I found Dash, one of our colony cats, sunning himself in my yard this morning despite the cold. I call this little sitting area the Catio. He definitely has beefed up and grown a winter coat in preparation for the weather.
This is the closest Dash has ever allowed me near him. He is tolerant of the rest of our James Gang Colony, but does not hang out with them unless he has to. I just looked up his TNR surgery record from PAWS Chicago and saw that his surgery was done on November 18, 2007, and he’s been coming to our yard somewhat regularly for five years ever since. He was already an adult when I TNR’ed him, so that means he may be a senior cat by now.
Dash is proof that feral cats know how to live outdoors and survive. I do not know where he goes all day, but he feeds in our yard, and I have seen him sporadically throughout the neighborhood. He does not use our outdoor cat shelters – he goes elsewhere. He is pretty solitary as far as I can tell. Sometimes I do not see him for weeks at a time.
When I TNR’ed Dash in 2007 I did not know to get him microchipped because the 2007 Cook County Managed Care of Feral Cats Ordinance [07-O-72] had just passed and microchipping feral cats was still a new practice here in Chicago. I tried to re-trap him without success throughout the years until this past spring, for some reason, he went into one of my traps. I took him to Tree House’s clinic for their Feral Cat Maintenance Package, where he was updated on his vaccinations for distemper and rabies. Out of curiosity, I tested him for FeLV/FIV and he was negative, and he finally got his microchip. Having the microchip means he will always be traced back to me as his caretaker. I hope that will continue for many more years to come.
Puffy is a very fluffy, long-haired cat that comes to my yard irregularly to feed ever since I TNR’d him in 2013.
This past year he’s been looking fluffier than ever. His long-haired coat is magnificent, but starting to look downright disheveled. He’s not easy to capture on camera – he’s a true feral who only visits at dusk or later.
His fur looked out of control, but I had to wait to trap until summer when it is hot enough for him to be shaved. So I zip-tied traps open at the cats’ feeding stations and starting feeding from them to condition the cats to the traps.
It worked like a charm. Last week when I came back from vacation Chicago was nice and hot. I set the traps and quickly trapped Bouncy Bear and Dash by accident. I released them immediately. Eventually Puffy went in very early morning. He looked totally suspicious.
And upon closer examination, I saw I made the right call. His fur was out of control, with huge matts. He looked pretty good, but matts can be very painful – they can be close to and pull on the skin.
I took Puffy to Roscoe Village Animal Hospital, where I take all the feral cats in traps needing additional medical care.
Obviously, Puffy needed to be sedated for shaving. Since he was there, I asked them to update his vaccinations, and give him an exam. He was treated for fleas, but his ears looked clean. His teeth are surprisingly in good shape, so no dental was needed. And they gave him a full body shave.
He’s lucky I didn’t get him a dragon cut!
I waited until the end of the day to return him back to my yard. Inexplicably, Funny Face started chasing after him when I returned him. Puffy doesn’t really hang out with the other colony cats here – he’s more solitary.
I finally saw him again here last night for dinner, and was really relieved to see that he was doing well, even if the other cats may be laughing at him. You can see the poof at the end of his lion tail. This time he appeared to be hanging out with Dash. Maybe they’re all making sure he is ok?
Hyde Park Cats is a volunteer-run organization that helps cats and kittens in need.
For the past few years they’ve produced a calendar to raise funds for the cats. The 2015 calendar is now available for a suggested price of $10 online or at these locations. I met Hyde Park Cats this year through our Feral Flowers Project at Forget Me Knodt. They bought flowers and attended our Feral Flowers Design Class. Then they asked if they could include a spread of Cats In My Yard for the calendar. Of course I said yes, and am so excited to see our James’ Gang Colony cats Funny Face, Bouncy Bear, Dash, and, of course, Mooha, on their July page.
Who knew it could be so lush in the fall? Dash posed for me all over the garden.
Bouncy Bear photo bomb.
And then the sleet hit.
Ever since Dice’s death last week the cats in my yard were not acting the same. Although Bouncy Bear was around constantly hoping for wet food, Dash and Funny Face disappeared for awhile. Funny Face was quite bonded to Dice so I worried about him.
This week the colony cats seem to have regrouped and are again around a lot more. Autumn always makes me a bit sad because it also means the end of the garden, but this year I decided to try to embrace the changing season more. The Feral Flowers are trimmed back, the tomatoes are harvested, and I added pumpkins and gourds for decoration.
I also placed an extra straw bale in the garden. It has turned out to be a big hit – the cats love to lounge on it.
Bouncy Bear falls asleep on it regularly.
Dash is kind of exploring the whole yard again on his own.
Funny Face is definitely more skittish again. I still believe he has a secret life outside of my garden, but I’m glad he comes for dinner.
I took Dice, one of the cats in my yard, to the vet today to be euthanized. We are heartbroken.
Dice was the quintessential feral tom cat. He showed up in my yard at the beginning of 2009, and I trapped him easily and quickly that January. Here he is right after his TNR surgery looking a little rough.
That rough look never quite left him, and he pretty much left my yard for awhile for a few years. I would see him randomly throughout the neighborhood, on other blocks.
Until the James Gang Colony started, a few years later in 2012, along with Dash, Funny Face, and Bouncy Bear, and slowly formed an alliance in my yard, as the cats learned to come to me daily for their dinner.
Then Dice flourished with the attention and companionship, and became a healthy, fat, tom cat. Just look at those cheeks.
He was always a bit solitary.
Dice seemed to appreciate the meals, accommodations, and companionship with the other colony cats.
But many times he preferred to be alone.
He was especially tight with Funny Face. The two were always together these past few years.
But this year, after the brutal winter, it was clear that Dice wasn’t the same. He had lost weight, and seemed tired. I re-trapped him and took him to a vet for treatment and a full dental in the spring.
He seemed to bounce back and had a good run this past summer, but he continued to lose weight. I prepared the traps to re-trap him again.
This turned out to be unnecessary. I went out of town last Sunday for work, and when I came back into town the following Friday, I found him laying in my garden, meowing, with black mucus all over his face.
For the first time, he allowed me to touch him. When I got him to the vet, they determined that he basically needed round-the-clock hospitalization. Since he was feral, that was not really an obvious, easy solution.
At this point Dice weighed four pounds. The vet administered fluids, vitamins and antibiotics. We waited to see if he would improve crated in my house. He ate a lot, but barely moved, even to go to the bathroom. I tried to make him comfortable and keep him clean, but it was clear that even though I think he knew I was trying to help him, my presence and being in my house was stressing him out.
Rather than putting him through a lengthy hospital stay and a bunch of invasive tests, we decided to euthanize Dice today. He was the quintessential tom cat again today. He hissed, and then relaxed, and showed us his feral nature, even though he was barely able to move. I think Dice appreciated the love, and he showed us true dignity in facing such a death. His rough face softened and was at peace finally. I’m glad he allowed me to get to know him a little bit these last six years, and I hope I was able to make his life a little bit better during this time.
Going out of town when you have multiple cats can be stressful. Not only are there pet cats to care for, sometimes with medical needs, but there can also be foster cats, sick feral cats resting in recovery lounge crates, and outdoor cat colonies.
Greer from Mama Bear Pet Care handles all of the above scenarios and then some. She cat sat for me a few times this year now. She has been a cat sitter for 20+ years, worked as a vet tech, and volunteers as a wildlife rehabilitator for Flint Creek Wildlife Center. She doesn’t just cat sit – she also cares for dogs and other pets.
In fact, she is currently pet sitting for a woman fostering a dog and her seven puppies for PAWS Chicago. Here’s Georgia and her one week old puppies.
Greer and I met last year when she adopted two former feral colony cats from me. Both of these cats ended up separately in animal control facilities. Their microchips were traced to me and saved their lives.
Louie is now the poster cat for her business. Louie is FIV+. So is his sister here that Greer adopted from Lulu’s Locker Rescue.
Emrys is a bit more shy, but he is now also a total house cat. Emrys does not have FIV, and he mingles freely and safely with his cat friends. More and more progressive shelters are adopting this approach.
See? Here they are together. They came from two different colonies with two different feeders a few blocks apart. I like to think they knew each other on the street and are reunited in Greer’s home.
When we were out of town last May I had Zombie Cat isolated and recovering in a feral cat recovery lounge. Here’s what the lounge looks like from the outside. It’s a crate with a Tru-Catch trap attached to it.
You could not touch her, but Zombie Cat was safely inside here and resting with a bed, litter box, food and water.
Zombie Cat is fully feral, and at the time, was in my house very sick with a URI, recovering from dental surgery, and required daily antibiotics. Greer took care of her and offered holistic suggestions from her own experience.
The cats in my yard also got her full attention. Greer kept their feeding stations clean and full of fresh food. While we were gone she gave me updates on their eating habits and who showed up for dinner.
She sent me photos. In fact, all of the photos in this post are taken by her.
Her photos made me smile because it obviously looked like business as usual and the cats barely noticed we were gone.
Bouncy Bear and Dice were still dining together.
I can’t say enough about Mama Bear Pet Care. Greer cares deeply about animals, and has devoted her life to caring for them in her home, in her work, and as a volunteer.
Forget Me Knodt hosts sold out flower design classes all year at her shop. In celebration of National Feral Cat Day and our summer-long Feral Flowers Project, Janessa from Forget Me Knodt will teach a class on how to design with blooms specifically from our garden, including zinnias, cosmos, allium and solidago arranged in mason jars. Each student will learn all about design and go home with their own bouquets.
Afterwards, we’ll talk about TNR: Trap-Neuter-Return, and I’ll answer any questions you may have about cat rescue and caring for a feral cat colony in Chicago.
DESIGNING WITH BLOOMS FROM THE FERAL FLOWERS GARDEN
Forget Me Knodt, 1313 W. Wilson
Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
6:30 pm – 8:00 pm, BYOB Edition
Includes cheeses, meats and artisan breads from Baker & Nosh
$40 per student – limit 20 students
The majority of the proceeds will be used for food, shelter and medical care for managed feral cat colonies.
Call 773-944-1041 to sign up for your spot. $10 deposit required, and seats are first-come, first-served
I’m very excited about this event and I hope you can join us! It’s my way of being able to share the garden with you in person. I believe gardens and cats go hand in hand, and that feral cat colonies can be cared for in a beautiful way in our yards. The Feral Flowers Project would not exist without the help of the cats in my yard, including:
And of course my very own pet cat Mooha, who was Chief Gardener, as she was chasing the butterflies and bees all summer long to make sure they pollinated every flower.