I was having dinner at a hotel dining room, when I noticed a cat outside the window with her feet against the glass, peering up at the two gentleman at the table in front of me.
Then I notice she had friends, slouching down the warm hotel sidewalk.
I've been so used to running across cats that need help, that I immediately began entertaining whether I would be able to rent a car to bring them home if I went out there and found cats that really needed help.
It turned out times have changed. The hotel staff was more than willing to help me track down Nettie, who had been caring for the cats for years. The next morning when we met, she told me the cats were all fixed, tested, and vaccinated. All except one newcomer. She'd thought about going to PAWS, because they had a senior citizen discount that brought the cost down to $25, but she would have to pick the cat up the same day, and she didn't have space to recover him at home with her own pet cats. So she thought she'd use her vet, who would cost more, but provides overnight care.
It seemed to me this would be a good, simple project for The Leewit Fund. So I told her Wildrun would pay for the neuter of her new cat, and if you've ever given an unexpected gift, you can imagine the look on her face. She called her vet up, and I arranged to go over and pay at the clinic. I got a truly warm hug. She said I couldn't know how she felt. I told her I was sure I could, since I'd had the same done for me in the past.
It was one of the nicest moments of my life.
Her vet was a joy. Sporting a white head of hair, he immediately remarked on mine, and then waxed eloquent on what a wonderful person Nettie was to her cats. I paid for the neuter, testing, and vaccinations, and left certain that the money couldn't have been better spent.
How wonderful to fall over cats that don't need help! Wouldn't it be great for this to become the norm? Perhaps I'll find it already is.
I went for a walk and found the cats' shelter, and a few of the ten cats as well. In the GA heat (95F)they were in nap mode, but nonetheless were ready to run when I came poking around. I let them be.
When I came by the hotel desk this evening to tape up a package, the maintenance man asked me I was the one who had helped Nettie that day. I guess I'd become the day's story, and I'm sure the white hair (and perhaps the yin/yang cat t-shirt) gave me away. I learned even more about the cats, and he assured me there had been no kittens for years and years, except for those that were abandoned.
I was just at a conference where cocktail-hour conversation included concern that, in practice, trap/neuter/return sometimes projects stalled or fell apart. I had pointed out that when you were asking average people to do what was essentially animal population management, we were expecting a lot that each colony would be successful. Biologists screw up on management programs. Do we expect common citizens to be successful without real education, resources, and support?
The hotel cats are a textbook case of how TNR *does* work when the caretaker is committed to the animals, and the support network---like an accepting workplace, veterinarian, and staff--are in place.
We had also discussed at the conference whether it was acceptable to return sterilized feral cats to a location where there "was no caretaker." I have never yet failed to find a caretaker where I've found cats, except in the case of the Fast Food Ferals, where I then arranged for the cats to be fed myself. I just feel that if we can go to the effort of getting cats fixed and vaccinated, we should be able to go the extra step of making sure they are fed. Chances are good someone is doing it anyway; isn't it better to make sure they are doing it right? And how do we answer concerns about cats preying on wildlife, if we are putting them out there with no food, expecting them to rely on their hunting skills? And if we are unable to provide the cats with a warm place by a safe fireplace in a home, don't we owe them a few shelters and a scoop of dry food once a day? Is that really so hard?
I have seldom seen so many kind faces in a single day. If being a cat lady means that when my age matches my hair color, I'll have as many people who smile over me at as who smiled over Nettie today, then I'm more than happy with my future fate.