Monday, November 21, 2011

Fond Memories of My Feral Cat

When we moved into our house on the Northside more than eight years ago, we inherited a dozen feral cats and kittens. I didn't even know what a feral cat was and was confused why the kittens didn't come to me. The next summer brought even more kittens. Out of these many ferals, one kitten stayed. Little Ma'am lived in my back yard, wintered in my basement, befriended my own cats, and adopted me as her human from 2004 until she died last Wednesday.

It took two years before I was able to successfully trap her to get her spayed. Until she was spayed, I cursed her and all the kittens she had in my back yard and basement. By then, I knew that if I didn't take the kittens from her before they were weaned, they had a slim chance of being socialized and becoming house cats. But she hid her kittens from me when she knew I would take them, making it very hard for me to socialize them. I caught many of her kittens, though, socialized them, and found them homes.

Little Ma'am made my back yard her territory and defended it viciously against other cats, except my own. She knew not to mess with my cats and tried to befriend all of them. (Grubble was her best friend.) But if any other cat dared to come into my back yard, she attacked it and chased it away.*

The picture at the top is an early shot of Little Ma'am with one of her kittens. This one is from this past summer.
She eventually let me pet her, and just this summer even started coming around people who came to visit, but she wouldn't let me handle her. So when I noticed that she had a problem with her eye in August, I had no way to get her to a vet. I spent a week making her eat food in a trap with the door tied open. I was finally able to trap her and took her to the emergency animal hospital, where they could sedate and treat her.

I gave her medicine (in her food), and she got better for about a month. She seemed very happy and enjoyed the rest of summer. When her eye started getting bad again, I gave her more medicine, but this time it didn't help. Her eye got worse and worse until it pained me to look at her. In the end, she had what looked like a big tumor on the outside of her eye, and it was bleeding. This time, there was no way she was getting back into that trap. I tried unsuccessfully for a week (and caught a raccoon in the process). Finally, I knew I would have to try to pick her up with my hands and try to get her into the trap that way.

I was armed with a coat, gloves, and a big blanket, but I didn't need them. She was so startled that I picked her up that it was easy to get her into the trap. I took her back to the emergency hospital where I learned there was nothing they could do. Even if they removed her eye (which would involve her having to wear a cone around her head for five days...which she would never have allowed), there was an abscess all behind her eye and in her mouth from an awful infection. And because she has feline AIDS and was mostly unhealthy, her chances of getting better were minimal.

So I decided to euthanize her, and she died in my arms at the hospital. Even though our back "yard" is mostly patio and we have little land, I brought her body home with me to bury. It's the only home she's ever known, and I felt it was the right thing to do (I cremated my other cats because of our lack of a yard).

Even though she was feral, she was my cat. She's always been there, part of our house for nearly as long as we've had our house. I miss her.

This weekend, my husband reminded me that she's still with us, in a way. One of her kittens, Orla, was one of the kittens born in my basement, and she's the only of Little Ma'am's kittens I kept. So Little Ma'am will live on through Orla.

Rest in peace, Little Ma'am.

*This was the Trap Neuter Release (TNR) program, advocated by homeless cat organizations, at work. These organizations say that ferals can live happy, long lives as long as they have a caretaker to provide them with food, water, and shelter. Ferals must be spayed and neutered to keep the homeless cat population down, but after they are, they should be released back into a colony that has a caretaker. These organizations report that if you trap and kill homeless cats, more will just take their place, but when you trap, neuter, and release, cats will find their own territories and will control their populations on their own. If it weren't for Little Ma'am, we would probably have had hundreds of ferals over the years. Learn more about feral cats from Alley Cat Allies and the Homeless Cat Management Team.


  1. Aw, how good of you to take care of her like that. It's so sad to see all the feral cats around here too but I don't really have the means to help them. I'm sure she thanks you for it.

  2. This was a lovely post - thank you for sharing your story. Little Ma'am sounds like a sweetheart in her own way. My own cat was a feral kitten of a pair of feral cats that used to live in my parents' back yard. We never managed to catch the adults, but we caught, socialized, and found homes for many of their kittens. Little B (my cat) never socialized quite as well as her litter-mates, so I ended up keeping her. I joke that she and I are similarly anti-social. :-)