Last Friday I got a text from a young high school friend. She sent me a video of a black cat walking by her bus stop in our neighborhood. She said it looked skinny and seemed to be limping. It went up to a house where there was food outside, and when the man inside tried to greet it, it ran away.
I decided that I would try to help that cat, so after work I took a can of cat food and went to the house where they were feeding it. The woman who lived there agreed that I could try to trap the cat and get it medical care. She said that she would keep the cat if we caught it! I left canned food in the bowl she had left outside (filled with dog food). The next morning I went back and saw the food was gone. I left more food and explained that I was trying to find a humane trap and how they work.
I texted a friend who does cat rescue, asking her if she had a humane trap. She said she might in her garage, but later told me she didn’t have it. Her boyfriend didn’t have it either. I said I’d buy one and she told me to buy one and she’d reimburse me because the trap she had had been mine — I had given it to her!
That afternoon, Jack and I went back to feed the cat and it was waiting on the back door stoop! When the woman opened the door, it ran a few feet away. When I got out of the car and approached to leave the canned food, it ran about 10 feet away and watched what I did. As soon as I went back inside the car, it ran to the food and ate. “That’s not a feral cat,” I told Jack. “Feral cats wouldn’t be out in the open, they certainly wouldn’t be waiting by a back door, and they’d run much farther away from people. It must have been someone’s cat at one time.”
I spent the afternoon feverishly doing research on humane traps. It seems that the Havaheart traps aren’t made as well as they used to be. I knew that I’d only have one shot at trapping the cat because if they get out of the trap, they know in the future not to go in. Which one to buy? And I needed it for Sunday, the next day.
I reached out to the rescue I volunteer for, Placing Paws. They had a trap I could use! In fact, this wonderful group told me that the cat could be vetted under their name, and they started planning for everything. At that time, the woman who lived in the house had said that she’d adopt the cat and care for it. That seemed a perfect solution. She said she had had a calico cat she loved who had passed away several years prior, and her sweet calm black lab would be fine with a cat.
In my texts with the rescue, we joked about lots of people wanting an old, beat-up black cat. They responded, “Tons! It’s our most popular!”
Sunday morning, I dropped off food for the cat and went home to get ready for the day. Once I got home, I realized that we didn’t want to feed the cat that morning because we wanted it hungry that night so it would go into the trap without hesitation. There was a time concern. I knew that cold weather was coming in a few days, and I wanted that cat trapped and safe in a warm environment, even if it was just my garage at first. So I called the woman and left a message to pick up the food so he couldn’t eat that morning. She never listened to her messages (a frustration was that I could never call her — no cell phone and she didn’t often answer her landline). When I drove by later that day, she and her husband were outside watching the leaves burn in their yard. I hoped that the pouring smoke wouldn’t frighten the cat and keep it away. I explained about not feeding the cat until the afternoon in the trap and we picked up the food — luckily, the cat hadn’t eaten it.
A few hours later, I met Christie, one of the founders of Placing Paws, at their storage unit and got the trap — it was a donation and was brand new! We figured out how to set it and I was off. I dropped it off at the house and said I’d be back at 3:00 to set it.
At 3:00 I was nervous. First of all, the trap seemed harder to set than it had that morning. Maybe because of my anxiety about doing everything right was making it harder, but it took several tries to figure it out again. I layered the bottom with newspaper for several reasons: I wanted to keep the oil from the cat food off her concrete, but I also wanted there to be a soft floor for the cat since he (or she) would be in the crate all night. I didn’t see any sign of the cat, so I slowly started to drive home. As I turned the corner, I saw that the cat was crouched by their front door! He had been waiting for the food.
I reversed the car and parked across the street. I phoned the woman, who did answer her phone, and told her that the cat was coming for the food. Waiting as the cat approached the trap was excruciating. He first circled around the back of the trap trying to find a way to get the food from the back. Finally, finally, he looked into the opening of the trap. A black towel covered the back where the food was. He walked in a bit, but the trap didn’t spring.
With horror, I saw that the woman was opening the back door. I knew that if she opened the door and went out, the cat would run away and we wouldn’t be able to trap it that day! I quickly called her on my cell phone and thankfully she heard the phone and closed the door. By the time she answered the phone, the cat had gone in the trap farther and tripped the catch — it closed and we had the cat safe! We immediately covered the trap with towels to reduce stress on the now-trapped cat.
Because I don’t trust people to be as careful (read paranoid) as I am, I said I’d take the cat to the vet the next morning on my way to work. I drove carefully home with the trap and the cat and put it all on a bench in my garage. I noticed that my heat wasn’t working, but it was 50 degrees out and a bit warmer in the garage, so I knew the cat would be safe. He didn’t touch the food, and when I went back to check on him later, he still hadn’t eaten.
My texts with the rescue were about taking him to the vet in the morning. They asked if he had hissed in the cage. He hadn’t made a peep. That made me nervous, because 12 years before, when I trapped two feral kittens, I had done a lot of research into TNR, Trap Neuter Release, where you trap feral cats, get them sterilized and vaccinated, and then release them into the care of a community caretaker who will feed them and provide shelter outside. A big difference between feral cats and stray cats is that once trapped, feral cats don’t make a sound. Because they are wild, they want to be quiet and hope they aren’t noticed. Stray cats, on the other hand, meow and meow when they are caught. In fact, when my mother trapped a cat she was sure was feral because of its behavior outside, the fact that the cat meowed in the trap clued us in that it was a stray cat left outside. In fact, the microchip (yes, the trapped cat had been microchipped) gave us the information that the cat had been adopted seven years previously by a neighbor of hers. Six months ago he had moved, and apparently he just dumped his cat outside to survive the cold and the coyotes alone. My son now has that cat. The cat had to have his thyroid removed, lost an eye to cancer and an ear to an infection, but he’s loved and pampered.
So the fact that the black cat hadn’t made a sound could indicate that he was feral. But his behavior, sitting outside the back door and waiting to be fed, didn’t jibe with feral cat behavior. Feral cats hide when humans are around. And even very friendly cats, who love to be held, can freak out when they get outside, and they too, may refuse to come to people. That can happen with a dog, too.
That night I got a call from the woman whose house the cat was trapped at. She told me apologetically that she couldn’t keep the cat. Apparently her husband wasn’t willing to “tame” the cat, and he complained that they’d have the cost of declawing the cat. She must have realized how inhumane that would be because she said she didn’t want the cat to have to go through that. She wanted me to know before I took the cat to the vet so I could make decisions. As if now that the cat didn’t have a home, I’d just dump him back outside? Seriously? Not an option.
I texted Christie and Cindy the update. Both of these lovely ladies asked me if I could foster. Foster! Instead of worrying that I’d be stuck with dealing with all of this, they offered me help and assistance. They even thought they might have a foster home. I went to sleep restless, wondering how he was doing in the garage and hoping that he knew he was finally safe.
In the morning, I lifted the towel to see how the cat was doing. He didn’t move. “Oh, no!” I thought, horrified, “He died overnight!” But then he moved and I was able to see that he had eaten the food in the cage. He didn’t seem concerned that I was looking at him; he wasn’t moving a lot, just lying in the cage calmly. That behavior continued at the vet’s office. When I lifted the cage to get a few pictures, he simply lay there calmly and quietly. He must have been someone’s cat.
A neighbor I called Sunday night to ask him to look at the garage heater told me that there was a family who had moved from one house in the neighborhood to another house. “I think they might have dumped their cats,” he told me. This morning I was able to see that he had missing patches of fur by his mangled ears. The fur on his face is patchy and spare. His eyes and ears look goopy. He’s a mess!
I explained to the receptionist at the vet’s office that he’d be a Placing Paws cat, but they should contact me, too, about him. I cried as I left. I cried thinking about all the suffering this poor cat had endured. Who knows how long he was on his own, struggling to eat and stay warm. Struggling to evade the coyotes in our neighborhood who have killed several small dogs, drinking from puddles after a rain. Not getting water when it had not rained.
The one thing I didn’t worry about was the future of the cat. No matter what, he’d have a place to go. Although I have four dogs, two cats and a bird in a tiny house, I would make it work if needed. The small bedroom I use for myself is the favorite room of my cats. They love to lie in the window and on the cat tree that’s perched in the corner. They like to lie on my loveseat and rest, knowing that the dogs can’t come in because of the dog gate. But if that’s where a foster had to go, my cats would deal with it. Black cat was never going to have to struggle to live again.
Now to wait and see what the vet has to say. It’s early morning — I won’t hear for a while. Update coming.
Mid-afternoon, Monday: Still waiting to hear from the vet. They said Joe is in a cage now and next on the list to be seen. Because it was last minute, and he’s not an emergency, he has to wait his turn. I’m not good at waiting! And now I’m remembering that I forgot to bring an extra cat carrier to bring him home in. Ugh! I’ll see what they say about how easy he is to examine. Maybe he’s chilled out a bunch. Maybe he’s still freaked out and they won’t be able to handle him.
He’s probably going to need to be in isolation for a few weeks to make sure he’s okay. Garage or bedroom? Was the heater fixed? Do I have a crate large enough to fit a cat carrier and a litter box? I need to go home and get this set up! But I need information first.
Talked to the vet and Christie. They weren’t able to give him much of an examination. He was too frightened. But now we know he is, indeed, a he. Not neutered. He did manage to escape and they had to catch him. He was terrified and trying to get away. They were able to “cuff” him and towel him to briefly examine him, but they said he wasn’t aggressive, just scared. They think he’s middle aged. That also makes me think he was someone’s cat because with all the dangers in my neighborhood including the busy road and coyotes, feral cats don’t live more than a few years. They gave him an antibiotic injection for what looks like a horrible ear infection and generalized skin issues. It’s a long-lasting one. They also applied Revolution for fleas and possible ear mites. They want to see him again in two weeks, at which time he might be in better shape so they can sedate him, draw blood, neuter him, vaccinate, etc. The vet did think he’s not a feral cat — yay!
Right now he’s in a small cat carrier that I placed in a large dog crate. In the crate is a litter box, a soft cat bed, food and water. It’s crowded, but I think he’s going to be in the cat carrier a lot since he’s so frightened. We have both cars outside so he won’t be frightened by the doors going up and down. We’ll go in and talk to him as often as possible. It will give him a chance to get regular food, warmth, and quiet. He won’t be scrounging for food and avoiding coyotes and searching for shelter. And we’ll see what happens.
Tuesday morning: He spent the night in the large dog crate. Last night he ate the can of cat food, spilled all the water, threw up on the cat bed, and used the litter box twice. This morning I gave him another can of food, replaced the wet newspapers with a doggy pee pad (for better absorption if he spills the water again), and cleaned the litter box. I put the bed in the washer. He lay in his carrier with his head facing out while I was cleaning the litter and changing the food and taking his bed out, not scrunched in the back of it hiding. I think the vet was right and he’s not feral. He’s just really scared, tired, and in pain. They said that his ears are like cauliflower, from infections or ear mites. He has a skin condition and possible infection.
I turned up the heat in the garage. There is no way he is going back out into the neighborhood. I’ll figure it out when we see what the veterinarian finds out in two weeks and how he is coming around.
If I thought he’d get along with my two male cats, it would be much easier. But they aren’t young and I don’t want them hurt. I have two weeks to figure it out. Stay tuned for updates!