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The frequently over-looked feral cat is one denizen of the suburban/urban environment who desperately needs our help and understanding. This special edition of The Monday Garden created in collaboration with Stamford’s Friends of Felines is dedicated to Stamford, CT’s wild cats and the awesome volunteers who care for them.
THE ANCIENT COMPACT. Some 4,000 to 7,000 years ago Homo sapien and Felis catus formed a lasting mutual aid compact. The so-called “house cat” has been keeping our vermin in check in return for a warm bed, supplemental food, and, of course, a few pats. Humans have given Felis catus free transportation from their original home in West Africa to virtually every piece of dry land on the planet. After thousand years of co-habitation, they’re cousins of a sort. In fact, they’re part of the family in 34% of USA homes.
Half our cats are homeless. In the USA, we have a staggering 60 to 100 million cats living without the benefit of the ancient compact between our species. The numbers show that, despite millions of “waste” cats being put to death every year, half our cats are on their own.
HOMELESS AND FERAL CATS: Many of these millions of non-domestic cats were born within the compact but became homeless after being lost or abandoned. However, many are the homeless ones’ wild children. These children are truly feral, no more accustomed to humans than a raccoon.
Homeless cats, born within the compact, welcome a new human family, once they re-learn trust. Feral kittens can be brought within the compact. However, after a certain age, the born-wild ferals can not adapt to the ways of our tribe and can only be happy, living on their own, with their own kind.
COLONY LIFE: Like their African ancestors, wild cats band together in colonies, caring for each other as extended family.
Surviving wild: A squirrel constructs a nest; a chipmunk digs a burrow. Felis catus, evolved in the arid West African heat, is ill-equipped for the cold, the wet, and the predators of the temperate zones. Our wild cats survive by seeking food and shelter near human habitations. Dumps are popular for the waste food, and the vermin that it attracts.
Slow death. A female cat starts bearing at 6 months, and has about 3 litters a year until she dies from the strains of bearing and raising 30 or more children. The Toms, driven by their hormones to dominate territory by prowling and fighting, don’t fare much better. The “life” of an unneutered cat, on its own or in a colony overrun with kittens, is often a slow, early death due to malnutrition, feline diseases, injuries from fighting and other causes, and harsh weather.
Look carefully, they’re there. There are wild cats in your community, be it New York City’s back streets or New Canaan’s backyards. Trust me, they’re there. Unfortunately, some humans respond to “stray” cats by harassing, torturing, and poisoning. The survivors have learned to avoid humans, making them hard to spot.
Care giving humans: Part of the problem (and much of the solution) is the many humans who honor our ancient ties by providing food and shelter for the wild ones. This is often done discretely for fear of humans who might harm the cats or don’t want the colony “in their backyard”.
These food-giving humans are part of the problem unless steps are also taken to control the cats’ breeding.
THE “NO-KILL” SHELTERS: In my town (Stamford, CT), tax-supported animal control stopped taking cats during the 1990’s budget cuts. Volunteers quickly filled the gap. Many thought that the “no kill” volunteers were a step forward.
In addition to the rescued homeless cats and the captured ferals, the shelters house domestic cats put up for adoption because their humans can’t or won’t keep them any longer. Sadly, this includes the beloved companions of people going into nursing homes.
Today, my town’s volunteer “no-kill” cat shelters are full; ditto the neighboring towns. Janine Paton, a founder of Stamford’s all-volunteer Friend of Felines, described the heartache of the volunteers, as their shelters (usually volunteers’ homes) fill with unadopted, and unadoptable, adult cats. She said that every night she finds her home answering machine crammed with pleas for help that have no answer.
There’s no room in the inn, yet each day, more cats are born than there are homes or shelters. So, what happens? More cats are abandoned and more strays go unrescued. Some are not neutered, and the number of wild children continues to rise.