Caring For Cats In The Community

Sanctuary, a place we find solace and safety, comfort and care. It’s a fine word and a noble place. Sometimes we offer it, and sometimes it gets offered to us. Either way, it’s a type of grace.

During the last year, I came to know a colony of feral cats here at my Jamestown home. First, there was an old tomcat I called Max for the past three years and then another rugged tomcat I call Sarge. They fought for the attentions of an oddly elegant silver and white long haired female, who showed up out of nowhere, bereft, homeless, seemingly feral. I came to call her Mimosa. She slunk along the ground and had no wish to be near humans.

However, she started showing up with two, half-grown, gray and white kittens. I called them the boys. I put out some food and water in all weathers. Ultimately, they came to rely on me for sustenance. It was fine all fall when the weather was bearable, but in winter, when the snow piled up, those cats began to suffer. I had constructed a few “feral shelters” for them all (I found directions on Google), but the cats did not seem to use them.

For a long time, the boys like their mama, like the grown tomcats, were too wild to touch, but I talked to them through the screen door. One began to respond with an arched back and let me pet him now and then. He was full of smiles, this young cat. I named him Tippy. His brother, similarly grey and white but mustachioed like a pirate cat, was far too wary, drawing away at any entreaty to be friends. I wondered how that beautiful mama cat ended up in rough shape on the streets, struggling to make a life. But here she was, on my doorstep every day with her boys.

One freezing day mid-winter, when I feared for their lives in sub-zero temperatures, ice and snow, I tricked them inside. They’ve been inside ever since. That’s how this love affair began.

I didn’t know much about feral cats, so I did some reading up on “feral cats.” The word is a misnomer, really. Cats like these are usually not strays. They have ended up homeless through no fault of their own– abandoned by humans, neglected, left to fend for themselves. They’ve not been neutered or spayed. They are community cats, really.

And then I found some wonderful folks who knew what they were doing regarding feral cat colonies. One was Roberta Thompson, a local realtor, who is beloved by everybody, I’ve since come to realize. She was active in TNR, which meant she helped homeless cats get safely trapped, neutered/spayed and returned to the same place or a suitable place. That’s how feral cat populations are decreased and helped in progressive communities. Some groups have added vaccinations too, and I think that’s a great idea.

Roberta’s group is called the Community Cat Alliance. In coordination with the CCHS, other cat rescues, and the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, the CCA “is dedicated to promoting spay and neuter and related needs to animals abandoned or left homeless for whatever reason,” according to Roberta. This group has been active in saving cats’ lives and decreasing feral cat populations over time.

In late March, Mimosa surprised us all when she delivered four scrawny kittens. She was a devoted mother, and they all thrived. But about the third week, one grew ill with a URI and an eye infection; she stopped eating. I brought her to the Falconer Veterinary Clinic. Dr. Mary Fales treated this little tiger and white beauty with ointment for her eye and antibiotic for her lungs. A vet tech named Amanda showed me how to hand feed the little mouse sized kitten. Veterinary Assistant Leda gave the kitten some loving care. Little Mitzi weighed only 4 ounces when the others weighed nearly a pound at four weeks. I posed the question to the vet one day, what’s the prognosis? Dr. Fales grinned and said, “This kitten’s got spunk. She has a good chance with some work and care.”

Sure enough, it’s now June, and Mitzi is thriving. The spunky girl has won a place in my house and heart. Though caring for these cats has been sometimes exhausting, I’ve learned plenty throughout about some important things in life: Never quit. Cry if you need help. Be assertive enough to make a space for yourself at the food bowl. I’ve learned cats do well when they’re ill because they don’t seem to fret about it.

Sanctuary was what I offered these cats who had been cast aside in our community, and with help from knowledgeable, kind people like Roberta at Community Cats Alliance, I was able to provide it. The brothers, now called Tippy and Skippy, are loving, clean, wonderful indoor cats now. Their mother no longer shrinks from human touch. The cats will all be neutered and spayed. They will have their required shots. They will not, however, be returned to the streets. They’ve found home here. You never know where you will find grace; you never know where you will find home.

To support Community Cats and learn more about helping ferals, attend the fundraiser Spaghetti Dinner, Basket Raffle and Bake Sale at the Ashville Fire Hall on Sunday, June 9, noon – 6 pm. Tickets are available at the door. Adults $10; children 10 and under, $5. For further information, see also aspca.org/animal-homelessness/shelter-intake-and-surrender/closer-look-community-cats.