I recently had to say goodbye to one of my beloved cats, Theo. If you’ve been following Moderncat over the years, you’ve seen him here and there with his silvery gray stripes and his tipped left ear. I haven’t known what to write about losing him, but today being National Feral Cat Day, I want to remember Theo by telling you why it is that I am an advocate for Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), a humane method of feral cat management, from a very personal perspective.
Before he came to live with me, Theo was living in the feral colony that I help feed. Theo, his brother Sherman, and my fluffy little McKinley actually all came from the same colony. They are three of the best cats anyone could ever ask for. Actually, most of my cats came straight off the street — Ando, Andy, Little Bear, and Sylvia, as well.
Theo and Sherman were not actually “feral” since it was apparent from the outset that they had both been socialized. McKinley, on the other hand, was pretty darn scared, but came around quickly. Ando was socialized at an early age but still living on the street. Andy, Little Bear, and Sylvia were all very young when I took them in, so I got to see how easy it is for kittens to learn to trust people.
What these experiences — and these cats — have taught me is that all cats have the potential to be loving companions. That is what I believe. There is absolutely no difference between the cats sleeping under a dumpster and the cats sleeping on your bed. Yes, some are tougher cases than others, and some cats will never be snugglers, but house cats — and that’s what we’re talking about here — are incredible, intelligent, loving creatures that do not deserve to be abandoned, left to fend for themselves — or exterminated.
There are TNR opponents out there who consider free-roaming cats to be vermin and they want to deal with them accordingly. I could not disagree more. I cannot stand the thought of Theo, Sherman, Ando, or any of the others being exterminated. Sadly, this is the fate of so, so many cats.
Free-roaming cats can include unsocialized feral cats that were born outdoors, indoor-outdoor pet cats, cats that were previously owned but then lost or put outside for bad behavior, or cats that were simply abandoned or left behind when their owners moved. It can be difficult to tell if an outdoor cat is social since they are often on alert, or just plain frightened out of their minds. Unfortunately, they typically display the same behavior if they’re brought to a shelter, which dramatically reduces their chances of being adopted.
The cat overpopulation problem is a massive and extremely complicated issue. We have to tackle it one step at a time. TNR is the first step in helping to prevent more and more cats from being born. Adopting rescued cats is another part of the equation. Also, volunteering at shelters — working specifically with the scared cats to get them to be more social, or fostering them in your home to teach them that they can relax and enjoy being loved. These are all things that we can do to help.
So, National Feral Cat Day is not just about the truly feral cats — “feral” is just shorthand for unowned/community/unsocialized cats. Theo and my other street cats have made me look at all cats differently. I hope that you will, too.
Here is Theo on the first night I brought him home. I planned to adopt him out, but he was just so darn sweet, he had to stay.
Theo was a good candidate when I needed a model for a photo shoot, because of his easy-going personality.
Theo LOVED to snuggle with the other cats, and they all loved him. I always joked that they called him “Uncle Theo.”
Theo really knew how to get comfortable. He had a thing for donut beds.
Theo was only five or six years old, but he had a tumor above his soft palate that took over very quickly. He was FIV+ so his immune system was no match for the cancer. I lost him over the course of several months, but he was such a trooper, hanging on until the very end. He had the sweetest soul and is truly missed.