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OrdinaryTimes 1.01-FeedingFerals

I didn’t expect to learn so much feeding feral cats. A neighbor was ill and needed someone to take over her Wednesday morning responsibilities, and I innocently volunteered. Now, every Wednesday morning, I fill two gallon jugs with water, top off the old kitty litter tub with dry food, and grab nine small cans of wet food (something I’d never dream of feeding my domestic critters), and make my rounds.

I visit five feeding stations: one behind the neighborhood hospital, and the other four around a local shopping center. I don’t always see cats at every station, but I always find clear evidence that they have been there; them or raccoons. I always find empty food pans.

Feral cats might as well be a different species from their domestic cousins. They distrust humans. There’s rarely any nudging for a head scratch. Most will at best warily watch from a safe distance, even when I pop the top off of a particularly smelly can of fish pate. Such an elevated name for pressure-cooked fish guts. The nose-scouring stench of those guts might get one or two to yowl a bit, but few approach to appreciate this hand that feeds them.

The group of neighbors that organized to feed these critters capture the females to neuter them, clipping the tip of one ear before releasing to show who’s been fixed. The feeding is supposed to keep them from marauding through the local bird population. They do not try to tame these wild ones. They say that doesn’t work.

That doesn’t stop me from slipping into my kitty voice when I’m servicing those feeding stations. I’ve named most of them, though they don’t care. This is not an exercise in ego gratification because I might as well be Gilgamesh to them. They accept my contribution without appreciating me in return.

One station, located in a bamboo patch behind a dumpster, is frequented by two critters. One, an energetic black shorthair and the other an ancient mottled white alley cat. Blind and bloated, he finds the food tray by scent and touch, feeling his way through fence rails with his whiskers, yowling every step. I sometimes sneak back around the dumpster to peek in on his feasting. His appetite remains as prodigious as his distended belly.

The last stop is everyone’s favorite. Located in a patch of woods on a hill above a power line right of way, it’s the least urban of the five stops. A chunk of aggregate concrete serves as the feeding station, and a small but thundering herd of cats appears out of the shrubbery as I park my car in the adjourning lot.

The ringleader, a muscular, shorthair grey, leads the procession, mewling while the others chase their tails around through the bushes in anticipation of the great event. I prolong my delivery, refilling the water bowl before spreading several healthy scoops of dry food along the concrete. The grey works himself up to a frenzy, strutting back and forth, even submitting to a casual head scratch in his enthusiasm to be the first one fed. He sniffs the dry food with extreme disinterest while I snap open the first of two cans of wet, turning each on its top so the liquid will drain into the dry food base. Grey impatiently nuzzles these while I move even slower to prolong the tension. Two ... three ... four ... Finally, I dig the wet contents out onto the dry and he’s diving into the falling chicken or beef chunks while contentedly growling. The kill! Once he’s distracted, the rest of the motley clan approaches and quite literally digs in.

I leave this stop for last because I do feel deeply appreciated there. I’ve tried to scratch the other heads gathered around that trough, but they jump back at my slightest hint of movement. I have to back off then. Resuming my kitty voice, I slink to the car.

Once home, I rinse out the empty cans to my normally tame cats’ wild, mournful chorus. They smell the alluring stink of the forbidden, and long for a nibble which I never provide. Once clean, I tie the empties into a plastic bag and chuck them into the recycling bin where they will ripen for six full days until the recycling truck takes them away somewhere.

Rituals need not appreciate anyone back for practicing them. They might need to be done without the expectation of return, and it seems to help to engage with such a skeptical and skittish clientele. I spend less than an hour making these rounds, and only one morning a week, yet it’s something to calibrate an otherwise irregular calendar. Those tough faces prove at least as friendly as the human ones I see on my rounds and more present than any an isolated writer might see on any other morning.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved


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