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Happy Tails: Feral Cats
September 22, 2009 - Dorian Gossy
There was no mistaking the big spotted tabby who showed up at my parents’ Southern California home in 1966, when I was seven years old: he was going to be the boss cat in the neighborhood. We named him Tiger because of his dark stripes, and also for his prowess as a hunter. He would catch woodpile rats half as big as he was and leave them for us on the back steps. He was friendly, too, enjoying our petting, particularly when we scratched his forehead and under his chin. But touch his tail and he would quickly swat you with claws out. He easily held his own against many an aggressive dog. We neighborhood kids loved him, fed him, and even featured him in 8mm films of ourselves in high adventure narratives guided by our killer kitty.
As mysteriously as Tiger had appeared, one day he didn’t come home. We had never put a collar on him or taken him for medical care, despite the bloody ear he showed up with following a nasty territorial catfight. It was in the mid-1960s, and our Los Angeles suburb was more orchards than today’s mini-mansions, and dogs and cats and kids ran loose with under the collective watchfulness of the neighborhood eye.
Still, despite what care we did give him, Tiger was essentially a feral cat. The word “feral” comes from Latin roots meaning “wild” and suggesting “fierce,” and is most often used to describe animals that were once domesticated that have been turned loose. Tiger descended from pet felines, but because of neglect, became fierce on his own. We appreciated his dispatch of our rodents, but we had our doubts about the baby birds he killed, some common like the blue jay, others not so common, such as migrating hummingbirds.
There are about 150 million free-ranging house cats in America, according to an article in the September-October 2009 issue of Audubon magazine. Since cats are not a native species in North America, when they are wild they can create an imbalance in the food chain by killing endangered species or animals that feed endangered species. And when they are wild, they fare far less well than indoor cats: feral cats live about 5 years on average, and an indoor cat can live up to 15 years.
It’s in our and our kitties’ best interest to provide them with food and shelter, and keep them away from the hazards they might experience or cause. Reconsider feeding those feral cats the way we did Tiger. What I wish we’d done is take him in, put a collar on him, and kept him away from the dogs that might have killed him.
Most of all, if we’d kept him in, we might have had him around a while longer, and I’d have more of his tales to tell you.
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