Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Today after I got home from work I watered my tomatoes, moved some heavy terra cotta pots, and slept. Then I woke up, ran the weed whacker, and hauled out the garbage.

More than half of our garbage, by volume, is cat litter. We recently acquired our twelfth cat. I had decided that we were done with cats, but this one had extenuating circumstances.

For the past few months I believe the resident feral population has hovered at five: two from the same litter as Bowie, Thor, and BlueBear, and three from the same litter as Amber and Spooky. We have managed to catch two of those ferals for neutering and re-release, one of the older males and one of the younger females. The other younger female became pregnant at some point and had kittens a few weeks ago at the height of the heat wave. (It appears her kittens have all died - I found and buried two of them last week, and I have seen none anywhere near her today.)

The other older cat has not been around lately. Maybe he's dead, maybe he's just moved on to establish his own territory.

And then there's Homer.

These cats are really just semi-feral. They know that humans on the porch mean that there may be food available, so any time they hear the back door open they will come up the steps and through the propped-open door to see if we have anything for them. Mostly they will keep their distance, dashing back off the porch at the slightest provocation. Except for one of the younger cats.

For weeks, months maybe, one of the three younger cats kept trying to come into the house. Not sneakily, not by stealth: it's just that whenever we opened the back door to go back into the house, he assumed we were inviting him to stroll in, too. Several times he nearly made it, and was caught in mid-stride. He didn't put up a fight when we turned him back, but he would always try again.

Our personal trap-neuter-release program, as you may recall, started with a disaster. While I was able to trap one cat, a young female, almost immediately, she got loose while I was trying to transfer her to another carrier. She bit the hell out of my hands each of the several times I was able to grab her as she raced around the house looking for an exit, and then she spent most of the next three days (Thursday morning through Saturday night) hiding in our house until we successfully re-trapped her. (That first Friday my sister was able to trap an older male that we then had neutered.) We had to hold onto her until the following Friday, when the mobile low-cost spay/neuter clinic came back to town. She spent that week in two oversized pet carriers, being transferred from each when it became too soiled to let her remain.

After that adventure was over and she had healed from her surgery and been released, I took the carriers outside, disassembled them, hosed them down , cleaned them off, and then filled them with a bleach-water mixture to soak for a while. Then I went to work for the night.

That night I was haunted by visions of feral cats drinking the bleach-water mixture from the carriers. My God, what have I done? Have I killed the cats we were trying to save?

The next morning when I got home from work I went straight out and dumped out the remaining bleach-water and hosed out the carriers.

One of the cats was on our porch, sniffing at the food. He yowled a bit, stepped off the porch, jumped off the steps behind a rhododendron, and yowled some more.

Over the next few days I kept an eye out for him. He was suddenly very skinny, as though he weren't eating at all. Had I burned his esophagus and stomach and the rest of his digestive system with bleach-water?

The other cats stopped coming around, though we saw them once in a while. We suspected that they resented what had been done to them, and did not appreciate being made our unwilling guests. And I figured the pregnant one had gone off to find a place to have her babies. The temperature began to soar.

But the skinny cat kept coming around. He would plant himself directly in front of the back storm door, which opens out. Several times I had to pick him up and relocate him so I could open the door all the way. He didn't put up a fight.

Finally it was time for me to go back to work. On that day, my mom decided she had had enough of watching this cat getting skinnier and skinnier, dying by inches. She was going to take him to the vet to see if there was anything that could be done with him.

I told her that she was probably just investing a lot of money in having a cat put to sleep. If he hadn't been accidentally poisoned by me, or intentionally poisoned by someone else, he was probably being eaten alive by parasites and full of diseases. But she decided to take him and that was that.

As I got ready to leave for work, they were finally taking her into a room. As I left for work, she called me with the verdict.

He wasn't dying, not irreversibly. He hadn't been poisoned, intentionally or accidentally. He didn't have rabies, or Feline AIDS, or Feline Leukemia. What he had was a severe respiratory infection that was compromising his ability to eat or drink. The vet gave him I.V. hydration, a massive dose of antibiotics, and prescribed some appetite stimulants. We decided that we would hold onto him for at least two weeks, if possible, and try to get him back to fighting weight.

It became clear very quickly that this was the cat who had always been trying to get into the house. He didn't fight us, not like his feral sister had when we captured her for spaying a few weeks ago, in fact not at all. And I don't think this was just because of his weakened state. He actually seemed to be - well, not just friendly, but actually grateful. Happy to be starting a life as a domestic cat. (This sort of odd behavior in a nearly year-old feral had me wondering about rabies, but the vet says he's clean.)

That was nearly two weeks ago. He is doing well. He has put on weight, thanks to a liquid diet of kitten milk which is now transitioning into a diet of solid food in liquids. Where once his spine was the widest part of his body other than his head, he now has a little belly and a somewhat less-bony spine. He is still showing signs of intense gratitude, nuzzling us when we pick him up and wrapping around our legs when we enter the bathroom-turned-isolation chamber where he is being kept. He still tries to stroll out a door - but now it is the bathroom door, so he can meet with his fellow cats. Several times a day I will carry him around the house so he can see (but not closely interact with) the other cats of the house, especially Nicky the Senior Cat and his sister Amber and brother Spooky.

We were stumped as to what to name him. Finally I decided on a name that reflected his life story: All that he wanted to be was a house cat. All that he wanted was a home.

So now we have our twelfth cat: Homer.

The order of cats:
Nicky, born August 1998 1999 (Based on the date of REM playing at Merriweather Post on September 10, 1999, which is the concert I went to see with my sister the weekend I came down to pick up Nicky.) Abandoned by his mother when she relocated the rest of her litter. Rescued by my sister, then transferred as an infant to us. Senior Cat.
Joey, found in mid-2000 wandering around by my brother's house, looking to get in. Probably several months old at the time..
Babusz, born September 2006.
Scooter, born July 2007.

Bowie, born Spring 2009. Fell into basement twice. The second time, we kept her, May 18, 2009.
Thor, littermate of Bowie, caught barehanded by my mom June 4, 2009.
BlueBear, littermate of Bowie and Thor, trapped (using bird netting as a lure) June 2009.

Ray Chelle, formerly Rachel, littermate of Gretchen (deceased), child of Socks (deceased). Captured (along with his sibling) June 30, 2009.
Peaches, daughter of Tortoise (deceased), caught barehanded by my mom, July 2009.

Amber, born Autumn 2009. Captured October 2009.
Spooky, littermate of Amber. Snatched in his sleep January 1, 2010. (Spooky was fairly old when we caught him, and had a very hard time adapting to life in a house. I decided that he was at the maximum age for taking in a feral.)
Homer, littermate of Amber and Spooky. Came to us, sick and apparently dying, July 2010 - nearly a year old.

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