Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Introducing the Ferals...

Anyone who has read this collection of babbling for any length of time knows that my cats are an important part of the family. That includes the ferals outside, much to Steve's dismay.  I've been getting requests from people to tell their story since I'm gonna give blogging another shot.  So here goes...

Just remember.  You asked for it.

As seems to be our pattern, when Steve and I buy a house, there always seems to be a resident colony of cats attached.  Our current home was no exception.  At the time of purchase, there was one female that hung around the property and three males that hung around her.  I cannot seem to resist putting food out for the ferals when they come to the door asking for it.  This drives Steve absolutely insane but he lets me do it anyway and contents himself with threatening to thin their population down himself on one of his days off when I'm not looking. (He would never actually do this! I don't think....)

Well eventually the female, a dark tortoiseshell dubbed Spook, produced a litter of kittens that lived long enough to venture out and let themselves be seen. Two tortoiseshells and two blacks. Now I'm a bleeding heart when it comes to cats of all types, but I can run numbers pretty quickly and I know EXACTLY what happens when a colony of cats is allowed to flourish while a human steps in to keep nature's dangers out of the way.  As much as it kills me I do my all out best to avoid interfering with natural selection however, when you live in the suburbs, there isn't a whole lot of natural selection going on.  Lots of roadkill opportunities, but not many predators. This means that a litter of two females and two males is going to explode into a triple digit population within a few years if I don't keep myself in check.  So I keep my contact to a minimum as much as possible.

I watched Spook teach her kittens to hunt over the summer of 2010 and claim our backyard as her territory. As sometimes happens, she and the male she hadn't chased away by now decided I wasn't all that bad and got more and more comfortable with coming around me and eventually she let me pet her.  This was about the time I realized she was pregnant again... and really unhealthy.  I had no choice but to call Animal Control and they agreed to come pick her up that afternoon.  Not a good day for me. I chose not to inform the officer of the four young cats hiding under my deck when he was there.

The five remaining animals in my backyard earned themselves names. Smoke (the adult male),
I promise Smoke is alive in this picture!
Stain and Splotch (the two tortie female kittens), and Spooky and Boo (the two black male kittens).  Smoke hung around for the next couple of years and I suspect sired a couple more litters while he was at it, but his visits got fewer and farther between. I haven't seen him since spring of 2012.  Splotch was afraid of everything that moved and never became social to anyone that I know of.  She was chased off by Stain within months of reaching adulthood and only came back once every few months or so to beg for food.  I saw her once just this past fall, actually.  Spooky and Boo stayed with us for nearly a year, but never got terribly social to anyone and I believe they went off to find their own territory.  That left Stain.

Stain was a dark tortoiseshell who became very social to me, but not to anyone else here. She was an amazing huntress and I would often find her leftovers on my deck when I went outside to put food out.  Thanks to her, I know what the inside of a squirrel looks like.  And birds.  And chipmunks.  And frogs.

*cough* anyway.....

Stain's first litter arrived sometime in 2011.  The only kittens we ever saw were a black male, a solid gray male, and a diluted tortoiseshell female.  By the time these made it to adulthood, it was only the black "Shadow" and the female "Pandora".  These two wanted nothing to do with people of any kind for a very long time and Pandora is so good at hunting she didn't even come up to get food, but eventually Pandora came around and now comes when she hears me call her.
Pandora feeding that litter she's carrying.

Shadow also appears when he's called, but only if he knows there's food waiting for him.  He's a big coward and gets bullied by other cats on a regular basis. He always runs back to our yard and scrambles to the top of one of our dogwood trees where he yowls in terror until Steve goes out to rescue him by chasing off whatever tomcat is sitting at the base of the tree trying to figure out just what is WRONG with him.  It'd be sad if I wasn't laughing so much.

Pandora is just the opposite.  She's not afraid of anything and is the undisputed queen of our yard, having ousted her mother from that position in the hierarchy.  She's very effective at keeping random ferals from trying to move into the area and when she turned up pregnant, she decided that even Stain needed to find somewhere else to call home.

In April of 2012 she produced a litter of SEVEN kittens, though we suspect she stole two. Four solid grays and a tortie... pretty standard for her family line so far.  Then there was an orange tabby and a lilac point siamese.  Arrurr???  We ended up having to take the kittens away from Pandora because she insisted on trying to keep them right on the deck and my Mother-in-law's dog insisted they were toys. We could only do the guard and fend off thing for a week or so before losing our collective patience with the situation and introducing an indoor cage to house the babies in.
Kitten Caboodle

Fortunately, Pandora was social enough that she came right in with them and as soon as she understood she wasn't getting the kittens back, I got her to the vet and got her spayed.  Woohoo!  No more fertile cats in our yard! (Side note: The litter of kittens we brought in were all adopted out to family members, coworkers, and friends.  Jack and Zippy ended up staying with us.)

In June of 2013 Stain appeared out of the blue wanting food.  Of course, she had four kittens in tow.  A solid gray male I now call Slater, two dark tortoiseshells I refuse to name, and a runty little diluted tortie.  Awesome. Three more females.  I had no intentions of inviting any of them to stay, so I pretty much ignored them when I was putting food out. It was a couple of weeks later that Sarah asked if anyone had seen Stain since she'd brought her kittens to the house.  None of us had, though we'd seen the kittens.  Three of them were always the first into the food dishes and the runt occasionally would be up on the deck nibbling, though she was usually by herself in the grass.

Remember what I said earlier about natural selection?  I refused to get involved beyond making catfood and water available.

A couple of weeks after that, I heard Mom and Sarah talking about something they'd seen in the backyard and it had Sarah really upset.  Apparently Mom's dog, Cloudy, had been out in the yard and of course all the kittens scattered for the fences as usual.  All but the runt.  Mom said she just sat in one spot out in the middle of the yard while Cloudy charged her at an all out run. Now Cloudy never intentionally hurts the cats.  She just wants playmates.  She was expecting the kitten to turn and run and play tag to the fence like her siblings had.  She certainly didn't expect to quite literally bounce off of the kitten, so she was probably as startled as the kitten was.  Mom said the kitten fell over, then got back up, and slowly stumbled away from Cloudy and toward the fence.  She said the kitten was skinny as could be, and tripped over things in her path without attempting to go around or over them.  She must be really sick, and is certainly close to starvation.

Natural selection.  Not getting involved.

Now while I won't do anything to stop Mother Nature from reclaiming a sick animal that would have died anyway under the same circumstances if born in the wild, I'm not fond of the idea of my children stumbling upon the carcass of a species they consider pets. This meant it became my duty to keep an eye out for the poor little thing and go looking for her when the inevitable happened.

And this is what I was doing one bright sunny afternoon when she turned her head toward the window and caught the light in her eyes. No metallic gold, flash of green, or devileye red.  Her eyes reflected an opaque baby blue.

Wait. What?  THAT'S not normal.

So I sat there and watched her.  And watched her.  And watched her.  For about an hour.

She would sit still for extended periods of time staring in the same direction.  Her ears would flick to one side suddenly and her head would turn.  She'd sit there staring in that random direction, still not moving.  Her ears would flick to another side and her head would swivel.  This went on for nearly twenty minutes before she slowly stood up and picked her way clumsily through a patch of ground she'd covered repeatedly over the previous few days.

I decided to go outside and test a theory.  Now I'm no hunter, but I've watched enough wannabe hunting programs and movies to know that when sneaking up on something, you do it downwind.  Took me a while to figure out just which way downwind was.

Ahah! Got it! This way!
*takes a few steps slowly and as quietly as possible*
*wind changes direction*

Lots of trial and error later, it became stupidly obvious that I wasn't gonna outsmart the wind, so I resorted to just trying to be as quiet as possible while sneaking up on the kitten. I got within arms reach before I messed up and she heard me.  She panicked and bolted about ten inches away from me to the edge of the patch of ground she was always on.  Then she changed directions and began following the outline of where I'd seen her moving before and made a beeline for Steve's shed, where she dove under it and stayed hidden for an hour or so.

Mom had been watching this from the deck and when we looked at each other, we blurted out at the same time,

"She's not sick; she's blind!"

This isn't natural selection anymore in my book.  I'm not about to let an animal starve to death in front of me when it's probably otherwise perfectly healthy.

Mom helped me the rest of that evening and the next morning, and by the afternoon we were able to lure her into a cat carrier with a generous amount of meat and clean water.  It wasn't a moment too soon either, because it was beginning to rain and we'd been promised a deluge that threatened to last a few days.

As it turned out, the rain did last... nearly a week. Our backyard, and the debatable shelter under Steve's shed, flooded into a small lake that took almost four days to drain enough to see the ground again.

But that's alright.  The kitten had gotten her ticket onto the ark.


  1. Animals enter the ark two by two. Tell Steve he owes you a kitten.

  2. Steve says he'll just revoke her ticket.

  3. Your Photos of your Kitty Kats are so cute....I have one Male Tabby Cat named Railroad.

    I just found your Blog through the 123Bloggers list. I have become one of your followers now.

    I too have a Blog and here is the link:

    Happy Stitching
    Linda K, Railroad

  4. Thanks, Linda! I found your blog and started following you as well. =) Love looking at your stitching!