More Cat Encounters of the Feral Kind
I became aware of feral cats.
I would enter their world. I would find a cure. How?
I never saw those kittens again. Occasionally, I did see the mother traversing our yard now and then. But I did nothing. I did not know what to do.
Just as autumn was drawing to a close, I looked out my kitchen window and saw a long-haired white kitten with a black nose perched on our trailer in the driveway and silently crying. We exchanged a glance through the window... and I wondered if this was one of her kittens from another litter? I immediately went outside - but the kitten had disappeared. I frequently left a dish of milk outside the door hoping for its return. I never saw that kitten again. But, I did notice that something or someone was drinking the milk.
I actively started to watch for cats.
From my upstairs bedroom window I have a panoramic view of our driveway and the brush/woods behind the neighbor's house. A rusting old green truck that had been decaying back there for decades might be a perfect hideout for cats to live in, I imagined.
I would place a dish of cat food or scraps under the trailer in our driveway and then sit in the window upstairs and wait. Often, near dark, I would see different cats approach and eat. Only one would come at a time and usually a different cat each night. I recognized the black and white tuxedo mother cat that I had seen earlier in the summer. She came the most often. There was also a large orange-striped male, a solid white cat, and others.
I kept feeding a dish of food most evenings through the winter until a family of opposums took over eating the food so I stopped feeding. That was when the weather was severely cold and brutal. I wondered where the cats were and how they were able to make it.
Spring came and I remembered my vow that I would not let that mother cat teach her babies to cross the road. I began to do research online about feral cats. I started to put food out again and the mother cat came everyday to eat.
Why did she still cross the road?
My husband said, "She crosses the road because there's a creek over there and that's where she gets water and catches food." So, I put out a dish of water and left food out more than one time a day. I wanted to prevent her from having to cross the road. I wanted to have her trust that her needs would be met here by us.
She began to depend on me. She waited for me to put out food. I saw her come from the brush out back when I would put out the food. I wanted to trap her and let her have babies in a safe environment where they would not struggle for survival. I asked my husband if he would help me trap her.
We purchased a large raccoon trap - set it and then noticed that she had eaten food and not gotten caught. Was she that smart? Then the large orange tabby male came and ate and was caught in the trap. WRONG CAT! We let him go. Maybe it was harder to trap cats than we thought. Or to trap the right cat when we wanted to... and what was I going to do with her if I trapped her? Was she really a long lost pet - could I hold her and pet her - would she lay on our sofa? No.
Then I had a new idea from the ALLEYCATALLIES.ORG website to build a shelter for feral cats. She could be safe and warm in the winter and have her babies there. We printed up the plans and purchased the materials. It was more expensive than we planned - but my husband is good-natured and likes to build things. It cost us a hundred dollars and took a couple weeks to complete it.
In the meantime, while watching the coming and goings of the mother cat, I observed the location of where she always seemed to disappear in the brush. Then one morning in the sunlight a flash of something white caught my eye on the brush pile. With binoculars I saw a little calico kitten teetering on the pile. Another wisp of movement revealed a gray tabby kitten playing nearby. So, she had at least two kittens. She raised kittens in a brush pile!
I dug a hole under our backyard fence. That was the only way that I could think of to lure the mother and the babies into our backyard. I relocated the food and water there. Eventually she would have to bring the babies in for food when she felt it was safe and they were old enough. I wanted to catch the kittens and tame them.
I had named the mother cat "Dar-ling" by now and she would come when I called her. Sometimes we would exchange eye-blinks over the fence. As I turned my back to walk away - she would enter our yard through the hole under the fence. She always kept her distance.
The trap was a part of the scenery. My husband rigged the trap so that it was selective in its mechanism with a string that went all the way to our back door. We could watch from our house for the right moment and then just pull the string. We waited for weeks for that right moment.
There were three kittens! Two were tabby and one was dilute calico. Sometimes Dar-ling would only bring in the two tabbies and then wait for the cover of dusk to let the little calico feed. She was so bright and flashy. The mother was so smart. She was such a good mother. Sometimes they would all romp and play together in the safety of our yard just for a few minutes before they would all retreat again to the brush pile. But they did not go in the trap - it was forbidden.
She would wait for a few days before she would bring them in again... evidently she was still nursing them and perhaps catching wild meat for them to eat. She was keeping the kittens hidden as much as possible. Sometimes at dusk I could see them being taught to climb trees in the woods. They would teeter across low branches and then jump off on their sibling below. What fun to be a kitten in the freedom of the wild, to feel the sunshine on your fur and to have the breezes through the trees for your atmosphere.
One evening, Dar-ling brought all three kittens in and they were eating and playing. Dar-ling got relaxed and stretched out on the grass. She felt safe. She let down her guard. The kittens smelled that there was food in the trap... and they all entered it and we pulled the string and they were caught! Dar-ling sprang into action like a madman and tried to help her babies. She ran around and around the trap as the babies popped around inside like popcorn.
We felt regret for having played such a deceitful game with Dar-ling. But we had our precious cargo (her three kittens). We ran outside and covered the trap with a large towel. We let the kittens go in our garage. They were so scared and hid. Dar-ling did not leave the area... she was still sitting there as night closed in.
In the middle of the night I got up to check on the kittens in the garage. It was hard to locate them, they had hidden so well. I found a tabby in the bottom of a metal coat closet and decided I would hold it - mistake - my finger was severely punctured and lacerated by razor-sharp little teeth. Blood began to pour out of the wounds. Wow! I was not expecting that! I forgot these were wild creatures. I doctored myself up and went to bed with a throbbing finger and a racing mind.
In the morning Dar-ling was still waiting there for her babies. She would not enter the trap for food - but would she enter the trap if her baby was in it? We were going to try to trap her also. We got a hold of the calico kitten (with leather gloves) in the garage and put it in a small cat carrier. We put it at the end of the trap and called Dar-ling. We used her baby as bait. She came and after much circling the trap, made the decision to enter to "save her baby." Then we pulled the string and trapped her also.
Now we let the mom go with her babies in the garage. They were so glad to see her! They all lived in our garage together for one week. We got a few pictures of Dar-ling with her kittens as they would huddle together between two cabinets. They gradually became less fearful and I could even sit near them comfortably.
We took Dar-ling to be spayed at "Carol's Ferals." She was ear-tipped to identify that she was TRAP-NEUTER-RETURN. I hated to mar her beauty with the ear-tip, but then I came to view it as a "badge of honor" or "right of passage." She had someone who cared for her and we had done the right thing getting her fixed and returning her to the wild.
We released her back to the wild to which she was accustomed to. She was feral through and through. It was in her DNA, it was in her blood, that was the way she was wired. She and I had an understanding. I meant her no harm and she trusted me. Though she had tolerated the garage she was not happy nor could she ever be inside so close to humans. She went through such a horrible ordeal with surgery and all. She would only recover if she could be outdoors again.
But, she would not forget her babies. Dar-ling cried for her babies all night. We could hear her in the night. One of the kittens that was the most wild would cry back in answer to her. She would not give up. She hung around the garage, smelling under the door and crying. We would open the door and would have let her in - but she did not know how to come in a door. The noise of it opening (and humans) just scared her away.
Taming Feral Kittens
We needed to start working with the kittens if we were to tame them. We had noticed the calico was the most playful and inquisitive. She looked like a china doll and thus that became her name. She loved to come out of hiding with a cloth mouse on the end of a fishing pole line. China Doll was my husband's favorite and she sure took a shine toward him. The long-haired tabby we named Grudge would sheepishly watch and come out of hiding also. He wanted to play. So, we knew we had two good candidates for taming. Steven, the tabby with the white bib and boots, was not at all social. He was a momma's boy and was the wildest of the three. He snorted and struck like a rattlesnake if you put your hand toward him.
We constructed a large cage in the garage so we could have easy access to the kittens. We needed to confine them and be able to just pick them up whenever we wanted. That way they would get used to being held and not be able to hide.
The first time I got a hold of Grudge I wore leather gloves and he clipped my thumb through the glove with his teeth. But soon, he allowed me to pet him and snuggle him and it felt so wonderful! He was a big baby ever since. He cries to be picked up and he is so very tame. China Doll was a bit hissy - but soon was loving human attention and playtimes. Steven squealed like a pig when he was picked up and fought and struggled - I thought my husband was being murdered! We tried to work with Steven in the cage - but he had wildness and fear that was too deep and we respected that.
We let Steven join his mother outside. He was so happy! He was bouncing around like Tigger on springs. She was satisfied also. Evidently she still had milk and that's why she was calling for her babies.
Now Dar-ling and Steven come three times a day to be fed and I see them playing together near the fence.
All is well.
Part 3: STEVEN - Feral Kitten