The (new) Feral Colony

It’s been some time since I discussed the ongoing problem of the feral cats in my neighborhood. There are multiple colonies, and honestly, I’d guess many of them track back to the original colony in the hoarder’s yard. (Many kittens born into a colony, especially the males, will branch out as they get older to find or form nearby colonies, reducing the chance for inbreeding.) I don’t know that these all come from this one situation, but I know that in the episode of Hoarders that featured this man, there’s one shot of a siamese-tabby cat in a metal cage in the house, and that was all the way back in 2012. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but it’s very rare to have feral siamese cats, and the litter born in summer 2020 were siamese-tabby.

(Regular visitors, clockwise from top left: kittens’ mom and aunt (with Berlet); Big Papa; kittens’ uncle; tuxie; kittens’ aunt or uncle and our most regular visitor)

We live at one end of our neighborhood and very near the original colony. Our kittens of course came from that colony, and we were working to TNR the adults until the folks next door to the hoarding house took over** the colony. We still get regular visitors to the yard, including the four siamese cats – though the two sisters in the photo together (our kittens’ mom and aunt) stopped showing up*** anywhere several months ago – a tuxie that I think is someone’s pet; and Big Papa, likely our kittens’ father and a cat that is seen just about everywhere on the streets in our part of the neighborhood.

(view from our deck at the scrubland behind the yard)

The area behind our back fence is scrubby woodland. It’s technically commercial property but has stayed woody (with tons of animal life, including many deer) until recently. One part of the woodland closer to the highway has been cleared for some kind of new build. It’s close enough to our house that I can hear the construction easily, but not close enough to see. However, I have a feeling that it’s displacing a bunch of feral cats, as we’ve had a flood of one-time new visitors: a little brown tabby that could be Gherkin’s twin, right down to her clipped tail; a brown tabby with orange patches and a bright white tail tip; a long-haired gigantic tuxedo cat. Those are the three that I got long enough looks at to get a full description, but there have been others. Most of them look like they’re cousins to our kittens. And given the history of what I believe to be the original colony, they probably are!

After seeing half a dozen new cats in our yard over two weeks, Jason and I decided that we needed to do something. San Antonio has almost no resources for feral cat rescue or TNR programs. The San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition, which we went through last summer, is really disorganized and, frankly, abysmally run. They don’t help with trapping, there’s very few slots for low-cost spay/neuter surgeries (like maybe 30 a week in the whole city, and you have to line up at like 2am to hope to catch a slot), and when they say they’re sending help/resources, you never get a call back. They wouldn’t even let us list the kittens on their adoption page last summer after socializing and paying for all the medical care out of pocket! I know a few other people who have had equally bad, if not worse, treatment from SAFCC. That’s literally our only resource in town. So J and I have decided we’re just going to do this on our own. Put out food to try to lure the displaced cats to our yard. Buy traps if the luring works, and work with our vet to get these babies TNRed. Provide food and shelter and a safe place for these community cats that no one else seems to be helping.

(Left photos: this last week. Right photo: last August)

The first day we put out food, Feb 28, we immediately got a visitor that we hadn’t seen before. They were a beautiful all-grey cat, and I was so excited to see them because I think this may have been the kitten that hid under our deck back in August! So far, this cat has come back almost every day to check for food. (There’s not always any left when they come as we put out food twice a day, but they still come, which is exactly what we want!)

(left: giant unaltered male; right: another Gherkin-twin)

Since then, we’ve had three more new visitors that I’ve gotten photos++ of, plus a return of an earlier kitty. The first new cat showed up at dusk on the 2nd. At first, we thought it was Big Papa, but a closer look showed that while they’re probably related, it’s not the same cat. Too much white around the mouth, different slant to the eyes, shorter tail, etc. This big guy looks intelligent and crafty, and has probably been around for some time. He barely flinched when I left the house and went to the end of the deck to take better photos of him; just kept an eye on me between bites to make sure he was safe. Our next new visitor, from the 6th, was another twin to Gherkin, but without a clipped tail! How many of these guys are out there?? It’s not just that they’re brown tabbies, which are very common, but they have the exact same markings, body shape, and eye shape as our kittens. It’s clear they’re cousins, and in fact, we actually texted the neighbors to find out if this was one of the born-in-late-June kittens from the original colony. They said it wasn’t. This little one – probably female – has returned a couple times since then, and seems to like to hang out in our yard.

(Top left: new tuxie; bottom left: brown tabby girl with orange patches and white tail tip; right: possum, because apparently we’re going to feed all the wildlife)

Our third and most recent new visitor (9th) is the tuxie in this photo. At first, I thought this might be the tuxie in the first photo in this post, one of our regular visitors, but the white patterns don’t match up, and neither do the cheeks or facial shape. It’s also not the recent super-fluffy longhaired tuxie I saw before this project started. Definitely new, probably a roaming male. Our last (cat) visitor, just yesterday, was the return of the brown tabby with orange patches and a white tail tip. She came into the garden to dig a litter spot, and I only got a very quick blurry photo through a screen before she saw me, spooked, and ran off.

In the meantime, the cats are not the only ones getting something out of this experiment. The birds and squirrels keep stealing bits of dry food (we put out a mix of wet and dry), and as you can see above, we’ve had a possum come to visit as well. It’s very amusing! And then there was the night when I took one last look outside, when it was almost too dark to see, and I saw a form slinking around with a fluffy tail. At first I thought it was going to be one of the big tomcats again, but as the shape revealed a smaller head and longer legs, I suddenly shouted, “That’s not a cat!” and scrambled to try to get photos.

That photo is grainy and blurry, but it was much, much darker outside than it looks here. Jason couldn’t see this guy out the window at all, and I barely could. This was the best I could do with my limited resources. I was honestly glad to get any photo of the gray fox in my yard! This was such a cool experience!

More to come (hopefully!) soon.

**They’re supposed to be TNRing the adults, but other than a young male that we call Bertlet, they’ve pointedly not answered when we’ve tried to talk with them about their progress. There’s some contention because they decided at one point that we were “torturing” the colony cats during the process of trying to trap them. It’s a long story. In any case, it’s possible there are still unaltered cats from that colony running around. We don’t know.

***Those same neighbors were interested in adopting the siamese cats. It’s possible they were able to socialize them and bring them inside, but that’s pure speculation/hope. I just know that as soon as the cold weather started to hit, I stopped seeing them anywhere, when they used to be out in yards, driveways, and porches in the vicinity of their colony all the time. I do hope they’re safe!!

++I can’t watch the area all day, so sometimes the food disappears and we don’t know who got it. We’re in the process of getting an outdoor motion-sensor camera so we can get a better idea of the scope of this project.

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
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3 Responses to The (new) Feral Colony

  1. westmade says:

    Love this. I’m just starting my TNR venture. How do you keep an eye on the food bowl to monitor who is out there? I try to just work by a window but I never seem to notice who’s snatching food. Do you wait outside or are you just more perceptive than me lol


    • Amanda says:

      In the beginning, I watched from inside as much as I could. I wanted to get a good idea of the number of cats we were looking at. Unfortunately, only one seems to make their home here, so we’ve started working on trapping the others in their comfort zones, and we’re trying to catch the roamers now. We set up an outdoor camera that is triggered by motion, and that catches a lot more of the activity, especially overnight, but honestly I think I’ve been more effective at seeing the cats when I had the time to watch because they can be sneaky (moving slowly enough not to set off the camera) or they go to other parts of the yard, not really looking for food. TNRing, especially without a specific colony (kinda haphazardly) is hard!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Construction, Destruction | The Zen Leaf

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