Taking Mr. Black Home
Funny how things work. We’d been going back and forth for weeks trying to arrange a day when I could accompany Juliann on her colony feeding rounds and had finally settled on Saturday, February 18. What made it so fitting was that in addition to her feeding duties, Juliann would also be releasing Mr. Black back to his harem and home. Mr. Black was a Street Kitty Fund recipient who was pulled a few weeks back after caretakers noticed a large abscess on his neck. Now treated, fully recovered and ready to cat around again, I’d be there to witness his homecoming.
The area where Juliann and her two other colleagues, Emily (who pioneeered the route) and Jessica, is called Penn North. For those who aren’t familiar with Baltimore it was the epicenter of the 2015 riots in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death. In fact, one of our stops would be behind the CVS that was featured burning on national news, along with various alleys in a 10-12 block radius. An area where the number one business is drugs.
So here we were on a sunny (thankfully) Saturday afternoon – Juliann, Mr. Black and I – headed to the open-air drug markets to feed the cats that call that corner of Baltimore home. I learned on the way down that Juliann often tells the dealers in advance that a guest is coming, although a second female doesn’t ordinarily set off alarms.
Our first stop was a vacant lot that was literally knee deep in garbage. Juliann had already prepared all the trays, so I followed her lead and tried to watch 360 degrees for anything that moved and ….. wasn’t a cat.
She’s got the procedure down to a science and we were quickly on our way to stop #2 and stop #3. On this one, we had company. A couple guys were seated, standing, doing I’m not sure what, but Juliann plowed ahead. After leaving the food and water, I headed back to the car, when Juliann told me, “Wait here, I want to give them something.” Knowing that addicts crave sugar, I later asked, “Did you give them candy?” “No, I want them to have something healthy, so I always carry granola bars. People who suffer from addiction have to eat, too.”
We were closing up the trunk on stop #4 when an older man approached. “Do you have any cat food you could give me? My wife died a year ago, but I have her cat and I really need food.” Juliann pulled out an armload of food and gave to the man saying, “If you can’t take care of that cat, don’t put it out on the street. You’ve got my number; you call me if you need help.”
Apparently, most of Penn North has Juliann’s number and it’s come in handy when cats have gone missing or new ones have shown up. Earlier this summer, someone found kittens at one of her sites and was selling them for $5 on the street. Juliann got a call and with the help of a local drug dealer was able to rescue one of them.
Next stop was the CVS. This time we were greeted by four-legged customers. Although they kept a safe distance, it was obvious they knew this was the dinner lady and they were ready to pounce once we had vacated their space. At each location, there were camo feral houses tucked into corners, compliments of another local kitty angel named Kris. Juliann was relieved to see them all still standing as apparently neighborhood residents sometimes take them to use as coffee tables.
We had only had three more stops, but the next one held special significance. It was Mr. Black’s home – a setup he shares with three female cats who Juliann refers to as his harem. Mr. Black was something of a celebrity among Juliann and the others because he would actually wait for their cars every day, and lead them to the feeding site. The harem must have known the big guy was back because all three came out from hiding when we arrived. Once they were fed and watered, Juliann brought out Mr. Black in his carrier. After seeing videos of TNR kitties beating feet to get back to their colony, I was surprised that it took Mr. Black a moment or two before he took off and ran.
You have to wonder, did he think for a second, maybe indoor isn’t so bad after all?
From there, we did our final two stops, caught a fleeting glimpse of Little Foot and a big Fluffy Guy, whose name I can’t remember as well as numerous hungry eyes peering out from garbage dumps and vacant houses.
Over the years, I’ve heard complaints from anti-cat people that these caretakers are enabling the problem by helping these cats survive. Nothing could be further from the truth. These three amazing young women have not only gotten all the cats on this route spayed and neutered, they’ve also been tireless advocates for the people and animals who live there. Whether it’s helping with pet food, people food, alerting the city to garbage dumps, calling animal control on behalf of neglected dogs or just treating the local residents with kindness and respect, they’re doing work that no one else is. They’ve formed a bond with one of Baltimore’s roughest neighborhoods and, in the process, made it a much kinder place for the cats unfortunate enough to live there.
Postscript: The very next day, Juliann was doing her rounds when she was alerted that a new cat had appeared. She was able to catch him and Sir Sweet Potato is now awaiting vetting and neutering, and will be up for adoption through the Feline Rescue Association.