Monday, 2 December 2013

Fixing the Feral Feline


     Houston, we have a problem. In Ireland there's a thriving community of feral cats - all over the place. This, of course, gives the hordes of cat haters (there are quite a few) plenty of ammunition to advocate the elimination and removal of cats from the environment, regardless of whether they're feral or not!

     With so many cats around us it's in our interest to make sure they're healthy and to try to contain the situation as best we can. If you're a cat's human, like me, then you'll also want to make sure that the local ferals are healthy so they can't pass anything nasty onto the cat to whom you belong.

Leaving Leningrad

     Sometimes, living on a farm in rural Ireland, it can be a bit like a siege. When I get up in the mornings I have Pusia baying for food, the horses stamping at the gate and the feral cat, with my pet name Freddy for him, lolling around hopefully on the trampoline in the garden.

Freddy waiting for food!
     Whether you're a cat lover or a cat hater, however, you have to face facts. Cats are here to stay. They're one of the most successful and prolific species on the planet and they've shown they can adapt to and make the best of most situations. 

     The only well documented occurrence of a total cat population being eliminated is in Leningrad during the Second World War siege that lasted 900 days. Inevitably, the poor moggy was transformed from household pet into Sunday dinner. Mind you, that's not taking into account the number of cats that must have left the city. The modern day cat population of Leningrad (now St Petersburg) is mostly descended from the cats that were reintroduced to the city after the war.

Love Thy Neighbour

     No wars in Cloontiquirk, thank goodness. Well, not since the Irish Civil War in the 1920s, anyway. The place where I live is occupied by a number of cats. One of them lives with me (or I live with her, not quite sure which is the more appropriate thing to say in honesty) and she gets the royal treatment. Occasionally, however, the two worlds of the different cats collide. When they do there's no mistaking the tension.

Pusia looks on as Freddy scoffs his food.
     On the whole, Pusia observes the situation with a strained patience and Freddy, who takes any opportunity he can to grab a bit of food, continues to bolt down the food in the hope he can eat as much as possible before Pusia loses patience.

     It's at moments like these that I realise just how important it is to look after Freddy and make sure he's healthy and well. After all, if he's well fed, healthy and happy then he's less likely to be a threat to Pusia.

The Hills Have Eyes

     As I said, the ferals are here to stay. Wherever I go and whatever I do, Freddy is never far away. Hanging out the washing the other day I suddenly felt like I was no longer alone. I glanced over the line and there he was.

Freddy is always there, watching...
     Whenever I go for a walk I'll most likely come across Freddy or one of his sisters who also live on the farm. They're much less bold than he is though I do occasionally see them scoffing at the food bowl when he's had his fill. Feral cats, being masters at evasion, will nearly always get away from you before you can get close enough to them to build any kind of relationship.

The feral cats keep their distance.
     I see Freddy and I feel proud that he looks such a fine specimen of a cat. His coat gleams and his eyes are bright. But it hasn't always been like that.

New Kids on the Block

     When I first met Freddy he was looking a bit shabby. He mostly hid in the undergrowth but then curiosity got the better of him. He started to venture closer and closer to the house. His excursions (or intrusions, depending on how you look at it) were a kind of peripheral accompaniment to whatever I was doing. He'd hang around and I'd just go about my business. There was this grey and tired looking cat timidly lurking in the shadows.

Freddy became bolder with familiarity.
     Eventually he was bold enough to sit still long enough for me to take a photo. There's no mistaking the tension in his eyes. Look at his grey coat and at this point he even had a few bare patches. Like a leper, he was branded 'unclean' by my neighbours who warned me to keep him away from Pusia because he was mangey and that's a contagious virus.

It's a Matter of Taste

     As fate took its turn, the situation changed for the better as far as Freddy was concerned. I had stocked up on plenty of Whiskas and Felix wet food for Pusia when it was all on offer. If you saw the blog Mouses Messes and Minging Meals then you may even be familiar with the cat food mountain that has accumulated in my house.

     With a recent medical problem, however, it's become clear that wet food is not the best food for Pusia. As a result she's now on a deluxe dry food diet of Purina and IAMS food and the wet food has been diverted in the direction of Freddy.

     Needless to say, he's enjoying the VIP treatment. Not only that, his coat has improved and overall his general appearance is that of a much more assured and dignified cat!

Freddy enjoys the royal treatment.
     There's nothing I can do about his torn ears and his chewed tail (I really dread to think how that must have happened) but overall I think he looks great now!

A Case of the Flu

     In another strange twist, Freddy has benefitted from Pusia's recent illness because a case of cat flu coincided with Pusia finishing some of her meds! I saw Freddy sitting quite forlorn under the trampoline one day. He was very lethargic and as I approached I saw that his eyes and nose were streaming. Cat flu, I thought sadly. It's very hard for a feral cat to survive this if they catch it. Luckily Freddy is now so trusting of me that he wolfed down a bowl of food, medicine and all.

Pusia's food and medicine surplus has come in handy!
     I continued this for a few days and before too long he was back to his old sprightly self. He still runs for cover whenever I get close but he is, at least, looking much healthier again.

By the Light of the Silvery Moon

     There is at least a semblance of tranquility around the place now. Pusia will admittedly come racing towards me when I put food out for Freddy. Traitor, traitor, she seems to be saying and I can't help feeling that I'm betraying her to some extent.

     But, on the other hand, life goes on around here whether I feed Freddy and his pals or not. Some of the ferals, particularly the female ones, are so nervous around me that I only occasionally get glimpses of them around the farm. There's no mistaking the family resemblance, though.

     Freddy is the boldest of all the ferals around here. I know he has a huge family around him - there were at least seven at the last count - but he is the one with whom I've bonded the most. Freddy is the one who will pay me an occasional visit and he's also the one who seems to treat Pusia with the most caution and respect.

Freddy pays some respectful visits.
     When all's said and done, however, the cats are the real residents on this land. They've been here for at least four human generations! They know the lay of the land and they make the best of their surroundings. I only glimpse a little bit of what they get up to during the daylight hours.

     Whatever happens once the sun has gone down is a completely different matter. I'm sure that once it's dark, this whole place belongs to the cats, whether they're feral or not!