Have you ever met someone when you least expected it? And not only did you meet them when you least expected it, but they ended up being one of the greatest influences in your life?
I have. Many of them, actually, but the one who surprised me the most was an animal.
A black cat.
16 years ago after graduating college at Louisiana State University, I was working at LSU’s veterinary teaching school. One fateful day I happened to walk up to the front desk to receive a drop off. We often received a lot of injured wildlife, but this animal was an injured and exhausted young black kitten.
We had “no room at the inn”, but the staff agreed to hydrate and treat him if one of us could take him home temporarily. I immediately declined; I really was not a huge fan of cats. Plus, I was currently searching for our M.I.A. pit bull, Daisy. – She would have certainly thought this wee kitten was an offering to her! I couldn’t take the chance.
Taking this kitten home was not an option. Period. No way. No how. Never. Not me.
I took the kitten from the woman’s hands, and held him on my left arm. Looking back now, I realize that I was uncomfortable holding him near me. But before I knew it, this injured and dehydrated kitten was curled up in the crook of my bent arm, fast asleep. My arm ached terribly, but for some reason I didn’t want to wake him. (Note: This was the start of him training me!)
My colleagues and the woman who found the kitten continued to pressure me into taking him “for just one night!” The woman who brought him in offered to pick him up promptly the next day after work, “I promise! I’ll get him tomorrow. I just have to get to work. I’m so late!” I very reluctantly agreed. I told her, “One night. That’s it. If I find my dog the cat cannot be at my apartment.”
I never heard from this woman again.
The next day began the beginning of the rest of my life with Mr. Beaux.
Fast Forward to 2017:
18 incredible years have gone by and he’s still with me. During this time together he never ceases to amaze me. We have been through more together than any animal or person I know. We have survived countless moves, missing-in-action-adventures, misunderstandings and musings. We’ve endured countless Hurrications, heartbreaks, ghost sightings and hauntings. We have experienced the passing of loved ones, weddings, deployments and homecomings, health and sickness, and everything between.
He’s seen me at my absolute worst, on my darkest days. He has watched me bloom in my brightest hours. He has taught countless children and adults what cats are capable of. He’s watched me learn how to let down my barriers to love, thanks to his persistent ability to love unconditionally. He’s taught me how to truly listen to animals through the heart, how to listen more than speak, how to hear my inner guidance, and how to be the teacher and always the humble student. He’s taught me how truly magnificent and magical cats truly are.
Beaux has taught me more in our 18 years together than any species I’ve ever known. I have learned more from Beaux about life, love, and cats than I ever thought possible. Who knew that a melanistic Siamese could teach a person so much?? I sure didn’t. After all, he was “just a cat”.
I am still learning from him, including how to be a better guardian to him every day.
There must have been an angel by my side
Something heavenly led me to you
Look at the sky
It’s the color of love
There must have been an angel by my side
Something heavenly came down from above
He led me to you
He built a bridge to your heart
All the way
How many tons of love inside
I can’t say
I am so looking forward to more adventures with you, more magic and wonder, more love and learning, and to continue celebrating the amazing soul that you are.
Happy birthday, Mr. Beaux!!! ❤
P.S. Although you are now 18 years of age, I wrote this when you were 16 … and I know you think it ain’t no thang to you (even if it was equivalent to 80 human years!) But as you so perfectly proclaimed, “I am young and vibrant!”
Damn right you are.
And may that always be so. Cheers to another decade together.
Namaste, my feline friend.
This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree. ― Edgar Allan Poe, The Black Cat
Black and orange stray cat sittin’ on a fence
Ain’t got enough dough to pay the rent
I’m flat broke but I don’t care
I strut right by with my tail in the air
Stray cat strut, I’m a ladies’ cat,
A feline Casanova, hey man, thats where its at
Get a shoe thrown at me from a mean old man
Get my dinner from a garbage can
Yeah don’t cross my path!
I don’t bother chasing mice around
I slink down the alley looking for a fight
Howling to the moonlight on a hot summer night
Singin’ the blues while the lady cats cry,
“Wild stray cat, you’re a real gone guy.”
I wish I could be as carefree and wild,
but I got cat class and I got cat style.
~Stray Cat Strut by The Stray Cats, 1981
Today, October 16, is National Feral Cat day. Many years ago I fell madly, deeply in love with two feral cats. Both of whom, during separate chapters in my life, taught me more than I could have ever imaged about stray cats. Although we have said our goodbyes, they are still with me in my heart, and they are the inspiration behind this post.
My hope is that you will learn something new here, and in the process, gain compassion for these wise, street savvy souls. Once we truly understand the myths (and truths) about feral cats and their communities, we can educate others on the many ways to care for and protect these very misunderstood animals.
Myths and Truths About Feral Cats
Myth #1: Feral cats are best cared for in animal shelters.
Fact: Adult feral cats are euthanized more frequently than any other dog or cat (this includes adult dogs, bully breeds, fearful and aggressive cats, aggressive and fearful dogs, and heartworm positive dogs).
Shelter life is incredibly stressful for any animal. Throw in a few sprinkles of feral, and you have a recipe for an all-out-fear fest. Since feral cats are naturally afraid of humans, they are rarely adoptable, so the majority of feral cats who enter shelters are euthanized quickly — even though 99 percent of these feral cats have no debilitating conditions, trauma, or infectious diseases.
Even no-kill shelters can’t place feral cats in the average home. However, feral kittens can often be adopted into homes, but they must be socialized at an early age. There is a crucial window, and if they aren’t handled in time, they will remain feral and therefore unadoptable. Learn more about feral kittens and socialization here.
Myth #2: TNR is cruel.
TNR is the practice of Trapping, Neutering, and Returning cats back to where one found them. TNR has been shown to be the least expensive, most efficient, and most humane way of stabilizing feral cat populations. The very best thing we can do for a feral cat is to spay or neuter it, then return it to its original community.
Myth #3: Feral cats are sick.
Feral cats are just as healthy as your own companion cat, with equally low rates of disease, and equally long natural lifespans.
A 2006 study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery found that of 103,643 stray and feral cats examined in spay/neuter clinics in six states from 1993 to 2004, less than 1% of those cats needed to be euthanized due to debilitating conditions, trauma, or infectious diseases.
Myth #4: Cat overpopulation can be fixed by removing the feral colony.
Neighborhoods and communities will often roundup colonies of feral cats – either for euthanasia, or to relocate them, but neither of these choices are a permanent or humane solution. The reality is that it’s impossible to catch all of the cats, and it only takes one male and one female to begin reproducing again. Even if all ferals are removed, new cats will soon move in and take their place.
Myth #5: Anyone can socialize a feral cat with a lot of time and patience!
Feral cats survive by avoiding intimate human interaction. Socializing a feral cat can take years sometimes. Trust me; it took me a year to even touch my beloved Samantha when she was a feral cat. If you have a feral cat outside your home that you want to befriend, I recommend learning more about feral cat socializing from the the experts.
Myth #6: Shelters are a huge help for lost cats that are found!
Fact: Only 2 to 5% of lost cats in U.S. shelters are reclaimed by their owners.
Fact: Most lost cats will eventually return home on their own.
Fact: Spending time in a shelter actually decreases a cat’s chances of being reunited with his/her guardians.
One of the easiest and most important things you can do for your cat (or feral cat that is living under your care) is give him/her a proper ID tag, AND have your cat microchipped! This means that wherever they wind up, they can be identified.
Myth #7: Feral Cats are decimating native wildlife and bird populations!
Many people dislike the idea of stray cats, but science has cleared them of the blame for impacting wildlife populations. The true threat to other species are human activities such as habitat destruction, fragmentation, pollution and encroachment. Outdoor cats occasionally kill birds and other wildlife, but the bigger truth that we need to recognize is this: humans are the species that have most significantly damaged the environment, habitats, and ecosystems.
“The clear leading animal that’s really putting wildlife at risk is the human population. We just don’t like to acknowledge that it is our fault. It’s not a case of the cat being the worst offender. It isn’t even remotely the worst offender. It’s us.”- Wildlife Biologist, Roger Tabor, one of the world’s leading experts on feral cats
Feral cats are not homeless. They have a home; it’s outdoors! Feral cats are no more “homeless” than squirrels, raccoons, or rabbits; their community is their home. It’s where they learned to live, adapt, and thrive — often with help from a compassionate caretaker. The outdoors is the natural habitat for feral cats.
Feral Cats and Stray Cats – What They Really Need
Outdoor cats have existed alongside humans for 10,000 years. They are not a new phenomenon. Feral cats and stray cats (yes, there is a difference) live and thrive in every landscape, from the inner city to rural farmland. Although they greatly appreciate a delicious can of tuna, they don’t want to snuggle with you on your couch. It’s important to recognize and respect that they belong outside, vaccinated, spayed and neutered. Feral cats are members of the same species as companion cats. This is why feral cats are protected under state animal anti-cruelty laws. Just like our feline family members who live indoors with us, shelter, food, and water are especially important to feral and stray cats in cold weather!
Cats are a Natural Part of the Landscape.
Cats have always been a part of the natural environment. They have adapted to the changes that humans brought about in their environment, but their biological instincts and interactions with their surroundings haven’t changed. What has changed in the last 10,000 years is how humans have impacted the environment. Our unrestrained use of natural resources has damaged crucial habitats and resources that species need to survive. Instead pointing the finger of blame at wild felines, we need to take a hard look at what we can do to change the way we impact our world and the animals we share it with.
Why Should We Even Care?
Today, On National Feral Cat Day, we celebrate the growing movement to protect the lives of outdoor cats with humane and effective programs like Trap- Neuter-Return (TNR). ~ Becky Robinson, president and co-founder of Alley Cat Allies.
In the video below Jackson Galaxy reminds us that:
Feral cats are not socialized to people.
Feral cats cannot be adopted.
TNR helps reduce the number of cats being killed in our shelters each year.
More than 330 local governments have ended ‘catch and kill’ and embraced TNR, but there is still much more work to be done.
Trap-Neuter-Return is the humane and effective approach for stray and feral cats. It has been in practice for decades in the U.S. after scientific studies in Europe show that Trap-Neuter-Return improves the lives of feral cats, improves their relationships with the people who live near them, and decreases the size of colonies over time.
A Conscious Companion doing a TNR (Trap & Neuter Return)
Informing friends, neighbors, and family members, about the benefits of TNR can be tough. There are so many misperceptions about stray cats and feral cats. But Alley Cat Allies has a great resource on their website called Troubleshooting with Community Members.
In this Alley Cat Allies PSA, Jackson Galaxy explains why National Feral Cat Day® is the perfect time to raise your voice to protect the cats you love—indoors, outdoors, and everywhere in between. We can educate people about feral cats, how to help them, and what not to do. Please help to spread the word that TNR is the humane approach for feral cats. Do you have any experience with stray cats or feral cats? I would love to hear your stories!
“What’s your name?” Coraline asked the cat.
“Look, I’m Coraline.Okay?”
“Cats don’t have names.” he said.
“No?” said Coraline.
“No,” said the cat. “Now you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.”