Monday, March 7, 2011

On Feral Cats and Oxygen Masks

The past few days have sucked... really sucked.

It all started on Thursday. I was happily feeding Princess, the feral cat who lives under the pine tree in my front yard, when my neighbor came running out in a total panic. Apparently she had seen a skunk that morning and had become convinced that it was living under the tree with the cat. She was terrified that the skunk would get in her house through the dog door and wanted me to call an exterminator and have the skunk "removed".

Oy Vay! Needles to say, my first concern was for Princess. I certainly didn't want her to get sprayed by the skunk, but I also knew that any efforts to remove the skunk would also end up removing her. So I managed to get my neighbor calmed down and decided that the only thing to do was to try to trap Princess and bring her inside, so that I could then call an exterminator and soothe my neighbor's worries.

I contacted various cat welfare organizations, rented a trap and set up tentative appointments with my vet to get her checked out before I brought her inside. I got the trap, and set it up. Princess, took one look at it, loaded with her very favorite $2/can Weruva brand "Paw Lickin' Chicken" cat food, and high tailed it out of there! I'm pretty sure she's been trapped before, since someone had her fixed and re-released her, and by the looks of it she has no desire to repeat the experience.

But... following the advice of the alley cat folks, I left the trap there and waited. I kept checking it every half hour or so, and with each passing minute, the knot in my stomach grew larger and larger. "What if she's run off and never comes back?" I thought. "Or what if I catch the skunk instead of the cat?" "What if she can't adjust to living inside, and lives in terror because of my other cats, she's terrified of other cats...?" "What if she can't figure out the litter box?"

After about 8 or 9 hours had passed, I went out again to check the trap and saw something rustling in there. I approached cautiously, fearful it might be the skunk, and discovered that I'd caught the neighborhood tom cat, an orange feral tabby with an attitude and a pension for fighting, and running Princess off to get her food. Getting him neutered had been on my "to do" list for some time, so I decided that as long as I had him trapped, I might as well get him fixed so he wouldn't create even more homeless cats in the neighborhood.

So... to make a long and agonizing story short, it turned out that the "Orange Boy" as I called him, was infected with feline leukemia. For those of you who aren't "cat people" feline leukemia is basically a death sentence. It's sort of like feline AIDS, and it's bad news because it's spread through biting, scratching, mating, sharing food, and similar feral cat activities. So I was left with no other choice but to make the heart wrenching decision to have him put down. It's not like he was "my cat" but I still felt absolutely horrible.

And to make matters worse, there's a chance that Princess is infected too.

So... here's where we get to the oxygen mask part of the story. Now, I haven't been on an airplane in nearly 20 years, but when I used to fly, part of the standard spiel that the flight crew would give, was that if the cabin were to depressurize, and the oxygen masks were to come down, you should always put on your own mask first before trying to help someone else. This is a lesson I have not been very good about applying to the rest of my life.

So... here I am... the choices spread out before me look grim. I can basically try to starve Princess into the trap, either that or spend a vast amount of time trying to coax her into a carrying case... neither of which seems very probable to me. Then I can find out if she's infected or not. If she's infected I can either put her down, which would be heartbreaking, or I could bring her inside and keep her separated from my other cats, and be religiously careful to be sure that nothing with Princess pee or saliva on it ever came in contact with my animals, and heaven forbid, she might get out into the rest of the house and have a fight with one of my cats. And... if she was infected, she'd need lots of medical care, which would both cost an arm and a leg, and be nearly impossible... try giving medicine to a cat that won't let you get within 5 feet of her. Basically, it would be an all consuming, nearly impossible project. And even if she's not infected, trying to tame a feral cat is a huge, and not generally successful undertaking. And all this is so that my neighbor doesn't have to freak out about the skunk.

The thing is... I just don't have it in me. Some part of me thinks that this is totally irresponsible, but I've pretty much concluded that doing nothing is probably the best course of action. Well, not nothing entirely. I've removed the bowls of dry cat food and water that I was leaving out for the Orange Boy (so he wouldn't bother Princess) and this was probably what attracted the skunk in the first place. And I see absolutely no evidence that the skunk is living under that tree... there's no skunk smell, and given how freaky Princess is about other animals, I just can't imagine that she'd be happily sleeping and playing and hanging out under there if there was a skunk living there! And I'll continue to feed Princess (being careful not to leave food unattended) and since she's taken a liking to the cat house I put under the tree for her, she now has shelter. And as long as she doesn't get run off by skunk exterminators or frightened off by traps, she never goes anywhere, so she's not likely to infect any other cats.

So there it is. It still totally sucks having to give up my little fantasy about taming the Princess Kitty, and I still feel terrible about the Orange Boy. But at least he won't be bothering Princess anymore, or infecting any more cats. And in truth, Princess has never shown the slightest interest in coming inside... it's just that I feel guilty about her being out there. And now that I know not to leave food unattended, hopefully we won't attract any more cats and/or skunks. And maybe Princess's days are numbered, but whose aren't? And at least she won't have to go through the trauma of being trapped and hauled to the vet, and brought inside and surrounded by unfamiliar everything.

I dunno... I still feel like I should be doing more... like I should be able to fix this situation somehow. But as CatMan has pointed out to me many, many, MANY times, the neighborhood is full of homeless and feral cats, and I can't adopt all of them. Plus... there have been skunks in the neighborhood for years, and really it's not my responsibility that my neighbor thought it was a good idea to cut a hole in her wall so she didn't have to get off the couch to let the dogs in and out!

In a way it's a great relief... as much as I want to help, I'm not responsible for everything and everybody... I'm just not. And I don't have the power to fix everything even if I was responsible for it all. And the main responsibility that I keep neglecting is the responsibility that I have to myself! So, maybe that's what I should focus on. And maybe I don't have to spend the bulk of my life energy trying to control uncontrollable situations. There's a fine line between lending a helping hand and throwing your body under the wheels of a hopeless cause, and it would behoove me to learn the difference. Where's my damned oxygen mask anyhow?!?!?

Maybe it's like the alcoholic's prayer...
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.
I'm still not sure whether I've done the "right" thing or not. But maybe there is no "right" thing. We can't control everything, and we also can't know how things will turn out even if we could. Maybe it's sort of like this story...
There once was a warrior who had a fine stallion. Everybody said how lucky he was to have such a horse. “Maybe,” he said. One day the stallion ran off. The people said the warrior was unlucky. “Maybe,” he said. Next day, the stallion returned, leading a string of fine ponies. The people said it was very lucky. “Maybe,” the warrior said. Later, the warrior’s son was thrown from one of the ponies and broke his leg. The people said it was unlucky. “Maybe,” the warrior said. The next week, the chief led a war party against another tribe. Many young men were killed. But, because of his broken leg, the warrior’s son was left behind, and so was spared.


  1. I think you have acted wisely. CatMan is right, you cannot take on the world :)

    I have been having/learning to say 'no' - you have to take care of yourself.. if you neglect you it will disallow you to help your family and others.

    I hope that your next few days are good!

  2. Learning to say no is the hardest part of living. You have Princess' best interests at heart. She might one day surprize you. My mom's cat was a feral cat that use to come to her back door for the food. One day mom left the door open and in walked Oly who decided to stay and become an indoor kitty. Of course Oly despises me, as I am the one in charge of tricking him into the cat carrier for Vet's visits etc, but we (Oly and I) are working on our issues and perhaps detente will ensue.

  3. News Flash!!! I think Princess must have sensed that I was contemplating just leaving well enough alone, so she took matters into her own paws. She basically decided that she wanted to be petted, then she jumped into my lap and wouldn't leave. To make a long story short, she tested negative for FIV and Feline Leukemia (Woo Hoo!!!) and is now naked in my basement (they had to shave out all of the mats) and trying to figure out the litter box (she's 0 for 2 so far).

    I am exhausted but grateful to finally have some resolution to the situation. It all makes litter box issues seem like no big deal at all!

    Thanks to both of you for your support, I REALLY appreciate it!

    1. WOAH! Unexpected news flash! That's awesome!

    2. Princess says, it is totally awesome.


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