Last November, a tiny fuzzy silver gray kitten wiggled its way out of a nearby garage. It had become isolated from its mother, so I became its surrogate mom. Soon, ‘Percy’ joined our family of two other cats and a golden retriever (see article, The Saga of Percy and Bib). This was my first experience with a feral cat. I thought it was the last..
Several weeks later, I was surprised to see two little gray kitties on my back porch, carbon copies of Percy. A black cat with a white bib that I had seen around had evidently been appointed the guardian of Percy’s two siblings. I never even knew they existed! We named them Tab and Bib and cared for them, nursing them through a series of respiratory problems during the winter months.
Both kittens were feral and very wild. We lost Tab in a rainstorm. Bib lost an eye and we cared for him after surgery. Trapping a feral kitten to get him to the vet for surgery & follow up visits involved catching him in one type of cat carrier and transferring him to another, usually at 5 am in the morning. A plus – he was neutered during eye surgery. Getting antibiotics into a wild kitty was quite an experience!
Somewhere along the way, Bib began to allow us to pet him. However, it’s always on his terms and usually only on top of the dryer at mealtimes. He has become a real ham and will not eat until we give him some loving. Tummy rubs are a favorite. He is tender-hearted and caring with a milder temperament than his sister, Percy. He also has been appointed baby sitter to all the kittens born here lately. He guards them, herds them when they stray too far, and plays with them with gtreat exuberance.
After these initial experiences with feral cats, we became aware of the unique personalities and roles of all the cats in our backyard feral cat community. A beautiful cat we call ‘Leafy’ (a long-haired calico that blends in with dry leaves) had what we think was her first litter of four kitties. Three looked like little furry pastel marshmallows in shades of apricot, smoky gray and a mixed calico color. The fourth was pure black. What a beautiful batch of babies!
Mama Leafy cared for her babies like a pro, moving them in and out of open spaces under the house. Her sibling (Leafy 2) often stood on his hind legs like a meerkat on watch and sounded a distress alarm at any approaching danger. Our little wild boy, Bib, was the adopted uncle who was left in charge to play with and watch over the litter when momma ate or needed some time to herself. The kittens were very tame and Leafy allowed us to hold them.
We found good homes for all the kittens, although it was very difficult to let them go. It was heart wrenching to hear Leafy calling for her kittens, not understanding why they had disappeared. She looked unbearably sad and would not eat. Fortunately, the other members of the cat community stayed by her side and seemed to console her. She is now back eating and playing with the rest of the group.
Leafy still does not allow us to pet her. However, her sibling look alike does welcome ear scratches and back rubs. It’s tricky to tell them apart, so I just wait for one of them to come over for attention. I fear Leafy will soon mate again with the dominant black male cat in our area. We’d like to get her spayed, but it’s difficult to make an appointment with a vet in hopes we’ll be able to trap a feral cat in time to make the appointment!
It’s been a little hair-raising to watch the big male cat maintain its alpha status. He often has to fend off challengers to his dominance and has suffered his share of injuries. He does father good kittens, many of them with six toes on their front paws. One younger male that we call Shiloh appears to have left the community to perhaps start his own harem of females. He also lost an eye, but we couldn’t catch him to get him to the vet. We miss his presence at breakfast and dinner. He was often the peacemaker of the group. Once in a while, he still stops by for a meal.
The day we gave away Leafy’s kittens, I joked with my daughter that the black cat we call Auntie would bring us her own kittens. We knew she had also had a litter at about the same time as Leafy, but we’d never seen her kitties. (Yes, this is the same cat that brought us Percy’s siblings earlier in the year). Sure enough, at feeding time the next morning, there were five little carbon copies of Auntie. We call them tuxedo kitties because they are black with white bibs and whiskers. They look like quintuplets and it’s hard to keep track of who’s who!
Momma Auntie has been a great mom. Again, Bib’s role is to play with and watch over them, rounding them up when they stray too far from the porch. The Leafy cats keep their distance and seem to realize that it’s Auntie’s turn for extra food and attention. Auntie likes to be petted. However since she brought her kittens to us when they were older than Leafy’s, they will need quite a bit of socializing before we can look for homes for each of them.
There are other members of our feral cat community. Some we try to discourage from sharing meals. I think some of the cats were left behind when their owners moved. Or, perhaps they were abandoned after they were no longer cute little kittens. Others are very feral and it’s been hard to win their trust. I don’t even like to think of the money we spend of dry food, canned food and milk for all the cats!
It has been a humbling experience to watch how the cats get along and even with a pecking order at mealtime, each cat gets a fair share of the food we put out. They watch out for each other and supervise the younger kittens. The male cat does not threaten his kittens – I’ve seen him nose to nose with some of them. He’s quite the cool cat! My daughter and I are grateful for being allowed these glimpses into our feral cat community, to see the compassion and care they show for each other. They’ve brought joy into our lives, even though we worry like any parents when one of them doesn’t show up for a meal!