Y’all bring the facts – I’ll bring the feels • 10.08.14
Text of the speech I gave before the North Tonawanda Common Council on Tuesday, October 7th.
Thank you for this brief opportunity to speak for those who cannot do so on their own – the community cats of North Tonawanda.
I’m not here to tell you statistics about how Trap Neuter Return has changed the lives of community cats around the world, or how it decreases the number of kittens surrendered to shelters every year, or how it’s not feral cats that are causing certain bird populations to decline. By now, you’ve heard about all these things. Instead, I’m here to tell you a story that’s, not surprisingly, about a cat.
It was Mother’s Day 2012 when we found them – five little kittens, their eyes barely open, curled up together in the pachysandra. This was not the first time we’d retrieved kittens from the bushes around our house in Martinsville, but to be honest, everyone in my family has a full house as far as cats go so these five couldn’t stay. But I had recently learned about trap neuter return – TNR – and I was determined to end this cycle in my own back yard.
It was determined which of the five kittens was the loudest, and we used him as bait – securing him in a carrier and placing him at the end of a humane trap that had previously only housed woodchucks and the occasional raccoon, and covering the entire contraption except the front with an old blanket. We also added some extra enticement, a paper plate full of mackerel, the stinkiest canned fish we had on hand.
With this setup in place, mama cat was caught in short order. And let me tell you, I’m a cat person and I love them all – but this was the UGLIEST cat I had ever seen. Rail thin, her long fur missing in spots including a huge bald spot on her forehead – it was obvious that she had given her all for her kittens, just as any mother would. But this would be her last litter.
I had never seen this cat before in my yard – and I didn’t recognize her as one of the regulars. But when you take in a cat for TNR, you have to give them a name, whether you’ve already given them one or not. Since “butt ugly mass of hissing fur” is not a good name, we decided on Mackerel, after the fish we’d used to catch her.
So off she went to Operation Pets to be spayed and eartipped, we brought her home, and kept her in a large dog crate for the required few days to make sure she healed after her surgery. The day we set her free, she took off like a rocket, down the driveway, across the street, and into the woods.
Months passed. As we learned more about managing a colony, we set up a dedicated feeding station for all the community cats, and cataloged them all. We even set up a webcam at one point so we could keep track of who was coming and going, to make sure that we were placing out just enough food for all of them with none leftover. The last thing I want to do is feed any raccoons.
With the help of Pets Alive we set up a time and day to catch the rest of the cats in our yard, since it’s much better to trap all of the cats in a colony at once. On trapping day, though, we just could not catch this one beautiful longhaired cat – and oh did we try. All the other cats we were able to catch, but not this one – nothing would entice that cat into the cage. Finally we gave up, in the hopes that we’d be able to catch it another time.
And then later that summer, we happened to be outside while this particular cat was there, and I happened to snap a photo. When I looked at the photo on my computer, I realized why we’d never been able to catch her. The cat was already eartipped. It was Mackerel. No longer burdened with endless litters of kittens, and with a stable food source and shelter as a part of our colony, she had blossomed and was totally unrecognizable from the ratty beast she had been a year before.
Now, groups like People for the “Ethical” Treatment of Animals would tell you that we should have had Mackerel euthanized because her life outside was too horrible. When we trapped her, she was stuck in an endless cycle of kitten production – undernourished, covered in parasites, and missing giant chunks of fur – what kind of life is that for an animal? And I won’t deny that the life of a community cat is not easy. In the years that we’ve taken care of our community cats, we’ve lost a few to who-knows-what. But that doesn’t mean that all of them deserve to die at the hands of humans, merely for the crime of being born feral.
I don’t know why Mackerel doesn’t have a home. I don’t know why she’s not warm and safe in a house instead of living outside in the woods of Martinsville, coming to my house every night to sit next to my barn, patiently waiting for one of us to go out and fill up the food dish. Her kittens were much luckier than her – they all have wonderful homes where they have grown up and thrived. She wasn’t that lucky when she was a kitten, so she learned to adapt, and part of that adaptation is being a part of a managed colony.
Speaking only for myself, as the proud caretaker of an “illegal” managed community cat colony here in North Tonawanda, the only thing I ask of you tonight is to allow myself and the other colony caretakers do this work on behalf of the cats. I don’t want to be reimbursed by anyone for the money I’ve paid to TNR, I don’t want the city to help me catch the cats, and I don’t expect anyone to chip in on those giant bags of cat food. I don’t own these cats – we call them community cats for a reason – because they are a valuable part of our community, and one that deserves formal recognition from our city. I hope you will do what is right and amend the ordinance to allow for the legal care of the community cats of North Tonawanda.
I’d love to think that it was my speech that changed their minds, but I know better. But it’s nice to know that no matter how long Mackerel is a part of our colony, in a little way she’ll live on forever, as part of the legacy of change.