Funny how life imitates work. Less than three months after devoting a column to the feral cat problem, the problem hit home.
Or, to be precise, the problem (a particularly aggressive gray tomcat) broke into my Clovis home by biting through a screen door in the middle of the night.
Then proceeded to attack my very docile 13-year-old house cat, sending poor Winona to the emergency pet hospital.
The next morning, I found an alarming amount of her black fur on the floor. Enough to make me burst into tears. I also discovered gray fur clumped around the new hole in my screen door.
There wasn’t much doubt who the culprit was. I had previously been warned by my next door neighbor that the same gray tomcat tried to bite through her screens and also attacked both her cat and a cat belonging to another neighbor.
I’ve also been awakened by fights between the gray cat and an even larger white tomcat that used to hang out in my backyard. The following day, there was always more white fur than gray on the patio.
Christine, my neighbor, had previously talked about trapping the gray tomcat and getting him fixed. Following the incident at my house, I joined the cause. We borrowed a live animal trap from a volunteer involved in the local Trap-Neuter-Return effort for controlling the overpopulation of felines and set it up in my backyard, baited with tuna fish.
For two nights, nothing happened. The tuna didn’t get touched. Then my sister recommended a three-day trapping method for feral cats she learned about and successfully used.
On the first evening before dusk, I left a plate of wet cat food in front of the cage without setting the trap. On the second, I left the plate of food in the middle of the trap without setting it. Each time, it was licked clean.
On the third evening, I pushed the plate of food all the way to the back and set the trap. A couple hours later I heard the sounds of an animal thrashing around.
‘Meanest cat I’ve ever seen’
Sure enough, it was the gray tomcat that has been causing all the trouble. I draped a towel over the cage to keep it calm and put it in a cool, shady place.
The next step was getting the cat neutered. But I’ve got to admit, after what he did to Winona, part of me wanted to take this kitty on a one-way trip to Huntington Lake to see how much he enjoyed being on the opposite end of the food chain.
Getting the cat euthanized also crossed my mind. Although I have bad memories from a similar experience 15 years ago while living in the Figarden Loop when I trapped an entire family of ferals (mom, dad and three kittens) and took them to Fresno’s animal shelter, where I was told even the kittens were unlikely to be adopted.
“If there was ever an argument (for euthanization), he’s it,” my neighbor Christine said of the gray tomcat. “Meanest cat I’ve ever seen.”
Instead, I texted Brandi Sherman of Fresno T.N.R., a two-person nonprofit whom I interviewed for the March column. It was a Sunday morning, and Sherman had just worked an overnight shift at a hospital. (Whoops.) A couple hours later she replied to bring over the cat.
Last weekend turned out to be a busy one for Sherman. The gray tomcat I left with her was one of 14 (!) feral cats she transported to the Central California SPCA on Monday morning to be spayed or neutered.
The SPCA, which recently resumed offering this low-cost service, charged Fresno T.N.R. $60 for each surgery and $9 for a rabies shot. Sherman paid the bill with funding she receives, though it helps if people whom she assists defray those costs. (Which Christine and I are doing.)
Fresno, Clovis dump responsibility onto residents
In many California cities, residents have access to low-cost TNR service for feral cats, or at least direct referrals, through their public animal service.
Not here. In Fresno and Clovis, dogs take up most of the resources. Leaving the responsibility for controlling feline populations up to concerned citizens and dedicated volunteers like Sherman.
“I would love to have a TNR service,” said Erin Horio, Clovis’ supervisor of animal services. “It would be great for the community.”
In my personal TNR tale, it was time for the third letter: return. While a little apprehensive about releasing the gray tomcat back into the neighborhood where he caused all the trouble, I was assured by both Sherman and my neighbor his behavior will change.
Just as soon as all that testosterone leaves his system.
Besides, the gray tomcat didn’t look all that mean sitting in the trap when I went to pick him up. Also — and this is the best news of all — Winona sustained only a minor wound on one of her paws and is recovering well.
Cats are nothing if not resilient. Even old house cats that never venture outdoors.
Accompanied by my neighbor Christine and Bee photographer Eric Zamora, I released the gray tomcat into her backyard Tuesday afternoon. As soon as the door opened, it quickly dashed out of sight.
We should know in a few weeks whether this story has a happy ending. Meanwhile, it’s time to repair and fortify the screen door.