Wild Ideas: Gaeaf followup

My last column, about the stray cat I’m feeding at my house, engendered a few heated responses online about how bad it was to let the cat stay outside, so I think a bit of clarification is in order.

As I mentioned, I’m well aware of the downside of letting cats live outdoors, especially their effect on native wildlife. And cats can have a hard, and generally shorter, life if they are allowed outside, particularly if they’re on their own. The Wildlife Management Institute has a lot of information on the impact of outdoor cats on wildlife, dangers cats face outside and other issues relating to allowing cats outdoors. I suggest that anyone who has a cat or is concerned about wildlife read up on this issue.

TC is among the cats available for adoption at RappCats.Courtesy photo
TC is among the cats available for adoption at RappCats.

After my last cat died, I decided not to get another one because I am aware of the issues involved but also didn’t want to have an indoor cat. Rather than try to cover this complex and controversial issue here, I’d like just to clarify the situation with the one cat that showed up where I live last winter.

After Gaeaf, as I’ve named him, visited intermittently over many months, I knew something should be done — for his sake and for the sake of the local wildlife. The options were limited. As suggested rather stridently in the online comments, these generally include “impounding” (inside or outside), “euthanizing” or bringing him inside. I’m not inclined to kill or put any cat in a cage because of the failure of our species to spay or neuter our cats and provide them with a proper home. Cats did not choose to come to this country or to be abandoned or neglected.

Gidget is one of RappCats' available-for-adoption rescues.courtesy photo
Gidget is one of RappCats’ available-for-adoption rescues.

And as Pat Snyder, who just ended her term as RappCats president, writes in response to the comments:

“One cannot trap a cat for ‘impoundment’ here, since there is no county pound for cats here. It is indeed shocking that we are one of only 10 counties in Virginia that have a pound for dogs, but none for cats. The upshot is that here, if you find a cat, you have a cat.”

“But more importantly,” she adds, “even if we had a municipal pound, ‘trapping a cat for impoundment’ is simply asking the government to kill the cat instead of you personally doing it, since in most jurisdictions that is what happens to a cat in a pound.”

As a renter, I’m also not free to bring into my home every stray that ends up on the property and am not inclined to do so in my tiny house anyway. For one thing, Golda, the cat I’ve been fostering for almost a year for RappCats and who I keep inside, is highly territorial and would likely go into full combat mode or engage in a literal pissing contest — again, not something I would risk as a responsible renter.

I took Golda on in what was supposed to be a temporary situation to help her recover physically and psychologically from her dire situation when she was rescued. Health issues have complicated finding her a more permanent home, so for now she’s mine. RappCats had her spayed as soon as her health permitted.

For Gaeaf, my ultimate goal is still to socialize and find an indoor home for him, or placing him as a barn cat if that is not doable. At least he could focus on mice, which would otherwise likely would be poisoned. However, over the summer and fall, and even now, RappCats has been overloaded not only with rescues from two cat colonies (abandoned for different reasons) but also the usual bump in the homeless cat population that occurs during the breeding season (generally spring through fall). RappCats’ shelter is small, and both maintaining the shelter and staff efforts to socialize each cat that needs it cost money. The amount of funding that the organization gets only goes so far.

In discussing Gaeaf with Pat, we decided the best that could be done at the time was to catch, neuter and release him, with the idea that, when the shelter had room, we’d try to get him into it. While RappCats’ policy, according to Pat, is to only place rescued cats with people who will keep them indoors, we both figured that a neutered cat running loose was preferable to an intact one running loose. There are scary charts about the exponential population explosion that can occur when cats are left alone to breed.

Fritz is also available for adoption at RappCats' shelter in Flint Hill.Courtesy photo
Fritz is also available for adoption at RappCats’ shelter in Flint Hill.

Anyone who is really concerned about Gaeaf or other strayed or abandoned cats can help make more space in RappCats’ shelter by adopting one of the cats they’ve rescued or provide funds to expand the shelter’s capacity to handle more cats. Volunteer help is also needed, including providing a foster home for rescued cats. RappCats provides financial and other support to those of us fostering cats. According to their recent newsletter, in 2014 the organization has also had more than 80 cats spayed, neutered and, when needed, vaccinated for rabies by November and expected to exceed 100 cats by the end of the year. (For more information, call 540-987-8099 or visit rappcats.org.)

In the meantime, I’m continuing my efforts to get this sweet, beautiful cat accustomed to being around people so he has a shot at adoption. So far, I haven’t broken his three-foot rule, but that’s a whole lot closer than when I started the socialization process last summer.

© 2014 Pam Owen

Pam Owen
About Pam Owen 306 Articles
Writer, editor, photographer, and passionate nature conservationist living in Rappahannock County, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Two favorite quotes: By E.O. Wilson, who coined the term "biodiversity," "Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction”; by Douglas Adams, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they pass by.”