For a little season of my life, I had a “passion project” that involved rescue, neuter and spaying of feral cats in my neighborhood. I lost a lot of sleep during that season. I needed an outlet to talk about what I was doing, so I wrote some posts on this blog about my experiences in taming feral kittens.
I never thought I’d be a crazy cat lady. I had a few cats of my own after college but my husband and I are dog lovers through and through.
We had our hands full training energetic border collies until one summer I started noticing all the wild cats that roamed our property. I always thought they belonged to neighbors but then one or two turned into ten or twenty and it dawned on me that most of these cats were not spayed or neutered.
I’d notice them the top of our neighbor’s house, hiding under our shed, and the worst part of it: the caterwauling at all times of the day. At first their late-night fights and mating was a mild nuisance, but then our eager herding dogs started finding litters. The more I looked, the more their numbers seemed to grow.
It was only much later and after trapping and neutering several of these cats did I realize that one of my neighbors was feeding an entire colony of them but not taking care to sterilize them. And so they kept growing in number. These neighbors did not speak very much English so I had trouble communicating with them as did other concerned neighbors. We knew they liked feeding them because they loved all the kittens that kept getting born.
Who can resist kittens?
I couldn’t. After digging through my garden shed for some tools one day, I pushed away some stuff only to discover a litter of three-week-old kittens clinging to a roll of garden netting.
I tried my hardest to rescue this litter but was never able to get close enough. The mother, whom we later named “Titian”, kept moving them fearfully from one hidden place to another within our block. I watched them grow up to full adults. One of the babies started having litters of her own, another one died before she was six months.
Eventually I was able to trap and neuter three of the most dominant males in the colony. These were the ones most responsible for fighting. However, the most intense work happened when I was finally able to trap one of Titian’s litters, and finally trap Titian herself. She was undoubtedly one of the colony’s “queens” and had been pregnant at least five times.
After trapping her litter of four, I spent months of daily work playing and feeding these kittens from my hands. It was a long and emotional process but I’m happy to report that they are now fully socialized adults!
Over the course of a year I trapped and sterilized over 20 cats and socialized 7 kittens. Eventually our neighbors who fed the cat colony moved away, and when they did, so did the feral food source. Many of the remaining feral cats disappeared.
What my neighbors didn’t understand was that feeding groups of feral cats without sterilizing them creates a whole host of problems: Over-reproduction, sickness, territory marking (which in a close-quartered city neighborhood is pretty darn smelly), nuisance fighting and caterwauling, those mating rituals at all hours of the night that keep your dog up at night barking next to your bed! Kittens are cute but most of them did not live to be a year old, and a few of the ones I socialized were quite sick when I began working with them.
My husband and I still care for and feed three outdoor cats, who are the last living of the adults we trapped and sterilized. They became a great defense, chasing away other upstarts that came looking for food, which in turn keeps the the feral population down in the neighborhood. Purple and Fat-face, two of the dominant older males, eventually became very sweet and affectionate outdoor kitties. We didn’t expect this at all! But Purple came to love his daily jumping into our laps, treading and purring away in cat bliss.
The kittens that I rescued and socialized are now indoor-only adults. We don’t let them out because, quite frankly, cats in my neighborhood usually die from speeding cars or feline leukemia FELV), which is a virus that cats contract from each other, usually in mating or fighting. It’s an ugly illness. I’d like my kitties to live a happy, healthy long life.
If you have found a stray or feral cat in your neighborhood, and are trying to figure out if they can be socialized or what kind of help they need, here are some resources that may be able to help you:
- What is a feral cat?
- What is the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat?
- Your local Humane Society may have volunteers or rent traps so that you can neuter or spay a feral cat. Try contacting Alley Cat Allies to see if they know of a volunteer network near you.
- Socializing Feral Kittens
There are a lot of resources on this page, including links to a great series of videos on socializing feral kittens by Mike Phillips.
- Urban Cat League is a NYC initiative to educate and care for feral cats. One of their founders, Mike Phillips has become a wonderful and friendly authority on working with feral kittens, and does workshops around the U.S.. He was of great help to me via email when I rescued my kitties.