We spend all of our time, and most of our money, feeding over 40 cats a day. Some are house cats (ours, and – sigh – the neighbors' cats); the rest live outside, year-round.
Ten years ago we, along with our single cat, moved into a typical inner-city rowhouse, not too far from the US Capitol. The neighborhood included dozens of cats, all at least semi-tame, and all reproducing madly.
We had heard about TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return), but weren't keen on the idea of putting cats, especially people-dependent cats, back out on the street to live. A neighbor had already started doing TNR work in the area, but hadn't yet made it to our block.
When some of these cats decided to live with us, we had them spayed/neutered, vaccinated, treated for parasites, and checked out medically. At that point, our pockets were empty, and our house was full (or so we thought).
TNR became our only option. Fortunately, by then we had located a vet who offered discount TNR services. With the encouragement and assistance of our now-friend, we spent the next few years doing the same for every last free-roaming cat on the block . . . except these were eartipped and returned to their habitats. Every day, rain or shine, they get carryout food – only in this case, the delivery person keeps them company through their meal, and cleans up afterwards.
Most are semi-tame or tame-to-us, and none are totally wild. Periodically, we've run into adoptable cats. Along with the last few kittens that were born, most of these have gone to new homes, sometimes via adoption agencies – but not all. Like I said, we thought we were full.
Several years ago, we discovered a small colony just outside our usual area, so now our time and money have to stretch even further. A long time ago, we passed what most people would consider reasonable, and are approaching the limits of what is humanly possible. We hope some young, energetic cat lovers move into the neighborhood soon!
Aside from the relentness and demanding schedule, our biggest frustration involves cats abandoned or “put out” to survive as best they can. Adolescent toms who were banished when they began to spray are especially heartbreaking. Since they were pets at one point, they love human contact. And with only a little effort, the problem could have been avoided.
But, because they have often been ill-treated as a result of their natural behavior, they are justifiably suspicious and often lash out. As time passes, even those previously cared for may become skittish and mistrustful as they learn to survive in the streets.
Also, speeding vehicles periodically take their toll (though not as often as one might imagine). But even street-wise cats cannot always escape inattentive (or sometimes intentionally cruel) drivers who take the alley at 45 mph to shave a few seconds off their trip. In DC, the alley speed limit is 15 mph, but enforcement is nonexistent. Of the cats who are hit, the lucky ones die instantly.
Providing medical care to aging – and usually less than cooperative – alley cats is a tribulation we are just now beginning to face. Earthly angels, like the woman who once adopted two (who would not have lasted the winter), are so rare we had begun to doubt their existence.
Irresponsible people and a culture that “doesn’t believe” in spaying/neutering are a constant challenge. Our dire financial circumstances are also an ongoing worry. Blue-collar wages don't cover our monthly expenses, let alone the bills we have run up. Once in a blue moon, we receive modest – though very welcome – contributions from kind, sympathetic individuals.
The house we were planning to renovate, the one that seemed like such a good deal at the time (not that we had a choice, since having a roof over our heads is not optional), has become a very low priority. We fix what we have to, and only when we have to. So, yes, it was a good deal. But it's hard to live in.
Our souls sing every time the alleycats run up to us, tails aloft, and trot beside us to the sacred feeding place. And, our heartstrings are pulled when they dawdle and strop our legs, just to enjoy a few more minutes of our company.
We spend vast amounts of time scooping litter, settling minor feuds, and coordinating the sharing of space with our furry housemates. We fret about the alleycats, and improvise ways to ease their hardships. Each day we discover something new about them to love, and understand how inextricable our fates are, and were, every step of the way.