Monday, February 27, 2012

Taking ferals into your home

Taking ferals into your home can be a precarious undertaking. Even though the cat seems well-socialized to you, unless the cat is hand-raised by humans from birth, you will find that there are things that are just "different" about the cat, and they are things you may not ever be able to change, no matter how hard you try. Above is Cricket Fluff 'n' Stuff, a lovely female cat we found in our yard when she was just 2 1/2 months old. As a baby she wouldn't let me put her down it an adult, forget about it. She lets us pick her up but she does not really like being held. She will start biting you when she feels she is done being held, which is usually around the one-minute mark. She also has issues with human faces and hands being close to her face - she'll bite and scratch viciously. She isn't much of a lap cat either, but does enjoy extended cuddling and petting. We wonder, even though we raised her since she was a baby, if those 2 and 1/2 months on her own were enough to alter the course of her socialization to humans permanently. 

Above is Squidley. We took her in at about 5 months old. She's almost 1 and we cannot pick her up - she runs. Our 3rd cat Chewy we took in at 9 months. He's been with us inside for a year and he remains terribly shy and cannot be picked up. Jackson Galaxy the Cat Daddy talks about this on his video blog, that this is an all too common characteristic of formerly feral cats, and his position is that we as guardians must accept this and deal with it. It is what it is. But this can be frustrating and heartbreaking for people who so very much want to adopt these wonderful furry babies from their yards. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Winter's coming. What do I do now?

This is what we've ended up with for an outdoor shelter this season. We try to improve on things every winter. There is an entrance in front where the wood meets the plastic, on the bottom right, and an emergency exit in the back area. You should always have an emergency exit in case their shelter is invaded by a new cat or other animal. The tarp is laid over a big piece of wood and secured by all the pieces of wood so it doesn't fly up. Inside the shelter are a heated water bowl, heated outdoor kitty pad, (you can see the electrical cords running to our outdoor outlet on the bottom right) and a kitty condo like this:

Rubbermaid storage bins are the best to use in building a shelter, and has started a great not-for-profit called the Roughneck Homes Program - here is their mission statement: " is proud to support the ongoing fight to maintain the overwhelming population of feral cats in the United States. Through our 'Roughneck Homes' program you will find resources to help build and maintain a safe living environment for feral cats in your area, as well as access to our popular Roughneck Containers at zero-margin prices/delivery for use in building your shelter or donating to a charitable organization." I plan on writing to Rubbermaid to express my support for this program. Click here to order the tubs at low cost, and instructions on how to make the shelters. 

Tree House has a fantastic outdoor event every October at their 1212 W. Carmen Ave. location called the Feral Cat Colony Caretaker Fest where you can get free and low-cost colony and winterization supplies, including these outdoor shelters, insulation materials (Styrofoam sheets and straw), heated water bowls, and free cat food, They serve donuts and coffee and juice and everyone chats and has a good time. I highly recommend attending as heated water bowls and heated kitty pads can be really pricey. We make our condos just a little different than this pic - we line the tub with that pink insulation foam board and then just stuff it with straw, which you can get at Home Depot in the fall. 

We don't use the fleece cover, it would just get filthy and covered in cat spray and I think possibly they get more heat off just sitting on the unit. 

Interestingly, there IS a solar-heated water bowl if you are feeding cats that are not on your property, or where there is no outdoor electrical outlet available:

Though it would make me a little nervous that it would get stolen in the neighborhoods that I feed in at least...since it has to be out in the open.

Enter the Cat Daddy

When we heard there was going to be a show on Animal Planet called My Cat From Hell, we were a little unsure about what it was going to be like. A show about horrible cats and the bad stuff they do? We didn't know. We tuned in to the premier last year and were thrilled to see that it involves a cat whisperer extraordinaire and THEE Cat Daddy himself, Jackson Galaxy. He seems to be a genius with cats, and we discuss all the events of the show after watching. Incredibly helpful to many situations we are currently finding ourselves in!! If you haven't seen it, you must. He is a gifted cat behaviorist and activist and we are glued to the TV every Saturday night. The last show of Season 2 is this Sat Feb 18th, but there will be a 3rd season. Here is a link to the Q&A section of his blog , where he answers viewer questions and goes on diatribes against dry cat food, declawing, and bad litter boxes, etc lol. Anyway, we are BIG BIG fans and his book has just come out! Below is a short video shot on his current book-signing tour. Jackson's also recorded it for a book-on-tape!

Cat daddies can also be zexy! 

Oh god....this one's SICK

Often a truly wretched little thing will appear in your yard and you will become instantly depressed with no idea what to do next. Once a big tomcat showed up with a scary deep gash on the side of his neck but then he disappeared. By the time we saw him again it had healed. Sometimes they will heal on their own, sometimes not. These gashes can become abscesses and without antibiotics, they can recur and kill a cat. It's best to try to get them treated. Sometimes a cat will be sick from fleas and parasites. Common parasitic infections are roundworm, tapeworm, and giardia. Below is a before and after picture of a cat who came to us with giarda and a devastating flea infestation. Her stomach was black with fleas and she had diarrhea, fever, hair loss, and malnutrition. Giarda is a persistent parasitic infection that is difficult to cure, and may leave a cat with digestive sensitivities even after the infection is cured. Diagnosing parasitic conditions is very difficult. Parasites go through various cycles in the digestive tract and can be difficult to detect, depending if they are shedding eggs, etc. It took 3 stool samples to finally find the giarda, and numerous other visits to cure it. Tree House will analyze stool samples on Mondays for a fraction of the fee a vet would charge you, just bring it in a ziplock and they'll send it to the lab, and then call you. After months of care here with us, and then being miraculously adopted by her current guardian, she is now the fluffy beauty you see below. The transformation really amazed all who knew her when she was one of our "yardies." 
Also, in the winter, upper respiratory infections can run rampant through populations of outdoor cats. Antibiotics in powder form added to a cat's food is the usual treatment, but you can also try adding Lysine and nutritional supplement gel to wet food if you can't get the cat to a vet.  Look for sneezing, coughing, wheezing, and discharge from the eyes. Hopefully, these "colds" run their course in about 10 days, sometimes less, but if they don't get better after a week, they could have pneumonia. 

How to catch a cat

If you are wanting to do the right thing and TNR (trap and return) your found cat, you can buy a humane trap like the one above or you can call Tree House Humane Society and they'll give you one for free for a limited time on a deposit. There are many tutorials on YouTube that will show you how to set up and arm a trap. The company that makes the trap above has posted many: 

In the week or weeks leading up to the trapping, try to feed the kitty on a regular schedule to better ensure he or she shows up on the day of the trapping. Leave the trap out for a week or two to get the cat used to the trap being there. We rig the trap to stay open with twist ties and  feed the cat in the trap for a few days or a week before we actually trap it. On trap day, you can set the trap with a SMALL amount of tuna or something very pungent and wait for the cat to go in and the door will close on its own, or if the cat trusts you to stand nearby, you can wait for kitty to go in and gently release the door yourself so as not to frighten the cat unnecessarily. BUT....never leave a trap unattended. The cat can panic and injure itself. In Chicago, I recommend Tree House Humane Society for TNR. You must make an appointment and have kitty trapped and at Tree House between 7:30am and 8:30am, and what I love is that they will board the kitty afterwards; females need pain medicine as their spays are more involved than neuters and it can be difficult to ensure your "yardies" get what they need when they need it. Anyway, this was just a post on how to catch a cat...more on services and shelters later. :)

If you're gonna feed it, you gotta spay it....

If you end up with a female, and you want to feed it, it will stick around. You need to spay her or you'll end up with so many grandkits you won't believe it: cats can have up to 5 litters a year, with an average of 3 or more kittens per litter. You CAN spay a pregnant female. And don't say to yourself oh, well, we'll just give the kittens away when she has them, it will be easy to give away kittens. NO, the mother cat will hide those suckers and you won't be able to find them til they're old enough to fear you, and you'll end up with unsocialized kittens that no one wants but folks who have a LOT of patience. If you end up with a male, you need to neuter him or you can expect fighting, yowling, and cat spray all over your back door, side of your house, bottom of your shoes, lawn furniture, your car and everything in your yard. It stinks, and it is almost impossible to entirely remove.

I wonder whose cat this is....

The kitty above has been living in our yard for 2 years and has never let us touch her. Most ferals won't. However, if you find a cat who will let you approach it, touch it, maybe pick it up...absolutely check Craig's List, post a flyer, email your neighbors or block clubs etc., and take it to a vet or shelter to have it "wanded" for a microchip. Also, do look for a clipped ear tip: this indicates that someone has already trapped this cat and had it fixed and it will have a microchip. "Feral" cats are cats that were born and have lived their lives outside. "Strays" are cats who were once household pets but were put out, abandoned, or lost. Male ferals have a roaming range of about 6 square blocks and will roam looking for females, prey, and new territory. Females will wander as far as they need to for food and safe places to hide themselves and their kittens if they are pregnant. Kittens will wander a block or so from their mother when they are old enough to do so or have been abandoned by their mother. One cat moving in will attract other cats to come, as they tend to bond in groups (colonies) and if they think they've found a feline friend who's hooked up with a condo or regular food, you will soon start seeing others. If you remove a male from the colony, soon enough another male will come around and claim the territory. Every time we think our colony is down to one or two, more start showing up. We have trapped and either returned or placed about 10 or 11 cats so far. It never, ever ends. There are never "no cats."

Welcome to my backyard

Since my husband and I bought this condo in Logan Square in 2007, there have always been cats outside, all of whom ended up in our yard for food, shelter, company and help. I created this blog to give and receive advice for dealing with stray and feral cats. Along the way, you can meet and learn the stories of all our "yardies" and hopefully we can all do something to help what the US Census Bureau estimates are 500,000 on the streets of Chicago. What we have been through just trying to save the 15 or 20 we have managed to so far really gives us pause when we think of the rest of the half million still out there. They've confounded us, frustrated us and brought us a lot of joy and it has been worth it. I can't explain what it's like to arrive home to a yard full of kittens perched in your trees, but also how heartbreaking it is to find sick, injured and pregnant cats who continue to elude you. Here is Chewy Chewstofferson, one of three who not only wandered into our yard but into our hearts and home as well.