Feral Cats: Rural and Urban Original posted 12/11/2010

There’s something about feral cats that seems intriguing.  As a young child growing up on the farm,  I often watched the feral cats that lived in my Grandfather’s big barn.  I never  found an actual “nest” of young kittens.  But when the kittens were about 2-3 months old I would see them playing in the hay loft among the bales of prairie hay that had been harvested from Grandpa’s pristine prairie of about 12 acres.  For me, the aroma of the prairie hay along with the barn kittens was the major attraction of the hay loft.
I must digress a little about the smell of hay. When our children were growing up, our son who was about 9 years old at that time,  picked out a calico kitten from a litter of kittens that my Daddy was able to find in the barn. This little kitten became known as Toady and by the time she was about two years of age, she gave birth to a litter of two males and one female. (She was spayed after the kittens were weaned) I remember my husband, our two little ones and I watching Toady with her kittens. The little family was in a large box with low sides. The four of us sat around watching Toady with her kittens and as they were greedily nursing, my husband reached in, picked up one that was snow white, placed the kitten to his nose and said to our kiddos, “when the kittens are young and still nursing their mother, they smell just like newly cut hay.” He then passed the kitten to our children so that each one could  get a “sniff”.  It was a moment that took me back to my Grandpa’s hay loft and I remembered the aroma of the freshly baled prairie hay. Indeed, the kittens smelled, in my opinion, like newly mown hay. I have not forgotten that moment,  probably because my husband was not keen for making his thoughts known. He then asked our daughter who was about 7 years old at the time if she had a name for the kitten. Our daughter was quite precocious and promptly named him Cotton. Cotton from then on was her cat. I don’t know if she “owned”  Cotton or if Cotton “owned our daughter.The love was mutual.  As an adult cat, he was indeed handsome and lived up to his chosen name with white fur that looked and felt like cotton.
My parents, my older sister, and I lived with my Grandpa for about 4-5 years. The barnyard and all of its attractions were my primary source of entertainment.  I grew up with no other child for a playmate and the barn cats, who were essentially feral, offered me entertainment and diversion from the boredom of having small regular chores to perform each and every day.
Animals in those days were not vaccinated for rabies and my parents strictly forbid me to touch any of the cats. I had such fear of rabies that I never touched or attempted to tame any of the cats. Instead I observed their behavior and kept a long stick in the hay loft so that I could move the stick along the floor and the kittens would leave their hiding places and play with the end of the stick. I amused myself and the kittens for an hour or so each day until the farm was sold and my parents bought a farm across the road. I don’t remember if the cats followed but I know that the “new” barn had cats so I suppose they followed the food source which was about two hundred feet from their former abode.
I remember that my Mother kept several pans in the barn so that my Daddy could pour a portion of the fresh cow milk into the pans. One of my weekly chores included bringing 3 pans to the back porch where I placed them in a large pan of hot soapy water to be washed,  and returned to the barn.  Each evening,  Daddy would call “kitty, kitty, kitty” and soon 4-6 cats appeared. I have no idea how the cat population was kept in check but as I became older and a tad wiser, it was apparent that disease and predators- fox and coyotes kept the number of cats to about 5-6.
Much later, I began working for a really large organization with many buildings and surrounding grounds. By the early to mid-nineties I was suddenly aware that feral cats were “hanging out” during late evening near the building where I worked. I learned through the grapevine that the PEST CONTROL man had been given orders to begin trapping the cats. Of course employees had been feeding the cats, thus the reason they came around at dusk.
There was a general uproar among some of the employees re: the trapping of the cats that so clearly kept the grounds devoid of snakes and rodents.  I learned that any cat caught in the trap would be disposed of by taking them to the city “pound” where they were then euthanized because they were deemed to wild.  So, I hatched my own plan to try to save as many cats in the general area where I worked. I hired a carpenter, who quickly added a room with a concrete floor with an adjacent large enclosed run in a fenced portion of our back yard. This would provide shelter and a fairly large area in which the cats could get fresh air,  become accustomed to being fed routinely, and of seeing humans throughout the day.
I began driving one of my husband’s trucks to work, armed with two-three traps which I baited with either sardines or tuna. I began by putting the smelly fish near the pickup and after a few days I went out at night to set the traps in the bed of the pickup. The trick was to place the food at the back of the trap and to have the trap abutting something solid ( a box made of wood that I placed at the back of the traps.)  Setting the traps in this manner prevented the cat/s from attempting to place a paw through the wire so that the food could no be pulled out of the trap.  If I set the trap/s in this manner I  would  have a cat and not an empty trap. Any slight jarring of the trap would trigger the trap so the cat had to enter the trap in order to get the food. One other thing that I did not do.  I never trapped during “kitten season” ( birthing time) for a mother cat could be trapped and the kittens would die of starvation with the removal of their mother.
The total number of cats that I was able to save over a period of several years was 25 plus. I was able to trap two and sometimes three in one evening. I was at least able to save most of the favorites of fellow workers who really were fond of the cats. I want to make it clear that when trapping and after releasing them in their new home, I kept in place my own quarantine of 14 days before I attempted to touch a cat.
Prior to setting the traps I made an appointment with my veterinarian to have 1-3 slots open for testing, spay or neuter, and vaccination.   My vet then and who is still my veterinarian was quite adept at wielding a net as he opened the trap door. While the cat was wrapped in the net, he had the pre-anesthesia med ready to be injected through an opening in the netting. Amazingly only one cat from that colony  was FIV positive- an adult male. (All of the cats that I trapped were Feline Leukemia negative.)  I kept the FIV  cat in a large wire cage under the car port until my carpenter could return to make a large enclosure attached to the back porch  where he could live out his life.  I named this cat Zetty and for about six months he remained fairly wild but with each passing day he became tamer and after about 8 months he allowed me to pet him without any fear. Zetty is now about 16 years old but is a tame cat who loves to be petted and groomed. Now, he is showing signs of old age but continues to be a happy cat with a hearty appetite.
I want to make it clear that not all veterinarians will handle a feral cat, considering it unsafe and deeming a feral cat too wild and not worthy of being saved. Veterinarians with this mind set also do not believe it is possible to tame a feral cat to become a house pet.  I’ve continued to use the same veterinarian for about 30 years .Dr. “M”  truly has a way with cats and has a special knack for handling any cat that comes his way.
For information about feral cat trapping and other good information go to  http://www.alleycatallies.org/
Post by Yvonne

6 thoughts on “Feral Cats: Rural and Urban Original posted 12/11/2010

  1. TexWisGirl says:

    we had cats at the farm where i spent my first 13 yrs. and hayloft to play in. when we moved to town, we had to leave them behind. broke my heart. the dairy farmer still continued to give them fresh milk, but…

    • Gee. Theresa, that makes me sad to hear about the cats you had on the farm and then had to leave them behind. I did not think that you liked cats until you made a comment on one of my posts about your indoor cat that is/was a tabby. As far as I know you have not mentioned a cat in your blog so maybe/maybe not your dogs are cat friendly. I don’t trust one lab and my young Aussie cattle dog with my cats even though thjey were raised from puppy hood with them. So if I am out of the house and when I go to bed those dogs are crated. I have watched them “eye ball” my cats. You should write about your time on the farm but maybe it is too painful for you. Parts of my young life on the farm I would like to forget.

      • TexWisGirl says:

        i lost our last barn cat to illness this year. i won’t get any others as my dogs are varmint hunters and don’t differentiate between cats and possums, raccoons, etc. *sigh* but i love cats, too.

        • Yes, I understand about the dog thing and cats. I am so sorry that you lost your barn cat. Cats are special to me and I suppose in a way I’n partial to them but I really love my dogs, but I have favorites among my dogs as well. Maybe someday you can get an inside cat when you varmint hunters are gone.

  2. Northern Narratives says:

    That is an interesting story. The cats are so lucky they have you 🙂

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