My Shelton friend, Ilene, and I make a point of keeping up a steady stream of email flowing back and forth between the two of us. We feel free to vent as well as to share. Recently tales of capturing stray neighborhood cats more and more seemed to fill up Ilene’s correspondence, creating images of her staggering under the weight of heavy, bulky cages in the freezing weather.
I tagged her the cat lady in my emails. I even went so far as to make up short, humorous stories about the cat lady who moved mysteriously throughout the neighborhood in the darkness of night (which Ilene did) to whisk away the local population of stray and feral cats. Where did all the cats go? What mysterious destiny awaited them?
I soon realized that Ilene’s humor had left her when it came to the capture and saving of this recent onslaught of feral cats. I began to listen to her more seriously, and slowly a story emerged.
During our recent freeze, while checking on crumbs left out for the squirrels and birds, Ilene had discovered four feral cats scrapping amongst themselves for the remaining morsels of bread. Later, after investigating a bit in the neighborhood, she discovered seven abandoned cats, including the four she had already spotted, left to freeze in the cold, a colony of lookalike felines living in a neglected patch of overgrown shrubs in the backyard of a deserted home.
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She contacted Feline Friends, a nonprofit organization, and Jo, the director, showed up later with traps. Together with the help of Ilene’s daughter, Cori, they captured three cats that Jo transported to Steamboat Veterinary Hospital for spaying, neutering and shots.
Ultimately these animals ended up in the feral cathouse at Harstine Island. In time Ilene and her granddaughter, Molly, trapped three more cats that were destined as well for the Harstine shelter. Ilene’s cat-trapping venture had now become a family affair.
The seventh cat continued to elude Ilene — a cat she referred to as “the Gray Cat.” Daily he cautiously watched from the bushes as each trap door slammed shut with the jarring regularity of an alarm clock while another cat was carried away.
In time his shrewd intelligence guided him to stretch his neck over the pad that set the trap, escaping unscathed and free with the ripe bait of sardines dangling from either side of his mouth. Ilene and her family dubbed him as awesome and viewed him with a new respect.
Unable to envision the Gray Cat living out his life as part of the feral population at the Harstine shelter, Ilene contacted a friend at Kitten Rescue of Mason County. Normally Kitten Rescue refuses feral cats because of the six-month retraining period before adoption. However, taken in by Ilene’s story, Kitten Rescue agreed to take the abandoned cat once he had been captured, neutered and given shots.
For three nights Ilene left no food in the cages. Hunger made the gray bandit careless, finally bringing the trap door down behind him. Ilene discovered him later that night, soaking wet and shivering inside the cage.
With the help of her daughter, they covered the trap and brought him into Ilene’s heated garage for one peaceful, hunger-free, warm night. Sadly, the poor animal never made it to Kitten Rescue. Once taken to the vet, he was diagnosed with leukemia and was put to sleep.
After getting involved in Ilene’s plight, I have found myself listening to many similar stories of caring people finding ways to give refuge to stray and feral cats. Unfortunately, abandoned cats outnumber the compassionate people.
However, situations like Ilene found herself caught up in can be avoided with conscientious ownership. This includes early spaying and neutering and finding ways to work through issues with your pet rather than giving it up (see jointanimalservices.org), as well as the early reporting of any evidence of a growing number of cats left uncared for and neglected in homes found in far too many of our neighborhoods.
The Thurston County Animal Shelter has a detailed website with suggestions for dealing with lost and abandoned pets.
The following is a list of websites for the nonprofit organizations in this column:
Both Feline Friends and Kitten Rescue are fully staffed by volunteers. Additional options can be found in a web search under either Thurston County or Mason County animal services.
Cathy Smith is a retired public school teacher and a member of The Olympian’s 2014 Board of Contributors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.