The life of a feral animal is harsh. You’re born inside a 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee sitting in a parking lot, baking in the 105 degree California sun. You’re occasionally fed by good samaritans, but it’s irregular. You’ve got fleas covering you all the time. You’re struggling with upper respiratory infections from all the the filth you live in. Eventually you hop out of that Jeep — possibly to escape an invading opossum — to live in a colony of cats, some of them injured, some of them friendly, some of them grumpy, but all of them hungry. Your mom helps you get your bearings, but life is just tough; cars are a constant threat, the parking lot is filled with hazardous heavy machinery that you have to navigate daily, and you know that if you hurt yourself you can forget about medical care. A rotting opossum carcass under a broken bus is a reminder of this reality. So when you see a steel cage with food inside, you ignore that strange plate hooked to some kind of linkage and run right in.
It took me a while to come to the conclusion that trapping a kitten, and thereby taking it away from its mother and ridding it of its freedom to live outside, is a humane thing to do. After all, I’d feel horrible if someone had taken me from my mother and locked me in a house for the rest of my life.
But then, cats and humans aren’t the same. Felines normally ditch their parents early-on in life, and their primary focus is their next meal (and also finding a nice place to take a nap) — something feral cats can’t count on on any given day. What’s more, after the recent tropical storm Hillary, the harsh nature of feral life as a cat became as clear as day, with my friend receiving multiple emails about kitten-drownings. Here’s one:
Furthermore, upon catching this latest kitten — the fourth and final of the litter that was born in my “Holy Grail” manual transmission Jeep Grand Cherokee, and one that I’ve named “Rusty” — it became clearer than ever that adopting a feral kitten is a good thing for everyone involved.
Seriously, look at this poor animal:
It’s truly remarkable how these four kittens’ condition and behavior corresponds to how long they were out in the wild. Jaws, the kitten that never left the Jeep and who we therefore were able to capture early and rather easily, was actually in good shape when we snagged him. Sure, he bit my friend when she first picked him but, but his behavior quickly went from “scared” to “playful,” and now he requires almost no care from us other than the basic feeding/litter box changing you’d expect. He’s healthy, beautiful, and fun — a dream cat.
Mango came next. She walked right into my cat-trap, and has been a sweetheart from day one. She’s never hissed at anyone since the first day we met her; veterinarians compliment her poise; and overall she appeared in decent shape. In reality, though, she actually has a fractured femur, as we found out in an X-ray after noticing a limp that hadn’t gone away for days. (There will be more on Mango in an update next week). She’s never had an issue with potty training [Edit: While writing this I was notified taht she peed in her cat-bed], and has a heart of gold.
Here she is when we first captured her; she looked great!
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Here she is resting in her bed, playing while laying down so as to allow her broken leg to heal:
Next up was Nutmeg (originally named Jay), who was a little spicy on day one and definitely a little filthier than one might like:
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It didn’t help that Jaws welcomed her with a nasty hiss!:
The vet suspected that Nutmeg had a bit of an upper respiratory infection, but she seems better now (see below). What’s more, despite all of her early meowing, she’s now quite well socialized, though I did have to pick her up from the scruff the other day while she was actively spewing diarrhea onto my friend’s white carpet and wood floor. I rushed her to the littler box, painting a nasty brown arc along the floor.
Anyway, it does seem like the later we captured a kitten, the worse shape they were in; the last kitten, whom I’ve named Rusty, is struggling. We snagged him under the cover of darkness on Monday night. First, we fed who we think is the litter’s father:
We then fed “big fluffy” whom you can see in the background of the image below. Then we set out a trap and watched Rusty literally run to the food, and walk right into the cage. It was clear that he was starving:
Rusty looked really bad when we brought him home, and not just because he was frightened. Something seemed off. Still, we gave him a wash:
And we fed him:
And we cleaned out his eyes, which were full of gunk:
We then took him to the vet and — after picking him up against his wishes (he was hissing quite a bit) — the vet said she suspected some kind of upper respiratory issue.
She gave us meds, which we’ve been administering. The wash, the food, and the meds (which include something for his eyes and for the upper respiratory issue) have transformed Rusty. Here he was before:
And here are more recent photos:
Look at you, Rusty! You look amazing!
Sadly, things are still a bit rough for the fourth and final Jeep-Cat, as you’ll see in the video below:
Rusty is having a hard time socializing. He’s cowering in the bathroom trashcan, and hissing at us whenever we walk into the room. He will purr when we pick him up, and he will eat, too. Plus, he’s using the litterbox. But he’s still clearly uncomfortable, and he does seem to still be sick. We just got a call from the vet, who notified us that he tested positive for a disease called feline hemotrophic mycoplasmosis. Here’s what that is, per VCA Hospitals:
Feline hemotropic mycoplasmosis (FHM) is the name of a relatively uncommon infection of cats. In the past, this disease was called feline infectious anemia or hemobartonellosis. With this disease, the cat’s red blood cells are infected by a microscopic bacterial parasite. The subsequent destruction of the infected red blood cells results in anemia, which refers to a reduction in the number of red blood cells or in the quantity of the hemoglobin, which carries oxygen.
What causes FHM?
FHM is caused by a microscopic bacterial parasite that attaches itself to the surface of the cat’s red blood cells. This parasite was reclassified and named Mycoplasma haemofelis (it was previously called Hemobartonella felis). The infected blood cells may break down, or they may be treated as “foreign” by the cat’s immune system and be destroyed. Anemia occurs if enough red blood cells are infected and destroyed.
Between the fleas, the respiratory infections, malnutrition, poor hygiene, Mango’s broken leg, and Rusty’s literal bacterial parasites (!), my four Jeep-Cats have shown me just how hard life is for a cat on the streets. And after reading the post-tropical-storm emails my friend got, after I volunteered the other day and saw how many animals are in the shelter waiting on adoption, and after seeing how expensive a vet bill can be, it’s become clear: This is a flat-out crisis. And I don’t use that term lightly.
To everyone who has supported my friend and me in our quest to help these four Jeep Kittens and the others in this colony: Thank you. Please continue giving to local organizations such as Kitten Rescue. And if you have a lot of acreage and could use some (spayed and neutered) animals to keep the mice out of your barn, let me know: I know some cats living in a parking lot who could get the job done.