As the temperatures here have dipped down into freezing, I have noticed much more activity from our feral colony. They are more active during the day, running around, playing with each other and trying to find a sunbeam to rest in. I can just imagine how many calories they burn just trying to stay warm and comfortable. Most people think that because they have fur coats, they must be warm already, but they aren’t. They get cold just like we do.
With this in mind, we have placed one of their styrofoam huts on our top deck. It is safely tucked out of the wind from the ocean and gets the full on sun in the afternoons. The hut heats up and because it’s styrofoam it can retain a modicum of heat for several hours. Inside of the hut we built them are two rooms. It’s actually two old coolers we duct taped together and we carved a small door between them. The rooms are thickly padded with old tee shirts and reflective silver blankets are taped on the floor bottoms and around the walls. One of the rooms has a small Clementine’s fruit box from the supermarket and inside is a fluffy bed. Cats love to curl up in a box and this suits that purpose perfectly. The bricks on top keep the hut stable and they keep the wind from blowing the tops off.
Cats like to be up high, so this second story hut is a perfect location for a quiet night, safe from predators.
We have installed a small cat door in our garage downstairs. Our second story residence means that the garage is not accessible from upstairs and used mainly as any garage would be used. The difference is that our garage is now a hostel for our feral cat community. More of the wilder cats are now taking advantage of the shelter of our garage because it is a safe venue from large dogs, it’s warm and there is always something good to eat in the bowls. We also have a gallon watering dish always filled with clean water for them to drink.
A few years ago we purchased a small Dutch heater that is just large enough to heat that space and we run that throughout the day when someone is home. The heater also has a thermostat and can operate independently if we wanted to leave it on during really bad weather. There is also a plush old sofa so they don’t have to sleep on the floor. We have put rugs down in their feeding areas so they can dine comfortably without having to rest on the cold concrete. A rafter built into the ceiling provides warmth and security for the cats that like to be up high and our shelves are blanketed with numerous soft beds and cubbyholes for naps and slumbers.
The only time they would ever have to leave the garage is when they have to potty and thankfully, they all do that outside.
They are more inclined to be less skittish around my husband. He is regimented in his care and keeps a strict schedule of feeding, care and play time with them. Yes, feral cats are very playful, even the grown ones! Our feral cats have their own toys from fleece strings to toy mice and balls. They are very accustomed to my husband and rub up against him, head bonk and purr without hesitation when he is around. They will also engage in play activities like chasing the mouse he throws for them or tugging on a string he dangles.
They are not that way with me.
He always tells me to be down there at 7:30am sharp to give them all breakfast because they will be waiting on me. But when I go down there and fill the bowls with food, you’d swear we didn’t have any cats at all. All I know is the bowls mysteriously empty out before I go back down to feed them dinner.
Lately they have sought me out as the sun starts to set. My husband won’t be home for another 2 hours, but I will open the door and two or three of them will be waiting for me on the porch. The tails are raised as a sign of recognition and affection and they try to lead me down the steps and to their feeding areas by constantly stopping to look over their shoulders, making sure I am following behind them. A scared cat doesn’t stop to look back until they are a great distance away from you.
I think the cold weather makes them hungry sooner and I have no problem going down a few hours early to give them a treat. Besides, this means I actually get to be close to a few of them and that is always a treat for me. I even got to pet two of them today and that is worth the thousand times they have hid from me during feeding times.
If you have never experienced the joy of knowing you are necessary, but never knowing if you actually make a difference, then take care of a feral cat community for a year. You will soon discover that you are quite necessary and the reward of being allowed to be present is worth more than anything you will ever experience in your life again.