Sunday, March 23, 2014

Feral Cat Rescue

Cat lover that I am, I've been feeding a feral cat in Tilden Park for the past few years. The site happens to be across from the Botanic Garden on Wild Cat Canyon, where I have spent many happy hours. See Here.

My original feral friend in some blackberry brambles, eating nibs I provided 

     This sweet, gray cat is very timid, but she's a survivor. On clear summer evenings when I would come to visit, she would be sitting alone in the gravel parking lot in the dwindling sun. I never saw her during the day when the lot was bustling with cars and people visiting the botanical garden. Any motion, even laying down a plate of food, would scare her off; but when I kept my distance she would come back and eat.
     Then, about six months ago, the feral population increased alarmingly. Cats seemed to wander in from the neighboring Tilden golf course, siding the parking lot.

Tilden Park habitat for feral family near golf course
Across the road from feral encampment

Over four months ago two adorable fluffy gray kittens arrived on the scene. They were less skittish than the adults and they would sit on the rocks or a branch waiting for a handout. They didn't seem to associate with my favorite, shy feral friend. In fact, they would scare her away from the communal food bowl, so I started to divide the food and place the containers in different spots, allowing all the cats to eat peacefully.

On days when I arrived at dusk, I noticed another woman observing the cat activity and she warned me not to leave food containers around because park rangers might be alerted. She explained that it is actually illegal to feed ferals and I could be cited and fined if caught. I wasn't too worried, since weeks ago I had approached a ranger in the parking lot about the growing feral population and he told me to contact an organization that dealt with the problem. He implied that the park service would not do anything. However, my new friend would pick up any plates that I left, and on days that I missed, she would feed the cats. She had named them all and was totally familiar with their habits. We commiserated about their difficult living conditions and agreed that we should call Fix Our Ferals, but I never did.

 Saturday evening I was chatting with a young couple relaxing in the parking lot after a long hike. They had spotted the two kittens playing in the woods near their car. I was telling them the saga of the feral encampment and bemoaning the fact that we had yet to call any organization, when a blue Prius pulled into the lot with a bunch of cage traps in the back. The woman who got out was wearing a  "hopalong" tee shirt, (a bay area rescue organization,) so I knew what was happening.  She explained that she worked for Fix Our Ferals, and that Eli, my fellow cat-caretaker, had finally called. Soon sweet Eli also arrived and Liz got the traps out and started smearing irresistible cat food on newspapers lining the bottoms. She placed a trap in the woods and one of the kittens entered immediately and was caught. Liz covered the cage with a blanket and put it in the car. There was no struggle at all. Then she repeated the operation with another cage, and in went the second kitten, which we also blanketed and carried to Liz's car. She caught one more cat, but my favorite was too street-smart or cautious to enter a trap.  I left at that point asking Liz to email with the final results. They caught only those three that evening, but they were returning the next night to get my elusive gray. She sent me the following snap shot of one of the kittens in the basement of her home, waiting to be taken to a clinic to get neutered. Both kittens were males.

One of two male kittens patiently awaiting his fate

Sunday evening I couldn't stay away.  I arrived in time to see Liz and Eli catch my favorite and one other cat. Liz took them away to her "kitty ranch" to join the other captures waiting to be spayed or neutered at a clinic in San Francisco. At this point  Eli had decided to take the three adults and had persuaded her sister and nephew to take the two kittens. She couldn't stand the thought of returning them to their precarious outdoor feral life, which is what would occur if no one offered to adopt them.  I admired her for her generosity, knowing she already had seven cats.

By Thursday all the cats had been spayed and neutered. It was not a minute too soon because it turned out that the two females were pregnant and  about to deliver eight more kittens. The vet euthanizes the fetuses when he spays the adults. I was invited to attend the send-off and I went to Liz's home in Berkeley, also known as the Kitty Ranch, to see them all depart for their new homes. Eli promised to keep in touch, with news of the socialization process.

Elusive Gray, my favorite, minutes before she left the kitty ranch for her new indoor home

Each evening as the sun starts setting I feel the old familiar tug on my heart strings, and I have the urge to drive up to Tilden with food for my Kitties. Then I remember that they are safe and well fed and I can relax. Perhaps one day they will be socialized, but I still remember those wild creatures as they were— lurking in the woods and racing around the driveway as dinner was served.

 I'm grateful to Fix Our Ferals— life is tough in the wild


  1. I had no idea that this organization existed! Great work and Taya you are the best for going up there every evening to feed those little guys! I would of taken one home if Jim weren't allergic to them. I miss having a cats presence around the house.

  2. This is a very commendable bit of advocacy. These animals shouldn't be left hungry or desperate. Though we have to make sure that what we feed them suits their physiology best and that is organic to its demands. Keep it up.

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