whom this isn’t a safe long-term match? You’re doing a very good thing – I can’t fathom people who get cats to let them roam around unspayed or unneutered, thus perpetuating these kind of problems. All of our pets have been spayed or neutered and all of our cats are indoor cats because the wildlife hereabouts is seriously scary for small fuzzies (which leads to a high turnover in barn cats so keep those stables in mind).

  9. Bardiac Says:

    Just to clarify, the kittens were too young to spay/neuter? So setting them free would add to the future problem a lot, in all likelihood?

    The little research I’ve read says that the spay/neuter release programs aren’t really helping reduce the feral cat population. I gather it gives people a sense that they’re doing something positive, but it contributes to the problem of feral cats, no?

    I don’t have any great solutions; euthanizing seems necessary, but wasteful and hurtful of cats, though not as wasteful and hurtful as cats are to wild bird populations.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      No, the kittens have been spayed and neutered. The research I’ve read says it helps, and it helps population control more than euthanizing which generally does nothing for population control. Not that I’ve read any randomized controlled trials. However, the stats for my county in terms of the drop in kittens brought to the shelter since they put in place their feral cat policies are pretty compelling (particularly from the university program).

      I have read research showing that no-kill shelters don’t do anything for euthanization rates of cats, but I don’t think that’s the point of no-kill shelters. You’re getting a socialized cat whose personality you know something about from a no-kill shelter.

  10. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    That is so sad. I’m sorry. You tried to do the right thing!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      ….well… we’re still trying to do the right thing…

      • Thisbe Says:

        Part of the problem (in general in the world, not necessarily in your case) is that there is wide disagreement about what the problem even is. In other words people do not tend to agree about what the goals of feral cat management should be, so then discussion of whether certain programs are or are not effective is somewhere between confusing and nonsensical. The current position is that both the AVMA and various wildlife conservation organizations (because feral cats can have a strong impact on wildlife populations) agree that “trap-neuter-return” and “trap-euthanize” management techniques are not effective as a broad solution if the goal is eventual elimination – or even population stabilization – of the colonies, although TNR can help in restricted kinds of situations (e.g. small colonies with active caretakers).

        I have a few papers kicking around on this & can send them to you if you want. But, you have done/are doing a kind thing for these particular animals; their lives are already better because of you.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We have a very small colony (mama and the 3 kittens)– we’re in a HOA that doesn’t have a whole lot of feral cats and isn’t a dumping ground for cats. Looking at papacat (a big healthy cat with the same coloring as the two girl kittens who occasionally comes through), we’re fairly sure he’s someone’s pet. Damn irresponsible owners. Mamacat’s the only actually hungry kitty we’ve seen.

        We’re also already not the most natural wildlife kind of situation. It’s the middle of a HOA. Yes, there are migratory birds, but the other ecosystems are unlikely to be the kind that were here before the houses were built and people started pumping chemicals into the lawns and exterminating everything they could. (Not that red ants are native either.)

      • Thisbe Says:

        Yeah I think that the situation you described for yourself in your post is the kind of situation in which TNR has been shown to be effective at keeping the colony population stable and healthy. Good for you.

        I’m so confused by the idea of anyone keeping a tomcat as a pet, they pee on everything.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Maybe that’s why he’s at least partly an outdoor cat!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        …. And we unintentionally caught papa kitty… On a Saturday. The weather is awful again so we moved him to the garage where he seems relatively happy. We’re not 100% sure he belongs to anybody so we’ll take him to the vet on Monday to get him checked out and dewormed, deflea-ed, and vaccinated etc. if necessary. The vet should have a better idea if he belongs to somebody or not.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Vet hospital called. They’re starting the surgery now. He’s got tapeworms, but they’re giving him the meds for that.

        So even if he belongs to somebody, his owner isn’t doing a very good job keeping him healthy. Poor guy. He’s a very sweet kitty cat. Didn’t hiss at the vet techs or anything. A big beautiful long-haired black cat with bright green eyes.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Daddy cat can father no more. Vet said he looks like he’d recently been in a fight and he’s kind of scraggly. He also had a lot of tapeworms. Negative for everything else, though they Revolutioned him in case of fleas (because of the tapeworm). Now up to date on vaccines though he could use a booster that is unlikely to happen in 3-4 weeks..

  11. Shannon Says:

    Can you figure out who owns Papacat? Or can you catch Papacat? We once had a neighbor who did not take care of her cat – we’d have to take it in on very cold nights, feed it at times, etc. She wouldn’t fix it because she said she couldn’t afford it. We were debating the ethics of just taking it in to get fixed when she up and moved. Always wished we had just done it – not debated it. Probably wouldn’t make you popular in your HOA though…

  12. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    So papacat turns out to be super friendly, but the vet says he’s been on his own for a while.

    And… there’s another black cat eating our food out there. I think we’re never going to see mamacat again.

    DH says: Gotta catch them all.


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