Charlie's a gentle soul and very smart. He eluded my traps many times. But this weekend, we had lots of help. A friend borrowed a drop trap from one of her friends. And when another friend tried to help me trap him with no luck, she came to Charlie's patch of woods and pulled the string on the trap to close it while he was inside. Yet another friend drove him to his early morning appointment at the spay/neuter clinic because, night person that I am, I was afraid I wouldn't wake up on time.
He could have gone to a closer clinic. But a fourth friend runs the one I chose. I trust her and the vet who does her surgeries to take good care of the cats while they're at the clinic. Besides, although she hadn't met him until Sunday, she is part of Charlie's community.
Community Cats 'Belong' To All Of Us
Years ago, free-roaming cats were called strays. People thought of them as homeless, and they were pretty much left to their own devices unless they were lucky enough to come across a kind human who was willing to give them daily meals.
But a lot has changed in the last 10 years or so. Now we trap/neuter/return because we know that's the most effective and humane solution to the feral cat "problem." And we no longer think of free-roaming cats as homeless. We realize they have homes in the woods behind our own homes, in shopping center parking lots and in the alleys of our cities.
Something else that has changed is the way we care for them. While just one person may feed a free-roaming cat or an entire colony, we've come to realize that they "belong" to the entire community, and it's the entire community's responsibility to keep an eye on them to make sure they're safe, healthy and not being a nuisance.
We have other trapped/neutered/returned community cats in this neighborhood, too. Neighbors let them use their patios for their cold weather shelters and feeding stations. They see them as a group responsibility.
Advocating For Community Cats
It took a couple of years for our neighbors to accept our free-roaming cats as part of the community. They thought all cats belong inside. They were concerned about our cats in the winter, although they have heavily insulated cold weather shelters. They said the cats annoyed their dogs when they were going for walks. And most of all, they worried that there would be more kittens, or that the cats would attract more cats.
In the end, it was time and the cats themselves that won them over. But these are some of the myths and objections we overcame before they came to see the cats as theirs as well as ours.
Myth: Cats belong inside.
Fact: Not all cats can live successfully indoors. And feral cats belong outside. They're afraid of humans and live their lives in constant fear indoors in close proximity to people. Would you force a raccoon or squirrel to live indoors? Then why would you want to do that to a wild cat?
Myth: The cats' food will attract more cats, rodents and other animals.
Fact: A stable colony of trapped/neutered/returned cats generally runs off other cats, so newcomers will not be welcome at the cats' feeding station. The other animals, like raccoons, are there anyway. The cats' food won't attract more. And about those rodents. Cats eat rodents!
Myth: If you relocate the cats to homes or barns, everyone will be happy.
Fact: When one group of cats vacates a food source, another group comes. Relocation rarely works and hardly ever creates a cat-free zone forever.
Myth: The cats will kill all the birds.
Fact: Most cats are specialists and like to hunt for either mice or birds. Most prefer mice because they're better suited to the cat's stalk/watch/pounce hunting style.
Objection: They'll fight all night and keep us awake.
Fact: Most cats hate to fight and will avoid a physical confrontation at all costs. And neutered cats rarely fight.
Objection: They'll use our flower beds as litter boxes and sit on our cars.
Fact: True, but scent and electronic deterrents can discourage them from doing both. While our community cats and neighbors were getting used to each other, we used many scent and electronic deterrents!
Do you advocate for community cats? Here are more talking points. And here's some information on what to do if you find a cat outside.
All's Well That Ends Well
Like most cats, Charlie lives very much in the present, and his long weekend is now but a distant memory. He met me at the beginning of the path leading to his feeding station today, and we walked together into the woods. Then I sat with him while he ate. I love my time with him in the woods. Although I can't touch him, we're close friends, and the few minutes we spend together each day are very special for both of us.