How Feminism Made Me Love Feral Cats

Most wild animals do not seem to over-breed in their earliest years of fertility, but cats absolutely will. The more that I learned, the more that I felt for these creatures put in a terrible position by irresponsible humans.

I believe in reproductive justice. I believe everyone deserves a say in how, when, and if, they choose to reproduce. 

When I try to describe my extended family to friends, I’m fond of saying, “In my family, we’re all cat ladies  especially the men.” This isn’t strictly true (I have cousins who are dog people all the way!) but it’s a fairly good summary and gives something of a hint as to how I grew up.

My great-grandmother was Queen of the Cat Ladies, and she had some very specific ideas about how cats ought to be treated (if you would be embarrassed giving a name to a child, you don’t give it to a cat).

However, I didn’t give much thought to outdoor cats, until the summer. I adopted my second cat, who is named Blanche  after my great-grandmother.

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I used to work in a dollar store, years and years ago. I know that seems off-topic, but please, stick with me for a minute.

Nothing, and I do mean nothing, about working at the dollar store was good. But the worst part was selling pregnancy tests.

I sold, at minimum, one per shift.

The girls (and they were, without exception, teenage girls, not adult women) who bought them all behaved in more or less the same way.

They did not make eye contact with me; they spoke as little as possible. They paid in exact change and knew how much sales tax was. And usually, it was change: four quarters, one nickel, one penny. Their faces looked inward, totally consumed by their fear.

I wanted to tell them it was going to be OK, that it could be OK; that no matter what the test said, they could still have options and chances in their life.

But more than that, I wanted to make the world into the kind of world where, if I told them that, I wouldn't have to wonder if I was lying.

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One summer, I moved to a new neighborhood. I moved to a big, bright, drafty duplex with two housemates. I moved with my two-year-old cat, and the new kitten, who was small for her age but rapidly growing up. Here, look:

(The internet still loves cat pictures, right? Am I doing this right?)

I started seeing cats in the neighborhood almost every time I went outside. In particular, there was one mother cat, with a litter of five kittens.

They looked like they were probably close in age to my kitten. I would see the mother carefully crossing the street with her babies all in a line. I would see the babies playing in the grass. I would talk to my friends and housemates about them. 

The kittens were so cute; everyone just thought they were a joy to watch. I mean, kittens are legitimately a joy to watch. As the babies got larger and larger, I started to wonder what would become of them.

I asked a friend, “Isn’t there anything we can do for them?”

All I got was a shrug.

I believe in reproductive justice. I believe everyone deserves a say in how, when, and if, they choose to reproduce. I believe comprehensive sex education and access to safe and legal abortion are important parts of giving women, girls, and other people with uteruses full agency over their reproductive lives.

Could we extend this to cats, too?

A female cat can have up to three litters of kittens a year. Let that sink in a minute.

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Those kittens were the same size as my kitten. They were all getting bigger. One day, one of my housemates almost let Blanche out the front door, as he was leaving for work in a hurry.

In a panic, I looked up what age it is best to get a kitten spayed. I found out that I should have done it a month ago.

I called and made her an appointment.

The next morning, I saw that litter of kittens crossing the street again.

So I started to research feral (community) cats. The statistics were alarming.

Feral cats are usually considered unadoptable. They are descendants of domesticated cats who became strays; and because feral cats typically are born outdoors and don’t have positive contact with humans, they are typically fearful and avoidant of humans.

They can live fulfilling lives outdoors, often in extended family groups called “colonies.” But their fate can also be grim, especially for female cats.

A female cat can have up to three litters of kittens a year. Let that sink in a minute.

As a domesticated species, house cats are bred to breed. Most wild animals do not seem to over-breed in their earliest years of fertility, but cats absolutely will. The more that I learned, the more that I felt for these creatures put in a terrible position by irresponsible humans.

Once I found myself empathizing with them, I couldn’t just do nothing.

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The best thing you can do for feral cats is sterilization. So that is what I did.

I learned how to trap cats that hate and fear humans in humane traps that are actually designed for raccoons.

I didn’t have a car, so I begged for rides to take them to a local low-cost clinic that would perform the surgeries.

I didn’t have any money, so I organized a benefit show to raise enough money to pay for the surgeries.

I learned how to care for the cats in my basement, without touching them, while they healed from their operations.

And then I released them back into the neighborhood and prayed that they would live out the rest of their lives happily, hopefully now with a little bit more peace and a little less pain.

It broke my heart every single time, but I had to help.

Last year, I had a baby, and it very nearly destroyed me. For a long time, I have been too busy, too sick, too poor, and too tired to do the work of helping community cats. Some days caring for my child seems like the absolute most I can accomplish.

But, after we moved into our new apartment, one night my wife took the trash out. When she came back in, she was smiling. She said, “Good news! I met the girl who feeds the kittens in the alley!”

So what I’m saying is, there’s hope.

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