by Kathy Downey
My caregivers call me Mickey, and I am a feral cat. Say the word “feral,” and a lot of people imagine a rabid, savage feline straight out of a Stephen King novel. What feral really means is to revert to an instinctual, wild state in order to survive. In my case, it simply means that I am homeless. They myth of “wild feral cat” allows humans to conveniently forget that feral were once family pets or are the kittens of abandoned cats that are now just trying to survive.
But I am lucky. Most feral cats must scrounge through garbage-strewn alleys and dumpsters for meager scraps of food. They often starve to death or die from disease or exposure to harsh weather. I belong to a managed feral cat colony. My human caregivers provide me with food twice each day, I have shelter, and I’ve been inoculated against diseases. I’ve also been neutered. And I do not have rabies.
The boatyard of a small coastal community is my domain. I have lived here for over eight years along with Rachel, an ashen-colored Persian and her little friend Jericho, a black and white tuxedo-type. Then there’s Clarence, an orange crosseyed tabby and his gentle tiger-striped companion, Precious. Dainty Patches and shy Cremora also make their home here.
Each morning I wait outside of “Mickey’s Galley,” my feeding station, for breakfast to arrive. As far as I know, I am the only boatyard feral who greets my caregivers with a throaty, extended meowww and who allows my head to be scratched. I’ll even let one or two of them comb my thick gray coat. The other cats remain timid and keep a watchful but grateful eye as their food is delivered. At least two mornings a week we dine on sardines, and on the weekends our evening meal is complemented with a treat of catnip, which I always enjoy. In return for our care, we keep the rodent population under control. The local restaurateurs, whose establishments line the riverfront, are thankful for our contribution. We work quietly and efficiently and out of sight of tourists as unseen feline ambassadors of the boatyard.
I have only vague memories of the human family who abandoned me. But I clearly remember my overwhelming fright and loneliness when they opened the car door, placed me on the ground, and drove away. Whenever a new cat is callously dumped here, I recognize the look of terror and betrayal on its face. Usually, our caregivers are able to rescue the bewildered cat while it still has some remaining trust in humans. After a veterinary visit, the cat will go to a foster home and eventually be adopted by a family who understands the commitment of pet ownership. An even more rare event is for one of our longtime resident ferals to be adopted, but I’ve seen it happen. Most often, the cat has gone to live in the loving home of one of our caregivers.
Given the choice of being homeless or living with one of the few humans who have shown me kindness, I would prefer the latter. The problem is that most of my caregivers already have at least several felines living with them, so my residential status is not likely to change. Having accepted this, I ask only that I be allowed to live in my small area unmolested. I enjoy the same simple things in life as any creature: the sun on my back, a light breeze, a good meal, and the affection of those I trust. I am used to evading the roaming dogs, the skunks who like to share my food, and even the people who drive their automobiles recklessly through the boatyard. I’ve even survived brutal winters thanks to the shelters my caregivers have provided. But now I find that I must also defend my right to live to those humans who profess a concern for animal welfare, and would like to kill me.
These misinformed people believe that by eradicating feral colonies, the “homeless cat problem” will be solved. What they fail to understand is that it is a human problem that must be addressed. As long as there are irresponsible pet owners who fail to spay and neuter their animals and who regard us as disposable objects, there will always be colonies of homeless cats. But there’s never a good or moral reason for abandoning an animal. I know this; I am your abandoned pet.