Thursday, March 31, 2011

TNR Report #3: Herding Cats, For Real! Also, Mr. Mom.

Whew, what a week! Short version: two more cats have been TNRed at the time of this writing, which means six cats total from the colony have been spayed or neutered since the beginning of last week.

Not bad, and definitely a good start, but I was really hoping for eight (especially given we had eight appointments reserved). The Humane Society folks assured me that this sort of thing happens all the time, as you can't really guarantee you will actually get the number of cats you've made appointments for, but still. Color me annoyed.

Monday night's session went well: we managed to catch Dominique's shy sister Michelle (who is all black with a little white "locket" on her chest):

(Michelle watching me and the camera from a table)

...and a little marble tabby girl we haven't named yet who may well be one of Mimi's siblings judging from her size. So that was good.

(Tiny tabby girl with the high beams on -- this is actually the clearest picture I've got of her thus far)

Wednesday night's session, on the other hand, was...chaotic, to say the least. Matt and I stuck it out monitoring and attending to traps well into the late eve‌ning, but ultimately had to admit defeat (our own kitties were home waiting for their dinner, after all!). Matt's parents said they would monitor the traps for a while after we went home and I am sure they did, but I haven't heard from them yet today and I'm not optimistic that anyone actually ended up being trapped.

See, things started out promising. I began by cleaning the traps and setting up all four of them (three regular-sized and one kitten-sized) out in the general area frequented by the cats. At that point it was still light out, and as they'd not been fed yet, kitties were starting to mill around the patio area anticipating their dinner.

Then, just as I started getting ready to actually bait the traps, Toby (former rescue kitten, now the resident Territorial Boss Lady) decided for whatever reason to go around and spritz her signature scent on said traps.

(Toby disapproves of this ridiculousness!)

And when her (feral) younger brother Gryff got wind of his sister's aromatic graffiti, of course he had to go and overmark it with his own eau-de-pheromone.

Anyhow, since Toby's determination to mark the equipment wasn't evident on trapping days prior, my guess is that this time I didn't clean the smells of the other cats (not to mention the "clinic smell" which can be a major feline anxiety trigger) off the traps well enough. Needless to say, lesson learned! Prior to the next session I will most assuredly make sure the traps are liberally sprayed with enzymatic cleaner and thoroughly wiped down and air-dried.

[The newer enzyme sprays ("Nature's Miracle", "Anti Icky Poo", and similar) are really good at destroying the proteins or whatever the stuff in cat urine is that flashes up a giant SPRAY HERE! sign once applied to an object, but you really have to give them time to work, and last night I didn't get a chance to do that in any more than a cursory manner. ]

I may also try to corral Toby in the house or garage next time, seeing as even when she wasn't spraying she seemed determined to meddle in every way possible with what I was doing (she ended up IN a trap at one point when her curiosity got the better of her). She is very much like Nikki in that once she sets her mind on something there's just no arguing with her.

Mind you, of course I don't think ill of Toby for her actions. From a feline standpoint she was acting in accordance with perfectly sensible Cat Logic, and in general she's this awesome sweet bossy ladycat that I am always happy to visit with. She just needs to stay the heck away from my traps on TNR days!

So...I repeat, what a week! I am not sure when the next trapping night will be. It has to be relatively soon if we want to really stabilize the colony population, but given the mess that was last night I am proposing waiting a week or two before trying again. Between Toby's meddling, the neighbor's loud motorcycle (which arrived next door at the worst possible moment, when the ferals were just starting to emerge from the shadows), and assorted other Elements of Certain Chaos I wouldn't be surprised if the shyer cats we really need to start targeting will take a few days to re-establish their routine. And the routine (especially as it pertains to feeding) is really important for successful TNR.

All that said, one thing I am happy with that we managed yesterday was getting Blue into the house.

(Blue on the patio, looking apprehensive)

Blue has been fighting an upper respiratory infection for a while now, and while it seemed much better on Clinic Day, it looked much worse yesterday evening.

Like worse with eyes practically crusted shut, nose completely sealed off by matted dried mucus and hair, and breathing through the mouth due to nasal blockage. Matt's mom, awesome lady that she is, said she'd take Blue to the vet if she could get the obviously under-the-weather kitty inside, and this didn't end up being very difficult at all.

So anyway. Blue went to the vet. The diagnosis of "respiratory infection" was no surprise at all -- but we were all REALLY surprised to learn that "she" was really a "he"! You'd think the Humane Society would have mentioned that little detail, as I presume they neutered (as opposed to spayed) him last week, but still. Wow. Clearly, Blue isn't actually Dominique and Michelle's mother after all, despite the fact that he was sure as heck acting like Mom to them.

And as for how the other boy cats were treating him -- I'd thought they were doing the chase-and-grab thing as part of whatever passes for feline courtship, but now I'm guessing they were trying to fight him.

Anyhow, I really do wish sometimes that I could learn the stories of all these cats that show up. Who knows what kind of environment Blue and Dominique and Michelle came out of, and who knows if (or how) they are even actually related?

Blue is definitely a Siamese mix of some sort (he's got snowshoe points), but he could still be the girls' littermate or older brother. Litters of random-bred kittens can easily be comprised of both "pointed" and non-pointed cats, and as I've noted before, littermates can even all have different fathers due to the manner in which feline reproduction works. And Blue isn't that much bigger than the girls.

Or -- and at this point I'm considering this the likelier case -- Blue could just be an unrelated boy cat who for whatever reason "adopted" the girls he showed up with. Despite his being a relatively little guy, something about him just feels older. I'd picked up on that somewhat even when I thought he was the girls' mom, but still hadn't figured on her (his) being more than a year or two old.

Now, though, I wonder about that estimate. True he's sick right now so that might be adding a layer of confounding weariness to his bearing, but still, at this point I wouldn't be shocked to find out he was seven years of age or even older. And if he's younger than that, ye gads, I don't even want to imagine what he's likely been through.

That aside, it's not unheard of for male cats to occasionally choose the nursemaid role, though I guess it's sort of unusual for an un-neutered male to do this.

Either way, he's been a great nanny/protector to Dominique and Michelle and while again there's no way to objectively confirm this, I get the sense that all three of them had it pretty rough wherever they were before this past December. I have definitely seen cats band together in times of great stress and it really looks like that's what happened with this little family.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

TNR Report #2: Dominique and Mimi

Thanks to everyone who offered well-wishing for Wednesday's trapping ended up going just as smoothly as the first session, even though it started raining just as I was getting ready to set the traps. Woot!

Getting the first kitty this time felt kind of like cheating because it was Dominique (who decided a while back of her own accord to start hanging around with the local primates and even occasionally gracing us with purrs and head-butts). I think she picked up on the fact that something was going on, though, because usually she runs right up to me when she sees me and this time she sort of hung back and eyed me warily.

Still, she walked right into the trap as I sat next to it, just like her mom, Blue, had on Monday. Of course I don't know this for sure, not being privy to her (or any cat's) innermost mental processes, but it looked to me like she KNEW she'd get stuck if she walked into the trap but ultimately decided the sardines were worth it!

(Whole Foods, while colloquially called "Whole Paycheck" in these parts for reasons obvious to any non-millionaire who visits the store, actually carries a surprisingly inexpensive line of canned cat foods. The "Sardines in Jelly" variety is probably going to be my go-to trapping bait of choice from now on, because ye gads, the kitties go utterly batty for it. After trapping I put the rest of the can out on a paper plate for the other colony cats to finish off and I swear it was like sharks at a feeding frenzy!)

Kitty #2 (who has since been named Mimi) was by necessity trapped in the more traditional "bait trap, set trap, walk away, and watch from a distance" manner. She (and we only found out she was a "she" when we brought her to the clinic) was a very shy but thoroughly scrappy little girl kitten. She's solid black and a bit smaller than Dominique -- probably three or four months old. I'd been seeing her occasionally for about a month, and always alone, which is pretty weird. Usually feral kittens initially show up with their mothers to eat, but I have no idea who Mimi's mom is, or if she has any siblings. She looks very healthy and not emaciated or anything so it's doubtful she was orphaned; more likely she's just got a very wary and secretive mom, and possibly littermates even more shy than she is. But in any case, she doesn't need to worry about becoming a "teenage mother" now.

Anyway, both Mimi and Dominique came through their spay surgeries just fine, and have now rejoined their companions and family outside. Stay tuned for further updates of next week's sessions -- we're repeating the same routine next week -- and (hopefully) pictures!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

TNR Report #1: Blue and Grey

Hooray! I am happy to report that two cats were successfully trapped last night, and taken to the Humane Society for spaying/neutering today.

I really wanted to try and get three cats in (seeing as I've now got three traps -- four if you count the smaller "kitten trap" that came with one of the bigger ones) but the HS has a 2-cats-per-appointment limit right now except on special clinic days. I was surprised and somewhat disappointed to learn of that limit, though I can understand it from a resource standpoint. And I will definitely be on the lookout for the "special clinic days" where apparently you get to bring in more cats at one time.

On the major plus side, though, spay/neuter for feral cats is free this month (March 2011), so even though we're "only" going to manage to get four cats total done this week, that's at least $100 saved. The normal $25/cat fee is still pretty manageable as long as we work in increments, but still, kudos to the HSSV for offering the service for free even if for a limited time. It's this kind of thing that demonstrates and helps set a new example for shelters and animal-welfare organizations, in line with the realization that the goal should be fewer cats being turned over to shelters in the first place.

The cats we got last night were Blue (the female male Siamese mix who showed up with her his two "adopted" kittens around Christmas 2010)* and a feisty grey tuxedo boy (the same one shown here with his very protective mom, only he's a lot bigger now!).

Matt's little niece and nephew have been calling the grey and white kitty "Tuxedo" (or "Tuxie"), but I really think he needs a better, less generic name. He's probably only about eight months old, but he's clearly got quite the personality already: he's brash, bold, and insufferably charismatic. He just has this sort of swagger to him, like he's just totally awesome and knows it.

As one of the "braver ferals", he was pretty easy to trap: I had him chasing a feather-wand toy, and with that I was able to entice him into Matt's parents' house, wherein I managed to corral him in the bathroom. He panicked a bit when he realized the door was closed, and proceeded to literally climb the wall, right up to the top of the medicine cabinet (which is mounted next to the window -- which, much to Tuxie's dismay, was closed). When he realized he wasn't getting out, he climbed back down the cabinet and onto a shelf. He sat there, all scrunched up on a folded towel, until Matt came in and picked him up in a blanket and sort of eased him into the trap.

I should note that this is NOT an orthodox trapping technique, and in general, it is NOT advisable to try and pick up unsocialized cats. I was actually really surprised Matt was able to do idea had been to just put the trap in the bathroom, cover it with a blanket, and then wait for Tuxie to enter it on his own (which he most likely would have, given the trap would have been the most 'cave-like' space available).

But it worked out fine in the end, and we got to at least spare Tuxie the sudden BANG-SLAM of the trap door closing behind him (which, though cats seem to "get over", freaks them the heck out to the point that they often wet themselves). There is no way the "corral in bathroom then place in trap" technique is going to work for the warier colony kitties -- they're just going to have to deal with the BANG-SLAM -- but in Tuxie's case it made sense to do it the way we did.

Blue (whose name fits her him somehow even though it's a "color" name -- more on her his personality in a bit) was trapped somewhat more straightforwardly, though plenty of sheer luck was certainly involved. After Tuxie was safely secured in his trap in the bathroom, I went outside, to where I'd put a second trap about an hour prior (though I hadn't set it...I'd just left it out there for the cats to sniff and examine). I crouched down next to the trap and went about preparing and setting it: opening the door, lining it with puppy-training pads (softer and more absorbent than newspaper), and pushing a small plate of sardines (nice and smelly!) to the back of the trap's interior.

Lo and behold, Blue came right up and sat watching me do all this. For whatever reason, the other cats (there were about 10 outside at that point) didn't bother coming over; apparently there was something more interesting to them on the other side of the yard. And once Blue smelled the sardines she he got very excited about her his discovery and walked straight into the trap as I sat there next to it. she he did actually step on the trigger, but by then I'd already released the catch manually and was thus able to at least reduce the volume of the BANG-SLAM for her him.

The rest was uneventful: into the bathroom she he went, her his trap placed a few feet away from Tuxie's and covered with a blanket. she he meowed a little when I moved the blanket to check and make sure the interior of the trap wasn't covered in sardine (as that would have made for a seriously stinky situation, come the next morning) but was otherwise quiet.

(In general she he seems to be a fairly quiet, subtle cat, and I don't think it's just because she's he's been living outside for however long. It's like her his entire bearing is quiet and watchful. She's He's very curious and has a playful side, but part of her him seems to be constantly in "analysis mode", making sure she he doesn't get carried away in any particular direction. She He comes across as very centered and mature, I guess, even though I'd estimate her his age to be no more than a year or two.)

Initially I had been thinking of putting the traps in the garage overnight, and that would still be an option if the need arose (due to managing appointments for more than two cats at once, etc.). Matt's parents' garage is a large, well-constructed building that has its own plumbing and everything, so while it's not heated, it definitely offers plenty of protection from the elements (and from any suburban predators, humans included). But the bathroom easily accommodated two cats, so there they stayed for the evening.

Then, this morning Matt's dad took the kitties to the clinic -- he generally gets up early anyway, so that worked out fine. He also picked them up this afternoon post-surgery, and they will remain in the house until the anaesthesia wears off (probably overnight at least).

So yeah. Overall, the first round went so smoothly that this whole project is looking a lot more doable. Hopefully tomorrow (Wednesday) goes just as well, because we get to do it again (albeit with different cats this time)! I am not sure which cats we'll try for, but I am hoping to get at least one of the less bold ones, and I imagine since we were able to trap last night's pair so quietly and unobtrusively the shy kitties won't have been startled away from any willingness to investigate the traps.

* As I've noted previously, Blue is more likely a "nervous stray" than a wild-born feral cat. However, given that she he is still so relatively wary, and given that she appeared to have a whole cadre of admirers following her around last night, I figured it made more sense to just go ahead and get her spayed BEFORE she got pregnant again!

[UPDATE/EDIT: Blue turned out to be a boy, as noted in my next post with more supporting detail. I was pretty surprised by this but in any case it certainly suggests a re-interpretation of why so many other boy kitties were following him guess now is that they were trying to challenge him to fight!]

Sunday, March 13, 2011

On The "Helping Homeless Cats" Class

So, per my prior post, I attended the "Helping Homeless Cats" class at the local Humane Society last Thursday. It was definitely an interesting experience, and I am really glad I went.

The turnout was pretty low -- I think only three names on the sign-in sheet, and maybe six or seven people in the room total (including presenters). I already knew a lot of what appeared in the informational part of the presentation (e.g., "how to set a humane trap"), but I also learned a few new, useful things (e.g., "make a list of all the cats in the colony, describe each cat, and include a picture if possible").

I was also just really pleased to see that Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is apparently in the process of "going mainstream". It took a long while for shelters and adoption agencies to get a clue in that department, because for so long the default for "unadoptable" cats (a group with includes the vast majority of ferals) was to simply put them to death in order to "free up space" for socialized, more extroverted felines.

What seems to be finally getting into more people's heads is the fact that shelters and animal-control facilities are simply inappropriate for feral cats, period. Shelters are designed for displaced domesticated animals (for whom, hopefully, the shelter will serve merely as a stopgap between homes), not wild ones. And by the time a feral cat becomes an adult, it is likely that he or she is running an entirely different "operating system" than a domesticated cat. In other words, just because cats CAN be tame* it doesn't mean that all non-tame cats are suffering for the mere fact of not being inclined to sit on human laps.

Yes, they may face dangers such as cars and other predators than companion cats who spend all or most of their time indoors-- but in this regard feral cats are no different from other medium-sized wild animals (e.g., raccoons and skunks). And you don't generally come across anyone suggesting that raccoons and skunks all ought to be killed "so they don't suffer outside".

Okay, wow, that got a bit tangential. Where was I? Oh yeah. At this meeting I saw what was probably the MOST DEPRESSING VIDEO EVER. Seriously, I had to leave the room partway through it because I started crying. :/ I know it had a purpose -- that is, to show the contrast between what happens to cats who get picked up by animal control vs. the happy, healthy lives they can live post-TNR.

But GAH. I don't ever want to see anything like that ever again. I mean, I KNOW what goes on in shelters and animal control when they've got "too many" feral cats. I don't fault the people who made the video -- they didn't DO the horrible things shown, they just documented them in order to jolt people out of complacency. But I wasn't complacent to begin with, so for me it was just like...staring into a bottomless pit lined with graphic images of everything that is fundamentally wrong with humanity.

Again, I can see why the organizers felt the need to show a video like that. And it did ultimately end on a positive note (i.e., happy kitties congregating around their food in a well-managed colony situation). But I figured I would mention the nastier bits just in case anyone reading this ends up going to a similar meeting -- basically, be aware that you may be in for some absolute nightmare fuel if they start up a video about "homeless cats in your neighborhood" or similar.

But again, despite having occasion to get extremely upset partway through, I am still very glad I went to the meeting. I did, after all (as I'd hoped) get to meet some folks with actual trapping/TNR experience and ask them a ton of questions (I wrote copious notes beforehand).

Also, I was quite relieved to learn that no, you don't HAVE to actually go in and trap all the cats in a colony at once. I'd read on various sites that it was BEST to do things that way, but apparently I was taking it too literally. Getting everyone TNRed in one go is the ideal situation -- however, it isn't the most realistic one. Mass trapping days are notoriously hard to organize and while they do tend to make the papers when they occur, they're more the exception than the norm. It's a lot more common to just have a few traps and maybe one or two people helping out the cats.

So now I at least feel like the project I have in mind is actually doable. Because between Matt and his parents, there are certainly enough vehicles and drivers to take in three or four cats at a time in for their surgery. The parents also have a nice garage (not a drafty nasty's got indoor plumbing and plenty of space) where the cats could presumably recover overnight. And I can definitely handle the trapping part myself...that's just a matter of putting the traps in logical places and attending to them once they've been sprung (i.e., covering them with a blanket so the caught kitty can calm down).

On that note, after the meeting I also had a bit of an epiphany about traps, and THIS I think is going to really help make things more feasible. One of the things that was previously making the project feel ridiculously daunting was the fact that I would likely need to rent or borrow additional traps (I've already got one) from the Humane Society or similar place. Which would mean I'd have to work out transportation first to pick up the traps, THEN to transport the cats in them to their surgery appointments, THEN to bring the cats back to the colony, and THEN back to the shelter empty once the cats were released. And just THINKING about the logistics of all that was turning my brain into something resembling melty unflavored gelatin.

But! Then it dawned on me: if it's okay to bring in maybe three or four cats at once (rather than twelve or fourteen), maybe I can just...get a few more traps! I can't afford the really fancy, sturdy ones, but there are plenty of perfectly functional, less expensive models out there. So I did a bunch of Amazon searches using different terms and criteria and eventually found THREE traps (one single and one kit of two) that wouldn't break my budget. They should arrive next week, which means we could be trapping by next weekend, depending on when we can get appointments.

I figure I will just make appointments for as many cats as I have traps and hope I can get one in each. And then there will only need to be two trips made: one to bring the cats to the clinic, and one to bring them home, rather than four trips minimum. That should make things WAY more manageable. Plus, with four traps I may end up being able to help out other locals doing TNR -- I may not be able to drive, but I will certainly be able to lend out my traps!

(Above: Photo of two feral cats from the local colony. Rosie, the grownup cat, is already spayed and ear-tipped so that people can recognize her on sight as a TNR-ed kitty. The small black kitten -- who still needs a name -- is one of the next in line for TNR.)

OH. And also. The Humane Society is going to be having some days this month (not sure which ones, I will have to ask) where feral cats can get spayed or neutered for FREE. Which is just awesome, awesome news. So yeah. It may be raining outside right now, but things are definitely looking brighter on the kitty-assistance front!

* Re. the word "tame"...I actually kind of dislike the notion of cats being called "tame", but when I use it here all I mean is "socialized to humans". In general, though, for me "tame" has icky connotations of passivity. And I think that anyone who thinks socializing cats means making them passive or tolerant of being yanked or tossed around by small children, etc., has WAY the wrong idea. But it's shorter to write "tame" than any of the other, more complicated explanations of what I mean by "socialized to humans" so I do it sometimes. For what it's worth.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I'm Going To Feral Cat Class!

Some heavy brainstorming ensued after my prior post on the currently burgeoning local feral cat colony I am trying to help get TNR-ed. One thing I've determined absolutely is that somehow, more people (hopefully some with experience!) need to be involved. The problem on my end is finding those people -- meeting other humans offline and establishing any sort of productive contact with them is not one of my strong points.

Nevertheless, my optimism is up a bit today, seeing as I happened upon an announcement on the local Humane Society website yesterday for an evening class entitled Helping Homeless Cats in Your Community. It's being held this Thursday and I've already RSVPed. Luckily, I should be able to get there on transit pretty easily from the lab (where I'm doing part-time biotech work). I figure at the very least, there are liable to be some folks in attendance who might have ties to local feral-cat advocacy groups and/or volunteers who might be able to help trap.

So yeah. I will definitely report back on the aftermath of that meeting, and hopefully it will lead to a healthier, safer future for all Cora, Brodie, and Shadow's "cousins"!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Gooseberry Green

Apparently there's an actual name for Brodie's eye color: gooseberry green. I learned this while reading about Egyptian Mau cats. My guys are mutts, not Maus, but seeing as the distinguishing features of all known cat "breeds" came from random-bred populations originally it's totally unsurprising to see modern random-bred kitties expressing traits commonly associated with particular types of cats.

It's difficult to get good photos of cats' eyes, but the one below (of Brodie, if that wasn't obvious!) is pretty accurate color-wise:

Cats' eyes commonly change color as they grow. My youngsters all had greyish eyes when first adopted, and like most kittens probably had blue eyes at birth. Now they've all got different hues going on in the ocular region: Cora's eyes are a deep amber, Shadow's are bright yellow with greenish bits toward the center, and Brodie's are, well, gooseberry (or, as I've previously described them, "clear limeade green").

Brodie also does actually look vaguely Mau-ish in other respects too...these Flickr Mau-cats remind me of him a fair bit. He's more striped than spotted but he's definitely got the long body and the wedge-with-rounded-points head shape.

Anyway, definitely a frivolous observation but cat traits and genetics are just something that fascinates me, so I thought I'd post about it.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Santa Clara's Feral Cats Need Help!

Above is a typical scene in my SO's parents' neighborhood (about 2 miles from where Matt and I live, in the same town). As I've noted previously, Matt's parents live at the epicenter of a pretty robust cat colony, and between their efforts and mine and Matt's, we've managed to get a total of nine (counting my three youngsters) cats spayed/neutered over the past three years or so.

And while that's certainly had some positive effect (as the nine cats in question are all currently alive, healthy, and either living happily in their adoptive home or outdoors with their companions)...well, the colony needs a lot more help. There are at least seven more cats out there of reproductive age who aren't yet fixed, and at least six kittens (including the two adorable little black ones in the photo above).

Plus, unfortunately it seems that some humans apparently think it's okay to abandon cats in that area. Right around Christmas 2010 a mother cat (a Siamese mix we've been calling "Blue") showed up with three babies in tow. And it's clear that Blue is not feral, but rather, a very nervous stray. Her coat is all scruffed up (that's one way you can tell a stray from a feral cat -- ferals are accustomed to taking care of themselves outdoors, but strays have a rough time of it), and she will approach humans...but she seems very leery of hands, which makes me wonder if maybe she was not only abandoned, but abused wherever she used to live (or, if she was lost by accident, mistreated by other humans before she found her way into this neighborhood).

Picture above shows Blue in the foreground. Her daughter Dominique is in the background.

Anyway, to make a long story short, there are at least thirteen cats in this colony that we really want to take in for spay/neuter (and rabies shots if possible). If all these cats end up reproducing again for even one generation, that's going to be...well, a lot more cats than the neighborhood can reasonably support.

And it just terrifies me to think of someone deciding to call Animal Control to round up and kill them. It's not their fault they're out there, after all, and in general they're no trouble to have about. But they would all live much happier, safer lives if we were able to take them in for Trap-Neuter-Return.

And I am sort of at my wit's end right now trying to figure out how to make that happen. The logistics are, in a word, daunting.

Thus, this post is mainly a call for advice, especially (though not limited to) from people who might have a clue about relevant groups and/or services in California's South Bay area.

Mind you, I know full well that the Humane Society of Silicon Valley supports TNR and offers trap rental, etc. for feral and stray cats. That's where most of the currently fixed kitties in the local colony went for their checkups and surgery, in fact. But how to get thirteen cats there in one go? I haven't the faintest.

I also know that Silicon Valley Animal Control has a low-cost spay/neuter service. But I don't trust them. Matt's parents initially tried taking Toby there (as a tiny, sick kitten) and almost immediately they said "Well, we can put her down for you...". Needless to say, Matt's mom left THAT place in a hurry (and today Toby is a lovely, healthy almost-4-year-old ladycat).

(I also recently confirmed, after contacting someone who works with Animal Control locally, that they are still pretty quick to indiscriminately kill. E.g., they will kill any kitten under four months old simply because they're too young to receive a rabies shot, and they will also kill adults who appear to be at all unwell, even if their illness is treatable. So while they may offer inexpensive spay/neuter surgery there is NO WAY I would bring any animal in there unless I got to bring at least two other people with me, at least one of which was really good at communicating/advocating in realtime and would be able to help guarantee that the animals would NOT be killed, and that if AC planned on killing them, we'd get a chance to take them elsewhere.)

But anyway. All that aside, here's the critical stuff I am attempting to work out:

1.) Transportation! I personally don't drive (can't, for neurological/disability reasons). Matt can drive, but his car is extremely small (a two-door Focus hatchback) and we'd only be able to fit maybe two or three traps in there at most.

Thus, really, what I am wondering is whether I might be able to find/hire an experienced driver with a van or something who has actually dealt before with transporting large numbers of cats at once. Like is this the sort of thing one could put an ad on Craigslist for? Or even better, is there some local feral-cat advocacy group that for whatever reason I've not personally found a way to get in touch with yet?

2.) Scheduling! Every clinic I've been able to find any information on locally says you need to have an appointment. But if you want to bring in a bunch of feral cats, it's sort of hard to GUARANTEE you're going to have a particular number of cats. It depends, after all, on how many end up walking into the traps! So if anyone knows scripts for talking to clinic reps or anything else...that might make the appointment-making go more smoothly, PLEASE feel free to comment with that info (or point me at it).

3.) Help with trapping! Part of this ties into "transportation", as Matt's parents have only one trap and we'd thus need to rent a whole bunch more if we wanted to get the whole colony (or as much of it as possible) in one go. Then there would be the matter of monitoring the traps, covering them (so the cats won't be as frightened) once they're sprung, etc. I can do this myself for a few traps, but if we really want to go and do the Big Difference-Making Mass Trapping Day, we'd definitely need some additional humanpower.

4.) Event Planning! This one is kind of...optional, but definitely something I'm looking for information about. Because I've heard sometimes communities have "TNR events" where a bunch of vets will volunteer to spend a day doing spay/neuter surgery on kind of a mass basis. How does that kind of thing get initiated, though? I can't imagine it's just a matter of one person going in and talking to their vet.

So yeah. I would REALLY TREMENDOUSLY appreciate ANY input on any of the above matters. Note that I am NOT asking or looking for money here, just advice and/or links, contacts, and resources. All I ask is that people please not just tell me to "call the humane society" or "contact animal control", because I've tried doing both those things and neither led to any sort of help at all with transportation, trapping, etc.

I guess the bottom line is that I keep reading all these random news stories from various regions with headlines like "Local Feral Spay Day A Success!" and I keep wondering how the heck that sort of thing gets orchestrated and how it could potentially happen in my community.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Social Maturity (Or The Beginning Thereof)

(Photo above shows Cora, Shadow, and Brodie snuggling on their new favorite shelf-bed.)

One subject that's been on my mind rather a lot lately is social maturity in cats. Small felines reach reproductive maturity anytime between about four and twelve months, but social maturity can come considerably later -- usually sometime between two and four years.

Why has this been on my mind? Well, mainly because Coraline, Brodie, and Shadow will be two years old in August, and it is clear that things are shifting within the Kitty Social Order around here, as well as with respect to individual cats.

All three youngsters seem to have gotten considerably more confident and more sure-footed over the past two months or so. This has been dramatically in evidence for Brodie in particular. Cora (who has always been the boldest and most assertive of the three) is thus having to deal with two brothers who no longer just defer to her when it comes to who gets to sit on the softest bed or the highest perching spot, or who simply aren't agile enough to get to such places.

Brodie, meanwhile seems to be reveling in his newfound assertiveness. While he is still very shy and cautious around unfamiliar humans, Brodie's interfeline negotiation toolbox now includes such items as "challenge sister for the top perch on the cat tree and chase her until she decides to give up and go sit somewhere else".

It is a wee bit odd, I must say, to see that sort of thing from someone who is generally such a polite cat. But given nobody ever has a scratch on his or her person following such a scuffle, I'd wager these tiffs are just a bit of sibling one-upmanship as opposed to serious fighting.

According to author Pam Johnson-Bennett, writing in Cat vs. Cat: Keeping Peace When You Have More Than One Cat:

Much like human adolescence, social maturity is the prime time for cats to jockey for social positions. This may cause subtle and not-so-subtle shifting in the pecking order in a formerly peaceful, well-established cat family. This can be a time when a cat feels more confident and views an opportunity to elevate his status.

In other words, as cats near social maturity it is perfectly normal for them to start asserting themselves more. Thus, so long as nobody is getting hurt (which they aren't) and as long as nobody seems to be showing signs of undue stress (which I'm also not seeing) I figure it's probably best to just keep an eye on things and not worry overmuch.

After all, in amidst the "position-jockeying" Cora and Brodie continue to share napping spots on occasion and play cooperatively. They're very closely bonded still, something which is evident even in casual contexts (like in the picture below, when they were both watching a toy):

I am really beginning to see the benefits of raising littermates together in all this...clearly Cora, Brodie, and Shadow have managed to learn the finer points of claw-sheathing and bite-strength moderation. Kittens taken from their families very young may have issues later on with biting, etc., because they've not gotten the social experience that lets them learn what actually hurts vs. what simply makes a statement.

As for Shadow specifically, what I've noticed there is that he has recently gotten a lot quicker to assert his opinions to his siblings, as well as much bolder when it comes to standing his ground with the human members of the household. E.g., whereas before all I needed to do was look at him if he jumped onto an off-limits surface (such as the stove) and he would get right down, now he will stare straight back at me and hold his position until I literally get up and walk over there.

I have also lately been wowed repeatedly by Shadow's growing talent at anticipating and reading the actions and moods of his housemates (human and feline alike). He's gotten particularly adept at figuring out when I am about to give Nikki food in "her" room (she prefers to eat privately), sneaking in, and hiding under the futon. Of course Nikki knows when he's there even when I don't and generally she lets me know, but still.

It is amazing to consider the tiny little cues Shadow must be picking up on in order to determine "hey, if I go hide under here now, maybe I'll score some extra crunchies!" Because he just seems to KNOW what I am going to do, even before I get up to do it. He really does run circles around me (figuratively AND literally sometimes!) in this department. And his sense of humor (which is very much of the "trickster" variety) is developing in leaps and bounds. E.g., where he used to just randomly chase Nikki around the house (something that she did not appreciate), now he's more liable to do a kind of "fake-out" move wherein he simply jumps or runs in her general direction but then alters his course just prior to breaching Nikki's personal space boundary.

Nikki, meanwhile, nowdeems him worthy of close-range pillow-napping (he used to get away with cuddling up to her occasionally before, but usually she'd swat him if she "caught" him making such an attempt. Now she knowingly lets him sit near her. Hopefully he realizes what an honor that is!):

...and of course, he and Brodie are still total snugglebuddies:

Coraline, as noted above, has always been a very confident cat, so her recent advances in that area (while there have certainly been a few) haven't been as dramatic as her brothers'.

Cora, looking lioness-like as she captures the feather toy

Primarily what I've observed with regard to her lately is that she's gotten more strategic. I've had to go through yet another round of cat-proofing in the house: securing shelves, moving items that could be knocked down, and applying non-skid material to surfaces that weren't necessarily intended to be for kitty-climbing (but which, I figure, I'd better make safe for such activities since it seems they're going to happen anyway!).

Additionally, much to my utter bewilderment, Cora seems to be trying to befriend (or at least develop some sort of mutually amicable relationship with) Nikki. Nikki now lets her much further into her substantive "personal space bubble" than previously:

(The above picture was taken just after Cora had made a "brrrt!" greeting-noise at Nikki and rolled over on her back.)

Cora will happily challenge her brothers for a favored path or resource, but somehow, it seems she's come to see Nikki as someone meriting a certain degree of deference. Which is something I am kind of relieved about, given the very strong personalities of both girlcats here. Upon introducing them I figured someone was going to have to start granting the right of way. And it does make sense it would be Nikki, given her seniority and relative worldliness.

Anyway, needless to say, I am very glad I managed to outfit my desk area and office closet with a whole new set of climbing, perching, and napping-spot opportunities recently. Since currently none of the four cats here (not even Nikki, since being injured fighting outside late last year) have unescorted access to the outdoors, it is really important that they have sufficient indoor territory, especially as they continue to mature and seek their place(s) in their home.