We moved here in 2004, and the day we looked at the house, we were greeted by a friendly black cat, who let us know that he was part of the deal, end of story. He did not belong to the former homeowner. He was (and still is) a good-sized male cat, all black, save for a white burst on his chest...and white tufts under his arms, and in his groin area. It's a weird kind of reverse pubic hair. He was unneutered when he came around, and I, the naive suburban kid, never saw cat balls before, and was kind of stunned at how pronounced they were. We named him Angus, for Angus Young, of AC/DC, who sang about his big balls.
Angus got a room of his own, until we could determine he was free of feline diseases and could get him neutered. He got the clean bill of health, and even though I am a firm believer of spaying and neutering, part of me felt sad to know that Angus would no longer have much in common with his namesake. But, it had to be done, and so, it was. We tried to integrate him with our existing group: Lacey, the dog, and Simon and Monkey, the cats. It took a long time...Angus was great with people, but wanted to do what he wanted to do with the other animals, and that didn't really fly. But things eventually worked out, and now Angus is just as lazy and content as the other occupants of this house.
Now, three years into this cat thing, we've brought in/fixed-up/adopted out many, many cats, on our own. I didn't know I had it in me to become the crazy cat lady, but apparently the transformation has happened. I know our efforts, in the grand scheme of things, are kind of meaningless. But they mean everything to the individual cats we come across. My main goal was to keep the local strays out of the Trenton Animal Shelter, because it's a kill facility. And run about as well as any other city agency in Trenton. I'm not judging, really, because the cat problem is so severe here in Trenton, but I personally won't stand to see our neighborhood cats rounded up and sent there. Also, it seems we're out of friends and family members who'll take them, even though my vet, Dr. Sharon Johnson, of Paws n' Claws, in Florence (she makes house calls! Woohoo!) tells me every time I see her, how wonderful Trenton cats are.
We've been looking into the TNR program -- trap, neuter, release -- and while it eats at me that perfectly good cats like Sophie (see her picture below, from yesterday's post) and Liz Jr. (a beautiful blue-gray long-haired cat), can't find homes, I'm glad to not send them off to the unknown. I've been doing research this week into making little shelters for them, for the winter, and came across a fantastic site, www.indyferal.com, an Indiana-based rescue group with TONS of helpful advice on their website for managing a cat colony. Glen and I had picked up a dog house last year on Central Jersey Freecycle but the cats weren't interested in it. It was bulky in our yard, and sitting there, unused, so we reposted it to Freecycle, and someone with a dog came to get it. I'm sure that pooch happy -- it was a good dog house! This year, I'm going to try one of Indy Feral's ideas for making effective, but inexpensive, small shelters out of nested plastic bins; the space between the two bins is lined with hard, pink, insulation board, and the sleeping area is filled with straw. I love the idea because I don't have to bug Glen for help with this project -- no special tools are needed. And they're easy to clean! We should be able to tuck these shelters in our shrubs and out of the way, so the cats get some privacy.
Here's a picture from Indy Feral's literature:
I found the detailed instructions here, along with ideas for other kinds of shelters and feeding stations.
I'm not thrilled with the idea of managing a cat colony, but I think it's the best solution in this imperfect world. There are never enough homes for cats. But if I can get this gang spayed/neutered/vaccinated and give them what they need to survive, they should stay in my yard. They won't get into the neighbor's trash, and they'll defend this turf against new cats, without too many loud fights, since the females won't go into heat, so hopefully I can keep this population under control. Finding them homes, of course, would be better, but realistically, I know it can't happen for every cat.
Last year, we began working with Patricia Soltis, of Animals in Distress. That agency works with Dr. Carter at Mercerville Animal Hospital and will pay for sterilization surgery and vaccines for strays and ferals. Both AID and Dr. Carter's office are heartened when individuals commit to either finding homes for the strays they find, or agree to manage their stray/feral population. Depending on the circumstances, AID will cover the vet expenses, at no cost to you. After paying for sterilization surgery and vaccines for six cats in 2005, I was thrilled to find AID.
There are a lot of strays in Trenton; I've seen them in the streets, and at the Animal Shelter in Trenton, and their futures are very bleak. There is a group of dedicated volunteers at the Trenton Shelter, who foster some the cats in their own homes when they can, but many, many perfectly good animals are destroyed every week. If you have a stray problem in your area, consider taking care of them before calling Animal Control. It's a bit of work at first, but doesn't take up that much of your time. One of the perks is a good deal of entertainment, and fewer rodents in your house and yard.