Category Archives: ferals

If it’s not one thing . . .

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A few days ago, the last of Binkles’ foot drama was over. The vet removed the pin in his foot that was used to reset the bone that had fractured.  I felt relieved that not only was my Binks as good as new, but I was looking forward to a period of time where it didn’t feel like I was dating my vet, so frequent were my visits.

As I pulled into the driveway with my newly-pinless bunny, I noticed that Pretty, my pet feral cat, was limping pretty badly as she came out to greet me. When I got out of the car, she came up to me, gave me a plaintive meow and held her paw up. Part of me was thinking “oh no, you poor thing” and the other part (the cheap, less compassionate part) was thinking “oh for crying out loud! Seriously?”

I took a look at her paw and could see nothing obvious. It clearly wasn’t broken as she was putting weight on it, and there was no visible or felt object stuck in it. She was moving around (albeit limping a bit) and eating just fine, so I figured this was a watch and wait situation.

The next day, she seemed better. Still slightly limping, but definitely in better spirits. I was relieved. However, the day after (on a Saturday, of course) I could see the paw had definitely taken a turn for the worse. It was swollen to twice its normal size, and her limp had become much more pronounced. No more waiting and watching. She is a feral cat, after all, and if it got worse she may go into hiding and I would never be able to get her.

Fortunately, she does let me touch her, so I petted her a while as she ate.  Then I betrayed her by quickly scruffing her and then stuffing into a carrier. She complained loudly and mournfully as we drove to the emergency vet.

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The nightly ritual

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I did this piece of writing recently for a class I was taking. The writing prompt was “ritual.” Since I want to get some momentum going again with my blog, I hope you don’t mind some recycled material.

She knows the sound of my car coming up the driveway. I always drive in rather slowly, vigilantly, because I never know from where in the yard she will pop out. Occasionally, mostly in the winter months, I actually have to call for her, so during those times, I wait in the car a couple of minutes to give her time to make her appearance. Then I get out to find her pacing excitedly in front of my car. I say my first line:

“Oh, there you are.”

I’ll then open up the back passenger side of the car to scoop about half a cup of Cat Chow into an old buttery spread tub.

“Do you want some dinner?” is my next line.

She doesn’t answer, but rather heads towards the corner of the driveway where I have fed her every day for the last four and a half years. Her tail is erect and she keeps looking back at me as if to say “come on, hurry!”

I pour out the cat crunchies on the pavement. I used to use a bowl, but it kept getting pushed down the embankment by the raccoons.

“Here ya go, Pretty. Here’s your dinner.” I say stating the obvious.

Over five years ago, when Pretty was just a kitten, someone had dumped her and her sister in my neighborhood. Perhaps they knew that there were feral cat feeders in the area. Or perhaps it was just convenient. All I remember were these two kittens suddenly started showing up at the bowl where I was feeding another local stray. To distinguish between the two kittens, I started calling them by their predominant traits. Pretty was named such because, well, she’s pretty – a calico torbie, with the most perfect white markings and the greenest of eyes. Her sister I called Skitty because, well, she was skittish. Skitty disappeared shortly after I captured them both to have them spayed. Pretty has stuck around, but has refused all attempts to move her into the house.

When I first put the food down, she takes a couple of bites and then circles my legs, lightly rubbing against me. When she starts eating again, I pet her soft, shiny fur.

“Who is my pretty girl? That’s a good girl, eat eat.”

She takes a few more bites, and again circles and rubs.

“Come on, sweet pea, eat eat. I’m not going to stand out here all night.”

At night, Pretty will only eat while I am watching over her. She’s a very vigilant girl, if not a wee bit paranoid, and I think she feels safer when I’m there to ward off the imagined armies of raccoons, possums, neighborhood dogs and other cats. And perhaps she is overreacting a bit, but her strategy has worked as she is still here after five years whereas other ferals have come and gone during that period.

This cycle of eating, circling and rubbing continues at least three more times (longer in nicer months). I stare up at the stars and try to imagine my mind like a big open sky. Finally, I’ll call it a night.

“I gotta go, sweetheart, Keep eating. I’ll see you in the morning.” I say as I lean down to get one more hit of her soft soft fur.

It’s been like this night after night year after year and I can think of no happier ritual to welcome myself home.

Good intentions

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Friday morning, Nov 26

Today is the day I’m finally going to bring Pretty, the feral cat that I’ve been taking care of for the last five years, into the house and try to tame her down. I’ve prepared my home office with a litter box, a safe hidey-hole and have spritzed the entire room with At Ease, a pheromone-based herbal calming spray.  I have no illusions that this will be particularly easy, but I’m going to give it a go. It has taken a long time for this little cat to trust me enough to let me pet her, to be able to pick her up.  I hope I don’t blow all that collateral in this attempt to bring her in so she is safe and warm.

Friday afternoon, Nov 26

Pretty was no where to be found when I went downstairs to feed her this morning.  I am not entirely surprised as this has been happening more and more. Other cats in the neighborhood have apparently caught wind to the fact that there is food and a shy cat who refuses to fight for her territory over here.

What does surprise me, however, is that someone picked up her food dishes from outside my back door and placed them on my porch while I was out of the house for a mere hour.  I find this extremely disturbing.  And while I’m not proud of this leap in logic, I took it as a sign that Pretty was dead.  Yes, in my dark fantasies, people kill cats and then leave their empty dishes on your porch as way of letting you know.  (Note to self: skip the annual Godfather marathon on AMC next year.)

Friday evening, Nov 26

Pretty isn’t dead. When I head out to my car to go to the grocery story, she comes dashing up the stairs in search of food.  I’m ecstatic to see her, but the nerves kick in as I know this is my big chance.

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My neighbor thinks I’m an asshole

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I’ll admit it.    I’m a bit of a people pleaser.  Not pathologically so, but it does matter to me if most people like me.  So, that’s why it bugs me that my neighbor thinks I’m an asshole.

It all started a couple of weeks ago when Pretty reappeared after a month’s absence.  I was outside watching her eat.  She tends to feel safer when I am standing nearby, and since she already seemed pretty fragile, I was taking my job as protector fairly seriously.  Next thing I know, a neighbor’s Chihuahua comes barreling towards her, which causes her to dash for cover.  I said, to no one in particular, “god damn it!”  and when I looked up, my new neighbor was a few feet away from me.  He looked a bit taken aback by my reaction.

“She wasn’t going to hurt the cat. She just likes to chase them” he said.

“No, I didn’t think she was going to hurt her. It’s just that this little cat is really fragile right now . . . ” I started to explain. 

He called for the dog, then picked her up and walked back to his house without saying much else. 

For the rest of the day I felt bad that I had come off so rude to this new neighbor who had seemed so nice when I met him the first time. I thought about writing a letter apologizing for my rudeness and to ask him if he could kindly keep his dogs on a leash when walking through my (OK, my landlord’s) property, or carry them in his arms so that they don’t harass my Pretty.  After all, he does pass through my yard while walking his dogs. 

But time passed and I never left that note.  I watched a few times from my window as one or the other of his Chihuahuas made a beeline for the area where I feed Pretty.  If  it wasn’t him and his two Chihuahuas, it was another new neighbor and their Chihuahua.  In the last two months, there has been a Chihuahua explosion in my immediate vicinity: five freakin’ Chihuahuas within a 50 yard radius.   Look, I have nothing against Chihuahuas – they’re dogs and they are going to do dog stuff like chase cats and eat their food.  I get it.   What I don’t appreciate is how people let them go unleashed, figuring they’re tiny and harmless and don’t need to contained.   But, for the sake of being neighborly, I refrain from yelling out my window “keep your goddamn Chihuahuas out of my yard!”

In the meantime, my landlord started working on my house.  After a few days, noticing how people were constantly using his property as a through way to get to an alley that serves as a shortcut, he decides to fortify a fence to make it more difficult for people to pass through, and then slapped  No Trespassing/Private Property sign on both sides of the property.  While I have sometimes been annoyed by people cutting through, I thought his approach was a bit heavy-handed and less than neighborly. 

Apparently the neighbors got the message, though.  I didn’t see the Chihuahua Man crossing by anymore.  That is, until this morning.

As I was guarding Pretty I saw one of Chihuahua Man’s dogs a few yards away. She was barking in my general direction, but she didn’t get too close.  Knowing that her owner couldn’t be too far behind, I waited until I saw him so I could talk to him.  I still felt bad about our previous interaction, and I’m sure all the No Trespassing signs that went up shortly thereafter didn’t help the situation.

“Hi!” I waved and smiled.

“Hey” he nodded sans a smile.

“Listen, I wanted to apologize for our interaction a few weeks back. I didn’t mean to be rude.  I was just upset because the cat is really skittish and she had just come back from being missing for a month.” I explained.

“It’s not like she was going to hurt her. She just wanted to eat her food.” he said sounding somewhat defensive.

“No, I didn’t think she was going to hurt her.”  I started, but opted to change the topic since he clearly didn’t grok the whole feral cat thing.  “Also, despite the new signage my landlord put up, you’re free to pass through.  I haven’t had any problem with it.”

He continued to look at me impassively. 

I nervously continued. “Considering our last interaction and the timing of the signs, I just wanted to let you know that I have no problem with you or your partner passing by.  Those signs were not directed at you.”

“Yeah, well, that’s how we took it.” he said with no sign of softening.

“So, feel free to use walkway, but if I could just ask you to either have your dogs in your arms or on a leash when you pass through so as to not bother the cat.” I said in a manner that was probably more pleading than firm. 

“Yeah, fine. Thanks.” he said with no emotion. 

Never once did he break a smile.  I mean, this was all a silly misunderstanding. I’m a good person, really, I am.  Like me, won’t you? 

So, we’ll see where this goes.  Hopefully, all will be well in the neighborhood. But, if he continues to let his dogs harass my Pretty, well . . . you think I’m an asshole now? 

Comings and goings

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It’s hard to love a wild thing.

I tell myself it’s a good for my Buddhist practice.  I tell myself I won’t get attached.  I tell myself I can love it unconditionally, wishing only for their happiness and well being.  I tell myself a lot of things.

The truth of the matter is I do get attached. Really attached. And these wild creatures, these feral cats, break my heart on a regular basis.

A couple of weeks ago, Boots, one of the neighborhood strays,  got hit by a car.  Boots wasn’t even a cat I took care of, but he was a frequent visitor to my yard. He was such a  handsome boy. And while he was a bully to the other neighborhood cats, he was a total sweetie to me.  The evening after my neighbor told me that Boots had been killed, I ended up wailing like some old Sicilian woman grieving the loss of her child.

RIP Boots

Yet those  tears weren’t merely for Boots.  I was also grieving for the feral cat I’ve taken care of for over four years, Pretty.  Pretty had disappeared about a month previous and I was certain  that she was gone for good.  So I sobbed for Boots and I sobbed some more for Pretty, and while I was at it, I sobbed for Alaska and Nomie, who have been gone one and a half years and three years, respectively.  It’s was sob-a-pa-looza at Chez LB.

The very next day I went out to leave food for Pretty, as I always do, even when she has disappeared (she’s done this before).  I was wandering around my front yard forlornly calling for her knowing that if she was around she would call back – she is a very talkative little cat and always calls to me whenever she hears me come outside or hears my car drive up.   I probably sounded pretty pathetic – mournfully calling for a cat that I was certain was dead.

Pretty scarfs down

Then I heard it.  It wasn’t coming from any of her usual places, but from behind my house, on the hillside.  I followed her plaintive mews until I saw her on the hill.   My sadness quickly gave way to excitement.  My Pretty was alive! And she was here!  She looked skinny and a bit stressed, but she was alive and had a lot to say.

Soon Pretty and I were back at our old routines.  She seems happy and much more confident.  The only thing that is different is her voracious appetite. But, with her focused so intently on the food, it has allowed me to attempt to pet her. And as long as she is distracted by the food, I can touch her to my heart’s content.  If I wanted to I could simply scruff her and bring her in the house.

So, that’s where my mind is at right now.  What is the kindest and wisest thing to do for this little cat?  The neighborhood has changed over the last few months – many more dogs and far fewer cats. This used to be a very safe area for these feral cats. There are four or five feral cat feeders within a three block area.  They had all been  neutered  and were being fed on a regular basis (the cats, that is, not the humans).  But, the cats are disappearing.  At least we know what happened to Boots.  The others, well, it’s a mystery. It could just be cats being cats and maybe finding greener pastures. It could be someone who doesn’t like cats. It could just be the dangers of being a wild creature.

I accept that part of my reasons for wanting to bring her in is that I can’t take having my heart broken again – at least not just yet.  I want her to be safe.  But will she be happy?   After being born feral and living feral for over four years, can I tame her down enough to only be mildly neurotic like her daughter, Tangerine, who now lives with me?

I don’t have the answer yet.  Each day since she has returned she seems happier, healthier.  And I worry that she would feel betrayed by being nabbed and placed in a house. She’s never lived in a house. She wouldn’t understand that it’s safer than the outside world.  Could she even appreciate it? I don’t know.  I guess I’ll just try my best to do the best for her.  It’s all I can do.

All the fuzzy, little of the warm

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Considering I share my home with four furry creatures, you would think I would constantly be smothered in love and affection.  You know, maybe a cuddle now and again to show their gratitude for being well fed and cared for?  Is it too much to ask?  Apparently so.

Of the four creatures, only Sasquatch, my massive Maine Coon allows me to cuddle him or even asks for my attention.  However, unlike the late, great felines of yore, Alaska and Noname, he can’t be bothered to greet me at the door when I come home.  In fact, if I don’t go into the bedroom and say hello to him, I may only see him in passing for the rest of the evening.  We really don’t get much time together until I go to bed – that’s when he gets all affectionate (so like a male). We have our nightly ritual.  I crawl into bed and he comes up and licks my arm and hand.  Then resting his paw on my arm, he’ll try and purr me to sleep.  After 10 minutes or so, he gets up and finds his spot on the foot of the bed.  I’ve become so accustomed to our ritual I find it hard to fall asleep without it.

As for the others? Well, despite living in my house for close to 2 years now, Tangerine the cat still flees the room whenever I get too close.  She will, however, allow me to pet her when she is laying next to Sasquatch on the bed.   I guess she needs his presence to feel safe and protected, because you know what a mean motherf*cker I can be when it comes to animals.  Sigh.

And then there are the rabbits. Since picking them up scares the bejesus out of them (even though I in no way resemble an owl or a hawk), I don’t try and force my affection on them.  During those rare times when I do pick them up, they are really quite sweet and snugly, but with the slightest noise they freak the fuck out and will try to escape anyway they can, and very possibly hurt themselves.  I worry about that, so I keep the picking up and holding them to a minimum.  Mr. Binkles, my first bun, will occasionally come up and join me on the couch when I’m watching TV and lower his head asking for a nose rub which eventually works itself into a full body stroking.  It’s nice treat.  All too rare, though.   I think he prefers to show his affection by choosing to hang out in whatever room I’m hanging out in at the time. If I’m in the office, he’s in the office.  Living room, living room.  And the perhaps the weirdest and most endearing habit is his desire to join me in some synchronized peeing in the bathroom.  He’ll follow me into the bathroom and when he sees me sit down on the toilet, he’ll hop into the cat box and do his business.  It makes me laugh almost every time.

Mrs. Peabody, the other rabbit, doesn’t have much use for me.  Even though I was the one who rescued her lagomorphic ass and introduced her to Mr. Binkles, her bonded “husbun”, she pretty much acts as if I don’t exist.  She gives more affection to my boyfriend than she does to me.  Frankly, I think she is jealous of the bond that Mr. Binkles and I share.  I sometimes feel like we have kind of mother-in-law/daughter-in-law hostile vibe going on.

Yet, I love all of my little charges.  I suppose it’s a good exercise in giving love unconditionally without the expectation of a whole lot in return.   Yeah, I guess that is the lesson here.

Storm cloudy

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In addition to being one heck of a writer, my blog buddy Amurin is a keen observer of the human soul (actually, there is probably a cause and effect correlation there that could go either direction, but you get my point).   After reading my last two posts here and a handful of my twitter entries she wrote in a comment that I seemed a bit “storm cloudy.”   Storm cloudy. Yup, she nailed it.  For the last couple, three weeks I have been feeling like I’ve been sitting under a dark cloud.  And while I recognize that like a storm cloud eventually it will pass and it will all be sunshine and rainbows and freakin’ unicorns, for the time being I’ve got this damn cloud following me around.  I feel like Pigpen from the Snoopy comics who was always surrounded by billows of dirt and dust.

There are reasons for my storm cloudiness.  Mostly, I blame it on the oppressive optimism of summer.  I mean, it’s summer, I should be going somewhere, doing something, being outdoors and enjoying myself.   You know, yay! it’s summertime and the living is easy.  What. Ever.  Stupid summer.

But seriously, what as been really heavy on my heart over the last few weeks is the well being of my little feral friends.

I have been taking care of Pretty and Gonzo O’Feral,  my mother and daughter feral family, for well over three years now.   Other ferals have come and gone (and one of them, another of Pretty’s daughters, Tangerine, now lives in my house), but Pretty and Gonzo feel like pets to me, except that they live outside and they don’t let me touch them.  Even though they are feral, I feel the same responsibility  to keep them healthy, safe and happy as I do towards my furry friends who share my home with me.  And while they don’t let me pet them, they do offer me their trust, which is a rare commodity in a feral animal.  And I feel honored.

Lately, however, I feel as if I have let them down.  My girls are too scared these days to come up to their usual feeding area.  And on the rare occasion that they do, they slink cautiously and look about nervously as they inhale their food.  But mostly, when I go down to feed them they refuse to come up and instead just meow plaintively, hidden somewhere in the blackberry brambles below.  I plead with them, promising them safety if only they will come up and have a bite to eat.  Sometimes Pretty will take pity on me and come up and eat while I keep a lookout for whatever it is that is scaring them.  Gonzo, though, just cries a few yards away, out of reach of predators and my good intentions.

My theory is that they are scared of Boots.  Boots is a big beautiful grey and white male cat who used to live down the street, but was abandoned when his meth addict guardian was evicted.  His care has fallen to the benevolent Bonnie Jo who feeds a flock of ferals about a half block away.  Bonnie Jo and I have become pretty good friends as her coven of kitties often make their way over to my yard and eat the food I leave for my girls.  She tries her best to keep her two troublemakers, Raisin and Boots, away from my yard, but it’s a losing battle.  He’s a bit of an imperialist, that Boots.  He keeps expanding his territory and isn’t afraid to fight for it.  I fear he is the culprit who has been terrorizing my girls.

Both Bonnie Jo and I have been trying to dissuade Boots from hanging around my house and yard.   It hasn’t been terribly effective.  In fact, the more we try to convince him to leave, the more he has become a regular fixture and shows up like clockwork whenever he hears me leave the house to go feed my girls in the morning and evening.  So, the other day, I  decided to stop fighting Boots and have chosen instead to welcome him.  I’ve set up his own feeding area beside my house, out of view of my ferals’ feeding area.  Now, when he comes by instead of shooing him away, I feed him and give him lots of affection and attention.  He’s really a sweet boy.  Very affectionate.  And handsome?  Man, he is a handsome handsome boy.

I’m only about two days in the Great Boots Experiment.  I hope that with his own dedicated Boots Only feeding area and lots of petting and scritches, he’ll leave my girls alone.  And it is my deepest wish that with time, my girls will once again feel safe enough to not only eat, but loll about in my driveway and leave their dainty little paw prints all over my car.  To see that again would surely help banish some of these storm clouds over my head.

The O'Ferals

Gonzo, Buffy & Pretty O'Feral