More About Ferals


There is some truth to the assertion that the cat, with the exception of a few luxury
breeds…is no domestic animal but a completely wild being.
–Konrad Lorenz


In the Wild Road , “The Sixth Life of Cats,” Gabriel King writes about how, once worshipped as gods, the cat became feared as witches’ “imps.” “Burn the cats wherever you find them!” it is declared just before the bubonic plague (King 251). Vinegar Tom watches his beloved feline wife Kettie get burned along with the supposed witches. Smart enough to run as far as possible, he was not there “to watch the creeping tide of plague that rode the backs of the rats those cats would have eaten, had they lived…” (King 252).

At this point, I could write a very long book about feral cats, if…I wasn’t so busy trapping them! I love cats. I love the kind that sit in your lap, the kind that ignore you, the kind that destroys things when upset, the kind who sleep on my head… And I love the wild ones who, although they fear me, I believe learn to love or respect me—these are the shadow cats, the feral ones.

For years I was unaware that they were watching me as I placed food out for them, that they watched me as I trapped one of their own. I have only recently begun to realize that many of them do not stray far from my porch, my shrubs, the crawl space under my house. About a year ago, I began to claim them as “my cats” to humans, and as much as I could to myself. The fact is that any cat, tame or wild, never belongs to a human. They use us, feel pity for our lack of wiles, and respect our kindness, although they have never forgotten that we are capable of burning them as “witches’ imps” and they have never forgotten that long ago, in Egypt, they were worshipped as gods.

But, I am not really writing about my love of cats, or the history of cats, or some warm and fuzzy story. Still, I want to give you some insight into the lives of these cats and myself, as I have spent my whole life in awe of them, taking comfort from them, and offering them comfort.

Unfortunately, feral cats, wild cats, are not viewed by much of society in the same way as the tame stray. One animal control officer, speaking to a colleague of mine, referred to them as “rodents,” on the same level as rats. Now, I like rats and mice, too, so the comparison does not offend me on one level. But it is telling that feral cats were compared to what most humans consider a menace. As a society we have not really evolved much from the hunting and gathering and then farming mode of attitude toward animals. Many people still feel that if an animal does not serve a purpose, it is unworthy of any respect and deserves to die. This is why we kill nuisance animals by the millions each year: mice, rats, moles, even cute little groundhogs, squirrels, and rabbits.

Many people may be thinking “my pets don’t ‘serve a purpose;’ they do nothing but lie around all day.” Ahh…but they DO serve a purpose. They give you companionship. This is fine! But some of these same people feel that feral cats, because they are unwilling to jump in your lap, do not really have a right to their own existence. And, if they do, it is certainly not supposed to be anywhere near your house. Many animal lovers become unreasonable when they realize that their mulch is being used as a litter box, or that a feral cat has just had some feral kittens under their porch.

Personally, I have on more than one occasion been grateful for the fact that “my ferals” do not trust people. In general, they shouldn’t. A huge portion of the human population would like to see them wiped out. If trapped and brought to a shelter, they will likely be immediately euthanized, even the kittens who could be tamed.

We trap and we spay and neuter them, give them their shots, and then release them back where they are being fed. We put an effort into taming the kittens when we can (about a 99% success rate for kittens here). We have even, on occasion, tamed adults. Some of us have even brought an “untamable” feral into our homes to live when they have been at risk elsewhere. The rest we provide food for, we monitor as much as we can, and we sometimes come home to find them dead in the road. Or worse, they just “go missing” and we wonder if a disgruntled neighbor has “accidentally” left antifreeze out.

It is heartbreaking, or it would be if there weren’t the successes, the times you catch one watching you, getting closer to you than he logically should, when you realize that he is beginning to understand you, or that she realizes you’ve taken her kittens inside for the winter.

Some people feel that there are too many tame cats who need help and that we are wasting our time on the ferals. But in my neighborhood we once had over 20 ferals where we now have about 5, due to spaying and neutering, taming what we can, and, unfortunately, cars. Even if we do not tame, do not take in, we can still improve their lives (and end the heartbreak of seeing kittens turn wild who could have been house cats, and kittens and cats getting hit on the road or poisoned by an evil neighbor) simply by…trapping, spaying/neutering, releasing and feeding. And, with the trap and release program, tame cats in trouble do not lose out because home space is not lost. Donated cat food is fairly easy to find and low-cost or even free feral spay/neuter is readily available in many places—even rural Kentucky.

For Haggard, Bobbie, Miss Kitty, Hazy, Sammy, Celie, Oscar, Felix, Elliot, Egyptian Goddess & Twin, Milly, Annie, Vincent, Onyx, Dobbie, Syrius, Mandi, Spit-Fire, George Jr., Gray Girl, Pandora, and all the unnamed, but not unloved ferals and once-ferals that we have protected, fed, tamed and not been able to tame, learned from, been grateful to, exchanged meaningful glances with, envied…In hopes that you all will be more understood.

by Victoria M. King