Olga is my favourite barn cat. She’s been here since we moved to this place and hangs out on our stoop and window sills. She has a great badass attitude. She holds her own with all of the animals she meets here, she was saved from drowning in the unused sludge-filled manure pit and she bounces back from weird fur ailments every spring.
Cat reproduction has been a problem. The growth of their population is exponential in the spring and summer. As a result, a lot of the kittens die and while I feed the cats kibble daily, there isn’t enough (could never be enough?) for all of them. At this point, the problem isn’t as big as it’s been. But the ebb and flow of it is sad. It feels miserable and cruel.
Today, my mother gave me an early christmas present and brought Olga to the veterinarian to be spayed. She is the most domesticated of the feral cats but she was hella hard to catch. At the vet, we learned that she had three kittens growing in her uterus–while she is still nursing her two kittens born a month or two ago. This is why. Why she’s so small. The constant onslaught of babies to grow and feed, in utero and out.
She returns at the end of the day, the surgery having gone well, with a cone around her neck to keep her from licking her stitches. « She should rest and just have short drinks of water. She shouldn’t eat until tomorrow. She’s supposed to be kept from running, » we are told. As we slip the cat carrier into a bigger cage in the closest outbuilding, she meows miserably. This poor poor creature. She’s probably known nothing but this farm life and this whole day has been the worst. Now her body hurts in terrible ways, she’s still caged and must fear the worst. We open the carrier into the big cage and leave, as 4 year olds fresh from daycare are really not very well-suited to being around convalescing beings.
A significant amount of head space has been taken up, since May 2013, trying to figure out how to ethically solve this problem. People with more of a rural penchant advocate that they be shot. Others are more stumped. The SPCA has been talking to me about a special pilot project since summer 2014 (emphasis on talking). They can maybe help, but only if we feed the cats. The municipality does not have a program to help with cat colonies, but they strongly advocate that we not feed them.
I have been exasperated to tears by these cats. Some are in okay shape and some just look terrible. There is no catching them, no going near them. Going to the barn to feed them and our old hens has been pretty sad. Seeing the skittish new arrivals, the unwellness of the older gang. Doing nothing seems terribly unethical, and this farm becomes breeding ground for cat misery. Doing something is wrought. Solving this problem the more rural and farm way seems unethical, but the more urban, ‘pet’ way was proving to be quite a challenge and super costly.
As I fed the hens before supper, I just kept thinking, but how will I ever get that cone off of the poor thing. And how cruel to leave her here, but she’ll be even more disoriented in the house (and frankly, these feral cats terrify me, especially when they’re trapped).
After supper, I went to give her her ration of water. Lo and behold, she had escaped from the cage, leaving behind the carrier and the collar and the cone.
Part of me fears terribly for her stitches, her body fresh from surgery. And part of me is awed by her resolve and resilience.
I really hope she makes it.