|Feral Cat, December 2011|
We've been hosts to a feral cat colony since we took over this place -- they were here well before we moved in -- and except for the Church Lady down the street, pretty much everybody around here is fine with the cats. We feed them and so do a number of neighbors. They keep the rodent population in check, but I've been concerned about the birds, as they tend to take some of them, and not necessarily the ones we would rather not have nesting in our eaves. (A story: last spring, a nest of sparrows in our eaves by the side door lost a chick that fell out one morning; a feral espied the event and took the chick within seconds, carrying it away in triumph to consume at leisure with its friends and relations. This was not by any means the first time this has happened. The grackles come by now and then to assess the cat situation from on high; we've had cats stalking birds in the trees at night -- how rude -- but at other times, they pay no attention.)
The feral population was more or less stable at 7-10 for years, but then all of a sudden, it exploded to almost 30, and then fell back to 20 where it is now. There was one breeding female who we call Queen, but her litters tended to be small, and there was usually only one or two survivors until recently. Since last year, however, there have been two or possibly three breeding females, and that has meant more CATS!
Time to do something to control the population. We've decided to take them all into town to have their health checked out and to be neutered. It's going to be quite a task. We've arranged to pick up traps and set them out and take as many cats as we can trap into town today for treatment tomorrow morning; then hopefully we'll be able to deal with the rest of them within the next couple of days, so as to get them all done this week.
Of course, we'll keep the colony together and return them to this location as it is their home place, and as I say, everyone around here except Church Lady is just as happy they're here.
I shouldn't be quite so sanguine. Actually quite a lot of people who used to live in this area are gone and there are empty places all around. Eric and Karen, our neighbors on one side, have been gone for over a year, and no one is quite sure what happened to them. [UPDATE: Word has come along with the Men In Suits. Eric and Karen have officially "disappeared," it seems. Their house is in foreclosure. The Men In Suits were there to supervise changing the locks. The city came by to drain the pipes and turn off the water. As Eric is a former mortgage broker and the house was (so far as we knew) paid off, it's probably fair to suspect they refinanced at some point, pulling out whatever they could, and then did a strategic default.] They left one of their cars and a truck, so it was assumed they'd be back, but they haven't been. The Valencias, our neighbors on the other side, are gone. Their house has been vacant for almost a year after it failed to sell; they decided they couldn't keep two houses anymore, as they had a place in Albuquerque too. Once their daughter finished school here and was planning on going to UNM, they said there was no point in continuing to pay for two houses. My sense is they did a strategic default when their place here didn't sell, but I'm not sure as we weren't here when they finally left. The property is being kept up by someone. The only thing we've heard from the people who have been over there is that they were sent by "the real estate company" to do this or that bit of maintenance, and they think the house will go back on the market soon. But it doesn't. Then we were shocked to find that Gauchy's place on the corner was vacant when we finally moved in for good in October. We had no idea. Apparently she was foreclosed, though we haven't heard the whole story. The Chaney place across from hers is also vacant and on the market. That was a surprise, too. It's been in the same family for many years, and I have no idea what caused them to sell and up and leave. Then there are the vacant places on the next street over, one of which happened just a couple of weeks ago. I think there are four vacancies altogether on that street. And so it goes.
There just aren't that many people living out here anymore.
Some days, we think there are more cats than people!
[UPDATE: We got twelve cats into the clinic. We still have eight to go; they include the four females that have been breeding so extravagantly. We are convinced they know all about these trap thingies and will not be easy to lure... A neighbor came by while the traps were being set: "'Sup?" "We're trapping the cats to get them checked out, vaccinated, and neutered." "Oh. Well you could get rid of them, you know. They make my dogs crazy." "Oh really? Didn't know that. They don't go down by your place as far as we know." "Oh yeah, they're down there all the time, make my dogs bark their heads off." "These cats have territories, and they stick pretty close; there are other cats around that aren't part of this colony, though. And I see and hear your dogs barking any time anyone walks down the street. They go crazy if they see someone in the street. Seems like they like to bark." "Well, those cats..." "Yeah, they're really something. The number of them will start diminishing pretty quick, and they won't be able to breed anymore. That's going to make a big difference." "I sure hope so..." Well... yes.
Oh. While we were rounding up cats, a large flock of sandhill cranes came trilling and honking up from the south -- there must have been 50 or 60 of them -- and swooped down low to circle and wheel over our house for it seemed like 20 minutes or more. There are open fields all around, and one, about a quarter mile away, has recently been cleared of corn stubble. I'm told the birds seek out recently plowed fields for forage. Eventually, they headed off north and west, away from the recently cleared fields. But it was quite something to have them so close above us...;-)]
UPDATE TO THE UPDATE (12/12/12): We got eight more cats to the clinic yesterday... and there were still six more, including two of the main breeding females, that refused to be trapped. We didn't have any more traps anyway. But this large a miscount of the colony was surprising. We'd been tracking 20 cats for weeks. All of a sudden there were 26. We think some of the additional ones have come from elsewhere. When we talked about it at the clinic, it was explained that cat colonies usually top out at about 20-25, and that additional cats coming around are from other colonies or households. They are looking for females in heat. Oh. That. Sure. Should we trap all of them? YES! Even if they're from somewhere else? YES! Trap them all, bring them in, get them fixed, and they will be much better "citizens." What should we do about these breeding females who refuse to be trapped? Be patient, try to make the traps less obvious (covering them and padding the floor with newspaper or cardboard), if nothing else works, get a larger trap and let cats wander in and out to eat, then, when the female we want is in there, spring the trap with a string. Ho ho. We pick up the first twelve today to return them to their territory... Should be interesting.