My cat family lived happily outside. The only times we touched was when Mama Kitty cautiously rubbed her furry back against my leg. She trusted me to feed her and her offspring, now longer than she is, but not nearly so rolly polly. I guess she ate as often as she could get me to feed her because nearly starving in her childhood turned her into an always-anxious-for-the-next-meal kinda kitty. As soon as I walked outside through the kitchen door, she would rub against my legs repeatedly. She got underfoot, almost tripping me when I walked along the outdoor sidewalk to place her and her kids’ bowls of wet and dry food on the patio.
Most people trying to domesticate free-roaming cats have a rough go of it. My friend Rhonda had two kittens, both rescued, one sweet, docile and rarely upset, and the other, Pixie, sweet and purring then suddenly angry and scratching. “These were my children’s indoor/outdoor pets,” Rhonda says. “They said Pixie had ‘mood swings’.” Sometimes other children, who would come by to play and try to rest their head on Pixie’s pillow, ended up getting scratched or bitten.
Trying to domesticate a free-roaming cat or kitten is a long, hard, time-consuming task which doesn’t always work. Rhonda struggled trying to get half-feral Pixie into a carrier to get her to the vet for shots once a year. Then it took the vet and an assistant to hold her down. The vet said Pixie would never be completely domesticated.
Numerous challenges have arisen. Pigeons discovered the cats’ food and, the moment the cats stepped away, swooped in to gorge on it. Soon dozens of pigeons fat as chickens started regularly scaring the cats away until the birds got too bold and the cats made feathers fly. I started putting the cats’ food inside humane traps, which sometimes worked to keep pigeons away. However, at night, when I checked on the cats on the patio, I would often find a bullfrog eating the cats’ food and soaking in their water. So I would grab the frog with gloves, run about a block away, and throw it in someone else’s yard. That solved the problem until the next frog arrived.
I had compassionate, understanding neighbors who worked with me to manage problems caused by the cats eating my neighbor Gary’s birds and plants. I researched and discovered that cats like to eat several small meals because they can’t eat a whole lot at a time. I started feeding them more often so they’d hunt less frequently. Gary said that helped. I also sprayed cat repellent around the edges of his yard.
Gary’s feelings toward our cats changed the day he let me use his studio to tape a Facebook Live talk about my book Angel Hero, Murder in Hawaii, A True Story. Little Mama, wanting to guard me, I think, followed me across the street to his studio. She didn’t run away even when Gary appeared. Gary, a soulful guy, saw the love that little cat had for me, and helped me hang CDs from the clothesline to chase away the pigeons.
The cats also liked to jump on and play in our next door neighbor Jenny’s many plants. She went so far as to build little greenhouses around the plants so the cats wouldn’t play in them.
I worried about how I could trap our outdoor cats if something happened to them. Thankfully, our three female cats (there used to be four, but our biggest white kitty ate rat poison some neighbor left out) were living healthy lives outdoors. Fleas were the biggest issue. The cats were scratching. I tried to figure out how to keep fleas off them, but I couldn’t apply Frontline or other chemical flea treatments to the backs of their necks because they wouldn’t let me touch them there. A woman on the Cat People of Oahu Facebook page gave me an idea, though. She tied a flea treatment package to a stick and sprinkled flea powder on the cat’s neck.
I planned to follow in her footsteps, but in July, the cats’ world and ours turned topsy turvy. Lily passed, and Barry and I had to move out suddenly because her trustees were readying the house for sale. We had to hurry up and find a rental with a yard so I could have an enclosure built for the cats, who would have run away if they weren’t enclosed for several months to get used to the new place. With the move, a whole new set of cat challenges arose. But that, as they say, is another story. Please keep your fingers crossed for Barry and me and our female feline family.