Surely, you’ve come across one or two of them in your travels. Kitties that peer out from behind a bush or a dumpster, that scurry to the nearest gutter when you park your car or streak across the alley behind your home. You probably think, oh well, it’s just another feral and you go on about your life assuming he or she is fine on its own. After all, eating mice and living au natural – isn’t that how they existed before being domesticated by humans?
For years, I was one of those blissfully ignorant people.
Living in Baltimore meant seeing them behind restaurants, outside shops and once I even saw a few take off across the parking lot of a rather well-endowed local shelter. I’d heard about people who took on the responsibility of leaving them food and wholeheartedly bought into the belief that is how these kitties wanted to live. With limited human contact, other than a bowl of crunchies now and again.
Foster failing with Bugsy should have opened my eyes, but it didn’t.
A former so-called feral living on the streets in East Baltimore, he’d been pulled by a rescue when neighborhood teens started harassing him. As a “friendly” he made an easy target and local rescuers were worried for his safety. After discovering he was FIV+, adoption applications stopped coming in and he spent months, first in a refuge, then in a foster home. When my husband and I first agreed to take over his fostering duties, I can still remember our vet’s reaction. He was visibly angry. “This cat’s been TNRed, don’t you know what that means? He shouldn’t have been pulled from the street; it negates the whole purpose of the program.”
Fortunately, nobody told Bugs that because he decided right away that he preferred cushy pillows, his multiple cat beds and couches to sleeping in a vacant or under a parked car.
Six years on, I still believed some cats would always be feral and better off living on their own. Through Soft Side, I’ve come to know a small army of dedicated angels who take it upon themselves to care for these forgotten ones and I know how well they do that unpaid, unrelenting job. It was the reason why we stipulated that our Medical Fund had to be used only for cats who would be returned to their colonies. Not ones that had a rescue to advocate on their behalf and to find them forever homes. We were determined that this pot of money would help ensure that Baltimore’s street kitties were living large and healthy on their own.
There’s nothing like a global pandemic to see how stupid you’ve been. I now know there’s no such thing as living healthy on the streets.
Malnutrition makes your teeth rot which weakens your ability to ward off attacks by other cats or wild animals. Wounds don’t heal on their own. Fleas eat at your skin till it’s red, raw and bleeding. And what might be a simple-to-treat issue in a “family member” turns into raging pneumonia or the need for amputation when you’re fighting the elements 24/7.
Since launching our Medical Fund, we’re seen what originally amounted to maybe one funding request a week to be more like one daily. With local shelters shutting down their TNR programs during the pandemic, there’s currently only one place in Baltimore to turn and we’re it. What makes this all the more heartbreaking is that so many of the emergencies we’ve funded have been with kitties that have turned out to be about as feral as, well, Bugsy.
Instead they’re kitties who, obviously, once knew life with humans and a home. For whatever reason, they were turned out, dumped or abandoned and have somehow managed to exist on their own. This discovery came by way of the angels who reach out to us. After receiving emergency medical and dental, these kitties need to recuperate before returning to their colonies, so angels have set up ICU’s in their garages and sheds. What may have been a spitting cat when first trapped has now revealed itself to be a total attention hog and cuddle bug.
As of today, Soft Side recipients Percy, Butter Brickel, Garfield, David Copperfield and BooBoo are all in makeshift rehab care. They get a cocktail of steroids to fight the skin allergies, antibiotics to address infections and, in some cases, ointments to soothe their ravished skin. On a daily basis, they each get some free roam time to escape their cages, a grooming session for those who still have fur and ample cuddling with their caretaker and her family. This isn’t part of a community-based and funded organization, it’s one person taking on the responsibilities that others have shirked. One person taking on the responsibility of saving innocent lives that others have thrown out like trash.
That makes me alternately sad and angry, but I prefer the anger. I want to be pissed off and I want others to be, too. That’s the only way we’ll be motivated to change the situation, to find these particular kitties loving homes and start working together to prevent others from ending up in the same dire straits.
What can you do to help? Help us find Butter Brickel, Percy and Garfield forever homes so they can live out their years being loved . Volunteer to help feed a local colony. Donate food to the people and organizations that care for street colonies. Support our Medical Fund. Agree to become a foster. Promote adoption. And above all, never again look at a cat on the street and think, no big deal – he’ll be okay on his own.
Ignorance is no longer a valid excuse.
Note: All the kitties here are being cared for by one particular angel. Over the weekend, we learned that Butter Brickel and Percy have been adopted together, but if you’re interested in meeting Garfield, contact us and we’ll connect you up.