More drama, action and adventures in the Land of the Feral Cats

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The kittens had been missing for the last 10 days. I don’t know why. Mom is holing them up in a secret nest somewhere. But the whole gang came barging into my campsite in the middle of the night last night. Meowing incessantly. They were HUNGRY!!

I wake up still half-drunk. My campsite is a total mess. My cardboard matting is wet from the rain and falling apart. My blankets are strewn haphazardly in the mud. And the raccoons have dragged my backpack down the hill (bastards!). Its pitch dark. But after frantically searching through 20 different bags I manage to find a can opener and a can of mackerel.

But the can opener is a piece of junk. It opens the can halfway and stops working. The kittens can smell the mackeral so they’re really going nuts now, jumping all over me and meowing so loudly I think they’re going to hyperventilate. Which doesn’t help matters. I’m trying to pry the can open with my hands. And its one of those weird real life dramas where NOTHING is more important at this particular moment in time and space than getting this damn can of mackeral open. If only to shut up the cats. The fate of the universe is hanging in the balance.

Finally, after several lifetimes, I manage to pry the can open with a razor. Plop the food in the dish. And the cats eat breakfast happily ever after.

And I plop back down on my blankets. Its a triumph of the human spirit, I tell ya.

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A brief history of the feral cats at my campsite

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When I first started camping in the Berkeley hills about 11 years ago, there were already four feral cats living there — a mother and three kittens. They had a little nest in the bushes about 100 yards up the hill from my campsite.
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Shortly after I moved in, the mother cat got hit by a car and died. A short while after that, the kittens summoned the nerve to trot down the hill and check out my campsite. I started feeding them every morning. So that’s how that got started.
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About a year later, one of the cats, who I named Blondie, had her first litter of kittens: Moo Cat, Scamp and Scump (who disappeared shortly after).
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A year later, Blondie had her second litter of kittens: the twins Mick and Keef. And then no more litters from Blondie (and it wasn’t for lack of trying — Blondie was always very popular with the local toms). I suspect she became infertile from the harsh living of feral cats. But who knows.
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Then I had to leave town for 4 months. So I asked a homeless friend of mine who camped on the other side of the hill, if he would feed my cats while I was gone. And I gave him a big bag of cat food to take care of that.
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While I was gone, my homeless friend fell in love with the cats and adopted Scamp (who he re-named Lovey Dovey after the line in the George Thorougood song “One Bourbon, On Scotch, and One Beer”). And Moo Cat and Lovey Dovey had popped out litters of kittens while I was gone. So now I suddenly had 12 cats running around my campsite. And things were on the verge of getting out of control. When litters of litters start having litters, the cat population can increase exponentially pretty quickly.
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My homeless friend — who had become a confirmed cat-lover — urged me to get the cats fixed. But I didn’t think it was my responsibility. I never thought of them as “my” cats. Like I was the owner and they were my pets. They were feral cats, and I was a feral human being who just happened to be living alongside of them. And I felt getting them fixed would be a betrayal of their trust. They had come to trust me (something that doesn’t come easily with feral cats) because I never messed with them. So I felt that it would be morally wrong to impose my will on them.
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My friend argued that the cats would suffer if I didn’t get them fixed. “If you feed them, you’re responsible for them,” he said. My counter argument was: “I also feed the birds and the squirrels and the raccoons and the skunks. But I don’t feel I’m responsible for their well-being either.” . . . One thing I always did do: No matter how many feral cats showed up — whether it was 2 or 12 — I always made sure they all had plenty of food to eat. Nobody ever went hungry at Camp Backwords, that’s for sure. So at least I was responsible about that.
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But my friend felt strongly enough about the issue, that he said he’d be willing to take care of it himself. So I said OK. And he managed to get all the cats (except Blondie) fixed. And he found adoptive homes for a bunch of them, too. So that was cool.
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So now I had four cats again. Blondie, Moo Cat, and Mick & Keef. Which was cool in a way. Because I had started out with four cats, and now I had four cats again, so that seemed like a natural order of things. And four cats was more than enough for me to deal with.
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So now all the feral cats were either fixed or infertile. So I felt I wouldn’t be having to deal with the kitten issue any more (famous last words). And Iived happily ever after for several years.
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Then I suddenly had to leave town for a year. It was heart-breaking living my cats behind. But that’s life in the world of feral cats. There’s no assurance for any of them. And very little assurances for you and me either, for that matter . . . When I came back to my campsite a year later, Mick & Keef had disappeared. But Blondie and Moo Cat were still around. And they were both in good shape, having somehow managed to survive quite nicely in my absence.
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Then one day, these two other feral cats — Owl and Feral Tammy — happened to show up at my campsite. They had been wandering through the neighborhood, spotted my cat dish full of cat food, and decided to stick around. And before I knew it, Feral Tammy was preggo and she popped out a litter of three kittens: Scaredy Cat, Fatty and Crier. So here we go again.
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I knew it wouldn’t be long before I had 12 (or more!) cats romping around my campsite if I didn’t nip this in the bud (so to speak). So, in a rare show of maturity, I managed to trap Feral Tammy, Fatty and Crier and get them fixed at the cat clinic.
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But before I could get the other two cats fixed (Scaredy Cat and Owl) things started going south at my campsite. I got preoccupied with a very serious feud when several other homeless people invaded my campsite, then the rainy season hit, and then the cat clinic went out of business. Among many many other complications in the typical life of a fucked-up homeless person.
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So, in the meantime, Scaredy Cat managed to pop out a litter of two kittens, who I named Mini Scaredy and Mini Owl (because they both looked like miniature versions of Mom and Dad). Scaredy Cat got pregnant a couple more times after that. But both times she had miscarriages. So I figured (wishful thinking) that she was infertile.
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For whatever reason, Mini Scaredy never had any litters (and it wasn’t for lack of trying — that horndog Owl was on her when she was barely 7 months old).
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And then Blondie disappeared. She was 10 years old (which is pretty ancient for a feral cat). So she probably quietly passed away. Then a year later, Owl and Feral Tammy also wandered off and disappeared. Probably casualties of the Great Rainstorms of the Winter of 2016-2017.
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So now there were no toms around. So hopefully that meant no more kittens. And then Mini Owl disappeared (which was heart-breaking). So I was right back to where I started with 4 cats: Scaredy Cat, Mini Scaredy, Fatty, and Moo Cat. And hoping it would stay that way.
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And then last month, Scaredy Cat showed up at my campsite one morning, with four little 2-month-old kittens proudly in tow. So here we go again.
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And that’s pretty much where everything stands as of this moment.
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The end (at least for now).

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Mini Owl and Mini Scaredy

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Mini Owl and Mini Scaredy are best of friends and inseparable companions. They spend a lot of time licking and grooming each other.

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I don’t know if this had anything to do with the solar eclipse. But this morning after I packed up my campsite, both Mini Owl and Mini Scaredy followed me all the way down the trail and to the road. Something they’d never done before. Watched me as I walked off.
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This is something feral cats do about 10 times a minute: “HEY WHAT WAS THAT SOUND OVER THERE??!! . . . Oh. It was just a leaf falling to the ground.”
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While his sister Mini Scaredy has a pretty serious demeanor, Mini Owl just wants to play and goof off all day long.

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Mini Scaredy was extremely timid for the first 6 months of her life. It took her a long time to accept me and feel comfortable around me. So i was surprised when she turned out to be the fiercest of the feral cats, and the undisputed alpha female of the tribe.
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They’re about a year-and-three-months-old at this point. That in between stage from kitten to full-grown adult.

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The summer of feral cats

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Mini Scaredy, ruling over all she surveys.

 

 

This life can be so unpredictable.  Awhile ago I had 7 feral cats at my campsite, including 2 pregnant Moms about to pop out litters.  So it looked like the feral cat population was on the verge of exploding out of control.  Instead, it went the opposite direction. And I now basically have just 2 cats at my campsite.  Mini Owl and Mini Scaredy.

Owl, the stud of the block, disappeared about 2 months, and is likely gone for good. Feral Tammy got run off by Mini Scaredy, and she’s rarely around anymore.  And  Moo Cat and Fatty got run off by Mini Scaredy, too. They exist on the fringe of my campsite, and only show up 3 or 4 days a week. And Scaredy Cat, when she shows up, quickly bolts down her food and then immediately returns to her nest, and, presumably, her litter of kittens. But that’s a mystery, because the kittens should be at least 3 months old by now, and should have made their way to the cat food dish at my campsite a long time ago. But still no sign of them.

And it’s a mystery what happened to Mini Scaredy’s litter, too.  She was definitely pregnant for awhile. Then she wasn’t pregnant. And for a month she had the teething nipples. But those are gone now, too. And Mini Scaredy spends all day and night at my campsite, so she’s definitely not watching over a litter of kittens anymore. But who knows what happened to them; whether they died young, or got taken out by a predator, or simply wandered off.

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“That big bully Mini Scaredy better not be sneaking up behind me again!”

 

 

 

 

It’s getting harder and harder to feed Moo Cat and Fatty. I had been feeding them down by the creek.  But Mini Scaredy has such a vendetta against both of them, that she’ll come all the way down there and run them off there, too.  So I have to stand guard while they’re eating, and shoo off Mini Scaredy when she starts circling around her prey.

It’s pretty sad watching Fatty wandering around alone, on the outskirts of my campsite. There’s something tragic about her.  She’s like an exiled princess, wandering in the wilderness.  And she’s such a sweet and mild-mannered cat, it hardly seems fair.  I’ll remember the good old days when she and Scaredy Cat were inseparable companions, and she occupied an honored place at the center of my campsite. Oh well. That’s feral cats for you.  I mostly stay out of their intra-cat society rules and by-laws. That’s their business and their world.

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Still Moo Cat after all these years.

 

 

 

It still surprises me that Mini Scaredy emerged as the alpha Queen of the tribe.  She was the most timid of kittens. And she’s still the smallest of the cats. But somehow she manages to dominate the other cats. Even the ornery, and road-tested Feral Tammy.

On the other hand, Mini Owl remains the complete goofball. He’s still like a little boy who just wants to romp around and play all day. Him and Mini Scaredy are still remain best of friends, sleeping nestled together every night, and playing together during the day.

And that’s your feral cat update for the summer of 2017.
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Nature’s goofball, Mini Owl.

 

Mini Owl the feral kitten

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Mini Owl is such a character. This morning he caught his first mouse. Of course he had to drag it over to me to show off his trophy. And the thing was still alive — which was a little disturbing. Then he gobbled the whole thing down in one gulp, bones and all.

This was unusual because my other feral cats don’t expend much energy hunting. I stuff them full of so much food, hunting isn’t much of a priority. When a squirrel or bluejay shows up they’ll make a half-hearted attempt at stalking it. But it’s more for fun than actual hunting.

And Mini Owl is fearless. This morning a couple of burly raccoons showed up at my campsite. And the other cats went running up the hill. But Mini Owl just stood there staring at them with this blank look on his face like he’s thinking: “Yeah they’re big. But if I could just figure out some way to take one of them down I’d be eating like a king for a week!”

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Mini Owl just has an extra shot of testosterone in him.

It was unusual for the raccoons to show up in the morning light. It was because last night I had fed my cats big slabs of ham from a leftover Christmas dinner (like I said I stuff the little rugrats). And of course the raccoons horned in on the action. And now they were back in the morning to see if they could get a second course to their dinner. It was a good thing Mini Owl was there to protect me from those big, bad raccoons!

PS. You’ll notice the slightly exasperated expression on Scaredy Cat’s face. That’s because I had been petting her, but Mini Owl cut in front to horn in on the action. Ha ha.

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Feral cat demographic update

 

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crier the feral kitten.

There are seven feral cats in my neck of the woods nowadays.  Which is way too many.

Only two of them are from the original family of cats that were living here when I first started camping here in 2007, Blondie and Moo Cat (mother, daughter).  Then, the two tom cats — Feral Tom and Owl — happened to wander by one day, noticed the cat food dish, and decided to stick around.   And then somebody abandoned three kittens in the woods when they were about 6 months old —  Fatty, Crier and Scaredy.

The kittens were the kicker that really pushed the situation over the top.  But it’s hard for any cat-lover to turn down kittens.  They’re almost fully grown now, and they all eat like horses.  It’s getting to be more and more of a chore bringing up enough cat food for 7 cats.  This Myth-of-Sisyphus deal.  Pushing all that cat food up the hill every day.
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Fatty
And it can be a bit of an ordeal feeding them.  As soon as I take out the cat food, they start jumping all over me.  And as soon as I spoon some of it into a dish, all seven of them pounce on it, hissing and clawing and fighting over the food.  I have to have seven dishes at the ready, and get the food portioned out real quick before things degenerate into total chaos.  Make no mistake, these are wild animals.  And they have a bit more of that kill-or-be-killed attitude than the average house cat.

I bet a lot of mothers go through the same trip.  They get a sense of satisfaction from taking care of their children.  Mixed in with a sense of burden and responsibility.

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The new cats in town

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“GRRR!!  Why do you keep FEEDING them!  It just ENCOURAGES them!!”
Typical Moo Cat reaction when two new feral cat showed up at my campsite this morning.  Two little kittens.  One gray and one black.  Probably about 3 or 4 months old.  I have no idea where they came from.  Both of the female cats in my neck of the woods are fixed.

The kittens are adorable, of course.  But it’s a little daunting.  Two more mouths to feed.  And two more potential breeders.

The kittens were too timid to get within 30 feet of my campsite.  So I rolled a big chunk of baloney down the hill to where they were sitting.  The gray kitten expertly nabbed the baloney in it’s paw, like a soccer goalie catching a ball.  And spent the next 5 minutes happily munching away.

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One of the new cats in town, just mustering the courage to approach the food dish.
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Tongue-licking good!