Feral Cat Day Changes Lives One Community Cat At A Time. This is a story about a cat named Pepper.
You could call him feral, stray, homeless, a street cat or community cat but I’d call him an angel. Pepper changed my idea about the role of cats in the community.
Alley Cat Allies first launched National Feral Cat Day® on their 10th anniversary in 2001 to raise awareness about community cats, and promote Trap-Neuter-Return of feral cats. We’re long time advocates of TNR and blog about the holiday every year. For the past two years I’ve volunteered my services offering support, guidance and resources at Alley Cat Allies Feral Friends network. It’s straight forward. Anyone with an inquiry, makes a request and gains access to network members within 25 miles of their location. My home number is listed making it easy to connect. I answer questions and help the best I can. If I can’t, I’ll refer other resources.
A call came in a month ago and my husband gave me the message with a few details. “You need to call her. It sounds serious.”
I groaned, “I really don’t want to. I’m so far behind schedule with my black cat book.” Thinking I could buy some time, I emailed the woman instead of calling. She emailed back, explained the situation and my curiosity got the better of me. Across the Hudson River, in another county is an orthodox Jewish community. Cats and dogs are not considered Kosher and most of the residents don’t have pets, or so I thought. Detti, a cat lover from the Chabad community and her husband adopted a gray kitten, Zoe last year. She admitted to not being knowledgeable about cats and worried about Zoe being terrorized by two stray kittens in their garden. It became apparent this was no regular situation and I got on the phone.
To be able to access the situation I needed more information. Words are good but pictures often do tell a 1000 words. It turns out Detti is a filmmaker specializing in Bar Mitzvahs and weddings, and I asked if she could send some pics to help me determine the age of the kittens. From there the story spins out into a rich tapestry beyond my imagination: emails galore, research into Judaism and cats, questions within questions beyond the scope of this post. It’s caused me to think more deeply about the human-animal bond and how cats can be ambassadors of peace at a time of socio-political, religious and cultural differences.
As soon as a photo revealed the kittens were about six months old and sexually mature, there were practical considerations.Time was of the essence to mine the limited resources in the area for assistance with trapping, low-cost spay/neuter. A mobile clinic was coming to the area in October and an vet appointment made. A rescue group proved invaluable. Although Detti had researched and found the group, they hadn’t returned her call. Had I not intervened, she might have given up. Most rescue groups are stretched to the limit and it’s nor unusual the wait or keep trying before reaching. In this case, I tagged the group on Facebook.
This case reminded me how inter-connected our community cats are with the community of humans. One event like beginning to feed stray kittens ripples out. There were health and safety concerns for Zoe interacting with the kittens, hygiene concerns for Detti’s children (washing hands after petting), the decision to de-worm or not, how to trap, where to feed, the relationship between the entire family and the kittens, Detti’s husband worried about being invaded by more feral cats, navigating the opinions of neighbors, some shoo cats away or worse, one neighbor wants to adopt the gray kitten but not the black one. Shades of prejudice. Another neighbor shows a video of what could be the kittens’ father. In a neighborhood where pets are frowned on, the conversation leads to discovery. There are more outdoor “strays” as pets with heated shelters than expected. Neighbors who weren’t sure about spay/neuter are changing their mind. The grey kitten is named Flurry and taken to a vet by a neighbor. Can more conversation lead to a deeper understanding of cats, love and humanity? Day by day the story continues to unfold.
Meanwhile, Detti is bonding with Pepper who has a name, an identity, a future. He grows more loving and less feral with every passing day. He has his own heated home on the porch but his vet appointment is postponed. It would have meant but trapping the day before which Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar when Jews fast without food or water for 24 hours. Detti says, “Besides me not feeling so well when fasting also I can’t trap animals. We can’t trap animals on shabbos or yom tov. It’s a day of rest for them as well.”
This brings the story of Pepper, a community cat, to an end, for now. My goal was to help Detti find resources to trap, spay/neuter the kittens. In some ways, the story is just beginning.
In taking the time to dig deeper, I’ve discovered it takes a village to save one cat and make all the difference in the world.
I also discovered patience mixed with persistence reaps rewards. When I initially asked Detti for some photos, I was surprised by what she sent. I scratched my head and wondered: how could the person who creates the most sublime wedding videos (she is seriously gifted) produce a so so photograph of cat. I kept gently asking her to document her progress and she quickly found her cat muse. Her images of Pepper and other cats are increasingly sensitive and I predict cats may be her next creative passion.