Keeping Feral Cats Warm: The Saga of “Fish Tank Cat”

Dear Readers,

While I haven’t written extensively about it yet, I have set up a feral cat sanctuary in my little city barn. It’s old, it has windows I can leave open yet secure, and with its loft space and lots of hiding places, I figured it would be ideal for cats. I had two come live with me, one of which found another spot to hang out down the block and is only here part time (See: Calliope) and another that found my couch (See: Senor Pantalones)

The lazy quitter.

The hard worker still doing her job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During winter prep of the backyard, I moved the yard furniture into the barn and rearranged a few things. I have an old fishtank in there that got left behind. Since it was doing nothing, I opened up the lid and stuffed in a blanket in case Calliope wanted to nap. Recently, I came into the barn and, upon looking into the fish tank, noted a pair of yellow eyes looking back at me. It seems that another cat picked up on the scent of “Cats Welcome” emanating from the barn and, during the extremely low temps we’ve had the last few weeks here in Chicago, decided to seek warmth in the fish tank. He is now known as “Fish Tank Cat.”

While fish tanks are not known as the best of feral cat shelters, I figured that it would be easier to amend his current situation rather than oust him entirely if that’s what he liked. There are feral shelters in the barn but he seemed to gravitate toward the fish tank, clearly because cats love fish (or so they would have us believe).

A home only a cat could love. Look REALLY close and you’ll see Fish Tank Cat in the window.

I noticed, upon further inspection while he was away, that his little breath was creating an icy fog on the inside of the tank. In order to help him stay warm in the negative temps, I ordered some emergency mylar blankets from Amazon. Sadly, they did not arrive quick enough to thwart the ever dropping temps, so I improvised. I found some mylar shiny wrapping paper in the attic and lined the tank with that. Festive, crinkly, warm. Next, I stuffed his comforter back in and lined the sides with additional bed sheets I have set aside for needy cats (as opposed to the self-made cats who have it all). Finally, I put a thick rug over the top halfway to help him keep in some heat yet let him enter and exit with ease. Voila: A makeshift cat shelter.

Now, if you want to actually make a cat shelter, you can get one of those thick Rubbermaid Tubs with a lid. Line that bad boy with some foam board insulation from the hardware store and stuff it with straw (not hay) and, after cutting a door on the front, you now have a cozy feral home. Alley Cat Allies also shows you a variety of homes, both purchased and homemade here.

One of my feral tubs. TOASTY!

Fish Tank Cat comes and goes like a wraith. He only allows me to approach on my knees, bearing the gifts of water and wet food. I can’t get a good look at him because he prefers to wait outside the window while his waitstaff services his accommodations, so he may need some TNR in the future. For now, I’ll just keep him warm and fed.

 

Love,

Alana.

 

Tree House Is Putting Cats to Work!

You guys!

I don’t know how I feel about this, so I wanted to share it with you. Tree House is making cats work. No lie. They have a special program that actually gives cats jobs! Let’s learn more.

Some random feral cat peering into our fountain. Watch out, cat! They’ll give you a job!

What is it?

It’s called “Cats at Work” (they don’t even try to hide their intentions!) and it’s a program that’s taking place around Chicago, the suburbs, and even farther.

Who is it for?

It is for outdoor feral cats only. I guess that’s not so bad since they’re not pulling cozy cats off couches, but still.

What do the feral cats do?

Tree House finds feral cats that are in danger in some way – living in colonies that are overcrowded or full of diseases, don’t have enough food, are in an area that can present dangers to the cats – and they relocate those cats to areas where people actually want them. Why would they want them? To control the rodent population, of course! Actually, this is starting to sound like the cats are badasses.

How does it work?

If a person (residential, factory, industrial, or gardening) is having a rodent problem, they call Tree House and say “I would like X number of cats.” Tree House then traps cats that are in bad situations, gives them health screenings, vaccines, and medications, if needed, and then moves them to the new location. A home base area is set up for the cats where they live in giant acclimation crates for three weeks in order to identify this new area as home. After three weeks, they’re released from the crates and are on patrol! The person who requested the cats is in charge of a regular feeding schedule, veterinary care through Tree House (if needed), and scooping a litter box. And voila! Rat problem solved.

Did you know that cats who are regularly fed are actually better hunters than cats who hunt to survive? It’s true!

Did you also know that just the scent of cats can keep rodents away from an area? Also true!

If you’re interested in knowing more, the CATastrophes Web Series just did a guest episode for Animalist News about the whole thing! They also did their own, semi-informative video about the program. You can check them both out below.

If you’re interested in this program, contact Tree House! They don’t just service Chicago with these feral cats. They’ve gone all the way up to Wisconsin and are willing to go beyond that, if requested.

Actually, I’ve convinced myself. This isn’t so bad as long as no one takes MY couch away. I’m watching you, Tree House.

Love,

Crepes.

PS.

Speaking of Feral cats…

did you know tomorrow is National Feral Cat day? This is a great time to tell all you LA area peeps that our favorite West Coast rescue Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats is having its annual Feral Cat Photography Show. This year’s show will hang at Angel City Brewery Gallery Space from October 16th to the 19th with an opening reception on the 16th from 6:30 to 10:30 pm. The event is free and open to the public. There’s even going to be a walk-in cattery where you can meet some of the residents and possibly even go home with your newest family member!

If you don’t live near LA but know someone who does, please share and encourage them to attend! It’s for a great cause helping an awesome rescue and feral cats.

Oh my.

Oh my. That cat is literally 50 shades of gray.

Kitty Bungalow is giving us two of their limited edition National Feral Cat Day posters to giveaway! If you’d like ta chance to win one, leave a comment below letting me know you want to be entered. Two winners will be drawn randomly from all entries and announced next Tuesday.  Entries accepted from now until 11:49 pm on Sunday, October 19th.

For more information: http://www.kittybungalow.org/nfcd.html

Meet Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats

kitty bungalow

Welcome, Dear Readers! Today we speak with Big Boy, a formally feral cat who now lives with the headmistress of Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats, a shelter that specializes in schooling kittens in the niceties of living with people. Using special techniques and a lot of humor, Kitty Bungalow is reforming Los Angeles kittens daily. Let’s hear more about them from Big Boy.

 

Big Boy

Big Boy

 

Crepes (C ): Welcome, Big Boy. Is that your real name?

Big Boy (BB): Of course it is. Do you want to know how I got it?

C: I do not. Please, tell me about Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats. How did it begin?

BB: Back in the day, there was this broken down storage shed on the property where my Headmistress lived and let me tell you, in the spring time, it was a hell of a cat disco!

C: There was dancing?

BB: We would all come around from all over the street and party. There was a particularly good looking Siamese. She got down.

C: You mean she didn’t like heights?

BB: I mean she was pregnant a lot in the spring.  And the nice people who just bought the house kept finding homes for the babies. But she just kept making more kittens. Finally, I think the humans caught on, or maybe they ran out of friends who wanted Siamese kittens. That’s when the traps moved in. They started doing TNR (trap neuter return) and managed this colony. After, they took their skills to nearby streets and neighborhoods. Pretty soon, the word was out that this was the safe place for street cats. We decided to start a 501c3 but when we tried filling out the paperwork, thats when reality set in: no opposable thumbs. So we knocked on the door and recruited the nice lady human who brings us food and asked her if she would be our figure head, and she became the Headmistress.

C: What kind of facilities does the charm school have?

BB: We are a cage free environment and we are about to move into a brand new space built from scratch! They tore down the old disco and built a brand new bungalow and have been fundraising for the space for two years

C: Your website says that you socialize hissy kittens. Tell me about the process.

BB: Well, it is a 100% street cat rescue. No owner surrenders and no shelter pulls. Our cats have never and will never see the inside of a shelter. Most of the kittens coming in are born to feral mamas and hiss and spit and throw a fit. They need to be taught all about how great human love is. The school uses techniques of force love.

kitty bungalow

The Headmistress

C: That sounds indelicate, but I suspect it isn’t. Explain force love.

BB: They don’t wait for the kitten to come around on their own time, but show them repeatedly that humans are good. The humans have an endless supply of baby food and toys. They do a lot of belly rubs and breaking down the kitties’ defenses. It helps that the kittens see 40-50 different volunteers a week. It adds up to over 10 hours of class time a day. When they are ready to graduate, they are some of the most loving and affectionate cats you’ll ever meet.

C: What is the most common age of kittens that you socialize?

BB: We get in tiny babies. They’re easy. A lot of times they come with their mamas so we work with them, too. The 8-12 week old kittens are tougher, as they have been on the street longer. We rarely go older then 14 weeks unless they pass a placement test. We simply don’t have the space to have a student here for an extended period of time. We could have had three students at their desk during that time.

Pikachu, an adoptable graduate

Pikachu, an adoptable graduate, chews his pencil erasers

C: Do you also work with adults and older cats?

BB: They’ve gotta be pretty special, like me.  I’m a total social love bug and I was two years old and very feral when I came to the Bungalow. In fact, some of the cats from my colony are still feral. They let the nice lady pick them up and pet them in the back yard but not the front yard. Ferals are weird like that. And the hot Siamese, she doesn’t even let the lady touch her, eve 8 years later!

C: What’s the greatest achievement you’ve had thus far? 

BB: We’ve achieved a lot. The beginning of the Bungalow was in the lady’s office in her house. She once had 24 kittens in there.  She didn’t know anything about cats either and she’s allergic.

C: Well that proves that cat allergies can be overcome! Please, continue telling us about the Headmistress.

BB:  She caught on pretty quick. In three years, we went from sharing her office, to our own little trailer and now an actual Bungalow with all the creature comforts.  That’s a pretty big achievement. But what we are most proud of is the small stuff.  Being willing to talk to people and see how we can help, offering some assistance and solving a problem together.

Sneezle, another adoptable graduate

Sneezle, another adoptable graduate, only colors with sharpened crayons

C: Give me an example.

BB: There was a low-income disabled woman who saw our fliers about doing a community trapping. She contacted us months later when she was going to be evicted from her HUD housing because of her cat. She was fighting it because the cat was her therapy cat, the only interaction that she had, the thing that made her want to get out of bed every day.

C: So animal therapists aren’t just dogs. 

BB: AAT (animal assisted therapy) doesn’t just mean dogs for the blind, no. The issue was as a low income person she had to go through the system and it was going to be 12 weeks before a therapist would see her. By then, she would be evicted. She was hoping we could take the cat until then, but that’s not something we do. The Headmistress did some research and were able to find a therapist who specialized in AAT. We spoke to her and she agreed to assist the woman. They met, letters were written, and the woman and Miss Kitty cannot be evicted.  That, to me, was a great win. Because this woman didn’t want to just dump her cat. She didn’t just take it to the shelter. She wanted to color within the lines. And while we couldn’t give her exactly what she had called for, we were able to find other like-minded folk and, as a team, chalked up the win. I think that was pretty awesome.

C: Let’s discuss your disposition. Your website and approach to cat adoption is quite humorous. Why is that? 

BB: We are funny.

Dobie, once caught passing notes in class

Dobie, once caught passing notes in class

C: Clearly. Moving along, what do you think needs to change in the current world of pet adoption? 

BB: A lot, but it is happening. When we first started, the big argument was about setting your prices high enough to create value for the animal. We didn’t agree.  It’s like any business: if you have too much inventory, you gotta put it on sale.  The next year at the same conference, everyone was talking about $5 Fridays and 2 for 1 adoptions. Clearly, the bar had been moved. I think there are a lot of old rules from a time before people realized the dire nature of the true numbers of homeless cats. Those days of innocence are over. As hard as we work, cats are still going to die

C: A sad fact, but with more people working together, that will hopefully change. What about home inspections from shelters? 

BB: I think the home inspection is one of the most antiquated notions, as if someone is going to have a kitty skull chandelier hanging in their dining room. Most people don’t want you to come over because they don’t want to have to fold the laundry or wash the dishes. I know I wouldn’t want you coming to my house to tell me if we could adopt a cat. I have two board members that had been turned down by other organizations when they wanted to adopt. They turned down these amazing cat lovers who would do anything for their pets. That’s a problem. At Kitty Bungalow’s, we tend to do a lot of screening before they ever come in. We know all kinds of things just by talking to the folk, rather then having them fill out a lengthy form that says very little.

Igby, adoptable, was on the honor roll

Igby, adoptable, was on the honor roll until the salami incident

C: It’s a shame when loving homes are prevented from adopting. And what about the attitude towards adoption. Where do you think that currently is?

B: I think the tone of adoption has to change. It can’t be sad. It shouldn’t be sad. It should be happy and joyous. You shouldn’t go home thinking about the poor cats you didn’t adopt. That’s depressing. People should adopt and it should be a happy event. I tell people never to feel bad about our kittens. They all find excellent homes. We don’t list all of our kittens on our website. How many black kittens do you need to see?  Just one. A cute one. If you see four, or seven or nine you start to think about the poor kittens you aren’t going to adopt. We want people to give money to rescue as a cause, not as an emergency. We want to put a happy face on adoptions.

C: What advice would you like to offer to other organizations? 

BB: To be a sustainable organization, you have to have a vision. If you don’t have a clear vision and you are just out there in the trenches for the animals, think about joining forces with another group. I think bigger, stronger, viable sustainable organizations will make a larger impact than a lot of little groups.  The same goes for independent rescues. They do so much work. That’s how we all started. Imagine how much they could get done if they found an organization they jive with. I know we need more people willing to put in the time and do the work and would love to have some of the voracious independent rescuers join our fold, if they feel like they are on our same wave length. For us, we don’t want Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats to only exist while the nice lady is around. We want it to last and last.

C: Thank you very much for your time, Big Boy. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

BB: Is there ham?

C: No, there is no ham. 

***

As you can see, Kitty Bungalow’s Charm School for Wayward Cats has a lot to say and isn’t afraid to say it. They are doing excellent work in the Los Angeles area for stray kittens, and they’re also working hard to put a happy face on adoption. If we can all work together to make adoption a happy event, more people will go the shelter route rather than purchasing a pet from a store. Visit the Kitty Bungalow website for a more detailed look at who they are. You can even meet some of the adoptables pictured here. It’s definitely worth your time.