Learning and Loving with Feral Cats

Caring for feral cats can be super hard. It can be rewarding and fun, but it can be super hard.  One of the hard parts that no one prepared me for, was coming to the end. I have been caring for Mama and Little Black for almost 9 years (Mama showed up fall of 2008). At the time I trapped them, started caring for them the common thought was that feral cats don’t live much longer than 3 years. Well, I can tell you that is not true in all cases.  Yes, some of my colony has disappeared and most likely have crossed the Rainbow Bridge. But not all of them. I still have my two girls. Mama with her cautious ways and Little Black who is bold as brass. In their own separate ways, they have exemplified two ways of surviving “in the wild.”

Mama 16 (3)

Mama waking up after her sedation last year.

Sadly, my girls are getting old now. As they get older they are facing new obstacles that their street smarts won’t help them with-declining health. Last year, after much struggle, I trapped Mama and took her to the vet. She had been vomiting something awful and was the most likely suspect for the pudding-like poop I was finding. She was sedated for a full exam and the vet determined she most likely has Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD). Without doing full labs, an ultrasound and possibly getting a sample of the tissue, we won’t know for sure. Thankfully (and somewhat miraculously) she tested negative for fleas and parasites.

I can’t get near Mama, so there would be no way to medicate her. She is feral and an accident could happen at any time, so a major work-up was not worth the stress (to either of us) nor the money. The vet and I discussed euthanasia, but I decided I wanted to give her some more time. I worried about the decision, was I sentencing her to suffer declining health? It’s been a year now since that visit and she is still kicking.Bless her heart, she is still going strong.  Her fur is scraggly and she constantly gets mats the size of my hand. She is getting skinny too. The vomit and the poops never really cleared up either, despite some time getting B12 supplements. She is happy though. She is the first to greet me at mealtimes. She even got close enough to sniff my fingers the other day! She plays with catnip when I provide it.

Little Black bald legsRecently, Little Black has lost the majority of the fur on her legs and belly. I think she is over-grooming herself, possibly from fleas. Though, she goes catting around and gets into who-knows-what, not to mention all the mice she brings home, so it could be just about anything.  She is getting super skinny too. Once things settle down at work (the vet’s office) and in my personal life, I will trap this little girl and get her in to the vet.  Thankfully for me Little Black LOVES to go in the trap. I have caught her at least 5 times over the years, and there are many a cat who has gotten away because she set the trap off first. She is still her spunky, sassy self so I am not too concerned about comfort level. Still, I know she needs to get in. Hopefully it will be something as easy as a flea treatment to get her to stop over-grooming herself.

I was sitting outside one night last week watching my girls and thinking about all this. They are old. Their coats are looking rough. There is constant vomit and gross poop to clean up. And there is almost nothing I can do for them. More than anything I have gone through with these girls, this breaks my heart. I am great at medicating cats and I could easily slip drugs into their food. Unfortunately, I can’t trap them and get them in for regular vet care/re-checks. I can’t get them in for routine blood work, or for a yearly refill of their medications. And it kills a little part of my soul to not be able to do this.

I know that routine trips to the vet would be too stressful for them, particularly for Mama. And I know that I gave them a huge gift by providing them with regular meals, a safe space to live, shelter in the winter, and so much love. I gave them so much when I trapped them and got them spayed at a relatively young age. All those kittens they didn’t have to raise! It still breaks my heart that I can’t give them the best health possible in their golden years.

When I started out on the crazy journey of TNR 8 years ago, I never expected to still be caring for my girls. And I never, ever expected that the hardest part would be the end our of journey together. Of all the hard things in my life because of them– all the fights with my family and neighbors; all the hours of trapping; all the vacations and risks I never took–I never imagined the hardest thing would be saying good-bye. They have changed my life in ways I wasn’t prepared for. I am glad I wasn’t prepared for this though. If I had been, I may have never started out, and then where would we all be?

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