Oct 21

Crone flummoxed by feral cat

I always knew this day would come.

A feral cat has slunk its way into the menagerie here at Dreadful Acres.

All manner of varmints — the spiny, the scaly, those with and without canine teeth, or skeletons, or hide, or hair — maintain a disconcertingly constant presence in and around the Cronal Compound. This new feral cat, however, is the first feline to darken the bunkhouse stoop since I moved back out to Cottonmouth County five years ago. In fact, it’s my first feline, period, in quite some time.

Back in the metropolis, when my last house cat Ozone crawled into the fireplace and expired after 19 years of grudging and faithless service, I said, “That’s it. No more cats. They shed, they shred the furniture, they sit on the People magazine you’re reading, they scratch you to ribbons when you try to dye them pink and blow-dry them, they die — who needs that kind of drama?”

Feral cat of unknown origin sticks tongue out at the cronal hand that feeds it.

Thus, having been for no small while out of the cat business, when the feral specimen showed up I played it cool. Gave it the old cold shoulder. Snubbed it extravagantly. This wasn’t difficult, because clearly it considered me more or less beneath contempt. I ascertained the anti-cronal nature of its viewpoint by observing that it scrammed into the nearest culvert whenever I hove into view. Obviously it was just passing through on its way to a more amenable situation, perhaps one of those picturesque dirt farms where rosy-cheeked, cat-crazy Bruegelians traipse around all day in appliqué sweatshirts musing, “wouldn’t it be fucking awesome if a stray cat showed up?”

So heartwarming a scene, however, was not to transpire. In fact, despite my unwavering failure to tempt it with Fancy Feasts and cozy windowsills in the sun, the cat kept hanging around. “Babe, I Gotta Ramble” was not its theme song.

After three days I could stand to look upon its tragic and scrawny countenance no longer. I suffered a psychotic break, hoisted myself into the F-350, and hauled into town for cat food. And liquor.

Fast forward a week. Pathetically, the cat has taken up residence under the horse trailer, a spot I have always imagined to be populated with brown recluse spiders and copperheads. It won’t come near me, but has learned that I am pretty obliging with the Cubed Turkey Morsels in Savory Gravy, so whenever I show up in the yard it makes with the plaintive yowling and extra bedraggledness, shadowing me at a distance precisely calculated to prevent me from determining whether it has any observable injuries, infestations, or pregnancies. The yowling continues until I produce the Turkey Morsels, ceases for 37 seconds while Turkey Morsels are inhaled, then resumes in an effort to pry more Turkey Morsels out of me, until I go back in the house or a dog shows up to chase it into the woods.

Fast forward another week. The cat now permits me — with the unspoken proviso one might translate loosely as “don’t you fucken look at me” — to sit about 4 feet away while it sucks down the Turkey Morsels. Horribly, it has acquired a name. Smudge. I expect that this sentimental detail alone will guarantee the imminence of its demise in the death-jaws of a slavering coyote.

As a crone who hasn’t had a cat in years (and never a wild one), my questions are many. Can a feral cat be tamed? What is the recommended course of action? Is it a realistic expectation that a cat amateur such as myself might somehow apprehend it and get it to the vet without suffering lacerations? Assuming it isn’t rabid or worse, can it live in an unheated barn, or are modern feline requirements such that an old saddle blanket in the tack room — the traditional bedding given the barn cats of my youth — is now considered abusive? Is it even ethical to keep an outside cat in coyote country? Do cats have any other predators I’m forgetting about? And most importantly, how do I quash my irrational fear that this is a gateway kitty, and that I am now headed inexorably on a course that will result in my becoming The Cat-Crone of Cottonmouth County?


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  1. buttercup

    Can a feral cat be tamed?
    Maybe. It depends on age. Probably not. Most remain standoffish for life.

    What is the recommended course of action?
    Try to catch it and get it fixed/shots if possible.

    Is it a realistic expectation that a cat amateur such as myself might somehow apprehend it and get it to the vet without suffering lacerations?
    Yes, if the cat will go into a humane trap for said turkey cubes. You can then transport it to a veterinary professional of your choice for neutering, de-fleaing, and shots.

    Assuming it isn’t rabid or worse, can it live in an unheated barn, or are modern feline requirements such that an old saddle blanket in the tack room — the traditional bedding given the barn cats of my youth — is now considered abusive?
    No. Any accomodations are better than none. Smudge will adore your saddle blanket and an unheated barn is warmer than no shelter.

    Is it even ethical to keep an outside cat in coyote country?
    Cats in general live longer indoors but there’s little you can do about ferals other than reduce their ability to breed and create more ferals. Love from a distance is still love.

    Do cats have any other predators I’m forgetting about?
    Coyotes are the worst where you are. Dogs too.

    And most importantly, how do I quash my irrational fear that this is a gateway kitty, and that I am now headed inexorably on a course that will result in my becoming The Cat-Crone of Cottonmouth County?
    You’ve nothing to fear unless Smudge is a)already pregnant or b)likely to become that way now that she/he has found a regular source of turkey cubes in gravy.

  2. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    Buttercup! Great to see you! You are the first-ever commenter on my new blog! What a distinction.

    Somebody told me that red-tailed hawks can fly off with cats, but I can’t imagine that’s true. Little kittens, maybe.

    This cat is hilarious, though. It now runs tight circles around me, literally, when I go out to feed the horses, like it’s worried I’ll forget it’s there otherwise. It’s driving the dogs crazy. I’ve ordered a Havahart trap, but with my luck I’ll probably only catch a bunch of skunks or something.

  3. buttercup

    I feel so honored. Your heartwarming nature crap has long warmed the cockles of my heart so I was excited to see the announcetweet.

    Hawks, maybe. It would seem they’d find easier prey than something willing and able to eviscerate them at elevation, though.

    Good luck with the trap. If the cat is out around you in the daytime, you can set the trap by day and maybe avoid the majority of skunks and raccoons.

  4. schatze

    Signing in as a commenter but not because I have any great knowledge of cats. Only to say, I’m happy to see you putting pen to paper again, so to speak.

  5. minervaK

    Most feral cats can’t be tamed — one usually hasta get ’em before they’re weaned.

    I feel your pain on the outdoor dilemma. I’ve lost two of my feral bunch to the asshole drivers who frequent our neighborhood, and each time was pretty much an emotional melt-down.

    I do know one gal who actually built an outdoor screened-in enclosure that some of her feral cats lived in without complaint, but not all of them. Those who took exception appeared to think it the waiting room to some sort of horrible death and nearly brought same upon themselves trying to get out of it.

    I live with myself thusly: some of these cats will insist upon a free-roaming existence. By feeding / neutering / caring for them, I (possibly) reduce the roaming they would otherwise do and (perhaps) so reduce their chances of death/injury.

    If Dreadful Acres is by any chance near Dripping Springs, I can put you in touch with an extremely fine non-patriarchy-compliant feral cat lady who might could assist with yer sitch. Hit me up if you want her digits.

  6. Nolabelfits

    Yay! Personal anecdotes! Does this also mean commenters can use crappy grammar and ellipses?

    Years ago I knew a couple in Alaska who had a cat that survived being carried off by some large predatory bird. The cat decided to live entirely under the bed following the incident. Forever.

  7. Laurie

    Buttercup is so thorough that this crazy cat lady has little to add. When you catch the kitty, have her teeth checked/cleaned/extracted as necessary too.

    Usually adults do stay wary, but this one already following you sounds promising. One old feral tom sat in the yard for months, miserable with an infected mouth, before I could lure him into the trap. And though he disappeared for a few days postop after I brought him home neutered and toothless, he came back and soon turned into a big purring, drooling softie who let me tuck him into his down bed on the porch every night.

    For keeping ferals warm, I always use an old down vest or jacket inside a pillowcase inside a cardboard box (turned on its side, open, since most ferals don’t like to be enclosed).

    Good luck, and happy to find Dreadful Acres.

  8. The Crone of Cottonmouth County


    October 24, 2012 at 6:06 am (UTC 0)

    […] Does this also mean commenters can use crappy grammar and ellipses?

    and emoticans and lolz!!…. ???!!!1! 😉

  9. buttercup

    The following around bit tells me Smudge must be pretty young or possibly a wayward domesticate.

  10. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    Yeah, it strikes me as a youthful cat. Someone else told me that because it vocalizes at me almost nonstop it is probably a runaway, as true ferals know to put a sock in it. Every day it comes a little closer. It’s a funny little thing.

  11. Pinko Punko

    First comes the tripping. Then, eventually the butt in your face. My fam has a thing with black cats. Our first ever and only cat was a black stray that showed up in the backyard. He bent us to his will within three days, but was kind of like a cat/dog. Liked to hang out with you in the yard. He lasted to ripe oldness and then just broke. Took my parents through a few years of empty nest. My sis also found this stray black cat that always checked her out on her walk and followed her home one day. Not clear if they ended up stealing this little one, but cat kept coming over and they couldn’t figure out where it lived, so when they moved, she came along. Now she poops under the bed when she is pissed that it snows.

  12. Val

    Ha! Buttercup already beat me to it – it is doubtful she will be a lap kitty, but she **MIGHT** allow you to scratch her lightly once in a while…
    (she appears to be a young female, so of course The Spay’s the Thing. I’d be honored but Big D’s too far of a haul, I can give you several colleagues’ names in SA if need be! but even an equine vet can spay a cat when need be 😉

  13. rootlesscosmo

    those picturesque dirt farms where rosy-cheeked, cat-crazy Bruegelians traipse around all day in appliqué sweatshirts musing, “wouldn’t it be fucking awesome if a stray cat showed up?”

    “About heartwarming nature crap they were never wrong, the old masters.”

    Nah, still not true.

    Glad to see you blogging again.

  14. KittyWrangler

    Nice blog.

    With outdoor cats you have to keep on the lookout for abscesses, or infected punctures that cause pockets of skin to swell up with pus. They progress extremely quickly and can poison a cat, so if you notice one you either have to take it to the vet immediately or lacerate, drain and disinfect the abscess yourself. If you choose the latter, prepare yourself for the vilest of tableaux. Hawks may not successfully pinch your cat but they may cause abscesses. If you’re able to pet the cat you can check for the vile pus-filled pockets.

    My beloved cat met a grizzly end with coyotes but it was worth her living a happy outdoor life. She was miserable inside.

    PS- Hello, Blamers. Nice to see you.

  15. elfinpdx

    Ha! Once a cat person, always a cat person. And I say that mostly to remind my currently cat-less self that cat-less-ness is unlikely to be forever. It just takes awhile for the next cat to find you. As for feral cats, I had a friend who had a whole collection of feral cats living in her basement. Some allowed her to hold/pet them, others did not. All depends on the cat. Sounds as if you are stuck with this one, though. xxoo

  16. EDB

    We’ve used a humane trap (and not a springloaded kind, I should say) with success for TNR after taking a class from the SA Feral Cat Coalition. Looks like the Austin Humane Society has one, too, if you’re interested. Never caught an opossum, thankfully. They love cat food and dumping out water bowls. Can’t comment on skunks. A sheet or blanket over the top of the trap and some quiet papery stuff on the floor of it can help cats feel tricked into security if the look of it is scaring them away. The biggest problem with the trap, I think, is that it can forever fuck up a cat’s trust in you. We had one cat we kept catching over and over because she liked us and didn’t care about being caught, but we had another that we basically never saw again after that. Unless there’s an obvious medical issue, I would try to get Smudge comfortable around you and confident about the steady supply of canned crap first. It sounds like you’re off to a good start there.

    My older cat lived most of his life as semi-feral before being picked up by a shelter, and has the FIV, herpes, missing teeth, chronic respiratory illness, and scars to prove it. Now all he wants to do is curl up and drool on laps. Your mileage may vary, and all that.

  17. Map

    Smudge, what a great name.

    Do you hold out your index finger like you are pointing at her and say cute little kitty words, like, “Come here, ma cherie. I love you, my little bitty kitty?” That’s how I get scared cats to come to me. They are tempted to ‘mark’ your finger. Or maybe just to get a whiff of you.

    Maybe she was just dumped. I grew up on a farm and people were constantly dumping mom and her litter. Once, I had Mom, Paul, John, Ringo and George. Only one was male, John.

    My last cat, Joe Baby, was named after Joe Montana. I lived in San Fran and for some silly reason got caught up with these 49ers. (Yes, I know that Football is part and parcel of the Patriarchy. I no longer watch it. They’re just a bunch of thugs now). Good excuse to have brunch and a party, I guess. Joe Baby lived to be 17. He passed away just 2 years ago. Renal failure. Damn that was hard.

    To be frank, the older I live, the more I love animals and the less I like people.

    I’m really impressed that you carry scorpions outside. I simply could not live where scorpions live. Mosquitoes love me as well. The Doc told me I ‘oxidize’ faster than ‘normal’ people so they attack me first and often. I stay inside during the summer. I hate summer. And I live in Ohio. How do you do summers in TX?

    So glad to see you’re writing again. That snake and frog picture. I could have done without that though.

    But I can’t wait to hear more about country living and Smudge.

    And I didn’t use any ellipses…I was tempted though.

  18. minervaK

    Also: I vote we stop being embarrassed about being Cat People. The whole Crazy Cat Lady meme irks me no end. Cats are awesome and I am not ashamed to adore them.

  19. Comradde PhysioProffe

    What an old softie you are, Twisty!

    Anne Corwin is an expert at feral cats, and has run a feral cat neutering operation:


  20. Aliecat

    She looks pretty good for a feral. I suggest the live trap and fixing, too. Good luck trying not to love her, though, looks like that’ll be pretty tough.

  21. Judi

    Silly crone. That cat fell totally in love with you when you gave it the cold shoulder. Extravagant snubbing, followed by food, is the surest way to win a cat’s heart. If you were hoping it would go away, you should have approached it right off it with lots of cooing and kissing. Now it knows you’re safe, and a trainable provider of food, you are its thrall. Gateway cat, for sure. Not a bad thing.

  22. Ruby Lou

    This cat looks too sleek and self-possessed, and seems from your description too responsive and sociable to be feral. Live-trap and neuter, also dental care, is the next step, as has been said.

    I’ve heard people solemnly attest all my life that hawks can carry off grown cats. I have a very hard time believing that any raptor smaller than a mature bald eagle can carry off even a small cat. But an attacking hawk or owl might be able to get in a few good shots on a cat. The real threat is coyotes. I lived for years in suburban Tucson within two blocks of the open desert, and coyotes were a constant threat to any animal that roamed at night (much more rare were coyote attacks during the day). The wise cats understood this and made it their business to stay out of sight at night; they led long happy lives. Hope this one is that smart; she looks like she very well might be. She’s made it this far, anyway. And she’s got good karma going for her: she ended up at your place.

    What a pleasure and consolation it is to have this blog to read. A crone blog from Texas hill country. Just moved to darkest Los Angeles and any simpatica connection to a hot snaky place is more precious than the quiet at dawn.

  23. Dianne

    I have to stop laughing long enough to type~I find your ravings about the feral cat that has mooched its way into your life hysterical. Although I have no advice, I just wanted to say please keep writing as I am find the scenarios hysterical. I can hardly read for laughing. Thank-you ~ Dianne from Australia where we also have feral cats.

  24. M.K. Hajdin

    I grew up among a swarm of feral cats. Their nest was somewhere in the bushes of the run-down house across the street, but they always stopped by our place because we left food out for them.

    Feral cats are tamable, but much depends on the age of the cat. The younger they are, the more amenable to socializing. But even older cats will respond to friendly gestures once they have become used to you. It might take a long time before you can actually touch the cat, but you can engage it in other ways. A stick with a string on the end, or one of those toys you can buy in a pet store that has feathers or something on the end of a stick. You can take that and wiggle it at the cat. Chances are it won’t be able to resist pouncing on the string/feathers/whatever.

    Just used this technique to make friends with the feral kitten that hangs around my house. Didn’t take long before the kitten allowed me to pet it. Good luck.

  25. M.K. Hajdin

    Also, what MinervaK said.

  26. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Circa November, 2008, my two dogs were barking like a monkey’s uncle at my back fence. And there was a scrawny little torbie (tortoise-shell/tabby mix) kitten yodeling and shivering. She was about the size of a box of Pop-Tarts lying on its side (4-6 weeks? who knows.) After confining the canines, I lured her into the garage with food. I provided a college-refrigerator-sized pet taxi line with straw and a woolen blanket. Twice a day I ventured into the garage with feathers on sticks, balls with bells in them, and catnip-stuffed mice. In a few weeks she deigned to indulge me by playing with the toys after I’d left.

    The day before Christmas an apocalyptic snowstorm with frighteningly plunging temperatures was predicted. Having determined that Agnes DeMitten the Monster Kitten was sleeping off her morning meal in the pet taxi, I lofted it into the back seat of the car and got her a clean bill of health (no FIV/FLV because I have two other cats, fleas or uterus. lots of shots.) Then I brought her home and confined her to the basement. After the passing of a few weeks and a buttload of hissing, growling, foofy-tailedness and posturing, she had integrated herself splendidly Chez Niebieszczanski, and now dwells happily among the denizens thereof. She will always be a bit aloof (you will never see her picture dressed in baby clothes on I Can Haz Cheezburger), but she does sleep in bed with me and yowl for attention.

    Face it, Lady Crone, once you’ve given it a name, it’s yours.

  27. Gayle

    I have two former ferals chillin’ on my bed right now.

    They are still super shy when others come into my house but they’re basically house
    cats when it’s just them and me.

    I’d go on but there appears to be a mega-storm occurring around me all of a sudden. Scared!!

    I’ll leave you with this: Congrats! You got yourself a cat!

  28. threemilechild

    One of the best cats I ever had was a born on the streets feral. (My family had tried to catch her as a kitten, but she escaped.) It took me all summer to tame her, and by then, she was about a year old and very pregnant, but she quickly became a very sweet, affectionate, appreciative cat. (Most cats have all kinds of inexplicable and incomprehensible rules, but she was about as reasonable a creature as a cat can be.)

    Smudge looks pretty cool, and if she’s already trained you to bring her food, I’m afraid you’re definitely on the road to cat-lady-dom.

  29. werble

    Most of the cats I’ve ever owned have shown up as feral cats of varying ages. Some seemed like they would never let me pet them when I wasn’t feeding them, but all they all eventually became big snuggly babies. One of my favorite cats showed up at around half a year old and already mean as all hell. She hissed and scratched a lot at me and all the other cats, and for years I couldn’t touch her stomach. Eleven years old now, she is the sweetest cat who comes and follows me around the garden while I work, and she loves her belly rubs!

    Some take months or even years to warm up enough to pet or hold them, but all the feral cats I’ve known have become much friendlier over time. Probably most feral domestic cats can become tame to some degree if they’re treated well. Yours sounds pretty friendly already!

    I think cardboard box + warm blanket (or anything soft and warm really) makes a good outdoor kitty bed, but I prefer to try and keep all cats indoors, at least at night.

    Coyotes are likely your biggest worry, but grey foxes, dogs, raccoons and bobcats are also a threat. There are also still cougars in this part of the hill country, though they’re rarely seen. Birds of prey out here are unlikely to attack an animal that large.

  30. Liz

    Good luck with the feral and I hope you don’t catch and neuter any possums!

  31. Abra

    Nobody suggested this yet, so, if you’re worried about the cat being too cold out in the garage, feast your eyes on this:


    Right at the top of the page, a $60 heated pad for a barn cat.

    I acquired one of the indoor ones to test drive it. We have six cats, 3 of which were once feral. We now have six indoor heated cat pads so as to avoid catmageddon breaking out every half hour. Cats love these things, is what I mean to say. Also when one of the pads up n died, they sent me a new one for free without any undue fuss, although that was years ago. Sturdy contraptions.

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