Friday, March 29, 2013

Should You Feed a Stray Cat

         Here's what happened to me when I 'adopted' a stray cat and why I recommend...

thinking twice before you feed a stray cat. You could just kill it with kindness.

Don't be fooled by that cute exterior...inside is a monster waiting to get out.
When the sleek black tomcat turned up at the back door, he had no idea his soulful miaowing would one day result in his downfall. My daughters fell on him in raptures, petting and fussing over him as if he were a baby. The first thing they wanted to do was bring him a saucer of milk and watch that pretty pink tongue lapping contentedly until he was full and could lie sunning himself on the warm cobble stones.

Being teenagers, they wouldn’t listen when I told them he already appeared well fed and was most likely someone else’s pet. Some cats habitually patrol the neighbourhood looking for bonus meals and this chap didn’t look down and out.

   “We shouldn’t feed him as he will clearly be going home for his supper later,” I warned to no avail. We did attempt to find his owner, but as no one seemed to have seen him before, we assumed he was lost or he’d been dumped. We should have tried a little harder.

   Alas, for him, we continued to place enticing bowls of leftovers before him whenever he turned up. Eventually he became ‘our’ cat, spending more and more time in the garden and even strolling through the house when the fancy took him. Not that he was ever truly domesticated or clingy, but we put his habits down to being a tom and therefore a little bachelor-style roaming seemed only natural. He’d disappear for days at a time before we’d hear him in the early hours letting us know he was back.
Bill Clinton fusses over White House pussycat Socks

   We lived on the edge of town in a mixed neighbourhood of new builds and large properties that were slowly being diced into suburban blocks. So we guessed our tomcat was prowling the pine forest behind the house or the swampy land at the bottom of the garden, sleeping rough in the bulrushes like a wayward Casanova. Perhaps he even had other “homes” he visited when he wasn’t with us, because he was certainly well fed and constantly growing. Every time he showed up he looked fit and healthy and just that little bit bigger than last time.

   Then we noticed his behaviour becoming more intemperate. He hissed at the Labrador with whom he’d once been playful friends. He leaped on the table to snatch food when we were sitting down for a meal. Increasingly aggressive, he swiped food from a young visitor’s breakfast plate. Our cat was becoming scary. He was also going walkabout for longer periods; a few weeks might go by before he strolled up the driveway and plonked himself down on the back step.

Then our ducks started to disappear one at a time. The geese followed and had to be put down when we found them injured with broken wings. Foxes took the blame. Even though our tom was displaying bad behaviour and killed small birds from time to time, that was to be expected, but we never took him for the killer of these larger birds.

   Territorial displays are all very well, but when he urinated on the beds, something he wouldn’t have dreamed of when he first purred his way into our lives, alarm bells rang. He arched his back and screeched when he was chased off the kitchen worktop. He was becoming downright feral.

   Concerned he was also becoming dangerous to know, we described his conduct to the RSPCA. After a random search of their records, the real owner, who lived on the far side of the pine forest, was located. Two years previously they’d called in the hope their pet had been handed in. This family were thrilled to collect him and take him home where he belonged. Under instruction from the RSPCA to keep the cat inside for two weeks to reorientate him, and help him reacquaint his bond with his old family, they did their best.

   A week later, he’d done a runner and in the early hours woke us with that familiar miaowing which sounded just like: I am so hungry, nobody loves me, please feed me. This time we knew better and called the owner to collect him once more. She reported his changed demeanour and how they had struggled to cope with him.

   ‘At first he seemed to love being home and just lazed about and let the children play with him. Then he urinated on the beds. Now he hisses fiercely when shooed off the worktops. This cat has changed personality. To tell the truth, if he runs away again, I won’t be bringing him home.’

He turned up next when a wedding supper and dance were being held in our garden. The cat had upset many an outdoor meal as we chased him off the table and away from the food. There was no way he was going to spoil the wedding, so I rang the owner again, to please come and collect the cat, which she did.

We heard later she’d taken him straight to the RSPCA with a command not to bring him home again. Did he meet a grisly end? We don’t know for sure, but it is very possible because he was no longer a cat suitable as a pet. They say domestic cats do not become feral. A feral cat is one that hasn’t grown up with human contact. But the call of the wild was so instinctive, our cat couldn’t say no. Clearly he loved the midnight prowling, hunting, feasting and mating as the fancy took him. But it was by bringing the manners of the wild into ours and his owners’ homes that showed he would never be domesticated again.

   Perhaps if we had never fed him that first saucer of milk, he would not have turned into an unmanageable oaf.  By doing so we had inadvertently taken away a beloved pet which the children had missed desperately. We had encouraged him to stay away from his real home by feeding him every time he turned up. We were naive in failing to connect the disappearance of the ducks and geese with his predatory aggression.

   You have to be cruel to be kind is a maxim to bear in mind next time you are tempted to fuss over or feed a cat that wanders into your garden or rubs against your legs in that cute, vulnerable way. Better to tell him to shove off home and don’t show his pretty face around here again. Better for him, anyway.