Once upon a time, I spent much of my life (at least 35 years) living in the city. I never thought about life in rural areas — I knew nothing about it. So my world really got rocked when I moved to a very rural part of Minnesota. People face different challenges in the country. And guess what? So do our cats.
Whether you live in the city or the country, here are some ways you can help rural cats (or all cats, really):
Rural areas often have fewer financial resources than urban ones, but rural cats have the same needs. Is there a low-cost spay/neuter resource near you? Can you help promote it and get the word out? Does TNR exist where you live? These frameworks may be in place, you may just not know about them because they may not be advertised. For example, my rural veterinarian fosters abandoned strays until they can be adopted. Naturally, the animals get spayed, neutered, and vaccinated.
According to Beth Chapman, vet technician and office manager at Vermilion Veterinary Clinic in Cook, MN, country cats are obviously at a great risk for being eaten or injured by wild animals. Bite wounds can get infected, and rabies can be passed on by an infected animal. Rabies and feline leukemia have been on the rise in northern Minnesota lately. Chapman says that rural cats can be helped best by vaccinating them and by supporting local organizations such as Contented Critters, who take in an enormous number of abandoned cats, make great efforts to rehome these animals, and offer low-cost spay/neuter programs.
Yes, animals get dumped everywhere. Yet in rural areas, in wide open spaces with no one watching and no one around for miles, the incidence of this seems much higher. Several animals that we’ve ended up adopting have been strays who wandered onto our property, or animals that were definitely abandoned at our place.
We came home one night after attending a musical event in a nearby town to find a strange dog tied to our small fence. Perhaps someone thought he was ours — who knows? Unable to find his owner — he had no identification — we did end up keeping him and he was a wonderful companion. Kieran, my piano-playing cat, was likely dumped at our house in the dead of winter — we found him huddling up to the south-facing side of the house on a day when it was supposed to get to minus 30 that night.
So, how do we work to put a dent in this very tough problem? If you can home a stray, wonderful. We’ve done this, though we’ve certainly been stretched thin at times. The closest shelter is 37 miles away, and it’s already overrun with cats. Plus, my small town doesn’t pay for animal control (no budget), so if I took an animal to the shelter (which I’ve never done), I’d have to lie about where I live. Maybe you can foster and attempt to rehome a cat if you take one in.
I like to hope that my writing does this, or will do this. Many people I run into in the course of a day are often surprised at the relationship I have with my cats, or the lengths I will go to for my cats. I know I am unusual in the area I live in, and I know I would be less unusual in the city. But perhaps you can open people’s eyes if they’re exposed to different ways of treating animals.
My vet has a framed poster with one of my favorite quotes in his office: “We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals …” by Henry Beston. Even if you prefer not to get so mystical, what can we do to help people understand that an animal’s life is a life — and that life has value?
These grassroots efforts don’t have the budget to buy fancy exposure or advertising, but their efforts matter just as much as some of the much more visible organizations. Consider supporting places such as Paw Town Cats, a rural cat rescue run single-handedly by veteran Quinton Smith.
Quinton points out that people dump cats in the country, assuming that the cats will be well taken care of and will fare better than in a shelter. But it’s not true — many of the cats he takes in are skin and bones. While cats are hunters, Quinton’s shelter is proof that domesticated cats who have never had to rely on hunting for their sole food sources fare poorly when abandoned.
“Close your eyes and walk a mile or two in a forgotten street cat’s paws and think how it would feel not having food and a safe place and someone to love you,” Quinton says. The self-professed “old hippie” says he values all life, human and non-human, and points out that all those extra strays are here because irresponsible people let their cats breed. “We must stop turning our backs on the forgotten cats,” he says. “If you live in the country, put out feeding stations. Build a cat house in your barn. This will help the cats, who in turn will help you by controlling the rats and mice.”
5. People jump in to get things done — be one of them
Living in a rural area, I appreciate that people jump in and things get done, even if no fancy infrastructure exists. They just do it. Things can happen very fast. For example, my local vet has an ongoing food drive at his office, where people donate cat and dog food so that it can be taken to the food shelf for people who cannot afford to feed their animal companions. Vets foster animals until they find a home. People jump in and create fundraisers when people suffer disasters. People create fundraisers for area animal shelters, sponsored by well-known town pets. It happens. It seems unbelievable, but it happens.
See a need, get creative, and jump in. That’s probably how things get done anywhere, and it’s especially true in rural areas without a lot of infrastructure and population.
I’m sure there are many challenges (both for rural and non-rural cats) that I haven’t thought of, haven’t mentioned here, and haven’t answered. Share your thoughts on how life can be improved for rural cats in the comments!
Read more on feral and outdoor cats: