Feral cats are a problem in almost every large community, and rescuing them can often pose a challenge. They’re wary of people and quickly learn how to avoid being cornered or captured.
In the late 90s, my husband and I got an object lesson in the feral cat rescue process. We were living in a small house in the city. We already had five cats—a by-product of my working eight years at an animal hospital—but when we noticed a pair of feral kittens living in the breezeway behind our house, we knew we had to intervene.
The kittens were about six months old and adorable. One was black and white with a tiny mustache, so we called her Chaplin. And her sister, a grey and white kitty, we named Velma (after the character of Velma Kelly in the musical Chicago.) The two were inseparable, so we figured our best chance was to capture them together.
After leaving food out for them, they began to come around more often, but still evaded capture. With winter coming on, we knew we needed to act quickly. Winter weather can be unpredictable and we live in an area where sudden freezes, ice storms, and nor’easters are the norm.
One evening, as a light snow was falling, I noticed that the two kittens had taken shelter on the ledge of our kitchen window. They were curled up and asleep, the snow slowly gathering on them. I figured this was our best chance to catch them, so I asked my husband to prepare a pet carrier and to have it ready in the kitchen. I went out the back door as quietly as I could and rounded the corner of the house. The kittens were still asleep. As a last resort, I was able to scruff them and bring them inside before they could react. They didn’t like it one bit, but they were indoors and out of the elements.
We moved them into an upstairs room—outfitted with food, water, and litter pan—separate from our other cats until we could get them examined by our vet. Aside from fly-bites on their ears, they seemed in good condition. At the vet’s office, they checked out healthy. Soon after, we had both spayed and immunized.
Acclimation is a process that differs for every stray. And from the start, these two kittens were skittish. We began calling them “the upstairs cats,” because even when offered the opportunity to roam freely about the house, they preferred to hide upstairs. Then one day we noticed Chaplin venturing downstairs for a look-see. She quickly retreated but soon returned, this time with Velma. Slowly over a period of weeks, they began to claim the entire house as their own.
With five cats of our own, we knew we had to place these two in a forever home, and separating them was out of the question. So, we began the process of trying to find someone who’d be willing to take both cats (who were now a year old and no longer kittens). Fortunately, a friend stepped in and volunteered to adopt them. She’d had an older cat who’d recently passed away, and so she welcomed the two foundlings. She also agreed to keep their names unchanged.
Rescuing, fostering, and re-homing feral pets isn’t easy. It requires a great deal of patience. Building trust and following through with veterinary care take time and resources. For us, it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of a lifetime.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.