Feral Cats Will Steal Your Heart

And your sandwich.

Twenty-twelve was a tough year in my household. As I’ve written about elsewhere, my mother-in-law lived with us for most of it. I took a new job with a long commute; I went from working from home to being away from home 10 or 12 hours a day. One of my cats was diagnosed with feline kidney disease (which is terminal, but she’s still going strong a year later). Money was tight. It was a bleak year.

Then the Buddies showed up.

We have a “garden level” apartment with a small porch and sliding glass/screen door. Our porch faces trees, grass, a hill, and the street. It’s quite private.  One day in April, three tiny kittens turned up on our porch.

“If we feed them, they’ll never leave,” I told my husband. He said softly, “But they’ll die.” So we started putting out ramekins with food and water.

Because our lives were consumed by chaos, we did not do everything we could for those kittens. We did not try to trap them and take them to a shelter, or bring them in to foster ourselves. I regret it, especially when I think about the day we realized the third kitten was no longer showing up to our porch. But the truth was, we couldn’t do more. We didn’t have the energy or resources. We did our best, but I wish our best could have been better.

The two kittens who remained grew and developed personalities. With bright blue eyes, white bodies, and seal points, they began to climb our window screens, accept any scraps of food, and meow at the door to let us know it was meal time. My husband tried to give them actual names, but their coloring was too similar to tell them apart. I would greet them with “Hey, Buddy. Hey, Other Buddy.” This evolved into Big Buddy (male) and Little Buddy (female).

A kitten climbs the windowscreen.
A Buddy climbs the windowscreen.
The Buddies as kittens, getting some food.
The Buddies as kittens, getting some food.

One evening, we gave them leftover hotdogs. Big Buddy nearly chomped my finger off. Little Buddy took her piece of hot dog and ran to the edge of the porch, growling.

On top of everything else that summer, our apartment building was undergoing maintenance. Every morning at 7 A.M., the workers would start drilling and hammering, improving the facade of the buildings. During lunch one afternoon, my husband heard a worker grumble that some cat had stolen his sandwich. I just want to know which, Big Buddy the brawn or Little Buddy the brains?

Over time, the Buddies began to trust us. They went from running away when we opened the door, to standing still, to actively trying to come in. Big Buddy, especially, just wanted to sit on my feet and receive pets. It was so strange: this cat loved humans, despite growing up “in the wild.” Not made of stone, we’d let them inside for short periods of time (originally away from our other cats, but now they all hang out together; we also give the Buddies flea medication and they’ve had rabies shots).

My husband took great pleasure in building a “Buddy House” for the cats. Based on a post I’d seen on Tumblr, he created a basic shelter: a large plastic bin with a hole cut out, filled with wood chips. Some raccoons have tried to steal it a few times, but usually we could find one or both Buddy asleep inside.

The Buddies in their shelter.
The Buddies in their shelter.

Further, these cats are great study Buddies. I’m teaching myself Hindi, and I practice with them. “Tum kaise haiN?” I ask. “KahaN tumse bhai/behin?” “How are you? Where is your brother/sister?” I like to think they are bilingual cats.

By December, our lives had improved. MIL was gone, money was no longer so tight, and we could breathe a little bit. I started researching trap and release programs: programs that trap feral cats, spay/neuter them, and then release them. I found the Feral Cat Coalition (FCC), an organization in Portland that provides traps, does the surgeries, and also provides basic vaccines and a check up while the cat is in for surgery.

We worried that the Buddies would never forgive us but because we’d come to love them, we wanted to make sure they’d have the best possible life. Feral cats don’t live long (this FAQ from the Humane Society doesn’t list a lifespan, but discuss the challenges feral cats face) and adding more kittens would create more stress on the Buddies and on the cat colonies in our apartment complex.

The FCC doesn’t charge, but does require a deposit for the traps, and asks for a donation to cover the surgery. My husband got the traps, and we spent a week preparing the Buddies. First we put food at the entrance of the trap, pushing it in farther each day. The Buddies didn’t care at all. In fact, I think Little Buddy liked eating in the trap because for once, her brother wasn’t trying to steal her food.

We didn’t want to scare either Buddy, though, so when it came time to trap, we trapped Little Buddy outside (she was more skittish at the time, and didn’t like to come in the way Big Buddy did) and Big Buddy inside. Little Buddy didn’t even notice the door shut behind her. Big Buddy was similarly easy to trap.

They spent the night in the bathroom, away from our cats, then my husband drove them to Portland, bright and early, for their surgeries. They spent another night with us and then we released them, newly fixed, vaccinated, and with a slice taken out of their ears, the universal symbol for cats who have been a part of a trap-neuter-release program.

The Buddies were back on our porch that night. They forgave us.

Big Buddy
Big Buddy
Little Buddy
Little Buddy

My husband and I don’t see the Buddies much anymore, and I can’t believe how sad that makes us.  We are night owls, so sometimes the Buddies will greet us when we come home late at night, walking us from the gym or the car to our front door and into our living room. We call for them, jingling our keys. We still leave out food and water. We thank them when they do visit.

But an entire week will go by and we won’t even see them once. Last year, we complained about the damage to our window screens. Now we complain that they ignore us. We had thought we might take them in either when Alegria, my older cat, dies or when we move. But the Buddies seem pretty happy with their lives now.  We wonder who else they’ve suckered into giving them food and shelter.

I regret, again, that we did not do more for them as kittens. I think about all the terrible things that could happen to them. But I am happy now to point other people to programs like FCC. The Buddies know they are loved.

The Buddies were a bright spot in a difficult year.

By Natasha

History. Hindi cinema. Hugging cats.

One reply on “Feral Cats Will Steal Your Heart”

This is heartmelting and so timely. My little baby kitten is now a grown-up girl of over a year- she turned up as a feral kitten outside my workplace last September. There are so many stray cats in the rural area where I live and ignorant people refuse to spay and neuter because it’s ‘too expensive’- then complain about strays everywhere.

You did a good thing for the Buddies. Many good things. I salute you.

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