Elvis was a crooner with sleek black hair, a young guy exuding sexuality. A little black Manx, he'd picked up with our cats, settling on the porch. We weren't feeding him, yet. He was battling with other fully equipped toms in the neighborhood, most strays like him.
Somebody else's cat, he came wearing a flea collar. I tried not to give him a name, calling him "Spare" or "Little Boy." My wife christened him Elvis after hearing him caterwaul. Friendly, he'd hop in our laps if we sat on the front steps, or stretch up to a shoulder and purr. He didn't stay a porch cat for long.
If they're lucky, ferals or strays become homebodies. Both of our boys - Mister Cat and Squirrel - found our house before we knew it was their home. The girls we adopted, Xena from PAWS and Luna from a neighbor's dad.
Cats attract cats, make friends, live in social groups, feral colonies and clowders for housecats. They groom and hunt together, and look after one another. Squirrel was welcomed by Mister Cat and Xena. Last winter, he stepped inside on the coldest night of the year. We got him fixed and named him after his attitude as much as his gray fur and white belly.
When we let Elvis inside, Squirrel became moody, unsure of where he stood in the feline order of things. Spats happened in the hallway, spilled into the two young males' relationships with Xena and Luna. Xena, a lithe black ballerina, could out maneuver them, but Luna at 12, could not. She'd been a solo cat before she came to live with us, and smacked any feline who came too close.
Five cats were too many. When we let him in, our friends and neighbors thought we were going over the deep end, but we stayed committed to find him a good home. Four months later, a friend's sister took him to her two little girls, husband and mom. He'd have a couple of small dogs to live with, but there wouldn't be competition from a slightly older male. It was sad to see him go, his little nose poking out of the cat carrier for one last whiff of us.
Will other lost or wild cats come to my door?
Probably. If I can manage, I'll try to help. For most homeless cats life is rough. They become prey to coyotes, raccoons. Mean people kill them. Wild kittens have slim chance of finding a home outside their colony, if they survive. Many kittens become so flea infested they die from blood loss. If feline aids or leukemia breaks out in a colony, the cats suffer until they're too weak to hunt or defend themselves.
Along Beacon Hill and into the International District, volunteers tend several feeding stations, in discreet places on public and private property. Rescuers humanely trap the cats and get them tested for communicable diseases. If they have feline aids or leukemia, they'll likely be euthanized. Healthy felines are spayed or neutered.
If the kitties like people, people find them homes. Healthy, untamable altered cats may be re-released to where they came from. This practice stabilizes feral populations. One female can have three litters a year, and can become pregnant at 4 months; one male can impregnate as many as 40 females. People can help make that population a healthier one by making it a smaller one.
To find out more, visit the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project at www.feralcatproject.org, or call (206) 528-8125. Or, if you see someone at a feeding station, ask how to pitch in.
Some argue saving wild housecats should not be a priority. Aren't there larger issues, like war and genocide, terrorism and oppression? Aren't people more important than animals?
Perhaps the test of humanity is not reacting to inhumanity, but in just being kind.