Sunday, October 24, 2010

AUTUMN MORNING



After Midnight eats, drinks, and eats again, she likes to sharpen her claws on a branch that overhangs her feeding bowl. Next, she stretches; kneads the dirt with her paws; and rubs her back along a large rock before heading out to the parking lot to lounge in her favorite splash of sunshine. This spot is near the young maple tree where Midnight eats breakfast every morning. It is also the spot where we say our good byes each day. Two days ago, this corner of Stone Ledge was ablaze in red and crimson maple leaves, and I chastised myself ten times over for not having my camera with me. Finally, today, I remembered to pack my Canon Rebel XS (http://usa.canon.com/), but the brilliance of the leaf colors had faded, and Midnight was not her usual exuberant self. After eating, she sat by her dish with her eyes half closed. I felt a tinge of concern about what might be causing her lethargy. She ate, which is always a good sign for a cat, but she also returned to her water dish several times more than usual to drink. Could she have eaten something bad for her? I decided to shrug off my concerns and attribute her behavioral change to her being tired. Last night was mild; possibly one of the last mild nights before the cold weather sets in, and Midnight may have been out carousing and hunting all sorts of little creatures. Perhaps I am being overly anxious about this little black cat, knowing that Halloween is only a few days away. Then again, even the local shelters hold off adopting out black cats until November, so maybe one can't be too careful... After taking a few snapshots, we said our good byes. As I looked at her dainty form and the way the sun glistened on her thick, dark coat, I could not help but wonder how many more beautiful October mornings I might have to share with this little black cat.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

WINTERIZING THE COLONY

Delilah peeking out of her feral villa on a cold winter morning

Here, in the greater New York area, mid-October is the perfect time to winterize the cat shelters. Time to check for cracks and leaks; sweep out the cob webs and any creepy crawlies that have moved in over the warm, summer months; fill with fresh straw (not hay); and, for an added treat, toss a handful of catnip both in and around the outside near the shelter entrances. Cats are curious by nature, and the catnip further insures they will try out their new or newly refreshed digs.

Shelters:

If you are new to colony management, this is probably a good time to set up your feral shelters and fill them with fresh straw and a handful of catnip. If the colony is in low-lying terrain, you might consider placing the shelter securely on top of a wooden pallet. Pallets can usually be gotten for free at a variety of places such as: garden centers, plumbing supply houses, and grocery stores. A piece of outdoor carpeting on top of the pallet may also be a good idea to prevent under drafts. Alley Cat Allies http://www.alleycat.org/  has great ideas for constructing your own inexpensive feral shelter. There are also companies that make shelters specifically for cats. I have been pleased with Feral Villa's insulated shelters which require a hand drill and about twenty minutes to assemble http://www.feralvilla.com/. Each shelter accomodates one cat; two if they like to cuddle together as Samson and Delilah do. If you plan to order one of these do-it-yourself kits, be sure to order soon as they are currently back-ordered by three to four weeks. I was late in ordering villas my first winter at Stone Ledge, and had to wait until mid-January for the shelters to arrive. Fortunately, several friends had extras and were able to lend them to me in the interim.

Uncut straw:

If you live in an urban area where straw is difficult to obtain, (try local grocery and garden stores that sometimes use straw bales for display purposes in the fall), Feral Villa sells and ships manageable boxes of straw. One lightweight box is good for three shelters. The reason for using straw (uncut) and not hay is that straw, the outside shaft of grain plants, is better at wicking moisture and keeping the cats dry and warm. Hay is generally made up of grasses and is used as livestock feed. It is silkier and retains some moisture. Blankets and comforters are not recommended because all fabric retains a degree of moisture. I have known folks to use dry blankets and quilts as a temporary fix on a cold night until straw could be obtained. If you must use a blanket, towel, comforter, etc. just be certain it remains dry.

Catnip:

Catnip is usually available in pet stores. Since I have sixteen shelters to winterize, I like to buy several large, six-ounce containers of “Cosmic Catnip” http://www.cosmiccatnip.org/ and place generous amounts both in and around the openings of the shelters.

My first winter at Stone Ledge I had my doubts about how well these straw-filled shelters might work. I was amazed to find that all cats remained dry and survived without consequence. I would like to add, however, that if you live in an extremely cold climate, please check with your local shelter and cat rescue groups to learn what methods they use to combat freezing temperatures and blizzard conditions.

Feral Villa Shelters at Stone Ledge:





Saturday, October 2, 2010

MY FAVORITE SOUTHPAW



Samson

The good news today is that Samson seems to have recovered from his bite wound/probable abscess. My understanding is that cats are very efficient at pulling off scabs, thus opening up abscesses so they can drain. If he begins to limp again it will mean another ten day protocol of clindamycin. When I told Joann that it was his left paw again, (Samson's third noted injury to the front left leg!), she remarked that he must be a southpaw. Dear Samson, please work on that left hook!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

LIONS AND TIGERS AND BEARS: OH MY!

Well, maybe not lions or tigers in Westchester County, but coyotes, fox, deer, wild turkey, skunk, raccoon, woodchucks, and, now, black bears. This week, a black bear was sighted a mere quarter mile from Stone Ledge. Although the thought of a bear cruising the colony does not frighten me in the way a visitation from a coyote or a Great Horned Owl produces shivers down my spine, it concerns me to know that bears, desperate for territory, are venturing into high density population areas. Moreover, if there are bear close by, it is only a matter of time before coyotes happen upon the cats. As a colony manager, I must constantly remind myself that while I can feed, shelter, and provide a modicum of medical assistance to the cats, I can not keep them safe. For me, this is the most difficult part of caring for ferals.

To add to this sobering thought, Samson turned up injured today, and Max is missing. Although Samson was too unnerved by whatever happened to him to venture close to me, I was able to see a bloody puncture wound on the back of his left front leg. Swelling--probably a developing abscess--had already set in. Max, who has not missed a morning feeding for at least four months, was no where to be found. I can only pray that he stayed away because of early morning, heavy rains, and not because of any severe injuries.

Recently, several cases of rabies have been identified in the neighborhood of Stone Ledge. Samson was vaccinated for rabies in October of 2008. According to the vet who neutered him, his rabies shot should protect him for up to three years; however, just to be safe, I hope to get him back to the vet for a booster and an anti-biotic. Wish me luck!

I consider myself a total novice when it comes to understanding cat behavior. Yet I am slowly discovering that when I take the time and open my senses and awareness to them, the cats tell me a great deal. For example, I have known for nearly a week that something unpleasant was afoot. Delilah, a seven pound barometer for trouble, has been acting skittish. Instead of purring and head butting with the boys at the feeding station, she has been holding back, nervously advancing to eat a few bites before leaving to scan the marsh area or dashing ten feet up a tree, as if doing an emergency run through---just in case. Then, last Sunday, while I was a few yards away feeding Midnight, Delilah walked down into the marsh. Suddenly I heard her distinctive high-pitched screeching and screaming. I dropped everything and went running towards the swampy nether land. I did not see her, but what I believe to be two gray coated cats, were moving swiftly through the reeds. Delilah did not return to eat for two days. I now suspect that these "roaming ferals" may be responsible for Samson's latest injury; and may be the reason that dear, punctual Max has disappeared. Again, like a mantra, I repeat to myself: I can fix, feed, and shelter, but I can not keep them safe.
  Little Delilah (Early winter 2009 at approx. 18 months)

SWEEPSTAKES FOR YOU AND YOUR BEST FRIEND!

Here's an opportunity for you and your cat to be stars!
It's the Fancy Feast Companions and Co-star Photo Contest:

http://www.mylifetime.com/sweepstakes/companions-and-co-stars-photo-contest

Sunday, August 1, 2010

OPAL


I am currently cat sitting for my friend "D's" colony. (NOTE: Having someone to cover for you is essential in feral cat care!) I could not resist posting this photo of "Opal" that I took this morning. Check out those eyes!

Also, as you can see, Opal has a "V" notch on her right ear rather than the more traditional straight-edged ear tipping on the left. This is Dr. Valerie Scott's (Veterinary Care of Bedford, Bedford Hills, New York)personalized signature, which I find much easier to detect than the straight-edged cut.

CAT SLEUTHING

Revisiting the roaming feral or stray in my friend's yard:

For the past two days I have put a dish of food out for my friend's hungry interloper. I have left both canned and dry food in case the cat has a sore mouth and the dry kibble is too difficult to chew. My cat whisperer friend and mentor "D" advises doing this until the cat's health can be assessed. Of course, it is also advisable to withhold wet food the day before trapping, so the cat goes for the juicy bait, but I am not ready to trap: I need to be certain that this cat is not a nursing mom, as the kittens would surely perish if I removed her for two days. The cat in question here, of course, reportedly ate a carrot, so I doubt that dental disease is an issue, but canned food is easier to eat and can be consumed quickly. The drawback is that I do not know when the cat will show up to eat, and given the current hot weather, I do not like idea of setting up a roadside food stand for flies.

The GOOD NEWS (!) is that the food dish is empty each morning and the water bowl has remained clean and partially full. There have been no signs of raccoons, opossums, or birds eating the food, although I can't completely rule out squirrels or mice. There are, however, no telltale signs like dirty water (raccoons wash their food before eating it), and I am finding the food dish is in the same spot where I have left it. Cats are fastidious diners and generally leave their food areas neat and tidy and their water bowls clean. My next step is to sit vigil at different times during the day, so that I can visually assess this phantom kitty.




One of the hidden benefits of colony care and rescue is that we are rubbing elbows with nature, in some form, every day. Yesterday, as I drove up my friend's long driveway to feed the little black cat, two identical, white-tailed stags stepped out of the trees, temporarily blocking my path. Each regal sentry had a ten point crown! I held my breath, awed by their size and beauty. Finally, they leapt away in opposite directions. My friend's home is along the edge of a populated, residential area, so this made sighting these 'princes of the forest' even more amazing!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

WHAT DO I DO: THERE'S A CAT IN MY YARD?

If you do cat rescue, you have probably heard this question more than once: in fact, you have probably heard it many more times than you would like.  As feral and homeless cats increase in number, more and more are finding their way into backyards and onto decks. Friends, family members, and even chance conversations with complete strangers can find a rescuer explaining how to look for a lost cat's owner, or how to feed, house, and TNR a roaming feral.

A close friend of mine, who knows I work with feral cats, casually mentioned that her chidren had seen 'a very hungry and dirty looking black cat' in their yard, and that her son had given the cat a carrot--which the cat ate (!!) When I explained to my friend, who does not particularly like cats, that the unkempt cat is probably either a lost pet or a sick and underwieght feral, and that a little protein might be a better choice of food, her reaction was that she did not want to encourage the cat to frequent her yard. I immediately told my friend that finding a cat in her yard is good luck! I then offered to feed and trap it.  My reasoning is that if it is lost, I may be able to find the owners while it boards at a local sancuary, and, should it turn out to be a feral that needs medical attention--including spay/neutering and a few good meals--that can be worked out too. Of course, if it's homeless, I am secretly hoping that I can show my friend and her children just how easy it is to put up a feral shelter and leave a little food and water outside each morning for their new tenant: a small price to pay for keeping their property rodent free!

Well.....we will see...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"THE VAGABOND CAT THAT CAME TO STAY"

A beautifully written essay by well-known journalist John F. Burns, "The Vagabond Cat That Came to Stay" appeared on the front page of last Sunday's New York Times "Week in Review" section. Mr. Burns, a foreign/war correspondent with the Times, has lived all over the world and collected many cats on his travels. "Scuzzi," the topic of this piece, was barely alive when the Burn's family discovered him washed-up on their Delhi verandah. For a treat read:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/25/weekinreview/25burns.html

Friday, July 23, 2010

ABOUT.COM:CATS

In my opinion, one of the best all-purpose websites for information on anything cat--including both pets and ferals--is About.com: http://www.cats.about.com/ Franny Syufy blogs on a wide variety of issues, and her column is packed with practical information: everything from health care and behavioral issues to posting the most adorable cat and kitten photos submitted by readers. I always find helpful hints and ideas in her articles.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT FERAL CATS?

If you are wondering what the deal is with feral cats, but only have fifteen minutes to get the scoop, check-out this video by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) for an overview of feral cats:
http://www.hsus.org/pets/issues_affecting_our_pets/feral_cats/

If you have a bit more time to read up on feral cats go to:
http://www.feralcat.com/

Sunday, July 18, 2010

BREAKFAST WITH MIDNIGHT

Each and every morning when I arrive at Stone Ledge, Samson, Delilah, Max, Cry Baby, Prudence, and Phantom greet me with meows, head butting and tails held high like little flags as they announce themselves with all the pride and confidence of olympic athletes at the opening ceremonies. It is only Midnight who comes alone, slipping unnoticed through the underbrush. I usually hear her softly call to me before she steps into view. Midnight does not live with the other cats, but chooses to stay in unknown quarters in the hills beyond Stone Ledge. She does not eat with the colony either. Her bowl is under a forsythia bush at the far side of the woods. There is a large rock next to the bush that she sits on while she waits for me to feed the other cats. She does not, however, let me forget that she is patiently waiting, as she talks to me in a sweet yet persistant series of meows while I pour water and pop cans for the larger brood.

Midnight is petite with small, delicate paws and an angular face. She is black with green eyes, but in the sunlight streaks of dark mahogany are visible in her fur. Midnight is not much larger than a six month old kitten, yet she has birthed at least one litter--if not more. Jo trapped Midnight with two of her kittens (the only two we were ever aware of) at Stone Ledge.* Then while trying to move Midnight into a separate cage prior to having her spayed, Jo was badly bitten, and Midnight, who had not yet had a rabies vaccine, had to remain in quarantine for over two weeks before the vet felt comfortable in saying that Jo was out-of-the-woods and could release her. During this time, Midnight was miserable and it was obvious that, while her kittens could be socialized, she was a dyed-in-the-fur feral. Jo released Midnight at Stone Ledge where she has maintained her solitary life-style (if a cat can be said to have a "life-style") ever since. I often wonder if she has somehow been hard-wired to remain in the place where she last saw her kittens....I doubt that I will ever know the answer.

*Jo kept Midnight's kittens who are doing splendidly.

THAT DARN CAT!

We have not had a rainy day here in Westchester County for weeks--or so it seems, and I am feeling nostalgic for a stormy afternoon to curl up with my four-legged friends and watch an oldie from my cat film archives. One of my all-time childhood favorites was That Darn Cat. I was twelve years old when the original, staring Haley Mills and Roddy McDowell, was released in 1965. My family was spending the summer in Chatham, MA, and the local theater ran matinees for kids on rainy days only. What a treat: I did not miss the beach one bit!

Here's what Amazon has to say about the original, 1965 classic:

"When a slightly cross-eyed Siamese cat named D.C. (Darn Cat) turns up with a wristwatch around his neck instead of a collar, it could be just the clue the FBI needs to crack a series of bank robberies in this lightweight comedy from Disney. The watch belongs to a bank teller who has been taken hostage. Dean Jones stars as the good-hearted FBI agent assigned to the case. Unfortunately, he is highly allergic to, you guessed it, cats. Hayley Mills is D.C.'s doting owner who hatches a hair-brained scheme to follow D.C.'s every move until he returns to the crooks' hideout where he got the wristwatch. After a lot of sneezing, slapstick, and comedic intrigue, the bank robbers are foiled, the hostage is safe, and everyone is happy. An impressive supporting cast of Frank Gorshin, Elsa Lanchester, Roddy McDowall, and Ed Wynn add to the zaniness. Released in 1965 (and remade in 1997), it is understandably dated, but the performances are fun nonetheless. Hayley Mills is delightful as the determined and unflappable wannabe sleuth, and Dean Jones proves he is adept at physical comedy. This is a movie of little consequence, just a clean, fun diversion that the whole family can watch. The theme song is sung by Bobby Darin." --Peggy Maltby-Etra

Monday, June 28, 2010

THE KITTENS ARE HERE!


So much has happened over the past two months that I have not been able to keep up with blogging. Stone Ledge has added a few residents including a young fox, a family of woodchucks and a Great Horned Owl. More to come on these later. For today, I want to share a photo of one of Mama Mia's litter: "Jade" was born under the full moon of Taurus on April 29th. She and her four litter mates are scheduled to go to the Westcheser County SPCA  (www.spca914.org/)  tomorrow for spay/neutering and adoption. This is a NO kill shelter, and does a fine job of adopting kittens out to good homes. It has been great fun socializing this brood, and I am already teary eyed thinking about saying good-bye to them, but they are fabulous kittens and should make great pets.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

SUMMER MOVIE MATINEE

I was speaking with a few of my crazy cat friends recently about our favorite kittie movies from childhood. It was pretty much unanimous that our all-time favorite was The Three Lives of Thomasina (1964) with Patrick McGoohan and Susan Hampshire. Here's what Amazon has to say:

"A beloved tabby cat becomes the catalyst for healing and hope between a young girl and her widowed father in Disney's 1964 classic, based on the enchanting fable by Paul Gallico. Set in the Scottish highlands in 1912, the story focuses on Andrew MacDhui (Patrick McGoohan) a veterinarian who, after the death of his wife, has closed his heart to goodness and empathy-- toward his animal patients and his only child. Left essentially an orphan, Mary (Karen Dotrice) finds love from her cat, Thomasina, until a tragedy injures the cat and her father orders it to be killed. A tenderhearted maiden (Susan Hampshire) finds Thomasina, detects a heartbeat, and nurses the feline back to health. Her healing powers eventually move beyond the animal kingdom into the lives of MacDhui and Mary. The stellar cast includes standout performances by Dotrice and Matthew Garber (who plays Mary's loyal chum)--better known as the duo, Jane and Michael Banks, in Mary Poppins. Best watched with kids and Kleenex." (Ages 5 and older) --Lynn Gibson



Yup, my tissue box is by my side!

IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?

Managing a cat colony requires the understanding and support of at least one veterinarian. I am extremely fortunate that I can rely on two talented and brave doctors, both of whom are NOT afraid of dealing with feral cats, and charge greatly reduced fees for treating this population. From time-to-time ferals do become sick or injured and need to be re-trapped and taken in for treatment. Fortunately, having a vet who will provide you with an antibiotic such as clindamycin is helpful because the cat can often be treated at the colony without the stress of being trapped and caged at a clinic.

Samson's first injury was a deep bone injury, so I gave him 150mg of clindamycin once a day for two weeks. Medicating him with 75mg twice a day, the way I might for my house cats, was not a possibility, so he got the full daily dose at one sitting. For most caregivers, getting a feral to eat medicated food once a day is about all one can hope for. I found the best method was to mix the content of the capsules in two to three tablespoons of his favorite food (Fancy Feast Ocean Fish Feast) in a small paper dish. I also placed a few tablespoons of the food on dishes for the other cats, so that all would have their own and leave Samson alone. One of the hardest parts of medicating is making certain the cat in question is the only one that eats the dosed food. I have been told by experienced caregivers not to worry if the cat does not ingest every morsel of medicated food. While it is best for the cat to receive the full protocol of medication, my cat whisperer friends also reassure me that four or five--and not always consecutive--doses over several days is better than nothing. I saw this play out with Thomas Moore who had an abscess on his back leg. I was not able to medicate him every day, as he did not always show up at the feeding station. However, four doses of 150mg of clindamycin spread out over eight days seemed to do the trick and he recovered quite well.

Let me add here, however, that had Thomas or Samson not shown improvement in a reasonable amount of time--say, two weeks, I would have tried to retrap. Re-trapping is a topic unto itself. If you have a cat that refuses to go back into a traditional trap I have one suggestion: find someone who is familiar with using a "drop-trap"

SAMSON INJURED AGAIN!

After receiving a full two weeks of antibiotics, and experiencing a near full recovery (fur is still growing back on his hind paw), Samson is injured again. Although I do not see a bite wound or abscess, Samson is not putting weight on his front left paw. Donna gave me another eight days of clindamycin--in case he does not show improvement on his own. I'll give him a few days before medicating.....

Thursday, April 15, 2010

CLINDAMYCIN: THE WONDER DRUG

Samson and Dear Prudence have shown up with bite wounds. Samson, especially, is in bad shape. I knew something was wrong when Delilah began showing up alone. After eight days I finally found Samson behind the garbage compactor where he and Delilah slept before we put in feral houses. He was a mess. His back right paw (lower "ankle" area) had been bitten down to the bone and had green puss oozing from it. He looked disheveled; obviously, he had been too sick to clean himself. He also looked thin, and it was easy to read the pain in his eyes.

Well, that was a week ago. After seven days of clindamycin the infection is gone, his appetite is back, and, although he is still not using his paw (he can stretch it), the look of pain  has left his eyes. I am holding my breath that he will stay out of harm's way and regain full use of his leg.

Interestingly, the other cats back away when Samson hobbles to the feeding station to eat. Delilah and Cry Baby, in particular, sit quietly while he slowly eats his medicated food. After Samson eats, he carefully makes his way back to a remote feral house to sleep. Delilah and Cry Baby remain within close range of the house throughout the day. Could they be guarding Samson? I am always amazed at their social activities, and I am always aware that there is much I do not comprehend about their relationships.

Monday, March 29, 2010

SIR THOMAS MOORE (TNR: March 2009; Died: March 29, 2010)

I found Thomas Moore lying by the side of the road, less than a quarter mile from the colony, presumably killed by a car. What a terrible feeling to see him that way. It was purely coincidental that I happened to be driving near the colony, having already fed the group two hours earlier. I am so grateful that I discovered him when I did; rather than hours or a day later, after the crows had gotten to him. He was lying along the edge of the curb, on a strip of grass, as if he had simply stopped to take a nap in the middle of his busy day. Only a tiny bit of blood dotted one side of his head. I took him home to Stone Ledge and buried him under a budding forsythia bush, overlooking the colony. I only wish that he had been able to have one more precious summer. It seems especially cruel that, after such a long and bitter winter, he should miss out on “his” season.

Thomas was the first cat I trapped and neutered on my own. He acted like a tough guy, but he was so terrified when I tried to release him after his neutering that he refused to leave the cage. (We were both terrified!) Even when I turned the trap upside down, Thomas clung on for dear life. He loved to sun himself on a boulder near the edge of the parking lot while he waited to be fed each morning. Thomas could be "turfy" with the other cats, and there were days when I would chase him away from the feeding station, so the others could eat. I don’t think I will ever do that to a cat again. Thomas taught me that it is better to let cats work out a pecking order amongst themselves: they always do. Bless you, sweet boy. I will always feel your sweet spirit romping in the woods and field when I am at Stone Ledge. And I know that you will continue to greet me each and every morning.

Monday, March 22, 2010

GREAT CAT READS FOR A RAINY DAY

What better way to spend a rainy day than to curl up--cat style--with a good book? One of my all-time favorites is  Samantha Mooney's A Snowflake in my Hand. Samantha writes about her work at the Animal Medical Center in NYC and about the cats that have made a difference in her life. One small black cat, "Fledermaus," leads Samantha to a a very special kind of breakthrough in dealing with a tragedy in her personal life. This book received rave reviews when it was published in 1983. It is a real gem and not to be missed by anyone who loves animals. (And, yes, you'll definitely need a box of tissue to get through this one!)

Another special cat book is The Stony Point Whiskers Club by Don Loprieno.
Don was manager of the Stony Point Battlefield, a state historic site in New York, overlooking the Hudson River, when a small, blue eyed, orange tabby was discovered abandoned in the park. Don had never been very interested in cats until "Cato" captured his heart. Well, you know how that goes... Again, a box of tissue is recommended with this reading!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

THE KITTENS ARE COMING, THE KITTENS ARE COMING!

Happy first day of spring: a.k.a. happy vernal equinox; or, if you happen to do cat rescue and TNR: welcome to kitten season!


ZEN AND THE ART OF TRAPPING

Let me begin by saying that I have NOT mastered this art. When it comes to trapping, I am a total klutz and I have made nearly every mistake in the book. I have inadvertently let a cat escape when I forgot to secure the back end of a "Have a Heart." I have missed opportunities when I did not set the tension plate correctly, and the cat ate and ran. Worst of all, I once let a cat go because I thought she had been ear tipped. Needless to say, I have not been able to re-catch this "Mama Cat." Three of her kittens--from two different litters--now reside in my house. Talk about guilt! This brings me to my ruminations for the day: How to catch Mama Cat.

Here's the problem: Mama is smart. In fact, she is the smartest cat I have ever dealt with. She lives in a busy residential/commercial area in large town near my home. Mama lives with her neutered soul mate, "Big Boy," and one neutered offspring, "Spicey," that was too feral to be adopted out. All reside in a crawl space underneath a psychiatrist's office and are fed by an elderly Italian lady who lives nearby. "Uncle Victor," a fourth cat and clan relative lives across the street. In spite of the fact that more than fifty cars utilize the parking lot that abuts the cat's eating and living vicinity, as soon as Mama spots my car, she runs for safety. For this reason, I have to alternate between my husband and daughter's car when attempting to trap Mama. I have also enlisted the help of an experienced trapper with a "drop trap." Mama can smell danger as fast as you can set the bait, and she will disappear for days at a time. The other exhausting feature of trying to trap Mama is that the lady who feeds them does so at 6AM. I am NOT a morning person. I have to be up and out the door by 5:30 to get to the feeding site ahead of the cats to set the trap, and no amount of my pleading has been able to alter the feeding schedule.

Three days ago, I placed a dummy trap (one without a door) near the psychiatrist's office. I am hoping and praying that I can get Mama used to eating from the blank trap, and then I will switch for the real thing. I suspect that Mama may be pregnant again, so fingers crossed that my scheme works soon!

If this does not work, then I will enlist the assistance of master trapper and cat whisperer "P." "P" runs a cat rescue and sanctuary in my county. She also operates a successful business, is model pretty, and has an Ivy League degree. She is married to a NY area cardiologist. I only mention the latter because "P" could spend her days and nights indulging in trips to the theater, parties, and other social gatherings. Instead, at least four nights a week, armed with various traps and wire clippers, she  heads out in her well-worn van to do rescue and TNR work. "P" likes to trap alone and late at night--under cover of darkness. When the cats go on the prowl, she's out there with them. Sometimes this cat rescue involves clandestine work like crawling under barbed wire in restricted areas--hence, the wire clippers. Sometimes it involves digging kittens out of abandoned cars or buildings. It is not uncommon for "P" to trap three or four cats a night. "P" has mastered the "Zen" of trapping.

PALLETS MAKE GOOD SHELTER DECKS

After nearly losing two houses and quite possibly several cats to run-off waters after recent flooding, I am now a believer in placing wooden shipping pallets under feral houses.* (Of course, dummy me placed the houses where there was run-off water in the first place!) Not only do pallets keep the shelters a few inches off the ground, so they are not as dank and damp, but the cats can hang-out on the ground level without getting their paws wet. Feral Samson LOVES using his pallet as a sunning deck in the nice weather. If I could, I'd install a hammock too! 



*Companies that receive inventory on pallets are usually happy to have a few taken off their hands and recycled for the cats.

DEAR PRUDENCE: STILL MISSING...

It has been three weeks since the big snow storm, and "Dear Prudence" has still not been seen. Granted, she does disappear for months at a time, but I wish that I had seen her at least once since the big snow--just to know that she made it. After "Crystal" turned up sick, with the vet suspecting that she may have been trapped near contaminated water (i.e. antifreeze), I now fear that something similar could have happened to Prudence. If she was trapped without food or water for several days her system might have shut down. I checked the area around her favorite shed where she likes to hang-out. One side was open with easy egress, but no paw prints to be found. Then again, I have to keep in mind what my friend "D" always says, "We can TNR, feed, and shelter, but we can't always keep them safe." I think that caring for ferals is like having kids: once you take responsibility for them, the worrying never ends.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Port's last wharf cat dies - NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Port's last wharf cat dies - NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Posted using ShareThis

I am posting this story about Zorro, Newburyport's last warf cat, as a reminder to myself that managing feral cat colonies is really worth all of the time, trouble, and heartache. Afterall, Zorro's story and his colony's is a tremendous success story. I need to be reminded of this today because, sadly, Crystal did not make it.
The best that modern veterinary medicine has to offer could not correct the damage done by the toxins that ravaged her little body.

Monday, March 8, 2010

MEDICAL EMERGENCY

Horrible news!  Saturday evening I received a voice message from my friend, Pat, who feeds the "gray cat colony" every Sunday. The shopkeeper who feeds the cats Monday through Saturday (he owns the property where the cats live) called to report that one of the young females, "Crystal," was not eating or drinking and appeared to be sick. Pat responded and got Crystal into a carrier and took her to a local vet. (I was visiting relatives about 50 miles away.) According to the vet, Crystal seems to have gotten into a highly toxic substance. Her mouth and tongue are blistered and she probably has not eaten for days. Her bilirubin count is off the charts and she may not make it. The vet put in a port for IV fluids and administered vitamin K shots and antibiotics. All we can do now is wait and pray.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

STORM LEAVES TWO CATS MISSING

Worry and wait; worry and wait. Thomas Moore and Prudence are still MIA. I have walked the neighboring parking lots that have been ploughed, listening for meows in case someone is snowed in.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

UGH! DIGGING OUT AGAIN!

Another storm. Almost everyone is accounted for, except Thomas Moore and Dear Prudence.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

SEEING DUODECUPLE (!)

When my kids were little they went through a stage where they loved to scribble on paper with crayons, but they could never understand why applying too much color turned their masterpiece gray. Like layers of crayon colors, this colony has produced cats that are a solid shade of gray.They reside in a busy commercial area of what is considered one of the most affluent towns in the country. And, yes, a former US President and the current US Secretary of State live here, as well famous actors, heads of industry, etc.; however, homeless cats still wander the fringes of this toney suburban landscape looking for food and shelter. My friend "D" and I, along with the support of "Community Cats," are slowly but surely trapping, spaying and neutering the colony. As of this week, we have done TNR for seven of the twelve cats. Perhaps the greatest obstacle, aside from the fact that these cats are nearly identical and the classic TNR ear tipping can be difficult to discern, is that the local SPCA has a limited number of slots for TNR. As the hours of daylight grow longer, the chances of females becoming pregnant increases dramatically. It is a race to spay before pregnancies are too far along. Another eight to ten weeks and kitten season will be upon us!
\

Thursday, February 18, 2010

PHANTOM LURKING ABOUT


Phantom is waiting for me to leave the feeding area so he can chase the other cats away from the food dish. Three colony members---all males: Phantom, Thomas Moore, and Crybaby--hail from other colonies. In all liklihood, they were in search of new territory when they discovered a food source and shelter at Stone Ledge. Although all have been neutered, they still engage in territorial disputes from time to time. I have found that it takes three to six months from neutering for all the hormones to disapate and everyone to settle down. Phantom, however, still loves to scare the heck out of the girls when they are trying to eat--even if he is not hungry.  Like a teenage boy who loves to tease and taunt girls, Phantom just likes getting a little attention.

Monday, February 15, 2010

DIGGING OUT


Delilah surveying the storms aftermath
Finally, five days after the storm, all cats are accounted for. I was growing worried about Midnight and Tom Moore, but they both showed up to eat today, looking none the worse for wear. Tom, who almost always sleeps in his feral house, must had taken a holiday, as no little paw prints were in the snow near his shelter. Midnight does not, to my knowledge, use the feral houses, so I was worried that she might have gotten trapped in a hole or in someone's shed or garage. Ah, the imagination runs wild!

Delilah venturing out

Samson hates the snow. It took a lot for him to come out of his cozy lair for a quick breakfast. Perhaps one day he will retire to being an indoor cat....


Phantom in a feeding shelter. He will eat in any weather!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A NICE CUP OF HOT TEA

Snow is falling as a February blizzard muscles its way across the Midwest and Northeast. I spent most of yesterday obsessively checking and rechecking food and water bowls—trying to leave enough for a late afternoon snack, but not enough to attract late night, unwanted visitors. I am happy to have raccoons and fox nibbling, but not Mr. “C.”


I normally do not leave food late in the day, but since I will not be able to feed the cats during the blizzard, I wanted them to end the day with full bellies. Hopefully, everyone made it back to a shelter before the snows came down hard at around midnight. I have two other colonies I oversee, and did the same for these kitties.

I was especially crazed because everyone at Stone Ledge was accounted for and had eaten except for Midnight. I had not seen her for two days and was worried that, with the storm coming, she might not get to eat for another two days. (While she might hunt for food, I do not believe that she would consume a sufficient amount of calories in the cold weather.)

I went back to Stone Ledge one last time to check for her at about 4PM, and just as the skies were beginning to darken, Midnight came sauntering out of the thicket, meowing for her dinner. She ate a decent amount of food before Cry Baby frightened her away. He and Phantom are foodies and often chase the girls away from the food bowls.


Prudence, thankfully, is convalescing at "Community Cats" and missing out on the chilling winds and drifting snows. I feel sooo fortunate to have nabbed her right before the weather turned nasty.


Counting only the cats cared for under the auspices of Community Cats, in a small portion of Northern Westchester County, I believe that well over 100 homeless felines were assisted through today’s storm. By assistance, I mean that they have food, water, and some type of feral shelter. This is only a small portion of the colony managed cats in the county, as several other rescue groups are also hard at work providing food and shelters.


TIP: I’m sure that most colony caregivers are aware that a little sugar in a bowl of warm water goes a long way to prevent freezing. I add approximately one teaspoon per cup of warm water. I must admit that when the temperatures are below freezing for more than a day, I sometimes add a quick dash of salt with the sugar. (Too much salt is not good as the cats will only be thirstier.) As my friend and cat rescue mentor “D” says, “On a cold day, it’s like having a nice cup of hot tea to sip on.”

Monday, February 8, 2010

DEAR PRUDENCE - TRAPPED AT LAST!

I have finally trapped Dear Prudence! After seeing her on New Year's Day, I placed an old "Have-a-Heart" trap near the shed where she lives. I removed the trap door so I could put food inside and get her accustomed to entering the trap to eat. She ate inside the cage for about a week. Then, just when I thought she was primed for trapping, she disappeared again. I pretty much gave up any hope of catching her.

Three days ago, out of nowhere, she reappeared. Again, I placed food in the "dummy" trap. She ate it and retreated under the shed. The next day--which was yesterday-- I replaced the trap door. I was ready to give it one more try--before she took off again. Naturally, Prudence was a "no show"--or was she? I had a gut feeling that she might have seen me baiting the trap and was waiting for me to leave the area. (Were those dark eyes watching me again?) I placed a small can of Fancy's "Ocean Fish Feast" in the back of the trap and returned to my car to wait.

Normally, I keep my eyes fixed on a trap in case it malfunctions. I am always concerned that a cat might get partially stuck and injured in some way. I also watch because I don't want other animals such as skunk going for the bait. This time, however, I did not watch because I felt it would bring "bad luck." I have learned that most trappers have little "good luck" trapping habits. One friend would not think of catching a cat without having a double expresso latte in the car with her. Another will not trap without her "lucky" green sweater. I knew that if I stared at the trap--like the proverbial watched pot that never boils--I would never catch my cat. Yet, when I walked back towards the trap ten minutes later, I still could not believe my eyes---Prudence was in the cage!

Prudence tested negative for both FIV and FELV. The vet said she showed no signs of currently nursing kittens, which would have meant releasing her immediately back to Stone Ledge. Fortunately, with the advent of internal stitches, this would have been possible had it been necessary.**

Tonight, Dear Prudence is resting comfortably at "Community Cats," a wonderful feline sanctuary/rescue center in Bedford, New York. She'll remain there for four or five nights until being released home to Stone Ledge.

** Although it is a cold February in the greater New York area, queens have been showing up pregnant or with winter litters!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

HE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED



Yes, I am talking about the big C. Here’s a hint: Wiley C--- If you care for a colony of cats in just about any rural or sub-rural area in North America—even if that spot is within close proximity to an urban center (try 8 million people in the greater NY area!)—then you know the one of which I speak. The truth is I love coyotes. Until I began caring for feral cat colonies, I got excited every time I spotted one loping across a roadside field. I have owned rough collies throughout my life, and the collie’s relative genetic proximity to the northern timber wolf has always made me a huge fan of both wolves and coyotes. Well, that is until now… Although I have never seen a coyote at the colony, I know they have been spotted as little as a half mile away. I also know that I have frequent other visitors such as raccoon, wood chuck, and fox. Adult cats and raccoons usually maintain an uneasy alliance with one another. This may also be true for fox. Fox and raccoons generally do not want to mess with clawing and biting cats. An adult cat is a feisty predator that can inflict a lot of damage. Colony caregivers often report cats and raccoons eating kibble side by side. Aged, sick, or young cats and kittens may be a different story. Kittens especially are easily nabbed by fox.


So what to do about coyotes? Unfortunately, other than feeding when most other predators are having their siesta—say, between the hours of 9AM and 3PM—as well as being certain that the food is completely gone by dusk there are few other precautions typically available. Some caregivers place the food on platforms that cats can jump onto. Raccoons are climbers but they can’t jump, and this also provides the cats a degree of safety while eating, as they have better visibility of what may be stalking them. I have also heard of feeders fencing off eating and sleeping areas that are accessible to cats but not larger animals. Obviously, this is not an option if the property owner is not amenable or the finances for fencing are not available.


The good news is that cats are quite adept at tuning into the slightest deviation in their environment. I am always amused by neighborhood cats that spot my dogs approaching at fifty yards, but if the dogs are upwind of the cats, they remain oblivious to the feline’s presence, even when she is only a few feet away. It is my personal opinion that cats readily observe and decipher other animals’ reactions to the environment. I am amazed at how the Stone Ledge cats will eat while birds fly and chatter in the woods around them, but will abruptly leave the feeding station and scatter at a sudden change in bird flight or bird call. Wile the birds activity seems random to me it appears to be anything but that to the cats. There are days when I swear the cats speak “bird.”

So, I hold my breath and pray that “he who shall not be named” stays far, far away. Like the cats, I watch for signs and try to read the woods. I examine feeding dishes for teeth marks, I check for shed fur on a bush or tree trunk, and carefully search for dog-like tracks in the mud or snow.



Tuesday, January 19, 2010

THOUGHTS OF HAITI



                                                               CRY BABY

Construction has begun at a site about fifty yards from the edge of the woods--close to Thomas Moore's shelter-- and all the cats are nervous wrecks. With the grinding truck gears and clanging metal, they could barely lion-down their breakfast. On top of this, Cry Baby showed up with what appears to be a bite wound on his tail and will require antibiotics. Drugs are easily administered by putting them in a tablespoon of kittie pate and offering it on a separate plate to the cat in question; however, if the patient does not show up to eat or another cat grabs the doctored food it's a problem. To add to what was already turning into a gray day (cloudy with intermittent rain), I found a dead vole floating upside down in one of the water dishes. Surprisingly, this is the first dead creature I have found at the colony in two years. Not certain if it was an accidental drowning, or somebody left me a little thank you note?

Of course, to magnify the gloominess, news reports from Haiti are horrific. I can't help but think that the cats at Stone Ledge are faring better today than tens of thousands of humans on that crumbled island. Yet human suffering and disasters like this always seem to beg the question (or perhaps the 'defense') of why do all this for a bunch of cats? Why spend the resources to feed and house undersocialized animals that live in the wild when so many people, even in this country, are food insecure?

I have no satisfactory answer. For animal and cat advocates the response may be 'why not?' That is, who are we to assign a value to the suffering of any creature--human or animal? Another argument might be that we, a highly evolved species, must be the stewards for these helpless creatures. If people do not advocate for their welfare then who will? For me, I take care of the cats because they are here, I believe that I can improve the quality of their brief lives--at least in some small way, and I enjoy spending thirty minutes of my day with them. In many ways, they are my daily prayer.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

JANUARY THAW!

JANUARY 16, 2010

WOW! The temperatures actually got into the 40's today. If you're a feral cat, this is a mitzvah from nature. Almost everyone ate--except for Samson. Thomas appeared, and Samson left his dish to go stand on a rock and glower.  I guess it's like having an old acquaintance you've had a falling out with get seated at a restaurant table next to you. It takes the appetite away. I waited for a good ten minutes but Samson never went back to his dish, so I left. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

HERE COMES THE SON....(TNR: OCT. 2009)



Samson, with his softly rounded nose and thick head is surely one of Snow's progeny. He and Delilah have the same whorls of color through their coats, as well as Dear Prudence's eyes, so I am fairly certain they are siblings and Prudence is their mother. I have met trail walkers who recall having seen Samson and Delilah playing near the trail when they were just small kittens. (Why did no one rescue them?) I even met a woman who says she has fed them since they were young and is now able to pet them. I believe this is true, as I am able to stroke Samson and scratch him behind his ears. 
At the time of Samson and Delilah's spay/neutering, a veterinary team assesed their sociability. While Samson might successfully adjust to a home environment, it was not indicated for Delilah. I could never purposefully take beloved Samson away from Delilah, so I have accepted that Stone Ledge, at least for the time being, is their home.

DELILAH (TSR: NOVEMBER 2009)


 Although Delilah is a tabby with lovely swirls of of black and gray fur, she has Snow's same rounded, Persian looking nose. I also suspect her mom is 'Dear Prudence,' and that she, Samson, and Max are litter mates. Donna gave Samson and Delilah their names. Like most jellicles, however, they have multiple names:  'Red' and 'Baby' being their other most common ones. When I first met Samson and Delilah they alternated  between sleeping in a garbage dump and in a hollow stump. They have now adjusted to sleeping in one of the feral houses I provided. Delilah is physically lithe, but seems mentally ditsie. In fact, if it were not for the fact that she is almost always in the company of Samson, I suspect she would not survive. When you see Samson, Delilah is usually a few feet behind. It's obvious that she worships him. She constantly head butts and rubs against him. Some days, when he's not in the mood for her attention, he halls off and whacks her on the head with his paw. She just shakes herself off and continues along behind him, adoringly.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

PHANTOM! (TNR: JUNE 2009)



Run for your life! It's Phantom!
Everyone at Stone Ledge was terrified of Phantom when he first arrived. Phantom appeared about a year ago and has been a full-time resident ever since. When I first saw him, weaving through the tall reeds where the woodlands meet the marsh (a.k.a. 'no cat's land'), beyond which certain predators who shall not be named live, I thought he was a small dog. (So much for near-sightedness!)

Phantom is now BFF with Max and Cry Baby. The "boys" share the same feeding station and often the same feral villa. It turns out that Phantom never really wanted to pick a fight, he just wanted a few pals to hang out with.

SIR THOMAS MOORE (TNR: MARCH 2009)


When Thomas Moore first showed up at Stone Ledge I had several other names for him: Evil Catnievel, Nasty Bas---d, Ol' Flat Top, and a few other choice ones. He growled at the other males and terrorized the females. He was, to put it mildly, full of himself. After tolerating his shenanigans far longer than I should have, and with spring mating season just a few weeks away, I knew I had to trap him. The other reason I hesitated was that, other than young cats and kittens, Thomas was the first adult feral I would have to trap on my own. Until this time, I had relied on Donna. Yet I knew that if I was going to be involved in cat rescue then I had to solo trap. While the idea of trapping a thrashing, snarling, feral made my heart race, the part I was absolutely terrified of was returning to the woods and releasing the cat. I had visions of an enraged twenty pounder stepping out of the trap and lunging for my jugular. Or worse, running up my leg and then ripping my throat out!

One morning, after the others cats had eaten, Thomas came strolling into the area. I made a quick call to the local shelter to reserve a spot on the day's TNR list and then went about setting the trap. It is my opinion that male cats are more controlled by their hunger than females--especially females that have been mothers. I can only guess that having to care for and protect kittens makes the queens wary of anything out of the ordinary. Thomas, being a typical guy, went straight for the bait.
I was a wreck and barely remember driving him from Stone Ledge to the shelter. Then, all day I worried about his release.
When I returned to the shelter clinic at the end of the day all of the cats were resting except for Thomas. He was rolling and thrashing in his trap. 'He certainly looks alert enough to be released,' the receptionist smiled at me. Mt stomache was in my throat. By the time I paid and returned to Stone Ledge the sun was setting.

DEAR PRUDENCE - AN UBER-FERAL



Prudence is an uber-feral. I rarely have the opportunity to get close to her. In fact, I usually catch her out of the corner of my eye and then--she's gone! It also does not help that her tortie mane is great camouflage amid the leaves and rocks. She does not scamper and dart between trees like Midnight and Delilah; rather, she stealthily skulks across the the forest floor. Prudence is a hunter, I have no doubt. She often disappears for months at a time. This photo was taken in April of 2009. I thought it was my last glimpse of her. For months, Prudence was MIA. On this last sighting I noticed that her eyes were tearing and she did not look well. When she did not appear at the colony for weeks and then months, I assumed the worst and assumed she was dead. Then, more than eight months later, on New Year's day, while feeding the other cats, I had the eeriest feeling that someone or something was watching me. Delilah must have felt it too because we both turned at almost the same instant to look towards the eastern hill that overlooks the feeding station. There, perched on a pile of logs, her tortie fur glistening red in the sunshine was Prudence. She looked clear-eyed and alert. Prudence quietly makes it known that she is the grand dame of Stone Ledge. As soon as they saw her, Samson and Dlilah quietly moved away from the food dish and waited for the queen to dine first.


Prudence does not live in the feral houses I have provided. Instead, she prefers to live under an old shed near the colony. Unfortunately, because she is so erratic and clandestine about her comings and goings, I have not been able to trap her. This has become one of my greatest frustrations. A few weeks before Prudence disappeared last spring, I saw the other girls--Delilah and Midnight--creeping off to the shed on several occassions to visit Prudence. (The other cats rarely show any interest in the shed.) Although no kittens appeared, I believe that Prudence may have had a prematurely born litter that did not survive. (I also thought her belly was suspiciously big.) I have read that queens often have designated babysitters for their litters. (This is something I saw play out in another colony and will talk about later.) I believe this pregnancy and ill-fated litter may explain Delilah and Midnight behavior. Curiously, Samson and the other males was stayed far from the shed area during this time period.

CRY BABY (TNR: JANUARY 2008)



Cry Baby, named for the fact that he cries non-stop for food, used to be part of Donna's colony. Donna cares for a dozen cats a half-mile away from Stone Ledge. Her colony used to be comprised of sixteen cats but several have gone missing. 'Cry Baby' was one such MIA. He disappeared sometime in June of 2008. As the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months, and he did not return, Donna assumed the worst. Then, one morning in December of 2008, a lovely, wheat colored tabby approached me at Stone Ledge. I heard his cries before I saw him. In fact, since the other ferals rarely meowed, I was pretty startled.  When I called Donna from my cell phone and described the very vocal cat that was eating at my feeding station, she immediately high-tailed over to confirm her hopes.
The moment Cry Baby saw Donna and heard her voice, he began a high-ptiched meowing and circled her with his tail held high. They were both thrilled to be reunited ! So where had Cry Baby been for six months? Having heard, and even witnessed, first hand, many tales of disappearing and reappearing ferals, it is my opinion that this can simply be chalked up to
 'the lives of cats.' 
As for Cry Baby, he has chosen to stay close to Stone Ledge in a feral house we provided for him. Although, every now and then, he disappears.

WINTER BLUES

January 14th, 2010
We have had four weeks of icy, cold weather. December's snow is still on the ground. I think that Samson hates it as much as I do. He high-tails off to his shelter the moment he is done eating. He doesn't even stop to wash his paws. Every day I marvel at how these creatures, who seem so content to luxuriate on cozy beds and atop warm radiators in a home, can cope with the frigid winter weather from which they have no escape. Sometimes, on the coldest days and nights I dream about bringing them home--just for a little southern-style comfort. Yet the woods at Stone Ledge is their home. In my heart, I know this is where they want to be--it is where they belong. I suspect that most caretakers have these same winter rescue fantasies. Ultimately, we become citizen meteorologists, checking wind velocities and watching thermometers and barometers rise and fall while we wait for spring.

Monday, January 11, 2010

TRAPPING IN CHANELS (BACKGROUND CONTINUED...)

Feeling overwhelmed with so many random, homeless cats that might need human intervention, I went back to my rescuer's list and started calling. Once again, everyone was deeply empathetic and full of helpful advice, but totally inundated with "fall kitten season," and unable to help trap, spay, and neuter (TNR) the cats. (Note: In the northeastern climate where I reside, queens generally have two to three litters a year; fall kittens being the last group before winter sets in.) 

The following day I headed out to the trail armed with more Fancy Feast. As I was returning to my car I met a woman walking her dog and struck-up a conversation about the cats. She said a woman named Donna managed a feral colony about a half mile away, and that she might know something about these 'unfixed strays.'

I went home and checked my rescuer's list. There was no 'Donna' on it. When I contacted the shelter they admitted to having Donna's phone number, but because she only managed one colony they had neglected to put her name on the list. A guestion kept running through my mind: exactly how many homeless cats and feral colonies were there? 

I contacted Donna, and she agreed to meet me in the parking lot near where I had seen the cats. Her instructions were explicit: 'Go to Boston Chicken the night before and buy a quarter roaster. (The more nasty hormones the chicken has the better!) Just before you leave your house, debone, chop into penny size pieces, and nuke the chicken for 45 seconds on high. Place it in a plastic bag and wrap in foil. And don't forget to bring a paper plate cut into quarters.'

Was I about to meet my first crazy cat lady (CCL)?

I was waiting alongside my car when a Toyota SUV pulled into the lot. A stylish, petite woman hopped out. She was wearing a cashmere blazer, obviously designer jeans, multiple diamond- accented necklaces, and delicate looking ballet flats. Not exactly typical trail attire, I thought, as I continued to wait for my 'cat lady.' 

 "Hi, I'm Donna," the J. Crew ad said. My expression must have registered shock because she added, "I love to trap in Chanels. They always bring me good luck!"   I looked down at my oversized, polyester 1X sweats and Wal-Mart sneakers. No make-up and greasy, pony-tailed hair, two weeks overdue for a color, completed my look. 

"Let's nab this baby," she said, and set off into the bushes and weeds with her Tru-Catch and bag of nuked poultry. I watched in rubber kitchen gloves as Donna baited the back of the trap with a little paper plate triangle that she neatly arranged the chicken on. Using bare hands, she then squeezed drippings out of the remainder of the bag in a circle around the trap. I stuffed my rubber gloves back into my pocket.

Note:  A Tru-Catch is light, small, and easier to maneuver than many other traps. It also makes a quiet 'snap' when it shuts which is less frightening for the cats. I have even seen young cats and kittens continue to eat their bait, unaware they have been caught.

Within five minutes, a hissing, snarling, male tabby was thrashing in the trap. In a flash, Donna pounced (yes, exactly like a cat!) and checked to be certain it was securely fastened. (One of these running around the back of a car would not be fun.) She then covered the tabby with a towel, and placed the trap in the back of her car. She explained that she would pick the cat up after neutering and release it in this same spot. Donna then instructed me that I should continue to provide food, water, and shelter every day for the rest of the cat's life--or mine--whichever came first. What???

WHERE ARE ALL THESE CATS COMING FROM? BACKGROUND CONTINUED...

Shortly after we trapped Snow, I went back to the spot where Jo and I had seen the little gray tabby with the white nose. But instead of finding this particular jellicle, I was astonished to meet another gray tabby, sitting on the log where I had first seen Snow. He was a mackeral gray striped cat with large caramel colored eyes. Fortunately, I had wised up enough to carry little cans of Fancy Feast in my bag, so I popped a can and faded back to a spot where I could observe my diner. The tabby devoured the can, washed his paws, and headed back into the bushes. No other cats appeared. The following day I returned to the log and spotted a small, longish-haired black cat with lovely green eyes. The scenerio with the cat food was repeated, and I was little the wiser. The third day I went back to what was beginning to feel like an ocean fish feast drive-thru and-- you guessed it-- another cat! This time, a tan and black cat scurried into the brush as soon as it spotted me. The following day, however, the little gray tabby with the white nose and paws reappeared. This time she was accompanied by a red-orange tabby. They did not seem especially afraid, but kept their distance and did not eat until I was a safe distance from them. 

 I was beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed. Where were all of these cats coming from? Was it really possible that they were all homeless?