It is only a Cat
The saga of a particular post-katrina pride essentially has ended - tragic results; dead and missing little animals; indifference or hostility on the part of neighbors; incompetence and inexperience on the part of the sponsors; sorrow and regrets - but the little animals have earned respect. What they do, they do well; they do it without questioning God, or begging relief from Him; they do it bravely - for the young, like Buster, even foolhardily.
A post-Katrina pride in New Orleans is not a safe haven; it serves as a brief respite from what is basically a feline gulag; it is a place of limited, and temporary, relief from the great suffering and hardships of a feral life. The sponsor of such a pride faces the anxieties that come from caring for small animals, animals that are otherwise lost in an uncaring society. For a time, each evening, the sponsor’s yard has been something of a haven in which the members, and some nonmembers, find companionship, food, and a little peace. These members also assume proprietorship of the food supply; with few exceptions, strangers are not warmly welcomed.
These little animals have personalities, ambitions, affections, and dislikes. Some of the mothers are remarkably attentive to the needs of the members of their litters. Feral cats condescend to humans, but they have our number.
The vet confirmed that Fatty is a male. I originally had thought that Fatty was older than Buster. When they would first meet each afternoon, Fatty would go directly to Buster and, then, bump into him; often, they rubbed noses - these expressions of familiarity suggesed that Fatty was a litter mate to Buster.
Obviously, the name, Fatty, is one of ridicule; I regret my choice. It is unwise to find humor in the straits and plight of these little animals. Instead, find inspiration, affection, and humbleness in the many qualities they display in surviving another day. Having survived another day, they then display humility by rubbing the sponsor’s legs in expressions of thanks for helpings of food, and for the provision of a relative safe, although temporary, haven. Fatty, after a period of getting adjusted to a human interloper, would greet me by rubbing very lightly against my legs.
I believe Fatty was affected by the death and subsequent absence of Buster. Then, after the disappearance of Black Kitty for several days, Fatty had one day in which he could hardly move. He seemed better the next day, and I thought that perhaps a meal of something like a small bird had made him sick. For the next 3 or 4 days, Fatty was rarely seen. When he was present, he would eat and then have spells in which he would run away from, or toward, me, or toward an open door. His eyes were wide (round like those of the dead Buster); his pupils dilated. I thought he was frightened by a dog; although, only once did I find a dog out, but not on a leash. On the next day that we had contact with him, I was not at home when he ate. Peggy fed him and observed an “open sore” on his back. We made arrangements to pick him up with the intention of taking him to a veterinarian, but he did not return that evening. One or the other of us had only occasionally seen him since then. When we did see him, several large scabs projected from his back. My daughter suggested, and I now agree, that he was the victim of an attack by another feral cat, or perhaps a raccoon . Fatty occasionally, and rapidly, would pass by the yard, but would do so in an extremely agitated and frightened manner. He would not stop and eat. Narisse would be standing guard and seemingly would keep him away, but could he have attacked Fatty? Yellow Cat, not being neutered and being the most aggressive, could be easily viewed as a possible culprit. We made efforts to trap Fatty, but he would not come into the yard to take the bait. On several occasions, Peggy had seen Fatty run by the house late at night - he would be crying as he ran by. I looked for him in different spots around the neighborhood but with no luck. After the death of Buster, Fatty, while he was a part of the pride, projected an image of Buster; perhaps, if Buster had been near him, the attack on Fatty would not have taken place. We finally trapped Fatty and had him treated. After a brief stay with someone familiar with cats, Fatty is back home and fairly content in the house.
Narisse had suffered through the period during which the former pride was dominant; he had been denied access to the yard; I had to feed him on the sidewalk, two doors away. Even at this distance, Buster, always, and Fatty and Black Kitty, often, would encroach upon the area; the encroachment would eventually intimidate Narisse; cause him to stop eating, and to eventually move away. Areyja and Narisse are pre-Katrina feral cats. They now have the yard mostly to themselves. Narisse usually is the first arrival in the afternoon. When Areyja arrives, he usually gives her a couple of whacks, as he would before the formation of the pride. The relationship is more like it was before the storm. After the rude greeting, they tolerate one another; they lounge about until Peggy picks up the food and turns off some of the lights at the end of the evening; they then take up guard duty on the front sidewalk; I don’t stay up to see when they relinquish this duty.
Areyja has become the “enforcer” for a 2 animal pride with Narisse as the leader. She seems to be the reason Belle did not stay on the front landing for awhile. Blackie was becoming comfortable on the front landing but she recently attacked him. When I recently interrupted one of Areyja’s acts of stealth, she turned back into the side yard. Narisse then charged into her space and gave her a couple of swats. Narisse as a leader is mind-boggling. Perhaps, Areyja also is responsible for the injury to Fatty. Belle, when she was not spending her late nights across the street, would spend some of her time patrolling in an effort to ward off intruders, particularly Mother Kitty. Occasionally, I have not been able to find and feed Mother Kitty over a period of 4-5 days.
Belle was a pre-Katrina feral cat. She was not accessible to petting when we first met after the storm. She now is accessible, and sometimes I sit beside her. She is old but most resourceful. She never joined the pride, but with my help maintained her station on the landing. For awhile the landing did not suit her. but now, she is more comfortable. She is a marvel. Often, when resting after eating on the landing, Narisse will harass her; perhaps, this continuing harassment drives her away. Once, in the 3+ years after the storm, she was hit by a car while crossing the street. I did not see the accident, but she did not appear for breakfast or the evening meal and that was unusual. The next day, I found her under a car across the street. She walked with me across the street but was crippled - her right rear leg was injured. She spent the night on our landing but was up and about in the morning. At the end of the evening, she was again willing to cross to the other side of the street.
Blackie is no longer denied a place to rest and eat. He even ventures into the side yard, looking for food. He is a most retiring animal. He has been more assertive since the pride has been reduced in number. He apparently has taken over part of the security for the perimeter. I recently observed him threatening Leopard Cat, who was hungry and looking for food; he did this at a distance but it seemed to work with Leopard Cat. Leopard Cat is as timid as Blackie (they shared this attribute with White Kitty).
I still cross the street each evening to feed Mother Kitty and Dorothy. Mother Kitty does not show up every night; on those evenings when she is a no-show, I am left to worry about her. Mother Kitty was pregnant when she first made an appearance after the storm. She would cross the street to eat in the flower bed in the front of the house. When the pride was formed, she was excluded; eventually, with all the harassment, she will not attempt to cross the street. After she delivered her litter, we had a lady trap both her and her litter. A home was found for each of her kittens; she was neutered and put back into the neighborhood. She still will not cross the street to seek food in our yard. She is a brave and resourceful little cat. The neighbors, across the street, made their disapproval of my efforts evident by structuring disapproving glances and hostile vocalizations. I now have to feed her on the “neutral ground.” The cat has been neutered and she promptly goes away after she has eaten.
Dorothy is a mess. She has never crossed the street. She was a house cat that was abandoned before the storm - after a child lost interest in her. She still presents herself in “her” yard - and only in “her”yard - her former home. She is a nervous wreck; she eats a little, runs away, and needs to be coaxed back. This sequence is repeated several times, depending on the number of people passing by, or on the sound of an automobile as it passes by, or the barking of a dog on a neighboring street. Feeding her requires a lot of patience.
T-Grey was an old male; he was not neutered and I suspect he was the father of Buster. The facial structures were similar. He was a handsome, athletic cat. He was not challenged by members of the pride. He lost part of his tail after Katrina, probably, as a result of an infection after a fight. He was respectful and no trouble. We miss him, but a neighbor says that occasionally he presents himself and will eat.
Yellow Cat appears 2 or 3 times a day seeking food. The members of the pride were a challenge to him only in numbers. Buster would lie still and watch him eat. Rarely, when Yellow Cat was walking away Buster would challenge him but only for as long as Yellow Cat would not turn to confront him. Yellow Cat has not been neutered. Like Buster, Yellow Cat is long and lithe, trim and tall; he is deep-chested. He is well-behaved as long as food is available. When I approach him with a bowl of food, he always hisses. Recently, he looks older and is too thin. He doesn’t seem to eat much.
Leopard cat and White Kitty, as a pair, would come often during the time that food was available in the yard at all hours. White Kitty was polite and reserved; she was no trouble. She would eat at the edge of the security perimeter, but I often would have to stand guard to keep members of the pride away. Leopard cat had an insatiable appetite. They were a strange pair; I wondered if White Kitty was the mother of Leopard Cat; they shared features. Blackie shares similar features. White Kitty was old. She disappeared before Christmas of ‘08. Leopard Cat rarely is a visitor after Peggy stopped leaving food out at all hours.
Fuzzy was apparently Leopard Cat’s litter mate. Fuzzy was an attractive cat; one day, he did not appear for the evening meal; he has not been seen since then.
Sparkles was another abandoned house cat; she was abandoned and died before the storm. She, however, was too special to be excluded. She disappeared and, after a week, my daughter had concluded that she was dead. On the evening of the ninth day, the three of us were sitting on the front landing talking about Sparkles. Out of nowhere, a small, crippled, black and white cat hobbled up the steps; it was Sparkles. She had a crushed pelvis, but after several days with the vet she was able to be released. My daughter adopted her as a house cat. She lived with us until complications from the crushed pelvis finished her.
To the earlier list of feline attributes, the following can be added: possessiveness, envy, jealously, fickleness, and revengefulness; the traits are not peculiar to cats; they apply in equal measure to many humans. Buster’s reservations regarding the assignment of cats to the family, feline, can be understood; some of these qualities often have been employed in the characterization of female traits in the human world.
Our gathering of cats formed a community - one that extended beyond the confines of the pride; I was benefitted by being a part of it. I miss the community; individually, I miss each of the departed feral cats. It is a mistake to identify feral cats by assigning a name to each of them; a name personalizes the relationship. Surely, God meant something better for cats than a feral existence.
Commonalities exist between cats and humans. In post-Katrina New Orleans, the commonalities include displacements from places of abode, and disruption of routines. For many of us - cats included - old ties have been forever broken, hopes for the future cruelly altered. To look about our street, the damage from the storm is not in evidence in the physical surroundings. In many ways, the restoration - the repair of physical structures and the occupancy of all the houses on the street - coincide with the disappearance of most of the cats who first appeared on the street after the storm; the pre-Katrina feral cats have a much better record of survival. The community of feral cats - one in which I had the privilege to share with our feral cats - has been greatly altered. It has been decimated; the needs of the surviving feral cats are less demanding; the personalities of the survivors are less engaging. I miss the old community. Recently, during a walk, we saw a starving feral cat trying to eat food left out for cats by a neighbor. This lady’s regular cat ran him away. the image of this cat is disturbing; I cannot tell this cat that food would be available a little ways down the street.
For each of these exposed little animals, the observation, “It is only a cat,” conveys the idea that feral cats are expendable - a replacement should be easy to come by. On the other hand, an observation such as, “It is only a dog,” is excusatory; what can you expect from a dog? The experiences which result from the interactions between humans and feral cats mostly are troubling. Feral cats are highly competitive animals, especially in regard to who is going to control a location in which a steady supply of food is available. Exposed in a hostile environment, a hold on life, for each of them, is tenuous. The death of a few members of a pride may result in a total restructuring of the groups; the ostracized animals may suddenly find themselves in control. This has occurred in our pride; the alterations in control complicated (frustrated?) our attempts to care for Fatty.
Our neighborhood is hostile for feral cats, the attrition rate has been, and - if new cats were to be introduced - would be, high; the aloofness and arrogance of man, not the course of nature, constitutes the greatest threat.
The door to Buster’s room was closed - we have opened it for Fatty.