Tag Archives: feral cats

Barn Cats

Frank Moore, a farmer north of Belmont who my parents knew, always had lots of barn cats.  He said one year, years before, there had been an explosion of cats – so many that 3 barn cats on stepsall the farms were overrun.  That year he, like the other farmers, got rid of many of them.  “The next couple years, it just seemed like there weren’t any cats.  Some died, some just disappeared, kittens didn’t live.  The mice and rats were everywhere, and you couldn’t find a good mouser in the whole county.  I never got rid of another cat after that.  They come here, they’re all welcome.”

His barn and house cats were well-treated.  They drank milk straight from the cow, all lined up in a semi-circle, waiting, at milking time.  He’d shoot milk out toward them, and they’d lap it up then lick off their faces.

Being a barn cat, in a good barn, is a pretty good life.  You can chase all the mice you want.  You’ve got cozy places to sleep.  There’s always something to do.  Barn cats have to learn to navigate around animals much larger than themselves.  Some don’t, so there are always some losses.  Most horses like cats and take care stepping around them.  Cats sometimes will sleep right in a stall beside a horse or cow.

It used to be that few barn cats were neutered.  With a high attrition rate, due to large hooves and farm machinery, the farmer wanted to be sure he always had enough mousers.  barn cats looking at henBut many farmers now get their barn cats fixed.  Each farm does not have to be a “cat factory,” producing its own supply of cats.  There are generally cats available if you need more.  Usually more than enough.

The bane of most farmers are people who dump off their unwanted pets at their gates, assuming they’ll be taken in by the nice farmer.  Then the “nice farmer” has to pay for the spaying and neutering of these additions or look for other homes for them.

The City of St. Thomas has started seeking farm homes for some cats at the Animal Control Centre.  The idea is to neuter suitable cats and adopt them out as barn cats.  It’s an innovative way to decrease the number in the pound without euthanasia and, especially for semi-feral cats, provide a well-matched home.

Some cats prefer a life more or less on their own; they don’t want to be housecats kept indoors.  They want to mouse and explore.  It’s always saddened me, seeing those ones in shelters.  Looking out a window if they can get to one, or sitting sullen in the back of a cage – you know they’re ones who would be happier outside living life according to their own rules.  And that’s what barn cats do.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Jan. 27/11

 

Giving shelter

Years ago, I went to the London Humane Society with a friend.  While she looked for a cat, I stayed at the front desk.  I was horrified – kitten-photo-D-Stewartjustifiably or not, I don’t know.  It was my first time in an animal shelter.  A man came in with a box of kittens he wanted to leave.  The attendant started processing them, and I said “I’ll take them.”  The attendant said “ok”, and the box of kittens never even crossed the reception counter.  I found homes for them all.  When I had learned more about animal rescue and the operation of shelters, I was amazed that I was allowed to take those kittens with no questions asked.

Later in St. John’s, my boyfriend and I found two beagles on a woods trail.  The male’s footpads were torn and bleeding.  He led us to the female, lying in a little nest by a tree.  She’d recently had pups.  We searched everywhere but found no pups.  The dogs willingly came with us, although we soon had to carry them.  Both were too weak and sore to walk.  My partner said “I hope the SPCA is still open”.  “No,” I cried, “not The Pound!”  I cried until my eyes were puffy, all the way to the SPCA.  But he was adamant: we were not taking them home. I did extract a promise that we would take them if they were going to be euthanized.

Only the SPCA Director was there, with her kids, doing after-hours paperwork.  After a quick look, she said to her son “get soft food and water and put blankets in that big cage.”  To her daughter, “take this little girl and get her settled in.”  Debbie cleaned the male’s bloody paws.  “Poor dog, must have run miles.”  She figured he’d been looking for food and help.  By now, I was blubbering with gratitude over how nice she was, how nice the place was.  She said, “Don’t worry, dear, we’ll take good care of them.” Their owner did find them.  They were hunting dogs and had got lost while after rabbits.  There were indeed pups, but they were weaned.  The dogs returned home.

I began volunteering at the SPCA. A new shelter was built during my time there.  The old one really was in bad condition.  The animals never lacked for anything, but the building was small and drafty.  The new one had several cat rooms so cats didn’t have to be caged.  Dog rooms had easy access to outdoor runs.  It was a ‘kill’ shelter, so there was trepidation when, on entering rooms, you saw a dog or cat wasn’t there.  Check the log book and cross your fingers you see ‘adopted’ beside their name.  But it didn’t always say that.

I went to the St. John’s City pound once on SPCA business.  I’d been there once before and it was horrible. Rows of cages along the walls of one room, dogs on one side, cats on the other.  Barking, yelping, meowing, hissing.  I dreaded this revisit and hoped I wouldn’t have to see beyond the front desk.  I was surprised to hear only music coming from the back, no overpowering smells.  The manager came out and we recognized each other.  She had been an SPCA volunteer.  “Let me show you what we’ve done,” she said.  Heart in my throat, I followed her to the back.  The dogs had large pens in the big main room with easy access to outdoor runs.  A separate large room with lots of windows housed the cats.  There were cages, but most of the cats were loose.  There were toys and beds, climbing trees and nooks with blankets.  There were separate rooms where animals could be quarantined.  The manager was proud of what she had done in a short period of time with little money and no major construction work.  “I just used what I’d learned at the SPCA and reorganized the space.”  Animals were kept at the pound only for a limited number of days and there was no provision for going to the SPCA or other shelter.  But she ensured that their time at the pound, whether a brief stay before they were claimed or adopted or their last days on earth, was as pleasant as she could make it.

In St. Thomas, the practice has long been that animals at the pound go to one of the rescue groups when their time is up.  I’ve never been to the City’s Animal Control shelter shelter dog at home-photo-D-Stewartbut I have volunteered with local rescue groups.  All our groups are “no kill”, a laudable idea. But the rescue groups and pound are limited in the numbers they can handle, and unwanted animals just keep coming. Then what happens?

There have been changes in theory and practice in shelters and pounds over the past few decades. ‘Cage’ versus ‘no cage’, ‘kill’ or ‘no-kill’ and, with feral cats, ‘trap-neuter-tame’ or ‘trap-neuter-release’ are important issues to think about.

An important, and easy, thing for shelter staff to think about and do is treat the animals as if they were your own. These are living creatures whose whole world has been turned upside down.  They may be well-loved pets who got lost and are frightened.  They may be victims of “changed circumstances” in their household, now facing life without their familiar places and people.  They may be abused animals who have learned not to trust people.  They may be paupers used to foraging for scraps or pampered princesses.  Either way, a room full of cages and other animals is going to be very frightening.  The St. John’s City pound manager knew that and acted accordingly.  She knew she was responsible for lives.  That’s the most important thing animal control officers should remember.  The city animal shelter is not the same as the car impound lot.

No animals were harmed in the making of this post.  Photos are our dog and kitten when they first came to us. The kitten was feral, the dog was on death row at a pound. (From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Apr. 6/10)

Lab Mysteries

Click for Amazon link Lab mysteries
Click for Amazon link

If you like dogs and mystery novels, or even just one or the other, have a look at J. F. Englert’s Bull Moose Dog Run series.  There are three so far; A Dog About Town (2007), A Dog Among Diplomats (2008) and A Dog At Sea (2009). The ‘sleuth’ who tells the story is Randolph, a middle-aged black Labrador Retriever.

A sucker for animal stories, I’ve read some of the other dog- and cat-perspective mystery series.  I’ve liked them, found them kind of cute, kind of funny. One of the Midnight Louie books by Carole Nelson Douglas made me think about feral cat life and TNR (trap, neuter, release) from the cats’ point of view.  Not as straightforwardly beneficial as people may think it to be. While I’ve enjoyed the animal-detective books I’ve read, I haven’t felt a pressing need to immediately get the next one.

As soon as I finished A Dog About Town, I went back to the library and took out the second, A Dog Among Diplomats.  Now I want to read the third.  I want to know what happens next. Randolph’s take on being an intelligent dog in a human world made me think about many dog behaviours, and people’s behaviour in relating to dogs.  You learn a lot (Randolph is a very literate dog), you are given lots of little doggy asides to think about, and the mysteries at the heart of the books are interesting and well-presented. As with all novels featuring non-human protagonists, disbelief has to be suspended.  But it wasn’t a lot of work doing that with Randolph.  This is despite him being able to read (a skill learned while being papertrained in puppyhood), and not just reading the cereal box.  He reads Dante’s Inferno, Proust, Kierkegaard and, for light reading, Dickens.  He teaches himself how to use the internet and succeeds in setting up a hotmail account for himself faster than I’ve ever been able to do. But these improbabilities do not get in the way  – I found myself quickly accepting Randolph’s extraordinary skills and just got on with the story.

His observations on human-dog interaction are shrewd, even cringe-making sometimes when you recognize yourself.  He also observes the child-dog relationship in a refreshing way, especially coming from a Lab, the perceived ‘kids’ dog’ Randolph takes you into his Manhattan – the streets, Central Park and the dog parks.  He gives you the dog perspective on dog park politics of dogs and people.  He notes the types of dog behaviours in meeting each other and even in their toilet habits.  After you read his descriptions of dog habits, you find yourself watching dogs to see if they fit Randolph’s classification system.  By and large, they do.

Englert is an astute observer of dogs and people, or he has been taught a lot by his own Lab.  I’ve never been a big Lab person – they’re too boisterous and single-minded (usually involving a tennis ball) for me.  But I look at them a bit differently now, after ‘meeting’ Randolph.  He reminds me of Labs I have known and liked, nice old sensible ones.  I also look at my dogs a bit differently, wondering if there’s more going on in their heads than what I have thought.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Apr. 24, 2010.

Cat People

“A Cat Digression” from my St. Thomas Dog Blog Mar. 23, 2010

There are unsung heroes among us.  Almost everyone knows one or two, or at least hasReneClose encountered them.  They’re usually not thought of as heroic or civic-minded.  Instead they’re a code word for loneliness with a bit of looniness thrown in.  In cautionary tales of self-help articles and advice from well-intentioned relatives, you might hear something like, “and if you keep on acting like this, you’ll end up being one of those cat ladies”.

Almost every community has at least one – the person who quietly feeds and shelters stray and feral cats.  They use their own resources, even paying for neutering and medical treatment out of their own pocket.  If you want to get a cat, they’re often your closest resource.  They’re happy to find homes for the cats that want homes.  They may be your most relied upon resource if you want to solve your problem with an unwanted cat or a stray that’s hanging around your house.  But to people neither acquiring nor getting rid of cats, they’re probably just seen as eccentric at best, a hoarder or crazy person at worst.

Years ago, I was seen as the cat lady of the village I then lived in.  I suppose it all fit.  I lived alone in an old ramshackle house, I wasn’t from there, I had no visible means of support and kept odd hours.  And I kept chickens and had three cats.  I realized this one fall when children began coming to my door with kittens or adult cats.  It seemed there had been a lot of cats dumped off in our town that summer.  The kids, looking scared out of their minds, would hold up a tiny kitten or bedraggled old moggy and say “Mam said you’d be able to help with this cat.  We can’t keep her and Mam said you’d know what to do.”  I tried taking the cats in, at least until I could figure out what to do with them.  But my cats wouldn’t let me become a real cat lady.  My mother and son cats loathed other cats.  The third cat was a stray that had simply refused to leave despite their best efforts to drive him off.  When new cats began coming in the house, the three bonded and became a tag team of terror toward any new arrival.  After fearing for the lives of the new strays until I could get them safely to the SPCA shelter, I had to refuse to take any more.  And so ended my career as a cat lady.

One of the best known “cat ladies” in Canada is a man.  For 21 years, René Chartrand looked after the feral cat colony at Parliament Hill in Ottawa.  If you go behind the Parliamentary Library and walk along the river, you’ll see a wrought iron fence.  Inside there, on the hill, is the cats’ headquarters. Mr. Chartrand built a condominium of shelter boxes for them.  The roofs are of the same style as the Parliament Buildings. There are verandahs running along the sides with food and water bowls.  There are donation boxes on the fence to help with the costs.

It’s a long-standing colony of cats, from long-ago Parliamentary mousers, cats from vessels on the Ottawa River and ones that have been dumped or strays that found their way there.  For many years they have been helped by the kindness of strangers.  The first long-term caretaker was Irene Desormeaux in the 1970s.  She fed them, got veterinary care for them and began neuter and release efforts.  Mr. Chartrand took over responsibility for them after her death in 1987.  He retired in 2008 and a small group of his helpers continues to care for the cats.  You can read about the cats and see pictures of them on their blog.  There’s lots of articles and information on them on the web.

Most feral cat colonies and cat ladies aren’t as well known as Ottawa’s.  But every city and village has them.  Without the efforts of the cat ladies, the feral cat population would be a much greater problem than it is.  So, if you notice someone buying cat food by the case, try to find out why.  If they’re feeding strays, buy a couple more cans of food or treats and put them in their shopping bag.  They’ll appreciate the help.

Mr. Chartrand died Dec. 7, 2014 at the age of 92.  After the last Parliament Hill cat, Bugsy, was adopted in January 2013, the cat colony was officially closed and the Cat Parliament Buildings demolished.  Thank you, Mr. Chartrand.