“Help! I Found Kittens in my Backyard!” – How You Can Help

 

 

Oreo and Trouble - November 2017
Two of my TNR’ed Yard Cats, Oreo (right) and Trouble (left) – November 2017
Introduction

Me, along with many other feral cat caregivers, cat enthusiasts, rescues, and shelters, get messages all day, every day that sound just like the title of this post.

I’m a caregiver to my backyard feral cat colony and a cat blogger/advocate.

I am not a rescue, a TNR group, a shelter, or God. I try to help as many people as I can but because of all of the other hats I wear, I cannot guide each and every person through the process of TNR and I certainly cannot go out there and do all of the legwork for somebody else.

Unless I don’t want to sleep!

Which is why I decided to do a comprehensive guide to Trap-Neuter-Return.

What is Trap Neuter Return (TNR)?

Trap Neuter Return (TNR) is a humane method of controlling the feral cat population and minimizing community exposure to rabies. It also helps your area shelters and rescues, because the fewer number of kittens that are coming in off the streets, the more shelter cats are finding good forever homes.

At least in my neck of the woods, my county has taken an official “pro-TNR” stance and my state (New Jersey) is on its way, because it has been proven to be a MUCH more effective method of reducing the feral cat population than antiquated “trap and kill” programs. Not only that, but our area shelters are starting to report higher “live release rates” since my county took this official stance in 2017. And it’s cheaper on local and county government since TNR is often funded by grants and/or caregivers and volunteers.

Like I always say, these cats did not ask to be dumped off. They didn’t ask to be born, much less on the streets and homeless. They have a right to live, as well.

And until the government can find a way to pass and enforce laws requiring pet owners to spay and neuter their pets and stop dumping unwanted kittens off in the woods, etc, this is as close to a viable and humane solution we will get.

Charlie April 2018
Charlie, deep in thought – April 2018
Decide the Cats’ Fate

Only YOU can decide if you want the commitment of caring for feral cats.

Because I was originally feeding the feral Tom cats who knocked Fluffy up and I failed to neuter them, I felt it was MY responsibility to make this “right”.

The Kits didn’t ask to be born to feral parents.

I want to mention that it’s a little-known fact that most shelters euthanize feral cats because they are “unadoptable” since they are not socialized to humans. And they need to make room for “adoptable” cats.

Sad, but true.

There are some shelters out there who are developing Barn Cat programs, but they are few and far between at this point in time (2018).

Please really consider their welfare when making your decision.

And know that the “vacuum effect” phenomenon is very real. When feral cats are removed from a location for whatever reason, if conditions are favorable (ie shelter, a food source, water), new feral cats CAN and WILL move in once the current cats are removed since there is nobody there to defend their “territory”.

It happened here when I rescued the Kits. It happened again when I adopted my former feral Junior to my aunt. And again when I rescued Fluffy and Oreo.

Teddy Ruxpin trapping day-May 2018
Teddy Ruxpin the morning I trapped him – May 2018

As soon as one leaves for whatever reason, another shows up. Every. Single. Time.

Kittens are ALWAYS Better Off with Mama!

I see people so anxious to TNR the mama cats that they make decisions in haste, which are not always in the best interest in the kittens’ survival.

Recently, a friend got a call about a feral mama and her kittens. She’s determined to TNR every female she can. She went out there to trap mama and removed her from the area immediately and figured she would go back the next week for the kittens.

She did this without knowing if the kittens were even weaned and old enough to survive on their own.

As far as I know, the kittens were never seen again.

What would I do differently?

I would ask the person who found the kittens if they knew if the kittens were eating solid food on their own yet. Most people cannot tell a feral kitten’s age just by looking at the kitten, so I ask, but I take their guestimate with a grain of salt unless they are REALLY experienced.

If in doubt, use mama to trap the kittens. If the kittens are weaned, mama still needs to be fixed! And, of course, the kittens need to be fixed when they are old enough, regardless if you decide to adopt them out or TNR them and let them live as outdoor feral cats.

This video by Kitten Lady shows her using a feral mama’s kittens to catch mama. BE CAREFUL taking kittens away from mama! As you see in this video, Hannah is VERY lucky she didn’t get her face ripped off by the feral mama.

Like Kitten Lady mentions in her video, kittens are ALWAYS better off with their mama! Mama can raise them better than even the most seasoned fosters and rescues, which is why The Kits ALL came inside with clean bills of health besides having round worm.

Fluffy napping with her 3 month old kittens - August 2015
Fluffy (center), napping with Spunky (left) and Rascal (right) – August 2015. The Kits were 3 months old.

Since my backyard is relatively safe, Fluffy had The Kits tucked safely away, and had help from Charlie and then Oreo, I opted to leave them with Fluffy until I figured out what to do with them. I already understood that Fluffy knew a whole lot more about raising kittens than I did!

Orphaned Kittens

Have you seen kittens and not mama? Do the kittens look clean and cared for? If so, they are likely under mama’s care but you just don’t see mama yet. Mama could be out looking for food. Or napping elsewhere. When Fluffy had her kittens tucked safely under the barn next door, she used to come over to my picnic table in the backyard to nap. She also left The Kits under the barn while she came over to eat in my shed until they were roughly 4 weeks old. Then they started coming over with her.

That’s how I knew she was weaning them off. They started to eat solid food over here and Fluffy’s food intake slowed down.

If the kittens look well cared for, wait for a while to see if mama shows up. She will usually show up after a few hours to feed and care for them. If mama doesn’t show up after a few hours, assume they are orphaned. They need intervention immediately!

This Infographic from Alley Cat Allies explains what your next steps should be.

Orphaned kittens are better left in the hands of experienced fosters or caregivers. However, if it’s a Saturday night and you can’t get them to a shelter or rescue IMMEDIATELY, Kitten Lady has some great tutorials and information on how to care for orphaned kittens!

A Note on Socializing Feral Cats

I plan on doing an entire blog post just on this subject, but here’s a quick thought.

If the location where you found the cats is “feral cat friendly” and somewhat safe and the cat is TRULY feral (ie: runs from you, hisses and spits when corners with its ears flattened, etc) it’s best to return them where you trapped them. But, please, if you do, make sure you feed it at least once per day, provide it clean, fresh water, and shelter, if at all possible.

Kittens under eight weeks of age are much easier to socialize than adult feral cats or older kittens. The Kits were 16 weeks old when I rescued them, but bear in mind they knew me since before they were born. If you’re committed to helping them socialize so you can adopt them out or even keep them as your own cats, here is a great article by Alley Cat Allies to help get you started.

Patchy and Spunky the day after they were rescued
Patchy (calico) and Spunky (tabby) – the morning after they were trapped and I announced to them that they were now indoor cats and not going back outside. September 29, 2015

Another option is to find a no-kill shelter or cat rescue in your area who has fosters experienced with socializing feral kittens. If you decide to go this route, PLEASE do your homework to make sure they are a “no kill” facility before surrendering the kittens.

Feel free to Contact Us if you need any tips, as well!

Anybody Can Do Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)

This is what one of my Facebook friends commented when someone was asking me to take care of a feral cat problem in their back yard.

“Anybody can be a trapper!”

Everything I’m sharing with you I learned myself only three years ago when Charlie brought a pregnant Fluffy here to enjoy all the amenities the Penny & The Kits Estates had to offer!

I couldn’t find a rescue to take The Kits.

My neighbors were going to take them to the shelter, thinking they were helping them. We were contracted with a high-kill shelter at that time and none of these cats would make it out alive.

I could NOT allow that to happen to these babies.

Since I had no clue what I was doing, I LEARNED! A local friend who TNR’ed a few cats gave me a some tips and lent me a trap. I learned everything else from the internet and then got moving!

Is Your Area “Safe” for Community Cats?

First, you want to find out if you’re even allowed to feed feral cats on your property. It really all depends on where you are located and how enlightened your state/county/town are.

I also STRONGLY SUGGEST building a rapport with your neighbors to let them know what you are doing and why. It’s been my experience that open lines of communication with neighbors and a good rapport with them helps the CATS…and that is our goal.

Feral cats tend to wander A LOT LESS once they are fixed. However, you do have the really, truly feral cats who just will NOT hang out close to your property no matter how hard you try to befriend them. Those are the cats who only come to eat at night, spend the majority of their time elsewhere, and RUN whenever they see you or another human.

Tiggy, August 2018
Tiggy, my one TRUE feral who is finally letting me get close and make eye contact with her! August, 2018

Explain to your neighbors that you have feral cats you are caring for and that you want to neuter them so the population doesn’t get out of hand. Tell them the cats will be vaccinated for rabies (and distemper depending on what you have available locally). Let them know that having feral cats around will reduce mouse, rat, and ground mole populations. (Unless they are MY feral cats and Gus the Ground Mole is living in your yard. If you follow our Facebook page, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, why not? Go follow us!!)

Having this talk with your neighbors will reduce the chances that they will complain about the cats in the future. Keeping a good rapport and a respectful relationship with them is one of the best things you can do for the fate of your feral cat colony.

The Next Steps

You want to get the cat(s) on a feeding schedule because that will make it MUCH easier to trap them. Same time, same place, EVERY day. Pick an area that is sheltered from the elements and an area that you can fit a humane trap when the time comes to trap.

At this point you want to look into getting a humane trap. You can contact local shelters or rescues, or even friends you have that you know care for feral cats or rescue cats and see if you can borrow a trap. Many shelters offer them on loan with a refundable deposit once you return the trap to them.

If you have more than one or two feral cats you want to TNR, you may want to look into purchasing one. Here are a couple I recommend. I personally have a Havahart at the moment but want to upgrade to the Tru Catch because I feel it is a little safer.

Havahart Humane Feral Cat Trap

Tru Catch with Rear Door

Trap Divider for Tru Catch humane trap

They also sell Havahart traps at Home Depot.

The Clinic Appointment

Next, find a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in your area. You can Google “low cost spay and neuter for cats” and your zip code to find programs and clinics in your area.

If you’re in the South Jersey/Philly area, Animal Welfare Association – Voorhees, NJ has a low cost “feral fix it” program. For $35, you can get the cat spayed or neutered, vaccinated for rabies, and ear tipped. Ear tipping is a universal sign that a feral cat has been fixed and vaccinated for rabies. For $10 more, they will also administer a distemper vaccine.

Other programs in South Jersey/Philly area include CSTAR – Spay our Strays clinic and Camden County Animal Shelter in Blackwood, NJ.

You want to look into getting appointments FIRST because availability for these appointments can be tough, especially during “kitten season”. I know with AWA, it sometimes takes a few days to get a callback. I usually reserve week-long “blocks” of appointments because I don’t always catch my target cat in the first attempt and neither will you. Especially the shyer cats. CSTAR-SOS Clinic only operates spay/neuter clinics monthly.

If all else fails, ask your vet or other vet offices in your area if they offer any low cost fixing options for feral cats. Often, they will set you up with a similar deal.

You want to plan ahead because once you trap a feral cat, it’s VERY difficult and may be IMPOSSIBLE to re-trap them so make sure you have an appointment for them on or around trapping day. If you trap the cat and release them without getting them fixed, good luck trying to trap that cat a second time!

Trap Training and Trapping

I cover this pretty well in a video I filmed in 2016. Please pardon the hair. And if you have the mindset of “this is a comedy” before viewing the video, you’ll appreciate our horrible videography skills. Or at least they won’t get on your nerves as much.

How to Train and Trap a Feral Cat for TNR

I cannot stress this enough…PLEASE DO NOT EVER LEAVE A SET TRAP OR A TRAPPED CAT UNATTENDED. As SOON as you trap the cat, cover it and get it to a SECURE location that is not too hot or too cold and is safe from predators, other pets, or anybody who will do it harm.

It is also VERY important to COVER the trap as soon as Kitty is trapped. Feral cats calm WAY down after being covered. If you have a kitty chatting it up and still trying to get out once the trap is covered, chances are, it’s not really feral. The more “social” cats act more like your pet cat going to the vet…you know, clawing at the door and singing the song of their people!

If you have to hold them overnight or for any length of time before their appointment, you can line puppy potty training pads underneath the trap to catch their “business”. If their appointment day is the same as trapping day, DO NOT FEED them any more food than what you used to trap them and only give water if their appointment is longer than eight hours after the time you trapped them.

Kitty will be getting anesthesia, so the risk of aspirating fluid or throwing up undigested food, both of which can kill Kitty while they are under, is very real.

Kitty’s Spay/Neuter Appointment

Every place is different so I’ll just share my experience with AWA to give you a general idea.

Check in time is 7:30am for the clinic I use. They will NOT accept any cats after about 8am, so if I don’t get there in time, I’ll have to hold that poor cat until the next day…IF I have an appointment. So I do everything in my power to get Kitty there on time.

Once I sign in, I have to fill out a paper for Kitty. At AWA, the only way to get “feral” pricing is if Kitty shows up in a trap and Kitty gets an ear tip during her surgery.

Some people get hung up on that ear tip, hoping maybe they can adopt Kitty out if it’s not so “feral”. They often fight with the AWA workers about allowing them to tip the ear, thinking they will not be able to adopt Kitty out at a future time if it’s ear tipped. Here’s my thoughts on this…I have three ear-tipped beauties as indoor-only cats right now. And I adopted out two of my former feral ear-tipped cats. An ear tip did not stop their new parents from adopting them and loving them wholeheartedly. And if someone doesn’t want a cat just because of a little ear tip, do you really want them to adopt Kitty, anyway?

Fluffy, in all her ear-tipped splendor before I rescued her. January 2018

Back to clinic. When it’s our turn, they take Kitty and keep the trap. They will put Kitty back into the trap after surgery before she wakes up. **(In the recovery section, I’ll talk about instances when you may want to bring a carrier for Kitty’s trip home.)

After Surgery

Pickup time at AWA varies but it’s usually about 3:30. Before I leave with Kitty, I always check to make sure Kitty is awake and alert. I check for excessive bleeding and I make sure they are ear tipped. I double check the paper work they hand me to make sure I have their rabies certificate for my records. AND I make sure they give me back the RIGHT kitty! Yes. They have accidentally switched kitties and the caretakers didn’t realize it until after they left!

Chatty on his way home from surgery September 2015
Chatty (now Cosmo) after I picked him up from his neuter surgery – September, 2015

Again, NEVER LEAVE KITTY UNATTENDED IN A TRAP. And NEVER leave Kitty in a hot car. When I pick up Kitty from AWA, I head straight home. Especially if it is too hot or too cold outside. Often, Kitty is just starting to come out of anesthesia at pick-up time and this is a very vulnerable time for them. When a cat is coming out of anesthesia, they cannot regulate their own body temperature, so make sure the temp inside your car and their recovery area is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You want to try and control the temperature the entire first night of recovery while they are clearing the anesthesia.

And PLEASE, never attempt to transfer them out of the trap into a carrier or a cage unless you are indoors in a secure location. I hear TOO many stories of people who transferred Kitty into a carrier from a trap outside or at the clinic. Kitty got out and took off. When that happens, there is a disoriented kitty who is still under some degree of sedation and may not be able to defend itself. And a feral cat will DIE trying to find their way back to where they know to be “home”. Wait until you’re in Kitty’s recovery room before trying to transfer him to his recovery cage or pen.

Also, Kitty may still be very groggy and it’s tempting to try and pet Kitty, but unless you knew her to be friendly BEFORE trapping, do not touch Kitty. Feral cats are scared to death of humans and will attack when they feel threatened. Even while drugged up to their eyeballs. An untreated cat bite can lead to a severe infection that may even require IV antibiotics, a tetanus shot, the rabies series, and hospitalization. Please be smart and don’t take that chance.

The Recovery Period

Opinions vary on how long you should hold Kitty after surgery. And, of course, every cat and every situation is different. Here is a general guideline from Alley Cat Allies.

I’ve only TNR’ed one female (Fluffy). She was pregnant, and, unbeknownst to me until after the fact, was pretty far along in her pregnancy. She had complications that led to internal bleeding requiring a second surgery, and she was mildly anemic as a result. We ended up holding her a total of six days and five nights, which is twice as long as I would normally hold a female who is an “uncomplicated spay”.

Other than that, I’ve had all boys. And I have severe space constraints in my house, especially now that I have Fluffy and The Kits inside. I have a small bathroom that has just enough room for the trap I caught them in. Since they were boys and their neuter is MUCH less invasive than a female spay, I let them recover in the trap overnight and if all looks well the next morning, I release them. Basically, I make sure they are eating well, not bleeding anywhere, and they are alert. It’s great if they are acting hostile. Since they are feral, they SHOULD BE once the anesthesia wears off!

Setting Up the Recovery Area

Trooper recovering from surgery, June 2018
Trooper in his feral cat den in his recovery cage – June, 2018. Trooper had an extended recovery because he also had his tail amputated after a nasty tail injury almost cost him his life!

ONE IMPORTANT NOTE! I said this before but it’s THAT IMPORTANT that I will say it again… when you pick the cat up from surgery, they cannot regulate their own body temperature because they are still under the influence of anesthesia. It’s CRUCIAL that you recover them in a climate-controlled area where the temperature is between 68-74 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid the risk of hyper- or hypothermia.

CHOOSE A SECURE LOCATION INDOORS! This one I absolutely cannot stress ENOUGH. Since Kitty often smells like blood, you don’t want them to recover in a cage or a trap outside or even in a barn/shed or other non-secure outbuilding. The smell of blood can attract predators from MILES and Kitty will have no way of getting free when confined to a trap or a cage. Also, since they are groggy from anesthesia and/or pain medicine, they are not as sharp. Their defenses aren’t as sharp. I have heard nightmare stories of recovering cats in cages inside barns or sheds who were attacked and/or killed by predators during the recovery period. PLEASE TAKE THIS ADVICE SERIOUSLY! 

Setting Up for an Overnight Stay

To set up the trap in the recovery area for MALE cats, I flatten a large box (usually from Chewy.com) in the shower stall and line it with a thick lining of puppy training pads. I learned this little trick with Charlie. If you place the trap OVER the pads instead of putting the pads or newspaper inside the trap, it’s easier to lift up the trap to removed any soiled pads and “business” and put fresh pads down so they don’t have to sit on their “business”. I recovered at least ten cats this way and they seemed much more comfortable using this method!

If you do not have a trap divider, you can slowly open the front of the trap an inch or so to slip food in. I use small Dixie bowls for this purpose. If you stick the bowl in first, you can push it with your finger behind the bowl so Kitty won’t see your hand going toward him. If he attacks, he will attack the bowl. You can also use tongs to push the bowl in.

I usually feed wet food only and I add extra water to the food. I put the wet food in the center and do a “moat” of water outside of the food. That’s enough to keep them well hydrated during their overnight stay, and then you won’t have to worry about Kitty spilling the water all over his recovery area. Live and learn!

I also cover the trap halfway or three-quarters of the way. That gives them an area to feel covered and secure, yet allows air flow into the recovery area.

Setting up for an Extended Stay

I personally prefer to recover female cats for a minimum of two nights/three days. If Kitty was pregnant, you may want to hold her longer. A sick or injured kitty will have a longer recovery time. Ask the clinic or vet for their recommendation. We recently TNR’ed a male cat with an injured tail. Since the vet amputated his tail, we held him for two weeks before releasing. Every cat and situation is different!

If you need to hold Kitty longer than overnight, set up a dog cage or large plastic dog kennel. You want enough room for a “feral cat den”, a small litter box, and room for food and water bowls opposite the litter box because most cats will not eat where they do their “business”.

A feral cat den is a cat carrier that creates a little place where kitty can hide in and sleep if they so choose. Likely, Kitty will hide in there when you go in to clean the cage and feed, etc. Actually, I count on that because if Kitty hides in the den, you can use a long stick to close the door of the carrier. Once you have the door closed, hold the stick up against it to keep it closed while you reach in and secure the door by hand. Once Kitty is secure in the carrier, you can pluck the carrier out of the cage to clean it. It’s so much quicker, easier, and safer to clean the cage this way!

**This is a situation when you may want to bring a carrier to the clinic when you drop Kitty off for surgery. When Kitty’s surgery is complete, they will put Kitty into the carrier instead of the trap. When you get to the Recovery Area, you can just place the carrier that’s holding Kitty into the cage. Unlock the carrier door just before you secure the larger cage but DO NOT OPEN IT YET. Once you securely lock the cage, you can open the carrier door with a stick or broom handle and secure the carrier door to the side of the cage in the “open” position using zip ties.

If you’re recovering kittens, use a large plastic dog kennel instead of a dog cage because kittens can easily slip through the bars or slip out of the bottom of a large dog cage.

 

Feral Cat recovery cage
Example of a feral cat recovery page.

You can purchase inexpensive zip ties from Lowe’s, Home Depot, or Amazon. If you use plastic dishes and a litter box, cut a small hole into the side of the bowls and the litter box, just enough to slip the zip tie through. Then you can secure them to the side of the cage. Securing them ensures Kitty won’t spill anything. You can also use zip ties to secure the “feral cat den” door to the side of the cage so the door doesn’t accidentally shut. (I learned this one the hard way with some kittens I recovered.)

Feral cat recovery cage #2
Another example of a feral cat recovery cage. We zip-tied everything to the cage bars.

It’s wise to check on Kitty twice per day as well as twice daily feedings. Sometimes, true ferals will not use a litter box. It’s always good to line the bottom of the cage with newspaper. Just do the best you can to clean up the cage while remaining safe.

Fluffy didn’t go into the feral cat den when I went to visit her. I took some chances cleaning Fluffy’s cage that I probably shouldn’t have. It helped that she knew me and reacted with a friendly squeak whenever she saw me. Therefore, I felt safe taking those chances with her. Know Thy Cat.

Again, cover the trap halfway or three-quarters of the way. That gives them an area to feel covered and secure, yet allows air flow into the recovery area.

The “Return”

Or like I call it, their “Freedom Run”!

This is bittersweet. If they are truly feral, they are happier outside where they consider “home”. I’m happy for them because I know their ordeal is over and I’m about to make their day by releasing them. But it’s sad because just for a short while, they were SAFE and in my care. But, if they are TRULY feral, trust me, you’re doing the right thing by releasing. More on that to come in another blog post.

Like I said above, I only release if Kitty is awake, alert, eating well, and not bleeding. If in doubt, the clinic where Kitty had their surgery should have an emergency line for post-surgical questions and problems. Please contact the clinic or vet if Kitty isn’t looking well at ANY time during the recovery process.

I ALWAYS feed a couple of hours before releasing, especially since they don’t always come back right away.

You want to make sure you release Kitty at the same location you trapped him! Kitty can become disoriented if you release him anywhere else. He will likely become lost trying to find his way home. Feral cats can and will die trying to find their way “home”. More on that here.

Be sure to cover the trap or carrier before taking Kitty to the release spot. She will be nervous because she doesn’t understand what is going to happen to her next.

Once you get Kitty to the release spot, pull back the cover just a bit and see how they react. If they start thrashing around, cover the trap back up. If they are calm, you can pull the cover halfway back so they can see their surroundings.

THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. DO NOT JUST RELEASE RIGHT AWAY. Please give Kitty some time to re-acclimate himself to his whereabouts. Especially if he had an extended recovery. You can see with some cats the exact point they realize where they are. If you watch Kitty, you may see his demeanor change from fear to excitement. He knows he’s “home”. When you see that change in them, it’s okay to release. It can take anywhere from 5 – 20 minutes.

I always make sure my other ferals aren’t around when I release. As you see, they often shoot off like a cat out of Hell. Make sure the area is quiet with no loud machinery, construction or people around, if you can help it.

Awaiting Their Return

This is the absolute hardest part. More often than not, they don’t return to the scene of the crime right away. My cats have taken anywhere from one hour (Trouble) to eight days (Fluffy) to return.

I always make sure the trap is NOWHERE near the “scene of the crime” after release. If I am trapping other cats at the same site, I try to set the traps in a different area. The last thing I want is to scare Kitty when he returns.

They ALWAYS return. I’ve TNR’ed around 30 cats, and eventually they all came back. This was my BIGGEST fear and what stopped me from starting TNR sooner. Charlie and Oreo were coming around for a year before I TNR’ed them because of that fear.

I didn’t act until AFTER I saw kittens. That kinda defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?

You’re Not in “This” Alone!

This is by no means a complete guide. I wanted to go as in detail as possible (for a blog post) to help those who are brand new to TNR. The whole process intimidated me because I didn’t know a lot of the “small details” involved.

Community Cats United website provides great information and resources for those just starting out. Their sister Facebook page, Trap-Neuter-Return Community, is full of experienced lay people who will also help you out! This is an awesome community to join to really learn the ins and outs and tricks from feral cat caregivers!

Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or need guidance for your particular situation.

Follow our Facebook page for tips and tricks on feral cat care. You can also meet our cats and see the daily ‘goings on’ around here! And don’t hesitate to shoot us a direct message on FB!

If you’re not on Facebook, join us on Instagram. 

THANK YOU!

THANK YOU for deciding to be part of the solution by spaying and neutering your community cats!

Together, we can HALT the over-population of feral cats and enable more homeless shelter cats find a FOREVER home!

Orange enjoying the sunshine - August 2018
This is what a neutered, well cared for community cat looks like! Big Orange – August, 2018

 

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Meet Charlie (The Cat Formerly Known as Hitler) – Fluffy and The Kits’ Rescuer!

Charlie eating in the shed 2015
Charlie – Winter, 2015
My First Feral

I started feeding feral cats “by accident” in 2014 when my neighbor’s indoor cat got out during one of the coldest nights of the year and I put food out in the shed to help him. Their cat returned the next day, but I noticed that someone or something ate the food I put out.

That’s where it ALL began!

Charlie, Oreo, and Tiggy (the only REAL feral of the bunch) were my first feral cats and the only cats who came by to eat during 2014. We originally named him “Hitler” because my dad referred to him as “the Hitler cat”. I keep that in his name now because it’s a reminder of my dad and his unique and highly politically incorrect way of thinking (he was a cop, after all). My dad passed away in 2014.

Charlie and Oreo had many territorial shouting matches with each other back then. It didn’t even occur to me that neutering them would stop most of the aggression between the boys. Honestly, I thought Oreo was a girl that first year that I knew him!

I knew nothing about TNR and feral cat care yet. My Crash Course in TNR didn’t happen until 2015 when I met Fluffy and The Kits.

Charlie Rescues Fluffy and The Kits

Charlie is the cat who “rescued” a pregnant Fluffy in April, 2015. If it wasn’t for him, who knows if Fluffy would have ever found us…if her kits would have had been so healthy when I rescued them…if they all would have eventually been rescued?

He’s a very special little guy!

Up until 2015, Charlie would only stop by here once or twice per day to eat. He was a wanderer and there was no rhyme or reason to how often he showed up. The only thing he was consistent with was his “meal time”…which was between 10a-12 noon. He would eat here every day for five days and then take off up to a week at a time. I couldn’t pet him, but he would hang around at a safe distance and talk to me and he would eat inside the shed while I was in there with him. I couldn’t walk toward him or else he would run away. Although I had a heated shelter set up for him inside the shed, he never used it.

When Fluffy had The Kits tucked under the barn next door, Charlie was here more consistently. He would guard the shed while she was in there cleaning me out of six or more cans of Fancy Feast per day. At the time, naive little Robyn thought that he was just being kind and taking this kitten under his wing…because Fluffy was only a kitten herself!

Well, I was HALF right, anyway!

Once The Kits made themselves known to me, they would all hang out here like one big happy family.

It Wouldn’t Last…

I remember one day in August, 2015, a six-week-old Rascal running up to Charlie, tail up in greeting, and Charlie hissed at Rascal and ran off.

Charlie and Rascal September 2015
Charlie and his suspected son, Rascal, Summer 2015.

He didn’t return until November. By then, Fluffy was spayed, Oreo was neutered, and The Kits were living inside. Since it was still mild here in NJ, I knew that I had to grab him and get him neutered before he took off again! I quickly got appointments at the clinic and set out to trap him.

I’ll never forget when I trapped him. He decided to eat at the other feeding station, where I didn’t have a trap set, rather than where I had the trap. The trash truck was out front making all kinds of noise picking up our trash. I had about two minutes left to trap him before it would be too late to get him to the clinic since they had to be dropped off by a certain time. I remember running across the back yard, set trap in hand, yelling “Hitler! Hitler!” (I hadn’t renamed him yet). I plopped that trap down and IN he went right away!

That was SHEER LUCK!

When I released him the next day, he didn’t dart off like the others. He spent a good half hour cleaning himself, eating, and re-acclimating to the area before he left. I took a bunch of pictures of him just in case he went MIA again. He actually came back every day for a few weeks before he took off, yet again, in December.

Charlie after I released him in 2015
Charlie just after his TNR release – November 2015
And He Takes Off… AGAIN!

This time, Charlie didn’t return for MONTHS. By the time he did return, Trouble, Oreo, Fluffy and Orange had established our yard as their permanent home and Junior was working his way into the colony. Charlie tried to come back to eat quite a few times and Trouble would run him off despite my best efforts to stop him. One time, poor Charlie was crying his little heart out to me and I couldn’t stop Trouble from chasing him off. I was HEARTBROKEN for him and ready to ship Trouble off to a farm somewhere.

I later found out that Charlie had been eating at another feeder’s house about 3/4 of a mile away. He would bounce back and forth between our houses through the woods that run behind our houses. I felt relieved knowing that at least he was eating somewhere else and still okay.

I have worried more about Charlie in the past four years than any of the others because he just never wants to stick around!

In the Fall of 2017, Carol (The Other Woman) reported to me that she hadn’t seen “the Hitler cat” (that’s what she named him, too) in six weeks and she feared him dead. It had been quite some time since the last time I saw Charlie, maybe six months or so? I knew that if Charlie was alive, he would try to come back here, and I prayed HARD to God and St Francis to help him find his way back home and I called for him at each feeding time. I decided to set up a new feeding station in an area of our property where Trouble NEVER hangs out, thinking that he won’t perceive that as “his” territory and then maybe poor Charlie would have a chance here.

He’s Back!

Charlie returned two days after I set that station up…starving and sick. He cried his little heart out when he saw me! He ate three entire bowls of food while I stood there, guarding him. When he left, I BEGGED him to come back the next day.

And he did. I posted on our Facebook page about his return, and my friend Marlene was kind enough to donate a house for him, so I bought a heating pad to go inside of it. We created “Charlie’s Corner”, complete with the heated house, his heated bowls, and a feeding shelter.

I sprinkled powdered catnip in his new house to get his curiosity piqued, and then watched while Trouble and Blacky (neighbor’s cat) checked it out. I was beside myself because if either one of them claimed it, Charlie wouldn’t have had a chance during the Winter. He has evidence of past frostbite because I noticed his ear tips are white now, even though his ears are black. I REALLY needed him to take to this house, so every time Trouble or Blacky went inside, I would knock on the back to scare them out. They had their shelters already. They didn’t need his!

It worked. Charlie returned the next day. Ate. Checked out his new snazzy heated house. AND STAYED. He also got the nerve up to rub against my shins one day, so I tried to lightly pet him while he was eating. He was all over me within five minutes. After FOUR YEARS, this feral cat allows me to pet him.

Charlie and Orange standing guard March 2018
Charlie (on his house) and Orange on high alert after they spotted a new cat back in the woods – March 2018

As of this writing, Charlie has been living here for five months. Knock on wood. I say that because I learned that the only thing I can count on with Charlie is that he never does what I want him to do! Trouble still gives him a hard time, but he is slowly becoming more tolerant and accepting of Charlie living here. Again, knock on wood because Trouble never does what I want him to do, either!

My hope is that Charlie moves into the back yard so I can move Charlie’s Corner closer to the house. Right now he’s about 100′ away from the house towards the woods. We just got slammed with four Nor’Easters in a month here in New Jersey. There are a lot of tall trees and we have several down around Charlie’s Corner as a result. It’s not as safe as the clearing in our back yard. I cannot rush the move and risk upsetting Trouble. They will show me when the time is right.

I have to stand outside with Charlie every day, no matter the weather, while he eats. Rain. Snow. Nor’Easters. He’s fussy. I typically have to rotate foods to keep him happy. But after worrying about him for almost four years, I will do what it takes to keep him coming around!

Stay Tuned…

As for Charlie and Fluffy, either she doesn’t remember him or she just don’t care now that she has no use for him. He kept trying to make friends with Fluffy before I rescued her and brought her inside. He JUST figured out where her room is inside the house, though.  Join Us on Facebook to follow the ongoing saga of “The Young and the Neutered”!

Charlie in the background looking for Fluffy
Fluffy rejecting Charlie while he attempts to catch a glimpse of his baby mama.

Nicknames: Hitler, Charlie Boy, My Char-Wee, Fusspot, Mr Charlie, Papa Charlie

Songs: “The Wanderer” – Dion

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I Am a Feral Cat Caregiver

Oreo (left) and Domino (right) keeping warm during a record cold streak in NJ.

 

And I am exhausted.

People constantly ask why I do what I do when I have so many other priorities. When it costs money out of my own pocket. When I have my own indoor cats to tend to.

My answer?

Because somewhere down the line, a human let them down. Either they were dumped off, their parents were dumped off, or their great-grandparents, etc etc.

Because people may have been feeding them, but nobody bothered to neuter them so that they wouldn’t keep giving birth to kittens who would potentially suffer and die out there. So that feral kittens would no longer be dropped off at shelters and healthy shelter cats who had been waiting for homes would be euthanized to “make room”. So that Toms would never have to fight for territory or mates anymore. So that they could live healthier, happier lives.

We are just coming out of a period of extended record-breaking cold weather in NJ and many parts of the US & Canada. And feral cat caregivers are exhausted and over-extended trying to help our kitties survive it.

We are out there in sub-zero temperatures trying to feed them wet food before their food freezes and scheming ways to keep water from freezing so that our kitties don’t dehydrate. We are trying to figure out HOW we can get them to use the shelters we have set up for them to weather the elements.

We are worrying ourselves sick when our babies don’t show up after the snow storm. When they get sick because of the rough conditions out there. When one goes missing to hunker down somewhere til conditions improve.

Big Orange enjoying his heated shelter during the January Thaw

We look at untouched food bowls and hope that TODAY will be the day they are able to come out and eat.

We look at the pictures we took of them before the storm and HOPE we get to see them soon…alive and healthy.

Shadow before the New Jersey Blizzard 2018. It’s been six days and he still has not returned.

We spend time on social media talking to other caregivers because our families and friends JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND.

We pray to God, St Francis, and/or the Universe to help our babies survive the harsh weather.

We spend money we don’t have on heating pads, heated bowls, straw, shelters, food, medication and supplements…hell, some of us build additions on to our houses or sacrifice our basements, garages and porches for our babies.

We dig our feral cat shelters out of the snow before we even dig ourselves out.

We scheme ways to treat sick ferals who cannot be handled or touched or just put into a carrier to take to the vet.

Fluffy, who is currently dealing with a bout of diarrhea and is too feral for me to help her much.

We look helplessly at our babies who can’t be handled while they deal with a mess on their bum from diarrhea and think “if she would JUST let me scruff her and wipe, she will feel SO much better!”.

Then we get a little break in the weather. And they come back or come out of their shelters. And enjoy the thaw right along with us.

They follow us around and try to trip us as we walk in the snow and ice and mooch treats and love.

They even roll around and play in the snow!

Oreo enjoying the January Thaw while Domino looks on and wonders what is wrong with him!

Those are the moments us caregivers LIVE for. Those are the moments that make it ALL worth it. When they look at us with love and gratitude in their eyes because they KNOW that all we do makes their lives THAT much more bearable.

Feral Cat Caregivers are unsung and often misunderstood heroes!

We may “think” that we aren’t making a difference in the world because we haven’t won a Nobel Peace Prize or saved children from sex trafficking or aren’t making six-figure incomes.

But to that feral cat, we have changed THEIR entire world.

And that’s ALWAYS enough!

***For more info on some of the products shown in the pictures, click Here ***

***For pictures of all of the shelters I have out for the Yard Cats, click Feral & Yard Cat Shelter Pics***

 

Checkers-The Sick Stray Cat Who Broke Our Hearts

 

checkers

Checky-The night he found us…March 9, 2015

And I want to honor him today as today is his Gotcha Day. This post was originally written on March 9, 2017.

He Showed Up on My Doorstep One Rainy Night

The first time I saw Checky, he was in my back window and I thought he was my old guy, Oreo. But, back then, Oreo wasn’t as social as he is now. And this cat was awfully thin to be Oreo. We had just gotten out of one of the coldest Februaries on record and it was raining this particular evening. I usually don’t feed my feral cats after dark but I went out there to feed him.

As soon as I went outside, I KNEW it wasn’t Oreo. He was all over me like stink on poo and VERY VERY hungry. I fed him and tried to coax him to stay on the heating pad in the shed, but he just followed me to the back door. I snapped this pic to post on social media in case somebody local had lost their cat.

But, I live in the woods. So I know what happened. This poor baby was dumped. His ass was kicked. He was rail thin and sicker than ANY cat I had ever seen.

I found out the next day that he had been staying in neighbor’s garage and living on their covered porch. But they were feeding him table scraps and didn’t vet him or anything. As kind as they were to him, I knew he needed more.

So I SCRAMBLED… contacting the local rescues and NO luck. I finally got a local rescue to agree to help him. It was the ONLY rescue in our area who stepped up! So we set up an emergency vet appointment for the next day and I set out to trap him.

Checky’s Rescue

The neighbor called me when they saw him on the porch the following morning, so I went over and got him to take him to his NEW life.

We took him to the initial vet appointment. By the time we got him there, he was covered in diarrhea. The vet tested him for FIV/FeLV… everything negative…initially looked okay but just malnourished and everybody chalked up the diarrhea to worms or a parasite, so he was given all the meds for those problems. I took him over to the rescue. When the director put him in that cage, he looked ABSOLUTELY heartbroken. He didn’t want me to leave. I wasn’t sure what to do because we didn’t know what was wrong with him, and I had Penny, who was diabetic and therefore immune compromised, and Weeny, who had MAJOR “cat issues”.

But I couldn’t get his heartbroken little face out of my mind and heart that night.

Welcome Home, Checky

When the rescue called me two days later to tell me that she couldn’t keep him, he was just too sick and she was going away and didn’t want to put his care in a volunteer’s hands, I knew I just HAD to take him. He trusted me and I couldn’t let him down.

So Checky became our pet that day. He just didn’t know it yet. And I was excited. I couldn’t wait for that moment that I would return to the rescue and pick him up to bring him home later that week!

checky sleeping

Checky sleeping on his favorite blanket in Mom’s laundry basket.

She agreed to care for him for a few more days to try and get him stable before he came home. She was making little progress. No matter what she did, she could NOT slow down his diarrhea. She bathed him multiple times, which was hard because he was so bony and frail, and she would go check on him in the morning just to find him covered again.

So we took him to the emergency vet. And spent $500 to find out that nothing was wrong in his blood work. We even got him 2nd and a 3rd opinion.

Poor Checky visited the vet FIVE times in four weeks.

Nothing Was Helping..

I did manage to slow down his diarrhea but we could not get him hydrated or gaining weight (and I used Young Again Zero, Nature’s Variety Instinct, Fancy Feast…anything high protein/low carb/high quality that he would eat). Then he started peeing over 12 times per day. Yet, his kidney and thyroid values and blood glucose were fine. No matter WHAT I did, I just could NOT get him stable.

And then I made a decision. I could not torture this poor cat any longer with vet visits and medications. I’m not a big fan of over-medicating cats. Enough was enough. I stopped all meds except for the B12 injections and probiotics to try to slow his diarrhea down, kept him well-fed and well-hydrated … the rest was between him and God.

He lived in Mom’s room because we didn’t want to bring him out with Penny and Weeny until we were sure he didn’t have something contagious. He snuggled Mom every night…ALL night. He would go up to her while she was sleeping multiple times and just tap her arm so she would pet him. Every time he saw us he would start “making biscuits”. And he had this sweet little meow that reminded me SO much of my late Tabby.

Then he stopped eating. He wasn’t able to eat because of a mass or infection in his mouth. We spent his last days spoon feeding him baby food, bone broth … I even made him homemade pureed chicken with bone broth. It would take the poor little guy a half hour to finish maybe 1/4 cup of cat food.

I knew he would not survive a dental. No way. Not in the condition he was in. My vet agreed. To this very day I don’t know if it was oral cancer or just an abscess, but since he took several courses of antibiotics, including two courses of Convenia that was still in his system, I knew it likely wasn’t an abscess.

God Bless the Broken Road

So we made The Decision. And it was the hardest one for me to make. Checky deserved better than getting dumped off and getting his ass kicked by the other cats out there. Then he finally found us and his forever home… only to die. That’s why today is SUCH a difficult day for me.

So, on April 13th I called the vet to come out and help him cross. While we were waiting for the vet appointment, I went into his room to spend some time with him and let him know just how loved he was. We had a radio playing country music (that was the only station we could get on the radio).

While I was spending time with him, “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts came on. I’m not a Country music fan but I think the entire world knows this song. And I just cried and held him and told him how much I loved him. I know God sent him to us to know love and comfort and good eats before he died. And I’m grateful God chose us to love him and make him a member of our family, if only for a short time.

Checky passed peacefully, surrounded by love. Even our vet cried when he gave him the injection. Hundreds of people on Facebook, who had been following Checky’s story, cried along with us.

This little cat doesn’t even know the impact he made on this world in his short time in our family.

We buried him in our backyard with all of our other family pets. We promised him that this was his forever home. And that’s exactly what it became.

Fly free, Checky. You left HUGE pawprints on our hearts and we will never forget you. We love you!

Checky April 2015

Checky, as he realized this was his forever home.

Checky’s Official Song: “Bless the Broken Road” – Rascal Flatts

Nicknames: Checky.

**This post contains affiliate links, which means we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. We only recommend products that we use and wholeheartedly believe in!**

Any treatments, food and supplements I mention in this post are the result of my own research and experience. Please consult with your vet as necessary.

Meet Trouble – Fake Feral Cat #2!

 

trouble-in-heating-pad

Trouble, March 2017 waiting for a snack on his heating pad.

To see my definition of a “fake” feral cat vs a “real” feral cat, see Meet Oreo.

Trouble came to me JUST before the Blizzard of 2016, when we got pounded by 2′ of snow. The night before the blizzard, just as the first flakes were falling and our new snow thrower was being delivered,  I saw him running around in my back field. I didn’t have time to worry about it as we were feverishly trying to figure out where to put this monster of a snow thrower while it was already snowing at a good clip.

For three days after the blizzard, he was the ONLY cat showing up to eat! I guessed him to be about 4-6 months old at that time, and he was social, but DEFINITELY a loose cannon and DEFINITELY wild.

And I was afraid of him. Especially because he immediately took to head-butting my hand while I was feeding him, but he was a wild one and I didn’t trust him one bit!

He was a holy terror, fighting EVERY cat he could find, including my neighbor’s outdoor cat, Blacky, and literally terrorizing Big Orange, a docile orange tabby cat who showed up here shortly after Trouble did.

On St Patty’s Day 2016, he even sent me to the ER when he bit me. He hadn’t had his rabies vaccination yet, so I figured why not blow $13,000 to get the rabies series? It’s not like I had anything BETTER to do that day and OF COURSE I had thousands of dollars of disposable income to throw around to get sick and feverish from the rabies series!

Trouble’s indiscretions definitely cost him! He would scrap CONSTANTLY with another new young feral tom, Junior. But Trouble is a SMART guy and aligned himself with the Alpha Big Man on Campus, Oreo, for protection and to ensure that our property became HIS!

I finally started to train him to eat out of the humane trap that I use to trap the feral cats to get them neutered and vaccinated, but he was NOT having it AT ALL. This cat would NOT enter that trap no matter HOW hungry he was! I was 8 for 8 with trapping feral cats at this point, and Trouble was going to BLOW my 100% capture record!

But I’m just a LITTLE BIT smarter than Trouble! Just a little… I had my friend Dana’s trap, which has a “back door”, so I started to feed him on the door of that trap in the shed in his usual spot, with a towel over the back of the trap. I figured if I could JUST get him halfway in, I could gently close that back door behind him while he was eating and get him that way!

And it worked! After two LONG months of “training”, I got Trouble in that trap and off we were for his Castration Day! And I didn’t blow my PERFECT record! 9 for 9! HA!

He was actually my most well-behaved feral cat during recovery. Didn’t make a peep. And didn’t growl or hiss or spit at me that next morning once the anesthesia wore off. And he’s VERY forgiving! Because not ONE hour after I released him, was he BACK looking for more food and rubbing up against my legs!

It took this little pistol quite some time to calm down. But, alas, he did. FINALLY. But he IS territorial, bossy, whiny, and still a bit of a loose cannon. But I finally started to fall in love with the little turkey. He just has this way about him that just when you get REALLY MAD at him, he does something super cute and gets all submissive and you just CAN’T stay mad at him!

He assists Oreo with protecting the property. Hence, he has earned the position of Trooper Trouble, again, in honor of my dad, a retired NJ State Trooper. He still scraps, but has FINALLY, for the most part, stopped terrorizing the resident ferals and just focuses his attention on terrorizing any newcomers or anybody who is not in the Core Four (Fluffy, Oreo, Trouble and Big Orange).

trouble-day-of-fight-fall-2016

Trouble, the day I found the scratch and resulting abscess on his face.

In October 2016, I found him with a scratch on his face and the side of his face swollen up like the Elephant Man. I managed to lure him into a cat carrier and take him to my vet. I have to say, for a cat named Trouble who has EARNED that name, he was better behaved at the vet than my indoor Maine Coon, Penny! And when we got home, he was scared for about a hot second and then enjoyed the special sardine treat I gave him for being such a good boy.

And he’s been thanking me ever since.  Our relationship changed that day. I’m not sure if it’s just because I REALLY became endeared to him that day or what, but I cannot believe that at one point I had secretly hoped he would find somewhere else to hang out than here. I love him as much as all the others, and honestly, he is my mom’s favorite out there!

When he had a pretty nasty URI in January, I learned he gets rather submissive when I scruff him. I was able to pill this cat for 10 days and I syringe him Lysine powder mixed in with broth cat food (Fancy Feast) twice per day, which he actually LOVES. He will still swat, nip and scratch if you pet him the wrong way and is sensitive about his tail being touched for some reason, but he really has become the official Baby Cat out there!

I don’t believe he’s a candidate to be adopted out. He’s one of those cats who is very bonded with his land. He loves his life out there. He’s bonded to Oreo, too. And he’s extremely territorial. Still marks out there even though he’s neutered.

To bring him inside with my males is out of the question. And to adopt him out and have it not work out, and have him lose his territory, is just not a chance I want to take. So I hope and pray he stays out of the the street and he gets to live a long, happy life on HIS terms. Which is how it must be with him. On HIS terms.

Like Red says about Andy Dufresne in Shawshenk Redemption, “I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright.” That’s Trouble.

trouble-belly

Just when I get REALLY ticked off at him, he pulls one of these little acts!

NICKNAMES: Troubley-Poo, Trubbs, Chubbs, Chubble, Weeny Jr, Trooper Trouble

SONG: “I’m Not a Bad Cat…I’m just Misunderstood” – My Cat From Hell Theme Song

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Meet Oreo – “Fake Feral” Cat Numero Uno

From hardened feral cat to lovable mush!

And then there are the “fake” ferals. The ones who came to me, feral, or at least out on their own long enough that they WERE afraid of me, till they realized that the more they get used to me, the more they get the perks of being a Wilson cat!

Oreo is one of my “original” feral cats. When I first started feeding ferals in 2014, he was one of the three cats who came around once per day to eat, usually at dusk. He lived under my neighbor’s large barn across the street.

I remember my dad talking about a black and white cat who he would see running around when he went on his 2-mile walks. He would remark how FAST Oreo ran and was blown away by how stealth he was!

Oreo learned to talk to me, but would NOT eat in the shed until I walked out. And, of course, he would run away if I walked toward him.

In the Summer of 2015, when Fluffy was around and pregnant with the kits, Oreo would show up for his usual nightly feedings when Hitler wasn’t around. Or they would be out there arguing and eventually Oreo, the Big Man on Campus, would win. A few weeks after Fluffy gave birth, and after Hitler decided family life was not for him and he went on his way, Oreo was spending MUCH more time here.

Oreo, Summer 2015 with my kit Spunky just before I rescued her.

He would patrol here DAY AND NIGHT and would come eat with Fluffy and the kits, often allowing them to steal his food and I would have to bring another plate to him outside of the shed. As much as he was Alpha King and the bully out there, he was gentle as could be with Fluffy and the kits.

That’s when I started to fall in love with him. And after I rescued the girls, he spent day and night looking for them for a few days and my heart BROKE. I felt so bad for him because up until Fluffy and the kits, he was a loner…at least that I know of.

He went back to living across the street and coming over once daily to eat. I never gave much thought to neutering him because I thought he was a SHE until I saw him walk out of the shed one day and saw his “family jewels”.

I had been HAD. Again!

He was pretty old by the time I went on a castrating spree so he was one of my last thoughts; I honestly felt that he was “too old” to reproduce. But then I did my research. And after two years of feeding Oreo, I managed to trap him and get him neutered and vaccinated in October, 2015. The vet guestimated him to be over 10 years old at the time of his neuter.

And boy…does neutering CALM THEM DOWN!

In Spring, 2016, after Fake Feral #2, Trouble, showed up and started having major problems with another feral cat. Oreo took it upon himself to be Trouble’s “protector”. They became thick as thieves and Oreo would follow Trouble EVERYWHERE. Trouble would challenge Oreo, but when push came to shove, he would roll over submissively and gaze at Oreo upside down and all sweet and whatnot.. lol.

Then, after two years of only coming once per day to eat, despite my best efforts to make my yard Disney World North for these clowns, he FINALLY decided to live here full time! I have all the amenities out there and he FINALLY figured out that he would have it MUCH better here than where he was living! By then, he REALLY looked worse for wear. I, as well as a couple of my neighbors who know Oreo as he truly is our “community cat”, didn’t think he had much time left. I remember asking St Francis to please let him allow me to care for him if he ever got to the point that he couldn’t care for himself.

Not long after that, Oreo would start eating in the shed WHILE I was in there and would dance around in front of my feet….just TRYING to get the nerve up to rub against my legs.

And then he did! And then he would rub against me when I crouched down. He’s so strong that he practically knocks me OVER when he head butts me! I remember him really sniffing my hand when I put his food down so I would let my hand linger so that he would associate good things with my scent. And then I would feed him treats.

Today, we cuddle ALL THE TIME. He loves chin rubs and “noogies”. I even hand-feed him cheesy snacks with Dasquin wrapped in them for his limp. I still can’t scruff him but I keep trying to “train” him for that in the event I ever have to pill him. Oreo runs to greet me when he hears the back door open and follows me ALL around! I know now that if Oreo ever became debilitated, I would be able to handle him enough to care for him and bring him inside. If Oreo doesn’t take off to be alone, that is.

I owe him that much. He protected Fluffy and the kits, he protects any young lad who he deems a candidate for our colony, and he even protects Mom when she’s sitting outside.

This once feral cat has now become my outdoor pet. He has a home, a family, and knows the love he so rightly deserves after caring for everybody else for SO long. He protects our property and the other feral cats and takes his “job” very seriously. We are bonded now. My hope is that when his “time” comes, that I will be able to be with him and make sure he knows LOVE in his final moments. And God be willing, if he doesn’t go off on his own to pass, I will bury him out back and REALLY make this his “forever” home.

NICKNAMES: Mr Oreo, Bubba Booey, Lion King, Lieutenant Oreo (of the Hooven Estate Police in honor of my dad, who was a retired NJ State Trooper)

OREO’S SONG: “Circle of Life” (theme from Lion King) – Elton John

oreo-summer-2016-2

Oreo, Summer 2016, hoping to grab a free treat or pet from me!

April, 2018 Update-Oreo Crossed the Bridge

**This post contains affiliate links, which means we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. We only recommend products that we use and wholeheartedly believe in!**

Any treatments, food and supplements I mention in this post are the result of my own research and experience. Please consult with your vet as necessary.

A Day in the Life of a Cat Servant

 

servant-to-rascal

Serving Rascal treats on a Silver Platter.

I can relate.

How is it that I have LESS personal time NOW than I did when I was married with joint custody of two step kids, two cats, and managed a staff of 25 at Commerce Bank?

Oh, that’s right…I have a hell of a lot more than two cats now.

And it’s a good thing I work from home. Or, rather, I get brief “power hours” to squeeze in work in between cat servantry.

Here’s what a typical day at the Penny & The Kits Compound looks like!

I cannot sleep in. Although my cats “let” me to a point, if I’m not up by 7am, Patchy comes to “visit”. And my eyes will peep open. And I roll over to go back to sleep but I think of the STARVING orphans outside whose food was stolen overnight by the Creatures of the Night that GUILT prevents me from snoozing for more than a few minutes.

So I get up, and after explaining to Penny, who is a social eater so will starve all night rather than eat when I’m not sitting RIGHT there next to her, that I have to “pee like a racehorse”, I do my business and then go sit on the floor next to her so that she can eat her crunchies.

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This is my view every morning while impatiently longing for the coffee that just brewed.

After she’s done, I am now “allowed” to pour myself a cup of coffee.

But…

Oh wait! Princess Penny wants water out of the bathtub now! Even though she has a ceramic cat fountain and five, yes count them, FIVE, other water bowls in the house, she MUST have bathtub water! And because she’s stage 4 kidney disease, she pretty much gets what she wants.

Then I finish preparing my cup of coffee. And I start to prep the food to take outside to the feral cats.

But…

Oh wait! Penny wants crunchies again! Because she can only eat four pieces at a time! She convinces me that “grazing” is good for weight management. Which is why she’s STILL slightly overweight despite being stage 4 kidney disease!

After greeting the other indoor kits, and making sure Penny is squared away with food and water to “hold her over” till breakfast, I make a quick escape outside as soon as little Bossy Poo isn’t paying attention.

And I’m greeted by Trouble, Oreo, Fluffy, Big Orange, Domino, and Blacky, the neighbor’s outdoor cat, waiting outside with hungry eyes, while Shadow lurks at the back of the yard, patiently waiting for his meal.

After tripping over Trouble zig-zagging between my feet for the 25′ walk from my back steps to the shed door, I finally make it in there in one piece and silently thank Tony Horton for incredible balance from doing P90X Yoga.

I prepare their food. Then I take care of Orange, the feeding station at the back of my yard for the more shy ferals, and back to the shed to syringe Trouble his L-Lysine supplement in a tasty base of Fancy Feast broths. Which are NOT cheap. But he enjoys it and I do realize a feral cat is ALLOWING me to squirt medicine in his mouth via syringe, after all!

I finally get back inside to the Indoor Masters…after spending a half hour with the Outdoor Masters because Miss Fluffy is ALSO a social eater so I must stand out in that shed regardless of the weather so that she can finish eating…MUST cuddle Oreo exactly 2 1/2 minutes and I’d BETTER have some treats for him…and change the water bowl in the shed since the raccoons like to use their water bowl as a dipping bowl overnight.

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Feeding Her Magestette ON her heating pad so she doesn’t have to eat on the cold floor.

So, now to feed the Innies their wet food. Which means watering down Penny’s food and sprinkling the kits’ wet food with freeze dried raw or else they won’t eat it. And they will look at me with sad, sad, sappy eyes if I don’t feed them EXACTLY what they want the way they want it!

Once they are finally done, I am now allowed to wash their food bowls and prepare Penny’s AM blood pressure pill and supplements for her kidney disease. Which means MORE Fancy Feast broth (yes, I realize I should buy stocks in Purina) as a treat after her pill because that is the ONLY way Penny will allow me to shove a pill down her throat!

Oh, and Penny wants more crunchies again!

After she is done with me for the moment, I must prepare “cheesy snacks”. Which is actually Mischief’s Prozac (more on that to come) wrapped in the cheese so that pilling Mischief is a TREAT and not a tragedy…for ME, that is. Once he gets his cheesy snacks and I give Penny extra cheese off my fingers because she has been in her ‘last days’ for the past 17 months and I will do whatever she wants, I go outside to change the rest of the water bowls for the ferals, give out more free treats (in case anybody is wondering why I have the fattest feral cats in town), cuddle Oreo and Trouble some more and I MUST sing to Fluffy or else she will not let me leave without taking a chunk out of my ankles.

So, finally, after coming inside to scoop the litter boxes…

But, wait! Patchy wants to cuddle, climb me like a jungle gym and lick my pants first!

So, after REALLY FINALLY scooping the litter boxes, I have to weigh Penny and see if it’s okay to give her sub q fluids (again, the kidney disease), warm her fluids, change the five water bowls throughout the house, top off the five crunchy bowls throughout the house, and THEN, after singing The Penelope Song to Penny while she gets her fluids, the next couple of hours are mine.

Unless Spunky, Rascal or Mischief want to help me work out. Or if it’s the day I have to test Penny’s blood glucose (more on her diabetes and remission to come…). But only AFTER Rascal sits in my lap for 5-10 minutes while I sing to HIM. And I must be careful not to scare Mischief while I’m exercising since he likes to sit on my bed and watch. Which means not jumping too much and OMG NO I CANNOT drop the weights!

I get a little time to feed myself and work…

So, it’s now 4-5pm and it’s time for their next wet meal! I don’t overfeed my cats. They get several mini-meals throughout the day to keep Penny’s blood glucose levels stable even though she is currently in remission from her diabetes. But, God forbid I feed Penny and NOT feed the others! So mini-meals it is!

Then it’s BACK OUTSIDE to the feral cats for their evening meal. Which they hardly eat anything because they had been free-fed all day, but since the Creatures of the Night will come steal their food overnight, I must make sure. And NO MATTER THE WEATHER, I must play with Trouble and Fluffy (and sometimes Orange). Although, he’s SOL if there’s lightning around.

Then it’s back inside to REALLY bang out some work for two hours. But ONLY AFTER Penny has some crunchies again…and then I MUST sit on the couch in the living room on my laptop to work so that Penny can take a nap next to me. And if I don’t, you ask?

She will take one of her fuzzy balls in her mouth and wander around the house howling loudly until I do what she wants me to do.

In the evening, when I’m done my “to do” list for work, I SNEAK into the shower while all the cats are passed out…but if they CATCH me, I have to distract them with toys so I can lock myself into the bathroom and shower, unsupervised.

Then it’s time for more Fancy Feast broth and Penny’s Pepcid (kidney disease). Which she BEGS for because the broths are “forbidden food”.

8pm meal time is usually pretty quick because by now, they are ready for evening play time. And if I have more work to do, or just tired or, God forbid, sick, it doesn’t matter. They will hover UNDER FOOT while I’m scooping their litter boxes once more until they ALL get some interactive play time with Mommy, and sometimes Grandmom. Even though they have EACH OTHER to play with! And even though they often blatantly YAWN in my face or Mom’s face while we knock ourselves out to entertain them!

Then, and only then, after they are spent, I’m “allowed” to eat. Although, Penny usually wants water or crunchies or attention JUST when I’m fixin’ to sit down to eat. Hence the quote at the beginning of this post.

Bedtime is time for Penny to have one more wet meal (again, the kidney disease…I will get into her regimen). After I hook Penny up with some tuna water and prepare her Snuggie next to my bed, and if Penny is not in one of her attention-hogging moods, I’m allowed to settle down and do some reading or watch “The King of Queens” before retiring for the night.

I doze off while listening to Rascal run around for NO GOOD reason chatting it up, hoping to get one of the girls to play with him.

Or Spunky chirping and giggling and squeaking while she tries in vain to drag her favorite wand toy up the basement steps. Or…

Oh! Gotta go! I’m LATE for Penny’s pill and she’s practically doing cartwheels at my feet to get my attention! I’d better snap to it!

Spunky holding my lap hostage before bed.

**This post contains affiliate links, which means we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. We only recommend products that we use and wholeheartedly believe in!**

All treatments, foods and supplements mentioned in this blog are based on my own research, experience and done with my vet’s knowledge and consent. Consult with your vet as necessary.

Meet Fluffy-The Kits’ Mama and My Crash Course in TNR

From hardened feral cat to spoiled princess on her heating pad in my shed.

I was warned.

By lots of people.

Actually SCOLDED on Facebook.

Why?

Because I was feeding feral cats and not doing TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return).

And I ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS, and my folks ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS…spayed or neutered our pets as soon as they were “old enough”.

The first time I saw Fluffy, she was eating under my back steps and my feral cat, Tiggy, chased her out and a fight ensued.

I praised Tiggy for chasing the “stranger cat” away (even though Tiggy is a TRUE feral and to this very day, three years later, is still afraid of me!)

Now, knowing what I know, and loving Fluffy AND the kittens she was pregnant with at the time, I feel REALLY bad about that!

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Fluffy with one of the ‘suspect’ kit Daddy Cats, Hitler.

The next time I saw Fluffy, she was with one of my regular feral cats, Hitler, who was “showing her around”. He would bring her to eat, show her how to drink out of the bird bath, and would protect her while she was eating.

Me, having NO idea she was pregnant because I ALWAYS spayed my pet cats, thought, “Awww…how sweet. He’s taken this kitten under his wing!”

HA! #sillygirl

She WAS just a kitten then. Maybe only 6-9 months old? And she was blowing through SIX cans of Fancy Feast per day, so I figured she was “still growing”.

Well…yeah! I was right about THAT, at least!

They chummed around every day and left together. Every morning he would wait for her to arrive so she could eat me out of house and home!

Imagine MY surprise when I saw two orange and white, 1-month old kittens, in my shed around June 21st?

The next day, we had a thunderstorm blow through that was SO bad, it took three days for the National Weather Service to determine that it was actually NOT a tornado, but a micro burst. This storm knocked out power in MOST of South Jersey for 5-8 days.

During that time, I had brought my cat Penny’s insulin to my neighbors, because they were running a generator out of their garage and it needed to be refrigerated. That’s when I found out that Fluffy and Hitler had kittens. Four, to be exact. Two orange and white kittens, one who looked like Fluffy, and one who looked like Hitler.

I had been HAD. #chump

The neighbors told me that the kittens and Fluffy were living in their barn, and even though they weren’t “cat people”, they thought it was cute watching the kittens frolic in their backyard and watching her teach the kittens how to hunt.

My next thought was that I HAD to find rescue for these kittens. I just HAD to give them a chance. But it was at the height of a VERY bad kitten season. I must have contacted over TEN rescues in my area and nobody could help. And I knew that dropping those kits off at a shelter would likely be a death sentence.

Luckily, my neighbors were totally cool about the kittens living there and eventually the kittens ended up moving over here. I did assure them that I was going to try to find homes for the kittens and neuter everybody else, because the neighbor did mention she wasn’t sure what she was going to do yet but maybe she would take the kittens to a shelter. So I took over to make sure that wouldn’t happen.

In the meantime, I could not find them homes. And my baby cat, Weeny, who was coming up on her 4th birthday, was diagnosed with a rare (for cats) malignant mast cell cancer. We figured it out AFTER it had already spread to her lymph nodes.

After Weeny passed in September, I ended up rescuing the kittens. (Meet the Kits here! Meet the (Former Feral) Kits!

In the meantime, Fluffy and her kits had gone missing in mid-August for three days, at which time my mom and I went into a panic and decided to go for a hike in the ACRES of woods behind our house to try and find them. We didn’t find the kits, but we DID end up with the absolute WORST case of chiggers known to man. Rule #1: Never go hiking in mid-August in the woods in the Wharton State Forest!

Fluffy and the kits came back that evening. AFTER we got chiggers!

Soon after they returned, Fluffy started to distance herself from the kittens. She would eat and hang out in alternate places. I had to put food in other places besides the regular feeding stations I had set up outside. And she was eating enough to choke a horse again..

UH OH…Now I’m smarter. I KNEW what THAT meant.

I was SO terrified of TNR because I was afraid someone would get hurt, or they’d never return again, or someone would die at my hands. But I had to do SOMETHING.

So I made the appointment, talked to my friend Dana, who lent me her humane trap and came over to show me the ropes. I caught Fluffy five days after I rescued her boys.

I was a NERVOUS WRECK. I knew a spay/abort was risky. But it was the end of September. Winter was coming. And I was out of resources to help her new litter. It was a VERY tough decision for me so please don’t judge. I prayed to God and St Francis to forgive me. I talked to MANY people and looked up lots of advice from the experts. And while I was driving Fluffy to AWA, I was apologizing to her and begging for her forgiveness.

From what I understand, cats are not bonded to their unborn kittens. They only become bonded once they give birth. And I could not allow those four kittens to be born and have to tough out Winter while I had no more resources to help them.

We set up Fluffy’s recovery area in my friend Dana’s secure garage, in a secure dog pen, with a little feral cat den, somewhere for her to go to the bathroom, and eat. We had planned on keeping her for at least three days to recover.

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Fluffy, the day of her surgery, when Dana first found blood.

But, Dana called me later that night. She found blood. LOTS of it. And more the next day.

So, I had to bring her back for a second surgery. When I went to Dana’s to pick her up, even though she was hissing and spitting, as soon as she heard my voice, she went from growling to squeaking because she recognized me. That just BROKE my heart. What if she died? I could never live with myself…

I spoke with the doctor at AWA that day and she was further along in her pregnancy than originally thought, and they didn’t suture something inside correctly because there was a lot of blood. They fixed her up, gave her an antibiotic injection, pain injection, and instructed me to hold her at least five days because she lost a lot of blood and was slightly anemic.

I was beside myself with guilt and heartbreak. My very first TNR and I almost killed this precious baby…

BUT…she recovered BEAUTIFULLY. And once I released her, she returned five days later like nothing had happened.

And, after another nine months of her only coming to eat and living somewhere else, and sometimes going missing for up to four days at a time, she decided that she liked it here and would live in my shed and backyard “full time”.

And after another couple of months, she started to rub against my legs. Now, she lets me pet her, but ONLY while she’s eating. And, sometimes she still scratches me when I give her treats.

But, she will also sit on my foot when I’m ready to leave the shed because she does not want me to leave her. And she’s a “social eater”, so I have to stand there, NO MATTER THE WEATHER, while she eats her crunchies.

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And you thought I was lying about her sitting on my foot so I wouldn’t leave!

She is happy, healthy, and LOVED today. I hope to one day bring her inside, when she is ready, and when her bonded protector, Oreo, passes on. But, she’s living a better life than she probably EVER imagined, and she never has to worry about taking care of anybody else besides herself EVER again!

NICKNAMES: Fluffaluffacus, Pretty Little Princess, Witchy-Poo, Bitch (when she swats at me lol), Boss Lady, Bossy Paws, Squeaks

FLUFFY’S SONG: “Bitch” by Meredith Brooks

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Meet the (Former Feral) Kits!

 

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Mischief (L) & Rascal (R)-4 months old just after I rescued them.

UNTIL I saw two little 1-month old orange and white kittens in my shed around June 21, 2015. When I walked into the shed, they were so frightened they nearly killed themselves scrambling out!

RASCAL & MISCHIEF

Rascal is the friendly one. I never planned on ever petting or rescuing any feral cats. My theory was that they were too wild to be tamed, too bonded with their land to be brought inside, and should be left alone. Until I met Rascal.

He was the first to rub against my leg at feeding time… even with his mama in the shed with us…and I was so terrified that she would attack me because he was chumming up to me! He would stay behind after breakfast, after his mama and siblings left and went about their day, and would wait for me to come out to mooch seconds, get some free cuddles from me and to play with me.

He was a TRUE mama’s boy and wherever you saw Fluffy, he wouldn’t be far behind.

When his mama got pregnant again, she started to avoid her kits. One day, just after Weeny passed away and I had already been toying with the idea of rescuing him, he ran up to his mama and she FLAT OUT rejected him and ran away. That’s when I made my move because I was SO heartbroken for him.

So, I went inside, got the carrier, set it down in the shed and he immediately walked into the carrier and into his New Life!

Rascal’s Nicknames: Captain Friendly, Captain Freckles, Moochie, Rascally Rascal

Rascal’s Song: “Let the Sunshine In” – Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm, The Flintstones

MISCHIEF is definitely the most “feral” of all the kits. He’s Rascal’s partner in crime and bonded brother. What I figured out later was that Rascal is the ringleader and Mischief is just his innocent follower. I played with the idea of renaming him but he knows his name. I often call him “Chet” (after the clumsy Reindeer on “The Santa Clause II”).

I had no intentions of rescuing Mischief because I just felt he would be better off living his feral life. I was BARELY able to pet him before I rescued him. And he was SO skittish around me! But two days after I rescued Rascal, Mischief was out there with their sisters trying to play with them and they wanted NO parts of playing with him. He started to play by himself with wet leaves under our picnic table and just looked SO forlorn I figured I just HAD to give him a shot and get him back with his brother.

So OUT came the carrier again! I set it down in the shed with some food in it and within seconds I had Mischief in the carrier and inside to Rascal’s room!

Mischief was FLIPPING OUT when I let him out of the carrier. He ran around the room in a COMPLETE PANIC and Rascal went chasing after him. When Rascal finally caught him, he nipped Mischief on the scruff of his neck, on his back, and then on the scruff of his neck again, and Mischief IMMEDIATELY calmed down and started to purr. That’s when I KNEW I did the right thing by bringing these two back together! It would have been a shame to keep these bonded brothers separated, for sure!

Mischief’s Nicknames: Captain Cuddles, Mischievous Mischy, Chet

Mischief’s Song: “I’m Not a Bad Cat” – Jackson Galaxy, My Cat from Hell theme song

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Double Trouble at about 1 year old.

PATCHY & SPUNKY

Patchy & Spunky were supposed to be TNR’ed (Trap-Neuter-Return) because I had JUST started petting them two days before I caught them for their spay surgeries. And I could ONLY pet them while they were eating. They were definitely more “shy” than their brothers and didn’t even really start to seek me out until after I rescued their brothers.

I trapped them 10 days after I brought in Mischief. They were trapped together in the same trap and taken to Animal Welfare Association for their “Feral Fix It”, where they would be spayed, ear tipped, and rabies vaxxed. I also had them give the girls their distemper vaxes…I guess maybe I knew in the back of my mind I wasn’t going to release them back outside, after all. I felt I was already “over my cat limit” inside with three indoor cats.

BUT God, St Francis, and the girlies had OTHER ideas. While they were being spayed, I was watching the weather and found out that a coastal storm was supposed to arrive the day before they were due to be released after their recovery. This storm was forecast to sit and spin over us for FIVE TO SEVEN DAYS. Now, anybody who lives on the East Coast can tell you that our coastal storms and Nor’Easters can be as bad as tropical storms and even hurricanes sometimes.

So how was I to release two 4- month old kittens who just had total hysterectomies into THOSE conditions?

So I set up a LARGE dog pen in my bedroom, fully equipped with a “feral cat den”, litter box, bed/blankets..everything they would need for an “extended stay”.

I picked them up from AWA, got them home, got Patchy into the pen, but Spunky got out when I was trying to transfer her from the carrier to the pen. She ran and hid behind my TV in the corner. Poor Patchy was LITERALLY climbing the walls to the pen, so I let her out to go be scared with Spunky.

I closed the door to my bedroom after getting everything set up, and proceeded to go outside and call my friend Dana, who was teaching me all about TNR and feral cats (I was a newbie at this point). I was in a COMPLETE PANIC because I had two feral cats “loose” in my bedroom and was afraid they would attack me if I went back in there!

Later than night, I went to check on them and see if they had eaten before I went to bed. The poor things were STILL huddled behind my TV together! I decided to sit on the floor and see if they would feel more at ease and come out to me.

Within five minutes of sitting on the floor, I kid you not, I had TWO PURRING KITTENS in my lap.

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Patchy & Spunky at 1 1/2 yrs old…because Patchy does not care that she is CRUSHING her sister!

My next thought was to post on Facebook and ask people how many indoor cats could I have before people would consider me a “hoarder”! By the next day, Mom and I had decided we could NOT let these babies back outside. And we became a five-cat family.

It has taken some time for them to adjust. In the beginning, I was worried they would never be completely at ease as indoor cats. And although Spunky is VERY shy around people she doesn’t know (she basically runs and hides), they have adjusted quite well to indoor spoiled cat life and are the most affectionate little things with SO much personality!

It’s hard to tell in some of the pics but they are both long-haired with raccoon-like tails…just like their mama. And both little beauties!

PATCHY’S Nicknames: Erica Kane (because she likes to slap all and sundry at feeding time just like her soap-opera twin, Susan Lucci), Itty Bitty, Stinklett, Patchy Watchy, Hop Along Betty, Pinky Tuscedero

SPUNKY’S Nicknames: Squeakers, Hop Along Sally, Spunk-A-Monk, Spunky Little Monkey, Spunkster, Fluffy Jr, Little Bosslady

Still working on a song for the little ladies…Stay Tuned!

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Patchy (L) & Spunky (R) at 4 months old the day after I decided they were not returning outside!

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