She’d see me reading in the hammock, and make a wide arch around me as if I would hurt her. Her cry was a long, low keening that sounded desperate and sad. She was a young cat, not more than a teenager.
At first, I probably shared some leftovers, maybe some fried rice, or a bit of chicken. I don’t eat much meat, so she didn’t return for a juicy t-bone or tri-tip. She returned because she had a chance of getting something-however small, to eat, and she was hungry.
Within a few days, a black cat, same size and age I’m guessing, was with her. Unlike her, it would not come close to the porch if I was near. It didn’t take long for it to realize that if it wanted to eat, it needed to be braver.
I caved and bought a small sack of cat food. Then I saw a flyer posted asking for help counting and trapping feral cats. I needed help. I called and left a message. I needed to have the ones I’d befriended spayed and given shots. My neighbor, Sherry, agreed to feed them when I was out of town. A few days later I was gone for four days.
The morning after I got back, I was having coffee on the porch when the striped cat emerged from underneath the house, along with three kittens: two striped, one black. She’s a nursing mama-always hungry.
The following day, two more teenagers showed up: one black, one calico. It was ridiculous. I met with the kind women who are trying to lessen the population of feral cats in our community, got vouchers and borrowed a trap..
A day later, I was again on the porch, trying to tame the babies so they can find homes, when another neighbor came by. “I’m missing two cats. Have you seen any?” ” I’m sure I have them, I answered gleefully.”
As it turns out she had gone off for a few days, and had not been feeding them. What was she thinking? I told her about the feral cat issue, and the vouchers available to help the situation. She listened and agreed, but wasn’t necessarily concerned.
And so it is. Cats are just cats, perceived as independent animals that appear to get along just fine on their own. A small percentage of them are treasured pets, even members of the family. They are the lucky ones. The rest, the majority of cats especially in rural areas, become food for coyotes, owls, mountain lions and other wild animals. While they are alive, they subsist on birds, lizards and small rodents.
The people here who are trying to help, have counted over 500 feral cats in this small community. 500! Some folks have over 100 cats! That happened because they did what I did. They fed them, but they didn’t have them neutered or spayed. Their hearts were in the right place, but they didn’t go far enough to affect change in the cat population. Before they knew it, the situation was out-of-hand. Big time.
Perhaps trying to make a difference is akin to putting your finger in the dyke to stop the dam from breaking. I believe that as stewards of the earth, and the critters on it, we need to take responsibility for that which we have domesticated. Every year, millions of dogs, horses, cats, and other animals are discarded and die, or are killed by overburdened shelters. It’s mostly because we see animals as insignificant, as novelties, as dispensable.
We give them for presents to people who don’t want them, or kids who don’t feed them. We get them for companionship, or work, as in the despicable cases of canine unit dogs abandoned by the Armed Forces when our troops go elsewhere.
If it takes a village to raise a child to be a morally responsible person, it is the same for our animal community. Those of us who are responsible must be stewards of the animals entrusted to those people who are not. It’s not enough to feed your own pet. We all need to reach out, to do what we can for to make the communities we live in safe for all creatures.