Just in time for Global Cat Day (previously known as Feral Cat Day) on October 16, I’d like to present you with a tale of two cats. The first tale is about Gypsy, an eight-week-old kitten, whose mother brought her to the right place. Little Mama brought her kitten to the home of Donna Kavanagh and Ron Stow, who both knew that Gypsy would have a better life with them.
We chose to work within the programs sponsored by Lincoln Animal Ambassadors rather than involve ourselves directly in animal rescue, since we do already have a “full house” of pets.
Donna and Ron are not your typical animal rescuers. Like my husband and I, instead of trying to regularly find homes for animals, they’re animal lovers who chose to adopt. They adopted a dog from the Capital Humane Society. Another of their dogs and two of their cats they inherited from their parents. They’ve also taken in animals who friends were unable to keep. Like my husband andme, they also help outdoor cats. Not only do they put out food, but Ron built a shelter. Just as importantly, they spay/neuter any strays or ferals that show up at their house. In this way, they prevent more unwanted kittens from being born into the world.
Gypsy was so little and vulnerable that we knew she’d probably do well indoors, where she’d be safe and loved. We wanted to provide that loving home for her.
Feral cats can lead reasonably healthy lives if they have a regular source of food and water. In extreme climates, shelter is equally important. Although Gypsy was receiving all these, she remained at risk to predators, traffic, and disease. Donna and Ron didn’t know of any feeding stations around the neighborhood. They didn’t have any way of knowing if anyone else would take on the responsibility of caring for Gypsy. Instead of waiting for someone else to step forward, they decided to become her caretakers.
Gypsy’s rescue is, to me, a personal victory. I set out to “win” Gypsy over, and she is the sweetest kitten.
One day, while Gypsy ate outside their home, Donna simply picked her up. Gypsy was a little alarmed, and so Donna set Gypsy back down but also continued to do this each day to get Gypsy used to being handled. “Then one day, I picked her up and brought her into the house. It was as simple as that.” Donna and Ron quarantined her in an unoccupied bedroom to give her time to adjust and to protect their other cats until she could be checked out by a vet
The personal satisfaction I get when Gypsy snuggles up next to me and purrs contentedly, or tears through the house on some unknown feline mission, lets me know that rescuing her was worth the time and effort. I’d do it again.
Once Gypsy had been cleared health-wise, Donna and Ron started integrating her into their household. They played with her and got her used to being with them. They introduced her to the litter box, which she took to using right away. They let the other cats ‘visit’ her so she could get used to them too. After a time, Donna and Ron also gave her free access to the rest of the house. “Being so young when we brought her indoors, Gypsy adapted amazingly well and quickly, very seamlessly. She had no fear of our 85-pound dog; he was probably more scared of her. She now walks through the house as if she owns the place.”
We’ve been successful in rescuing Little Mama as well. She’s become our pet, but it took a little longer and was a little more involved than Gypsy’s rescue.
My second tale is about Little Mama, who proved far more difficult to capture. Donna and Ron worked with Little Mama for several months, allowing her to lead the way. She’d come to them to eat about 10 pm each night, and they’d sit outside near her but far enough away so that she felt safe. Sometimes Little Mama would come onto the porch and she’d lie down next to Donna and play with the ties on her coat. Eventually, Little Mama let Donna and Ron got closer, and she’d rub against their legs. One amazing day, Little Mama let Donna pet her.
It was getting colder. I dreaded the thought of her being outside when it was winter.
When petting time became routine, Donna and Ron decided to try to capture Little Mama. Using a trap borrowed from The Cat House through their Trap-Neuter-Release program, they quickly captured Little Mama. But not for long. “Ron made the mistake of trying to open the cage in the garage so he could remove the food bowl before transporting her to the vet, and she escaped. Now he had a feral, scared cat running amok in the garage. On top of that, she had bit him. He went to the doctor; they did not stitch it, but he got antibiotics.” The two tried trapping Little Mama again two weeks later, and this time they were successful. They took her to the vet and got her spayed.
Although Little Mama wasn’t quite ready at that point to live with humans, Donna and Ron clearly had made a connection with her because Little Mama hung around after being released. Excited about their progress, the two patiently continued with the feeding and playing routine. “One night, I set a bowl of food just inside the front door, propped the door open, and waited for her to come in. She did but was very nervous, and so I let her back out.” A few days later, Donna tried again. This time, she successfully coaxed Little Mama farther into the house.
After Donna had managed to draw Little Mama into the spare bedroom, she and Ron repeated all the steps previously taken with Gypsy. They let her get used to them, the litter box, and the other cats. As for the giving her access to the rest of the house, “we let her take the lead in how far she wanted to go with ‘visiting’ outside the room. She slowly but surely started exploring, and has become very comfortable in most of the house.”
Every morning, she makes a beeline to jump in bed with Ron. We do have to watch our toes as she will try to reach out and grab you if you aren’t diligent. It’s very rewarding to watch her and Gypsy, and know that they’re together, safe and loved.”
Donna says that Little Mama has come a long way, but she remains nervous of the family’s dogs, and so will typically stay in one of the bedrooms. At times, though, she does venture into the living room and Donna is confident that Little Mama will eventually be 100% at home. “We can pick her up and pet her. She purrs and is affectionate.”
Donna’s posts on Facebook last year about her two feral cat rescues immediately caught my interest. After all, I’m a caretaker with Husker Cats, a volunteer group who work to ensure a high-quality life for community cats on campus. I’m also myself the owner of a former feral cat. After I interviewed Donna about her two cat feral cat rescues, she also shared with me her experience in providing general care for homeless cats.
There unfortunately seems to be a never-ending population of feral cats. This is a huge issue and one that drives my passion for spay/neutering to prevent unwanted kittens from being born and ending up homeless. You wouldn’t know there are several homeless cats around, but set a bowl of food out at night and you’d be surprised at how many come to eat. It’s an issue that is so preventable with diligence in spaying/neutering, and adopting from shelters rather than breeding.
Donna pointed out that even if a person doesn’t want to turn outdoor cats into pets, one can help feral cats live as more comfortably outdoors. For example, there are many options for shelter. “Ron built the one we have out of a wood pallet, so it is raised off the ground and has Styrofoam-insulated walls and a shingled roof. It has two levels, so that at least two to three cats can easily sleep in it. We purchased a bale of straw for added insulation and bedding. There was little cost except the straw and time.”
Should one decide to turn an outdoor cat into a pet, in Donna’s experience, feral cats are more afraid than anything. “They haven’t had the love and attention that they should have, so they react out of fear. They’re not trying to hurt anyone, but are simply trying to protect themselves from being hurt and preyed upon by others.” As any owner of a feral cat knows, they require more patience and persistence than non-ferals. Some of them may never learn to trust, but many eventually develop strong bonds with their owners.
Feral Cat Day was initiated in 2001 by Alley Cat Allies and this year has been renamed Global Cat Day. Little Mama and Gypsy are representative of just two of hundreds of homeless cats in communities across the world. Alley Cat Allies calls for “compassionate people around the world come together to stand up for policies that protect the cats in their communities”. On October 16, take the Kindness for Cats Pledge and advocate for cats everywhere.
There are few greater rewards than receiving a pet’s affection and knowing they are happy and healthy. My personal belief is that humans are supposed to care for the animals of this earth. I see it as our duty to be good stewards for animals, especially companion animals that have been domesticated by humans and have come to rely upon us for their existence. If you are unable to help care for them, at least do them no harm. It costs nothing to be nice to animals, but they payoff is huge in terms of the love and enjoyment received from them.