File this under Urban Naturalism 101, otherwise known as common sense: One Crazy Cat Lady + Two Cats + Refusal to Spay = Feral Cats.
Feral cats begat more feral cats. That’s pretty much what they do. More feral cats means….cats everywhere. Cats under the house. Cats in the trees. Cats exploding out of bushes when you pull into the driveway.
With cats come leavings. They are not indiscriminate, but they particularly enjoy a well-tended yard, with lots of shrubbery. At Casa Upinthevalley, the area beneath the elm tree is a favored place to do business, where they make a pretense of burying their leavings…underneath the grass. Little claws make for ruthless roto-tillers. Soon even the most plush, abundant carpet of St. Augustine is converted to an ammonia-reeking moonscape of mulch. Even if we could afford to re-sod….well that’s not exactly getting at the source of the problem.
For several years the cats had the upper hand on the raccoons and the owls of the neighborhood in the Darwinian war of natural selection. It was like the cat lady was dosing their feed with pheromones or something. With the descent of darkness a strange yowl-a-rama took over the block. They enacted West Side Story-like intrigues from the rooftops. Screeching, macabre-ish sounds would send me to the yard with a flashlight and a baseball bat, dreading a scene of disembowelment, only to interrupt two cats in the business of making little ferals. They climbed through open windows and looted from the kitchen. I’d walk in on them licking plates at 3AM, and they would tear crazy eights across the countertops and leave claw marks on the table. Neighbors put plastic jugs of water around their yards to scare them off, in vain. The ferals sunned themselves atop cars, tails twitching contentedly, bellies bursting with fresh payloads of kittens. They mulched their caca wherever they wished.
I’m going to take action, announced Mrs. Upinthevalley. I’m a girl on a mission!
A campaign of trapping, neutering and release began in earnest. It was slow going. It took six months, and many long rides to FixNation, but eventually 46 cats in all were trapped. Time, raccoons and owls did the rest. The cat herd was reduced to a stable dozen. They wandered down the block from the Cat Mothership to gather on our steps each morning and evening for kibble, courtesy of Mrs. U (herself a bit of a Cat Lady in Training), squat and gobble, then go about their day. For a few years the equilibrium held.
Then one day Tangerine showed up. From the ranks of the in-bred and mal-formed, the ratty-haired and hinky of eye, a housecat emerged, made to order. Our housecat.
Plump, apple-cheeked, with a well-groomed look about him. Nice coat, too. Plush. Or so I imagine, were I actually allowed to run my fingers through his fur. A big butch tomcat head that announces: rub your knuckles right here, and I will purr for you.
To simplify matters, he established our porch as his living room, morning, noon and night. We opened the door, and there he was, circling the food bowl, tail up, not scattering off like the others.
Well, come on in, dear boy…
Uh, not exactly. You can leave the door open. You can place a trail of cat treats leading right up to the couch. Getting him to place the first paw across the threshold into the lair of the two-legged, fur-less, food-givers is another matter. For that represents a breaking with the tribe.
Months of effort by Mrs. U has yielded but fleeting moments of inter-species contact. A stealthy rub here or there. Acts of shoplifting while he was distracted by food. ‘It’s purely transactional. I’m paying for his services, for the privilege of rubbing his cheeks.’
No longer feral exactly, nor domesticated, either. A messenger from the other side of the River Styx. An enigma.