Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Collection of Cat Ladies

Today I attended a TNR workshop run by the Feline Fix program. I think these are my people...

There were about a dozen people there... all women except for the two guys who had clearly been dragged along by their respective women.

We got lots of information about TNR (trap neuter & return), a pile of statistics on feral cats, demonstrations on how to use traps, info on best practices for maintaining a colony, and a bunch of moral support from other cat ladies.

The program is run by a local non-profit that runs a low cost spay & neuter clinic. Seriously, it's only $10 per cat to fix them, get them vaccinated and have a medical exam. To date they have fixed over 35,000 cats - which sounds like a lot, but when you consider there are an estimated 100,000 feral cats in Denver... well... there's obviously a LOOOONG way to go.

But these folks are doing so much good work in the community. There were more people than usual at today's workshop because they are busy training volunteers to actually go out into the community to TNR vast numbers of cats - up until now, they have only provided traps and support for people who were willing to do the trapping themselves.

The most encouraging thing I learned was that the combined FIV/FeLV infection rate among feral cats in Denver is less than 2%. I had previously been told that it was as high as 50% - hence my great trepidation about the possibility of ever being able to bring any of "the Grays" indoors.

They also said that if a cat is FIV positive and not symptomatic, it's generally considered OK to return them to their colony as long as they are fixed. FIV only spreads through biting and mating, so once they are fixed, those two behaviors pretty much go away. FeLV is a different story since it's spread through more casual contact and generally has much poorer outcomes for the cats. But all of that made me feel much more hopeful about their futures.

They even had a cat who had been trapped and found to be fairly tame. He's nearly 10 years old, FIV positive, with fairly substantial kidney disease, and needs a child-free "only pet" household. But they weren't giving up on him, they were actively trying to find someone to adopt him. That made me feel very good about the organization in general.

I also spoke with several people who had succeeded in socializing feral kittens that were as old or older than Little Blackie and her sibling(s)...

Sooo... bolstered by all of this hopeful information, and by the fact that Blackie was literally climbing the screen door trying to figure out a way inside when I got home, I got a bit bolder with her. When she came running up to me, I put out a hand and was able to pet her tail and even stroke her back a few times! And she didn't freak out!

I might have been able to pet her more, but as soon as Little Gray saw this, she (yes, she) came running over to get in on the action. And she just let me pet and snuzzle her a whole bunch!

So now I am totally confused. The Little Gray that I was petting today was clearly a female, and also clearly still a kitten (she's a bit smaller than Blackie.) But I KNOW for sure that there is also a "Little Gray" who is a male, because I've seen him with his tail up and there were furry little balls under there!

But I was pretty sure there was a Gray Mama too... so maybe there are actually three gray tabbies?!? I've never seen more than two tabbies, or a total of 4 cats at once... Maybe it's just Gray Boy and three kittens? Or maybe there is a Mama cat, but she only comes by on occasion?

This is the only photo I've managed to get of all four - look how sweet Gray Boy lets them all eat while he sits by and watches over them...

Well the other part of this puzzle is that they said it's probably best to wait until after the holidays to try to trap them. Because of holiday closures and fundraisers, they have very limited clinic days from now until the end of the year, and we seem to be in a weather pattern of one storm right after another. And the cats won't be breeding at this time of year anyhow.

So that gives me a bit of breathing room to figure some things out. Little Blackie and Little Gray are very bonded, and I wouldn't want to separate them if at all possible.

Terrible photo taken through the screen door, but you get the idea
But if this is in fact the Little Gray who let me pet her, and not the one who runs away scared... then maybe, just maybe I might be able to bring them both inside - assuming I can tame them up and that they both test negative... which is a lot of assumptions... but maybe....

And as for Gray Boy himself... Well, he has been rubbing his tail against my leg lately, but he still freaks if I attempt to touch him at all... so I guess we'll just have to cross that bridge when we get to it.

He's looking nice and healthy these days though.

Anyhow... that's the news from the crazy cat lady!


  1. When I first started to read your post, I thought you were going to become a volunteer to trap feral cats and get them fixed. I was wondering how that was going to work because it was difficult for you to even read about that on Strayer's blog. But as it turned out, you were just trying to see how to best take care of the new cats that have taken up residence at your new house. It sounds like soon, you may indeed be the crazy cat lady with 7 cats. :) Good luck. They certainly are a pretty/handsome bunch.

    1. Ha! The sign-in form had a box marked "volunteer trapper" and I wasn't sure what it meant. The workshop leader said "oh, check that if you want to volunteer to go around trapping cats." At that point an involuntary "Oh God No!" slipped from my lips. I have the utmost respect for people who can do that kind of work, but I just don't have the emotional fortitude to deal with that sort of thing on a regular basis.

  2. Oh, I just did something goofy and lost a comment. Anywhooo ... your first picture and caption are priceless! And I love Gray Boy's pose in the last picture.

    That sounds like a terrific program--I've been a bit curious about programs like that for feral cats. Thanks for sharing your info!

    1. Isn't that picture wonderful? It is a wonderful program, and I think we're gonna need it because a new kitty just arrived this evening. Oy... I think there are lots of them out there.

  3. I pray you can catch them and they test negative so you can give them a forever home.

    1. I sure hope so... but if not, well, they can live in my backyard.

  4. I've fostered for a friend who looks after feral colonies here, and we've tamed feral kittens up to six months old. But it depends on each cat's personality - we brought in two sisters about 3 months old. One is a total love bug, all cuddles, a real lap cat but her sibling won't be touched even after a month of living indoors.

    Good luck with your guys. At least they will be fixed and fed from now on, and that is so important.

    1. Well that gives me hope. I'm actually gonna try to get the little gray one who is all cuddles inside sooner rather than later.

      At least they've got insulated houses with heaters in them.

  5. Your outdoor kitties are all so beautiful and they really seem to getting used to you. I hope it all works out. It always breaks my heart to see kitties outside struggling and I agree with you about being a feral caregiver, I couldn't do it...well I did do it but just till I got the kitty inside.
    I am sending good thoughts that your weather stays warm for the lads(or lasses) and that their housing arrangements work out.

    1. I don't know how people can keep from falling in love with every single one. I just get soooo attached.

      Anyhow, we've got some arctic weather headed this direction over Thanksgiving. They're predicting highs in the 20's (around -4C) and lows in the single digits (around -15C), so I'm gonna try to get the little snuggle bug inside if I can. We have an appointment at the vet for Wednesday afternoon and if she tests negative, I'm bringing her inside. I hate to separate her from the others, but she does seem to be off on her own most of the time anyhow, so I think she'll be better off inside if it's possible.

  6. Out in the country where I live, we tend to get feral colonies near dumpsters (no trash pickup here) where people DUMP unwanted cats, as if abandoning them was better than taking them to a shelter. At one point we had a dumpster near us and I ended up with a lot of rescues at my house. Hard to believe I only have one cat now (and no dogs) and I took him in because he wasn't playing nice at my son's house. Stay warm and happy Thanksgiving!

    1. It's just horrible that people would simply dump a living creature as if they were garbage! You are such a saint for taking them in.

      There are a TON of feral cats in my neighborhood. I think it's partly because it's such a low income area, and partly because I'm just a few blocks away from a run down commercial strip where there are lots of empty lots and such. People also say that there are cultural differences, and that the Mexican immigrants see cats more as outdoor "barn animals" and don't believe in getting them fixed or keeping them inside. I'm not sure whether I believe that last one or not. I mean, I'm sure there are cultural differences in how people view animals, but it also sounds like a very convenient "blame the Mexicans" excuse.

      Anyhow, after Princess died I thought I was down to just 2 cats, but once again, the Cat Fairy sent me more! :-)

  7. You're a great ambassador for cat ladies everywhere! ;)

    I do like cats, and I've certainly had some very sweet encounters with them, but I am bit scared of them aswell. I've been scratched/bitten a few times even when I was just petting them gently, and I hadn't cornered the cats, taken their food or toys, lifted them or anything like that. :S Any thoughts on why they would do that?

    So all in all, I'm more of a dog person, but I generally get along well with both cats and cat ladies. ;) But I do wonder: If cats were as big as say a great dane or a german shepherd, would people still dare to have them as pets? :p I'm thinking that would be more or less like having a panther in your house, honestly, I would worry they'd eat me if they were hungry or bored. :p


    1. Ha! Well, personally I would LOVE to have a panther in my house, but I probably would be a bit afraid that it would eat me - and it's not an unreasonable fear! Have you ever seen the film "Born Free"? It's about some people who adopt an orphaned lion cub... oh it's making me cry just thinking about it. It's a happy ending, but still a tearjerker.

      Anyhow, I think that cat behavior can be a little bit complicated if you're not tuned into how they think. Cats often scratch and/or bite as a part of their normal play behavior. They are basically predators, so their play is all mock-hunting. If you've ever seen kittens play, they basically tackle each other, bite each other, kick each other in the head and/or stomach, and they think this is great fun.

      You really have to be careful when raising a kitten to never ever play rough with them using your hands. They need to learn that hands are for cuddles and toys are for rough play. Unfortunately, many people don't understand this, so they inadvertently end up training the cat to attack people as part of their regular play. This sort of thing can be really cute when it's a tiny kitten, but once the cat grows up, the behavior quickly becomes much less adorable!

      Also, cats - especially ones who haven't been raised well - tend to get aggressive when they are overstimulated. But the signs that a cat is starting to get overstimulated are very subtle, and not easily recognized by someone without much experience.

      They also usually have a very narrow over-stimulation threshold, so they switch very quickly from being happily petted into "attack mode". This "attack mode" isn't usually as vicious from the cat's point of view as it seems to us, it's more the cat's way of saying "stop it". But cats have a different type of skin than we do - they have a separate outer layer of skin that doesn't have a lot of blood flow, and is much less sensitive to pain than our skin is, so when they give a "stop it" swat to another cat, it doesn't hurt the other cat nearly as much as it does when they do it to us.

      Anyhow, if you're ever petting a cat and it starts to swish it's tail, or the fur on the back of it's neck stands up a bit, or it puts it's ears down, it means that the cat is DONE being petted and you should stop immediately.

      That's probably WAY more information than you wanted, but it just always makes me sad when people don't get to enjoy cats like I do!

    2. Thank you so much, all of this makes A LOT of sense! Learning about the narrow over-stimulation threshold and the less sensitive outer skin was so helpful. Then it doesn't seem so, ehm, mean that the cat would scratch me seemingly (too me) out of nowhere, since it doesn't get that that's very painful to me and not just appropriate boundary-communication as it would be with another cat. It makes that response seem much more appropriate.

      I got along very well with my boyfriend's parents' late cat (RIP!). But the new cat and I are having some... communication issues. He's so fast and likes to jump out from nowhere and scratch/bite my ancles. He probably smelled my wariness and figured I was the weaker and therefore more fun prey, err I mean playmate. ;) Everyone's like "oh, he's just playing!" ....but I can't shake the feeling that he might know very well that he's targeting my achilles tendons, so that if he could just tear them off I wouldn't be able to walk and he could just eat me at his leisure. :p



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