Monday, September 27, 2010

Colony Cousin Cats

My partner Matt's parents live fairly close to us (in the same town, a few miles over). Matt and I often go over to feed and check up on their cats whenever the parents are out of town -- and they do likewise for us (for which we are of course very grateful).

It is always very interesting to watch the feline social dynamics in and around Matt's parents' house and yard. Between two and five socialized (tame) cats living there might be considered officially resident at any given time, but the house is also located right at the epicenter of a mid-sized feral colony. In other words, when you see a cat eating out of the food bowl on the patio, he or she might well be a feral cat OR a semi-feral cat OR a fully "domestic" cat.

By sheer numbers, most of the cats that cruise by at mealtime are feral. Some of them only come out at night and slink quickly away into the shadows when done eating, so I don't know those very well. Others come out pretty much whenever (as long as there's food) but scamper off if a human comes within ten feet of them.

Still others are probably more toward the "semi-feral" end of the human-socialization spectrum -- they generally don't permit touching, but they'll happily play with wand toys and a few will even take treats right out of my hands. And of course there's the odd stray cat here and there -- for some reason these tend to usually be male, and I can always tell they're stray rather than feral because they initially look very scruffy and unkempt, in addition to being more likely to meow at or approach humans.

But I digress. The real reason for this entry is because I wanted to post some pictures I took yesterday when Matt and I went over his parents' to check on the kitties there.

This lovely long-haired girl is Toby. She's one of the tame residents -- in the photo above she is rolling over happily on her back to greet me and Matt. She was born right behind Matt's parents' garage and was actually the first feral kitten I ever actually managed to catch. She was only about four weeks old at the time, weighed less than a pound, and had a serious upper respiratory infection (as in, she was literally sneezing blood).

I would have adopted her myself but at the time (almost three years ago) I still lived in a tiny "no pets" apartment. So, she moved in with Matt's parents and was treated for her infection, spayed, vaccinated, etc. She definitely knows who I am, though, seeing as whenever I go over there she pesters me for things she is NOT allowed to have (like water straight from the water cooler tap). As Matt puts it, I must have a sign on my head that only cats can read which says "SUCKER".

But anyway, Toby is a cool cat with what would definitely be described as a "strong personality". She's super affectionate, bossy, territorial, and assertive. I am always happy to see her.

This neat little ladycat is Harmony. Unlike the other local felines, she did not originate in the feral colony, but instead found her way to Matt's parents' via another relative (who developed health problems last year and could no longer care for Harmony). That relative, in turn, had adopted her from a shelter, and had specifically gotten a black cat due to learning that black cats tended to be either not adopted out of superstitious fear, or (more commonly) simply overlooked and considered "too ordinary".

And...having gotten to know Harmony a bit over the past few months, I can say that she was certainly well named. She gets along with everyone, regardless of species. She's also very much a Greeter Cat...whenever Matt and I go over his parents', Harmony is always the first cat we see, running up to us in the driveway chirping happily with her tail straight up in the air.

Initially when I met her I was actually kind of worried about her because she was so laid-back...I hoped it was just her innate temperament and that she hadn't been scared into submission or something. But at this point I am pretty sure it IS just the way she is. She does actually have self-respect, and while she's less nervous around children (Matt's niece and nephew, for instance, who are nine and seven years old) than a lot of other cats I've seen, she won't put up with any nonsense, either.

(Also, referring back to my post on cats looking different even when they're the same color or coat pattern...Harmony is a great example of a black cat who looks completely different from, say, my black kitty Shadow. Like their whole facial structure is different, their ears are differently shaped, etc.)

Buttercup! One of a litter of kittens born to feral-mama Rosie, Buttercup is now nearly seven months old. Here she is kittyloafing in the warm fall sunshine. And to me she does actually look a bit like Coraline here...who knows, maybe she and Cora had the same father despite different mothers? They've both got the huge eyes and the fluffy cheeks (and also the cleverness, along with that Knowing Look).

Anyway...Buttercup is a super excellent mega energetic firecracker kitty. When not at rest she seems to move in an entirely different timescale than even most other cats. She kind of seems to teleport when she jumps!

Buttercup's littermates Buddy (brother, foreground) and Olive (sister, background) enjoying a lazy afternoon. Buddy is a sweet little guy who will very likely grow up to be a very BIG guy. His paws are huge! He reminds me a little bit of Brodie, actually...again I wonder about paternal parentage. Their heads are sort of similarly shaped -- long, yet solid. He's cuddly and teddybearish but with that mile-wide mischievous streak...Matt's mom calls him a "little devil" given his propensity to seek out and conquer houseplants no matter what shelf they might be located on. He very much resembles his uncle Gryff in pattern...very cool marble tabby, which is actually unusual in this colony.

And Olive! If Buttercup is kinetic energy, Olive is potential energy. I need to get a video of the two of them playing, because it's neat seeing Buttercup sproinging around like popping popcorn while Olive sort of waits for just the right moment and then LEAPS. She seems to be the more pensive and cautious of the siblings in this litter and is a little on the shy side. She is also a black cat that looks nothing like any of the other black cats in the vicinity...she's got this elfin look to her and I suspect she'll be longish but not large when she grows up.

...and THIS little black kitten, gender unknown, as-yet-unnamed, is one of the newest feral litter we've seen wandering around. S/he and siblings look to be about five or six weeks old. Personalities are difficult to gauge at this point, but I was definitely surprised at how close this kitten let me get yesterday.

Here is the new black kitten again, eating at the food bowl alongside Rosie (Buttercup, Buddy, and Olive's mom, Toby's younger sister, Serena's daughter, and probable second-cousin-or-thereabouts to my guys). It's so cool how these two are just eating together, being perfectly civil. Rosie is spayed now but she could conceivably be helping baby-sit -- female cats in feral colonies will often team up to raise kittens, and there's certainly more to that than just nursing them.

Here is the mother of the newest litter (the one including the little black kitten in the previous pictures, the little grey tuxedo kitten in this picture, and two others supposedly which I've not yet seen). Yes, there are a lot of black cats in this neighborhood! This mama does not have a name yet but I've seen her around enough times I think she needs one. I am impressed at her tenacity given that she keeps coming back to the yard even though Toby always chases her away when she sees her! (Toby seems to be a little worn out on kittens lately).

I am fairly sure this mamakitty is a daughter or granddaughter of Coal (who, again, is the founding matriarch of the Neighborhood Feral Black Cat Dynasty). She's quite a bit less skittish than Coal, though -- Coal is a "feral's feral", and unless she is actively nursing or bringing babies to eat, she's rarely even seen at all by humans these days. This one of her descendants, though, shows up pretty much whenever, and is surprisingly stubborn about doing so seeing as Toby invariably runs her off the property if she sees her! this mom-cat's face I can see a slight resemblance to Shadow, and to Coal, due to the slightly squarish jaw thing. But her eyes are sort of differently spaced, and while she IS quite on-edge here she also has a tendency to always look "worried" because of how her forehead is shaped.

...and finally we have a closer-up shot of tiny grey tuxedo kitty! We don't actually see too many tuxedo kitties around here...the last one I recall seeing was actually Coal's brother (Spooky, who actually decided to give up on the whole feral thing when he was about a year old, and has lived 100% indoors with a neighbor ever since!). I think this new kitten here is a male but I am not certain...either way, whenever I see kittens turn up like this I wish I could do more for them.

Matt's parents have done a GREAT job so far, since they started noticing cats coming into the yard, of taking the ones they or I have caught in for neutering and shots. Much of the colony remains at large, of course, but nine cats (Cora, Brodie, Shadow, Toby, Rosie, Buttercup, Buddy, Olive, Suzie) isn't a bad start. I would love it if we could somehow get a more systematic and effective TNR project going in that neighborhood, though, to help cats like Coal whose bodies are being worn out by litter after litter.

Honestly if I could have one wish on the TNR front it would be for some kind of "taxi service", where basically someone would come with an appropriate vehicle and help you transport the cats to a facility for neutering and vaccinations if you actually managed to catch any. It would also be GREAT if there were low-cost "drop-in" TNR clinics, because right now you basically have to make an appointment, hope you trap a cat, and then IF you trap a cat, go in and get him or her seen to. Which gets all kinds of logistically complicated, and I have massive logistical fail issues.

In the meantime, though, I guess I will stick to just doing whatever is in my means to do, as a little bit of progress is certainly better than none.


  1. Those are all such cute kittehs!!! I like how in the picture of the tuxedo kitten and its mom, you can see that the kitten can tell that mom is on alert.

  2. Buddy immediately reminded me of Brodie's personality. Without even reading any of the text. But then again it seems like we frequently have the same perceptions of any given cat.

  3. CPP: Oh yeah I am sure the kitten knows Mom is on alert in that picture. When kittens are that age they seem to be constantly mirroring their mothers' reactions to pretty much everything, which I guess makes sense from a survival standpoint. Before I trapped and adopted my 3 youngstercats, when they were still outside and fully feral, I remember one day their mom hissing at me when I got a bit too close, then half a second later Cora looked right at me and hissed too!

  4. ballastexistenz: Indeed, Buddy has his own personality of course but he is a LOT like Brodie. One thing I like about being able to observe kitties from this colony is how you get to see traits other than just looks and coat patterns transmit through the population. Because there's definitely a lot of demeanor-type stuff that seems to have a familial component as well.

    I wish it were easier to figure out who the fathers were, because that would be really interesting...I mean I know Rosie's kittens are nth cousins to my guys via matrilineal heritage (Rosie's mom, Serena, was one of Coal's granddaughters). But they could also be half-siblings depending on who the fathers were. And it's also fascinating the way it seems like you get a lot of personality divergence within a given litter.

    But all that the picture I posted of Buddy and Olive, Buddy is making a VERY Brodieish relaxed-face. Something about the eyes and the way his head is angled.


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