In trap/neuter/return, the issue of whether to fix free-roaming cats when they could be someone's pet comes up again and again. And as time goes by, more and more stories come up of people who don't even notice their cat has been fixed. They fail to notice the shaved belly or missing equipment, and assume an ear tip is a fight wound or fanbelt encounter.
I've never neutered a free-roaming pet on purpose, but I have discovered after the fact that a handful of cats I've had neutered were loosely owned by more than one person. Owner #1 requested neutering. Owner #2 lived a block away and had no knowledge that "their" cat was also living on another back porch. None had ever been to the vet or had a rabies shot (required by law in NYS).
In Key West, I was sitting at an open-door bar with friends. We were attended by a friendly male barkeep. We asked the name of the cat keeping vigil on the doormat.
He said "That's Bobbi. She's 16 years old. She's not really anyone's cat, but this is where she hangs out." Bobbi did indeed have the craggy good looks of a senior cat.
I raised an eyebrow at my friend and said. "Really? When did she last have kittens?" And he replied, "Oh, about six years ago."
I was pretty sure when I bid "Hello" to Bobbi upon entering, that Bobbi was a neutered male. I wandered to the door and knelt down. Bobbi was more than happy to boost "her" butt to be petted. Yes, Bobbi was definitely a boy.
I didn't see any point in mentioning this. Everyone was happy, right?
I wonder what happened to the original kitten-bearing Bobbi? Or had the kittens in the area actually belonged to some other cat, and this Bobbi simply tolerated them around him? Who knows?
Obviously, one night early in his life, Bobbi was scooped up by someone and taken for a trip to the vet, and his current absence of testicles led the barkeep to assume this cat was a lady.
Probably that trip to the vet is what has enabled him to live to this grand old age, gracing the mat of this handsome bar, where northern cat ladies can stop for a rum-runner and enjoy a Key West breeze.
Maybe no human noticed, but it has made all the difference for Bobbi.