Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Great Outdoor Cat Dilemma

Early last summer, a cat and a kitten suddenly appeared on my patio one night while I was eating dinner.  Initially they kept their distance but wouldn't leave.  My half hearted attempts to ignore them failed.  They were thin and starving and apparently the word on the street is I'm a soft touch.  So I broke the cardinal rule of stray cat retention and started feeding them.  Handfuls of dog kibble (all I had) left on my wall quickly vanished.  In a moment of madness I broke down and bought a couple of cans of cat food.  When I approached them with it on a plate, the mother literally jumped into my arms and began purring loudly.  These were not stray or feral cats-somebody had dumped them.  Cats rarely have litters of one and to this day I try not to think about what might have happened to the rest of the kittens.

Mama kitty was a pretty tortoiseshell and probably not much older than a kitten herself

Years ago I had cats but I've been a dog person for over 20 years and was not looking to add a cat to the family.  I called a couple of rescue groups who told me they had no room.  One even told me if the kitten was older than three months he (a quick internet search provided enough information for me to determine junior actually was a "he") was probably not adoptable.  Really?  How sad.  I was involved in miniature schnauzer rescue for many years and never encountered a shortage of homes for young adoptable dogs.

A week or so went by.  The top of my hot tub had become one big cat bed.  I spoke with the town Animal Control Officer (my town doesn't impound cats) and started putting the word out to my friends and co-workers that I had a couple of cats up for grabs if anyone was interested.

Junior appeared too old to be nursing but it was probably his only food source.

Napping on my hot tub

A few people feigned interest but at the end of the day the cats were still here.  On the morning I stepped outside and came face to face with the biggest tom cat I had ever seen I immediately called my vet and scheduled an appointment to get mama kitty spayed.  I had visions of a plethora of unwanted cats lounging all over my garden.  Throughout the neighborhood I would no longer be known just as that crazy garden woman but as that crazy cat woman with the garden.

When I dropped mama off at the vet I let the vet assistants know she was a stray and asked if they knew of anyone who might want a nice cat.  Needless to say I wasn't hopeful.  So imagine my surprise when they called me the next day to tell me one of their long time clients who had just lost her 19 year old cat was currently involved in a "meet and greet" with mama in one of the examining rooms. 

Everyone at the vet's office was so impressed by mama's affectionate nature.  They asked if I would allow the woman to take her home for the weekend to see how it worked out?  Mind?  Tell her about the handsome, affectionate son too!  The following Monday I went to pay the bill for a cat that was no longer mine.  To console myself as I forked over $400 I thought about the hundreds, maybe thousands of unwanted cats I had prevented from entering the world...and all the things I could have done with and extra $400.

One down, one to go.  Hmmmm...what to do about Junior?

Even a non cat person would have to admit this was one good looking cat.  Not only did he have looks on his side but he had a personality to match.  Once his mother was out of the picture he immediately warmed up to me.  When it came time for his trip to the vet, I offered up the same deal and crossed my fingers.  Much to my dismay, when I went to settle the bill, after plunking down another three hundred bucks I was handed a my cat back.  Now what was I going to do?

Let me at 'em!

Nick, as expected, was not warming up to him.  Terriers generally look upon cats as sources of entertainment to be barked at and chased.  And in Nick's defense, he had spent eleven years blissfully ignorant of life with a cat.  Fortunately the cat was athletic and had no problem zipping up and shimmying down trees.

"Let me in!"

"Let me in!"

As the days grew shorter and colder I had to come up with a strategy to winter over a cat.  Unlike my tropical plants, being stashed dormant in the basement just wasn't going to cut it.

Although he was comfortable sleeping just about anywhere outside, I knew his makeshift bed in the garage wouldn't suffice for nights in the dead of winter.  My first challenge though was to get Nick to allow him into the house.  After giving the situation some thought, I hatched a plan to desensitize the dog in hopes that he would stop barking, snarling and hurling himself at the door.  Maybe then the cat would lose some of his fear.  I started by opening the door a crack and letting them get nose to nose.  After a month or two my plan appeared to be working so I finally just held my breath, opened the door and let the cat in.  Much to my surprise, the plan worked!

"Now you listen to me, you good for nothing fleabag..."

Since I'm still not interested and giving a cat the run of my house-especially when I'm sleeping or not home, I transformed what was previously a basment room "man cave" into a luxurious "kitty room" complete with litter box, kitty gym and full complement of kitty toys.

A well appointed kitty room would not be complete without a kitty gym.

Lounging in the sun on a winter day.

Since he didn't appear to be going anywhere soon, I figured he needed a name.  Introducing The Twerpster (aka The Twerpinator)

Can't find the Twerpster?  Check my bed.
Now on to the dilemma.  For a variety of reasons outdoor cats have a much shorter life expectancy than their indoor counterparts.  Given that this cat had no other options and appears happy and healthy on patrol in his kingdom, I'm OK with that risk.  From what I can tell by looking at cat rescue sites, far too many homeless cats are being warehoused in cages in no kill shelters.

During the winter before he arrived mice sprung traps located in my house and grill 21 times and I still had to listen to the pitter patter of their little rodent feet in my ceilings every night.  Voles killed two specimen Japanese maples and disfigured many other shrubs in my garden.  Sections of my bluestone walkways were sinking due to the tunneling of chipmunks, and rabbits were launching nightly raids that left shrubs, trees and perennials decimated.  To say I'd had it with rodents would be an understatement.

I no longer have any of these problems.  Mice have not lived in my ceiling in over a year.  For the first time in years I have Heucheras instead of nubs.  Echinaceas and Rudbekias are actually blooming without having to be constantly sprayed.  Chipmunks and voles are virtually non existent.  Yes, he also kills birds and no, I'm not OK with that.  From the get go I maintained a position that if I could find a home for him that was better than mine, I'd let him go but despite my best effort that home never materialized.  So for the forseeable future I appear to be owned by a cat.



  1. The Twerpster is one very lucky guy! (So was his Mom!) I think it is a very fair deal. A gift from above having the rodents under control. You'd really miss him if he left for a different home....

    It seems to me that tortoiseshells (females) are the most "dumped" cats. I just can't believe that people do this, but certainly 2 of my 3 cats are dumped tortoiseshells. I am that lady "out in the country" where these morons dump boxes of kittens by the mailbox on the roadside...a perfect spot for them to be run over. I have warned my vet that the next cat to arrive here is hers.

    By the way, anyone who photographs a stray cat so beautifully has a definite emotional connection to him! Now I hope there's someone to care for him when you travel.

    1. So far he shifts for himself OK when I'm away. My friend who comes to water the containers feeds him on the nights she's here and another friend in town fills in on the off days. He doesn't starve :).

  2. What a great post Sue. Even though I've been 'in' on the cat drama from the outset it was really fun seeing and reading the "How Sue Came to Be Owned By a Cat" story from the beginning. Picture me giving you a big standing ovation for taking care of these great kitties. It's heartbreaking to see how many abandoned and abused cats there are. So glad this story has a happy ending.

  3. From one "crazy cat woman with the garden" to another, you old softie, Sue! The photo of the two of them in the sun by the door really chokes me up. My tortoiseshell stray came with a litter of kittens, including a white one like your Twerp, and I managed to find homes for all but the mom and the white one, who was such a puny runt. They're both still here, indoor/outdoor. No mice here either.

  4. Wonderful post! I smiled all the way through it. I'm so happy BOTH cats found a happy home! Twerpster turned in to quite the lovely cat!

  5. That was a heartwarming story! We have three resident strays we started feeing. I think two of them may have owners, though. I think they just enjoy the ambiance of our backyard. And I have never seen one of them catch a bird, thank goodness!

  6. What a great Twerp-o-log Sue ! Loved seeing the story all laid out in order here with all the great pics of the fur-kids.

  7. I adopted a young stray tortoiseshell kitty too. She just showed up in the backyard one day, injured and hungry. She hung around for at least a week, looking lost and lonely. After gaining her trust, I took her to the vet, concerned about her injury which, thank goodness, turned out to be a minor one. I was going to turn her over to the humane society, but they couldn't promise the ending would be a happy one so I kept her. Once she got into the house, she never wanted to leave. If a door was open, she'd go hide. Never once did she try to return to the outdoors. She was sweet and content and happy to have a home. Unfortunately I developed an allergy to cats, so she's now fat and happy living in a new home.

  8. Thank you for letting this angel into your heart and home- he is a beauty, and I am sure will love you all your days for being his human! And we love you just because!