11

Feral Cats and My Welfare State

Two years ago in a very harsh winter I set out food for three feral cats that hung around our garage across the road.  We set out a dish of dry food inside the garage and replenished it once a day during the winter.   It was a humanitarian act, I thought, and I figured that cats would earn their keep by keeping the area free from rodents.   Well, like many acts of kindness, there were unintended consequences.    The cats found a sheltered space underneath our porch which became their pied-a-terre ,  a nursery for kitten litters and an irritation for our terrier who knew something bad was happening there but couldn’t get in to get at that nasty cat smell.

And so,  as with most welfare programs, things progressed from a charitable act to a burdensome requirement.    When the first summer came I thought I would stop the handout and let the Darwinian ethos take over, the survival of the fittest.   Alas, there were kittens and my wife said “you can’t just let them starve”.    So we kept doling out dry food, the cheapest we could find in bulk.   Once when we were away for a three day holiday and hadn’t left enough food, we returned to find deep scratches on the car left behind and the garage torn up–amazing what tiny claws can do.

There are now (latest count) six adult cats of various hues and four kittens.   They are not friendly, but sit in front of the garage in the morning or across from the house, tormenting our terrier who can’t cross the invisible fence.  I believe we have drawn some immigrants from down the road who have got wind of the free lunch.    Now I know that we’re supposed to trap them and send them to the local animal shelter to be neutered and stop the feline population explosion.    Tell that to the cats who know a trap when they see it, however delightful the bait might be.    Moreover, my wife and I are in our 80’s and not in the best physical shape, so the act of trapping    possible in the ideal, is not feasible actually.

Any ideas?  Possibly this fall I will gird my moral loins and diminish the rations gradually.   Maybe they’ll go down to our neighbor, who keeps chickens.