Monday, May 29, 2006


I didn't ask for cats here. I did not bring my own cats when we moved here, although I had two, one of whom is now my dad's housemate. But they appeared from the farm across the road, one cat had a litter here and that was it. I started feeding them just so they wouldn't steal food from our old Brittany. Then, one by one, I adopted a few. I have one indoor cat, Puffball, and two semi-indoor male cats, plus a couple others who were indoors at one time but were moved out when they became pregnant. Hey, I couldn't afford to spay/neuter all of them, and I couldn't just kill them either.

But now it's kitten season, and I've decided most of these cats do not have any inborn mothering ability, either that or they are responding to some unseen population check. Two litters earlier this year have died within a day after birth. And two days ago, I witnessed what was perhaps the most casual birth I'd ever seen; a small calico was walking along the path, and when the kitten, placenta and all, dropped from it it didn't even stop walking. I picked up the kitten and put it in a somewhat protected area. Later I found the other kitten, abandoned in the woodpile. I put it with the other, thinking maybe the mother would have a change of heart and start caring for them. Wishful thinking.

And a lot of mixed emotions ensued. I could try to care for the abandoned kittens, feeding them milk every hour or so. But we have so many cats here, and there is so much else I need to focus my attention upon. Or I could kill them instantly, drowning them in a bucket. But what if...just what if the mother decided to come back? And I didn't have the heart to do it either. I'm not God, and I don't pretend to be. So I had to listen to their pitiful meowing yesterday and today, struggling, clinging on to life, while their mother casually lounged around, oblivious. I didn't imagine they would last long. I think the first one is finally dead, the second soon to follow.

So why do I feel all messed up emotionally about this? I was hoping they would die, so we would not have any more cats to deal with. And I was hoping they would live, because...well, just because. And in the end I decided I would not be the one to decide.

On the other hand, there is a litter of four kittens in the canvas garage, two weeks old and perfectly healthy. I'm prejudiced; I'm pulling for them because their mother is a Siamese mix, with blue eyes, and I'm convinced Puffball was their father, before I took him to the vet. Puffball is also a Siamese mix, blue eyed and grey pointed. The kittens are all snow white, which suggests they will develop colored Siamese points as they mature. I'm an absolute fool for Siamese cats. I have already decided I will keep one, or more, I'll see.

Damn cats.


LauraHinNJ said...

Any low-cost spay/neuter vets in your area?

I don't know if there would be such a thing in a rural area like you are in, but around here there are groups that round up strays, spay/neuter them, and then put them back where they came from.

I'm not a cat person - we have strays around here - last summer one had a litter under our shed - I was soo mad and spent the better part of a week trapping them and bringing them over to the SPCA where I was made to feel like a loser or a lier bringing in these cute little kittens that just happened to be born in my yard.

I don't know what you could do, but I couldn't stand to see little ones left to die like that. Too soft-hearted, I guess.

Anonymous said...

I love cats but can't abide letting them out, especially in natural areas, considering how much they kill. They say a well-fed housecat can kill 900 small animals a year. The city I live near has plenty of habitat (parks & gardens galore), but only one or two species of native songbirds. The rest have been wiped out by pet cats. They've done studies in wilderness parks next to settled areas and the housecats can wipe out nearly everything in a two mile radius. They target the young, so while adults may be able to survive, they can't reproduce in cat territories. At least your cats aren't reproducing very successfully... feral cats are even harder on wildlife.

clairesgarden said...

difficult, but you cant have them all survive or you would be overrun. I use to have a deal going with a vet who spayed/neatured animals at a reduced rate as he knew I was catching wild/semi wild cats and letting them go where where I found them. there is an injection female cats can have to stop them coming into season but I think they have to have it every couple of months or so.
I love your sheep, are they young? nice colours and they must think they've landed very very lucky!!

Deb said...

laurahinnj- unfortunately, there isn't even an animal shelter in my county. I just had Puffball neutered and the neutering alone was $60, not to mention shots and tests. The vet doesn't offer any low-cost options or discounts. It's really a shame, because there is definitely a need in this area. I hear you on the strays; that really put you in a tough spot!

Sylvia- Being a lover of birds as well as cats, I have done some investigation into the studies and figures that are often cited on predation by cats. What I have found is that, while cats certainly can cause problems in certain situations (small islands, endangered species areas), the numbers of songbirds killed by cats are at best guesses, sometimes based on questionable extrapolation methods. An often-cited study by the University of Wisconsin was actually never published in a peer-reviewed journal but is nevertheless widely accepted by the public.

If the cats here were killing birds and small mammals at the rates cited in some of these studies, I would be seeing at least some evidence in carcasses, piles of feathers, etc. So far I'm not seeing anything. I hope this doesn't come across as me being naively optimistic or defensive; I really haven't seen anything but a bunch of lazy cats hanging around the door looking for food. ;)

I buried the two abandoned kittens this morning.

Deb said...

clairesgarden- yes, that's why I couldn't bring myself to make an effort to save them. I applaud you efforts to spay/neuter and release in your area!

The sheep are young lambs, I'm not sure exactly how old, but yes I like the colors and they like the grass!

Floridacracker said...

Well, I shouldn't even comment here since I'm so NOT a cat person. Still, I can empathize with your dilemma once the kittens are dropped in your lap.
Damn cats.

Anonymous said...

I live with a couple of fat, lazy cats who are always meowing for a handout, yet I've seen them chowing down on (native) rodents and lizards right in the back yard. They eat the whole thing, crunch crunch--no evidence left.

As for birds, I don't know that there would be much evidence there. I've probably only seen one or two bird carcasses (other than road kill) in my life. Surely birds are dying of natural causes all the time, but where are all the bodies and feathers? If we don't see them, why would we see the cat-killed birds?

As a biologist you know studying predation is tricky, but there's no way cats are not making a major dent in the wildlife population. Surely you've seen how they fixate on prey items, even when they couldn't possibly be hungry. Hunting is an instinct with them, they can't help it, and they are extremely good at it. What else have they got to do all day? Now if only we could train them to play video games or something! ;)

pablo said...

I've never liked cats because, well, there just aren't any good recipes for them.