Terry Ratner RN, BS, MFA - nurse, writer, educator - click to return home
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Calling all Ailurophiles (Cat Lovers)

There is only one thing you need to care for a cat, and that is a sense of responsibility.

On Saturday morning I walked over to the vacant house next door, a redbrick historic home with a chimney cloaked in dead ivy. I wanted to see for myself the number of cats roaming the area. A “For Sale” sign by the side entrance read “A Dream House” in bold black letters.

A few desiccated mums were still in pots on the porch and a rusted ladder lay on the side of the house behind a Eucalyptus tree. Four black cats stretched out on the flagstone walkway acting as watchmen for the dayshift while a fat tabby snoozed on the side porch under a heavy oak tree portraying a picture of a friendly housecat enjoying a nap. But I knew better—they were all feral-cats.

As soon as I came within six feet of them, they lurched forward and ran around to the side of the house and into a crawl space disappearing in a blur of blackness. Within minutes, three black kittens and two gray ones scurried from the limp lantana surrounding the porch into the same black hole—a safety net for wild animals. I couldn’t help but notice their small emaciated and concaved bodies as they bolted past me seeking shelter.

The crisp sound of my shoes walking over dried grass had alerted the cats to an outsider. I stumbled upon a large water dish turned upside down with a disconnected hose lying next to it. It was hooked up before the owners left with an automatic float, so I was curious as to what or who might have detached it. A few feet away stood an empty cat feeder with bird remains scattered on either side; their gray feathers dusting the ground like a soft throw rug.

My Findings

A colony of ten cats reside in the front and side yard of my neighbor’s house. Three weeks ago the owners moved 1500 miles away knowing that five adult cats and five kittens must fend for themselves and, yes, continue to propagate. The responsibility of feeding the cats was given to a handyman, but he doesn’t often remember to leave cat food or maintain a steady water supply.

This gang of cats carved out a portion of the lower crawl space where they rest during the grueling hours of unrelenting 110+ record breaking temperatures. I call them a gang because they’ve become constant predators of birds, rodents, and whatever other creatures they have a craving for. The fat cats stick together, watching over one another, as though they are part of an exclusive private club, while the younger cats seem to be dying a slow death. With feral cats, it’s often the survival of the fittest. One thing is for sure, they need to be neutered before their numbers multiply.

Although they are all considered feral cats, the kittens have a slim chance for a comfortable life if they are trapped while relatively young and released to a responsible owner. So here’s my dilemma: how does one trap, neuter, and return a cat when it involves private property and is that really going to solve the problem or is it just a Band-Aid solution? It might cut down on the immediate population, but what about their overall survival rate, the safety of the surrounding neighbors’ tame animals, the spread of disease, and the quality of life?

An Activist for Cats

Animal activist Pam Kalish, who works with the Animal Defense League of Arizona (ADLAZ), doesn’t have a paying job; instead she volunteers her time and energy to cats of all genders and ages. She protects cats from people who don’t take responsibility for their actions. “These cats just don’t come out of nowhere...there’s a lot of abandonment,” says Kalish, a retired electrical engineer who traps cats several times a week.

The problem is there is no state or county laws about stray cats. I know this because I’ve spent hours on the phone trying to find a way to have the neighbor cats picked up, fixed and brought back to their environment. Kalish has agreed to help me trap the cats next week provided I have permission from the homeowners. This is the TNR program offered through the Animal Defense League of Arizona.

Kalish doesn’t mince words, “People begin leaving food and water for strays and the cat population goes up in the area and then they wonder why,” she says with a serious look. “The sterilization of cats has the ability to moderate some of their behaviors, causing them to roam less and not yowl or spray their territory.”

As it stands, the Animal Care and Control refuse to pick-up feral cats, but that may change if and when the economy improves and the government gets involved. For now, we the citizens of our community must solve part of the problem by banding together and sterilizing the outside cats some neighbors insist upon feeding and then leaving.

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