Bob and Kathy's Adventures with Feral Cats

The Next Generation

Notes from Bob and Kathy:

A feral cat is a domestic cat or the off spring of a domestic cat that has been abandoned or dumped. Left to fend for itself, the cat will often become wild. Often these cats will band together to try to eek out a life in a colony. If the colony is lucky, a group of people will provide food and some kind of shelter for these cats. However, many are not. Unfortunately, many feral cats die slow, painful deaths due to starvation, poison, cars and preditors. Additionally, many of the cats living in these colonies are not neutered, meaning that many kittens will be born in the colony. (Many times an unexpected litter of kittens is the reason why a cat ends up being dumped.) Unfortunately many of these kittens never live to be more than a few weeks old. In order to prevent this needless suffering on behalf of the cats, many animal welfare and rescue groups advocate a Trap/Test/Vaccinate/Neuter approach to managing a feral colony. For more information about such a program, go here.

For the last few years, Bob, Kathy and family have been feeding a few feral cats that are living on some property that belongs to Bob's sister and her husband. During the last two years we have been trying to neuter and spay the adult cats, while catching the kittens, taming them and finding homes for them. Three of Bob and Kathy's cats, Ghost, Maggie and Mama started their lives as kittens in this colony. What follows is a diary of sorts (written from Kathy's viewpoint) that was sent out to several friends who were monitoring the progress of our endeavors.

October 20, 1998

Hi Everyone,

Just thought you'd like an update on what has happened at the Rude Ranch since September. As you all know, the kittens (Grey, Hissor, Hissetta, Pumpkin and Brownie) that we tamed/fostered this summer have all been adopted. Goldie, the remaining kitten has taken on duties as standby mascot at the Save A Life Animal shelter in Linthicum, Md. He shares his duties with Bones, the original shelter mascot.

Here's what has transpired since then:

Bob and I are both still working at Uncle Nicky's restuarant in Crofton. We are also still signed on as volunteers at the Save A Life shelter. The cats in residence, Tia, Billie Jo, Ashley, Ghost, and Maggie were adjusting to each other. Even Mama was beginning to settle down and become a really nice cat. Life was becoming normal. Our lives were becoming stable. Too quiet. Which only meant one thing: we got a call, there were a bunch of kittens living on a McDonalds parking lot. They were considered wild, and were begging for food from people, running and playing in the road amongst the cars. Something bad was going to happen to the kittens. Someone had to do something. Could Bob and I help?

We got lucky in one respect, someone else was willing to trap the cats, but she couldn't keep them and work with them. That's where Bob and I came in. Ok, we could take 1 maybe 2, well, there were 4 kittens, could we take them? Could we say no?

The next day we took custody of two kittens, one smokey grey, and a black and white tuxedo. (Code named Blue and Blackie) The good news, they weren't totally wild. The bad news, they were at least 6 months old, meaning they would be harder to tame, and harder to find homes for. Just the same, they both were pretty good at hissing and hiding. The Rude cats took the latest additions in stride, copping a "just give us the kitten food or the couch is the new scratching post" type of attitude.


A couple of days later, we took custody of another tuxedo kitty and one calico. They were promptly deposited in the second bedroom with the first two kittens. Now the fun begins.

The first problem we had with these kittens was that they were good at hiding. We spent the first few days "plugging" holes where the kittens were hiding. This included the sewing machine, under the bureau and the all impressive "in the box spring". Well we really wanted to take the bed apart anyway, and shaking a few kittens out of the box spring seemed a good enough reason. After that, the kittens went vertical. That's right, they decided to sleep in the curtains. I'm sure it was a rude awakening (no pun intended) to the kitten that was sleeping in the curtains when they pulled off of the wall.

It was also at this point that we started to hit a run of bad luck with infections. All along I had always commented on how lucky Bob and I were that we had healthy low maintenance cats. All that started to change. Ashley started sneezing. Ok, one upper respiratory infection (a feline version of a cold). Normally a vet wouldn't prescribe anything for it and let it pass, however, because we had so many cats, we would start Ashley on antibiotics just to be safe. At least the pink medicine showed up really well on Ashley's tabby striping. Not to be outdone, Mama also got an infection in both ears. This would be a problem, as Mama's last visit to a vet was in a wire Have a Heart trap, right after we caught her. From her view point, it was a less than pleasant experience. We were sure she would be less than willing to go to another vet. We were also sure she would be less than cooperative when the vet asked the vet tech to flush her ears. Fortunately, both Mama and the vet tech survived and we were sent home with more antibiotics. Which would come in handy, as Ashley was generous enough to give her cold to Maggie. Maggie announced this at about 3 in the morning, sneezing and hacking on Bob, myself, and several other cats.

At this point, the new set of foster kittens had been with us for about ten days. They were still hiding, but not hissing and growling at us. I also noticed that the little calico (Cali) had thrown up and didn't seem to feel well. I attributed it to having just puked up most of her dinner. The next night, I found out otherwise. When I went to check on the kittens, the tuxedos, and the blue kitten were hiding in their normal spots, but the calico wasn't. I finally found her, comatose under the bed. At that point, all quaranteen rules were thrown aside as she was quickly thrown into a kitty carrier and hustled off to the emergency vet.

The emergency vet was able to minimally revive her. After drawing blood and doing the kitty leukemia test, it was determined that she had a massive viral infection, that yes she could be cured, if she survived the night. We left the emergency vet with instructions to try to save her, and we were to call back at 4 am for an update.

At 4 am (yes we did actually wake up at 4 am for this) she was still alive and in an oxygen tent. She was going to survive the night!!! Just come in at 6 am to pick her up and leave a major credit card behind. We also had a more immediate problem -- what to you do with a very sick contagious cat at 6 in the morning? Our regular vet wasn't open yet, the emergency vet was closing down and had to get all the over nite patients out. So, being the decisive, ready for action types that we are, we had Cali's IV's capped off, called into work late with a "family" emergency, and drove around trying to figure out how to take care of her.

When we finally arrived at our regular vet's office, the emergency vet's diagnosis was confirmed -- She was a very sick kitty, and she still wasn't out of the woods yet. She was immediately taken into intensive care for more intensive antibiotics and IV's. There was one problem. The vet's night person who usually monitored the intensive care area just quit. Could we come back at closing time (5 pm) pick Cali up and take her back to the emergency vet? So much for convenience.

The following morning, (which happened to be a Saturday) Bob and I managed to haul our selves out of bed to get Cali by the 7 am pick up time. By now Cali was able to pick her head up and look around. She was even trying to stand a little. This was a vast improvement over the almost comatose kitty we dropped off the night before. However, she still needed continuous antibiotics through an IV, meaning back to the regular vet. By now we were on a first name basis with everyone there.

By now the situation at the Rude Ranch was: Five permanent residents, (Tia, Billie Jo, Ashley, Ghost and Maggie) who were more than a little miffed at being rolled out of bed and deserted at the weird hours that Cali's vets required. One semi tame Mama kitty who was still camped out in the third bedroom. Three more kittens (Blackie, Abigail, and Blue) who were still less than cooperative in the second bedroom, and lastly one little calico who was quickly becoming the patient of the month at two different vet offices. We were beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed.......

Coming Soon: Cali's recovery, or How to Look Fashionable Wearing your Cats Food, and The Things that you Find in the Middle of the Road.