I take care of a feral cat I affectionately named Momma Kitty. When she first started coming around, she’d show up in the morning, leave during the day, and come back at night for her food and a comfortable, safe place to sleep.
On one occasion she left for two months, which really concerned me because it deviated from her normal pattern. Then one day, she returned, and for the next eight months she never left the outside of my house. She would go from the garage, where her food and bed was, to the driveway, but not much farther. On most days she would sun herself next to the neighbor’s cypress trees on the other side of my driveway.
Because Momma Kitty was staying so close, she got comfortable with me kneeling beside her daily to talk to her and pet her. She would let me pet her head and neck while she ate, and she was always there to "supervise" me when I cleaned the garage … just to make sure I did it correctly, of course.
One day she got caught out in the rain and sought cover under the trees instead of in my safe and dry garage. Several days later, I noticed that the fur on her back was starting to become matted. The rain and the dirt must have gotten on that area and dried into clumps.
Momma Kitty was always first in line for breakfast and dinner. Every time a new cat showed up for a meal, she was a gracious host and escorted them to the food dishes. Knowing that no one (cats included) likes to dine alone, she would sample some more food and keep them company. Needless to say, the lack of exercise and the constant eating of the always-available food had worked to her disadvantage!
Initially, I tried brushing her while she ate. Though most of the feral cats thought this behavior was bizarre and that the brush was some sort of alien device, Momma Kitty seemed to know that I was trying to help her. Unfortunately, the brush had very little effect on her thick, matted fur. At that point, I knew I needed a professional to groom her. I knew this would make her feel better and stop her skin from crawling.
Now, you may ask, how do you groom a feral cat?
I asked our veterinarian (who cares for our Schnauzer, Dusty) whether his groomer could handle it. I stressed multiple times that I had a feral cat. The vet reassured me time and time again that the groomer could. I thought, "Wow, this would be great!"
My vet suggested that I schedule the appointment with the groomer first thing Friday. He also asked me not to feed her just in case the groomer needed to sedate her.
On Friday morning, I was calm and confident. I had provided Reiki energy healing to Momma Kitty all week to ease her anxiety. I visualized the situation from beginning to end and saw everything going well.
I stood in front of the food dishes and a crate, which I had left open with special food inside. As expected, she showed up for her food. I gave Momma Kitty a few loving caresses and explained to her what was going to happen, what she needed to do, and why this would be a good thing. I then reached behind her and gave her a gentle nudge into the crate and quickly closed the door. At that point, her feral instincts kicked in, and all hell broke loose.
My sweet Momma Kitty hissed at me for the first time and bounced around furiously in the crate. I quickly placed a large towel over the crate to calm her and placed her in my car. I sang and talked to her all the way to the vet. She calmed down, and by the time we arrived she seemed fine. I left her with the vet tech and made plans to pick her up later in the day.
I got in my car, drove home in five minutes, opened the door to my house, and heard the phone ring. It was the vet. He said they took Momma Kitty into the exam room and opened the crate door. She promptly bit the vet tech through her gloves and ran under the table, where she continued to hiss at them.
They asked me to come and get the cat and hold her until they sedated her. I said, "Are you kidding me? She’s a FERAL CAT! What part of feral cat is unclear?" I tried to be empathetic, because I know how challenging it can be to get a feral cat to trust people. But there was no way I was entering that exam room.
We decided it was best to leave her alone to calm down. The vet said he’d then be able to catch her in a humane net and sedate her so that she could be groomed. After a couple of hours — and several phone calls by me to check on her — they finally caught her and sedated her.
Before the grooming, the vet staffers asked if I wanted her checked for FIV and suggested that they give her the annual vaccines she needed so that we wouldn’t have to go through this again for a while. Because she stayed with us full-time now, I thought it was prudent for everything to be checked out and for her vaccines to be up to date. So they proceeded.
They called me at the end of the day and said she was fine, looked beautiful, and was ready to go home. When I arrived, a different vet tech escorted me back to the holding area. As I approached the crate, I noticed she wasn’t inside.
The vet tech said, "Oh, she’s in an observation kennel and the doctor said that I wasn’t allowed to handle her.” She said the vet had left for the day and that I would need to move Momma Kitty from the observation kennel to her crate. I promptly replied, "I know you weren’t here this morning, but she’s a feral cat!" I made it very clear that she needed to call the vet and ask him to come back to put Momma Kitty back in the crate. He arrived, somehow got Momma Kitty back in her crate, and we left.
I placed Momma Kitty in my car and prepared to return home. The bill was nearly $300. Ouch! Now that is one fancy groom job.
After a day of observation to make sure the anesthesia had worn off, I released her from the crate. She immediately ran outside and disappeared. After pouting for a few days, she returned and joined the others in the twice-daily food regimen.
A few weeks have passed and, unfortunately, Momma Kitty doesn’t stay close during the day anymore. But at least she’s beginning to stay overnight in our garage most evenings. She isn’t nearly as affectionate with me, but she does allow me to pet her while she eats. She is healthy, current on all of her vaccines, mat-free, and beautiful. She’s a few pounds of fur lighter — and my wallet is lighter too! But it was definitely the right thing to do.
Got a Cathouse Confessional to share?
We’re looking for purrsonal stories from our readers about life with their cats. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org — we want to hear from you!