2014: The Year of the Cats

As 2014 draws to a close, one word comes to mind: cats. This was the year of the cats for us. During the last few months of 2013 we noticed a significant number of community cats hanging around our yard. As the weather grew colder, it became obvious that these cats were looking for food, water, and shelter. These were not cats that had been let outside by their caregivers but, rather, these were cats who had nowhere else to go. This was, to say the least, distressing. We later learned that there were some situations in our neighbourhood (abandonment, hoarding, etc.) that led to the spike in the number of community cats hanging around. At the time, however, we weren’t sure what was happening but began putting out food and building shelters. We started to get to know some of the cats, the ones that came to our house the most frequently.

First there was Ollie and Ernie. We had been feeding them for a while and they started coming regularly, like clockwork each morning at 6am. Ollie, a little tuxedo cat, was friendly almost from the first moment we met her, but Ernie was quite afraid of us. Very early on in January we brought Ollie and Ernie in to the house. Our 14 year old house cat Jenny doesn’t really like other cats, so we weren’t sure how this would go. We put them in the basement to quarantine them (not sure what we were dealing with) — not ideal, but at least they were out of the polar vortex temperatures.

Miss Jenny wasn't so sure about all the other cats who were hanging around in 2014.
Miss Jenny wasn’t so sure about all the other cats who were hanging around in 2014.

The day Ollie came in, it was one of the coldest days of the year and temperatures were around -20 C. I looked out the window and saw her stuck in a snowbank, crying her head off. She had dove from the fence to escape pursuit from one of the unfixed male cats in the neighbourhood and could not get out. By the time I got to her, she was soaking wet and shivering. After Ollie was in the house, her pal Ernie started spending a lot of time near the basement window. I’m convinced they could see each other and it wasn’t long before Ernie was also inside.

Ollie and Ernie have adjusted very well to life indoors.
Ollie and Ernie have adjusted very well to life indoors.

We couldn’t get near Ernie for the longest time, even after she was inside. Yes, we discovered that Ernie was a SHE when we noticed her ever-expanding belly. We managed to get her up and out of the basement and in to a bedroom just hours before she gave birth to four beautiful kittens. We still call her Ernie (the name stuck!), but her full, official name is now Miss Ernestina Maria.

The kittens were born in March, and they were a true delight. It was wonderful watching them grow and explore the world around them. Luckily we found people willing to adopt these kittens, and they are all doing well in their new forever homes now.

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Throughout the spring and summer a big fluffy cat we named Tom started coming around regularly. Poor Tom seemed to always be getting in to scraps and scrapes, and one morning he showed up with a pretty nasty war wound. He had a bump on his head about the size of a small apple and it was swollen and bloody. Of course, he wouldn’t let us get near him. It was that day that we decided we needed to do something for Tom and the others, so we worked with our neighbour, Allyson, to organize a fund-raiser for the community cats of our street. Allyson was also providing food and shelter and comfort to as many cats as she could throughout the cold months of 2014. We decided to hold a yard sale and bake sale in July, an event to raise money to help get some of these cats off the street and in to their forever homes — they all needed spaying/neutering, and many needed medical attention. The event was a great success, not only in terms of the amount of money raised (way beyond our modest expectations), but also in terms of bringing neighbours together to talk about the problem.

Throughout the rest of the year we upped our efforts to get the community cats off the street. The money raised was a big help, but it wasn’t nearly enough to deal with the scope of the problem. We also received generous assistance with the spay/neuter procedures from Niagara Action for Animals. Many kind people also donated cat food to the cause.

All in all, we were able to help 10 cats from our community this year, 3 are still with us and the rest have been adopted out to their forever homes. All of them are doing very well. We also heard through the grapevine that the hoarding situations near us have been “dealt with” — I’m not exactly sure what that means (although I have some guesses). I hope the cats that were removed are ok. I wish we could have helped more of them.

Over the last few weeks we have breathed a sigh of relief each time we look out on freshly fallen snow and see an absence of paw prints. I know that there are hundreds and hundreds more animals in need in Niagara so I’m not resting too easy, but I’m glad that for the moment things are a bit better for the community cats in our neighbourhood. I was also glad that we were able to help these 10 cats and would do it again in a heartbeat, but will also be quite happy if 2015 doesn’t bring quite as many cats to our doorstep. It was an intense year–if we weren’t actively taking care of them, we were talking about them, worrying about them, or raising money to help them.

Porch Cats

The fall term is over, and I’ve had a few days that are miraculously free of meetings and other administrative tasks. Having a stretch of time to focus exclusively on writing and research is so very rare these days – I live for these moments!

I thought I would have some uninterrupted writing time over these few days, but hasn’t really worked out that way. I’m distracted by the plight of a family of homeless/stray/feral cats that have taken up residence on our block. They curl up on our porch and hang out in our garden. As I sit at my desk and work, they look in at me through the windows. We have put out food, water, and shelter for them (a couple of home made shelters lined with straw, and a fancy deluxe electric heated outdoor cathouse that we ordered online), and the plan is to eventually trap them so that they can be spayed/neutered. There seem to be 5 different cats, but only one of them will let us get close. The others take off the second we step outside. Of course, we have named them all.

There is Ollie, a little black & white cat who seems to be under a year old. She is the friendliest of the bunch and is quite vocal about asking for some food.

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Ernie is about the same age as Ollie and I wonder if they are siblings. They pal around together as if they are, and I’ve often seem them playing/play-fighting. Ernie is mostly white but has the cutest orange “hat” and some orange spots on his back. He is quite afraid of us, but is getting better.

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I put some catnip out for Ollie and Ernie the other day and they seemed to really love it!

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The other cats are all quite a bit older and are much more afraid of us. Lady Grantham (yes, I’m a bit of a Downton Abbey fan!) is black and white and has the same kind of “hat” that Ernie has. I’ve seen Ollie and Lady Grantham greet one another in a way that makes me think they are mother-daughter. Sadly, it looks like Lady Grantham has an expanding belly, and I fear another litter may soon be on its way. Tom is a fluffy orange and white cat who hangs around with Lady Grantham (there isn’t exactly Downton Abbey storyline consistency with this naming project!), and Oscar is a very sad-looking black cat. I don’t think Oscar is part of the same family unit as the other 4. He has the saddest eyes and hangs around by himself all the time. He seems as though he may have once upon a time lived with a family and has now ended up on the street whereas the others seem like they have been outside most/all of their lives.

I wish I knew their stories and where they came from. They are absolutely breaking my heart. I wake up in the night thinking of them, hoping they have found a warm place to curl up. I keep an eye out for them and worry when I don’t see them. I’ve been reading all I can to learn about how best to help these cats. I know there are other neighbours on this street who are also looking out for these cats. I wish this kind of situation wasn’t so common.
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Blackfish

Blackfish opens today. This promises to be a powerful and important film dealing with whales in captivity. Films like this have an important role to play in shattering the myth that marine animal theme parks are in any way appropriate. People often defend the “educational value” of places like Sea World or Marineland. Want to be educated? Watch the horrifying and heart-breaking footage of these animals being rounded up and taken out of their natural habitats and separated from their families.

One of the best parts of our recent trip to California was that we saw so many marine animals in the “wild.”  One evening we walked down to the beach in Carmel to watch the sunset and noticed 6 dolphins swimming very close to shore. They swam back and forth along the beach, occasionally “jumping” out of the water. It was probably the most amazing thing I’ve ever witnessed. I didn’t get great photos of this moment, but it will forever be etched in my mind. Seeing these incredible creatures in this setting made me more convinced than ever that marine animal theme parks need to be shut down. How anyone could think that it is ok to confine these creatures in a cement tank is simply beyond me.

dolphins at Carmel

I recognize that not everyone is able to travel to places like Carmel to watch the dolphins, but I simply can not agree that a marine animal theme park is an appropriate substitution. Captivity kills. There is no justifiable excuse for confining creatures in a tank or a cage simply for the convenience of humans. It is possible to appreciate, learn about, and respect animals without having the chance to witness them firsthand. I’ve not yet had the opportunity to travel to Africa, yet I think giraffes are magnificent creatures! If you are so convinced that viewing marine animals up close is necessary, I urge you to take the money you would have spent at Sea World or Marineland (these are not cheap tickets!) and put it in a savings account for a trip to a coastal location like the Monterey Penninsula. It will be well worth the wait!