No amount of spitting and hissing, sometimes scratching, will stop me from feeding her. Here's why.
For the life of me, I don’t know how I ended up catering to a feral cat…yes I do. I like to eat. And so do feral cats. The one who adopted me several years ago requires a steady diet of canned cat food that I supply on a daily basis. No holidays. Substitutes required when I’m out of town. And in honor of National Feral Cat Day on October 16, I thought it only fitting to spend a little time on the subject.
In my experience, when you do business with a feral cat, don’t expect a lot of thanks or gratitude. If you think your domestic housecat is indifferent to all your efforts, multiply that by a thousand times with a feral cat. In fact, add in outright hostility. You may have been feeding your feral cat day in, day out, in sleet, rain or snow. But if you get too close…yes, run upstairs to your apartment and haul out the rubbing alcohol. Wash out the wounds and apply Band-Aids. That’s how things go with a feral cat. Or maybe it's because she's Jersey tough. We live in Hoboken, NJ, and she definitely harbors that whaddya lookin' at?! approach.
My feral cat (she would snicker if she heard me use the possessive pronoun) is a calico. I think she’s a she because I read somewhere that most calicos tend to be female. And she has a dainty build. So I’m thinking I’m right about gender. She showed up several years ago and made her intentions clear. Just feed me, don’t expect anything in return (not that I needed more since I had two cats already upstairs in my apartment).
So my husband and I added fulfilling her needs to our daily to-do list. We’ve never given her a name. I don’t think she’d stand for it. We refer to her as the “Downstairs Cat” since we feed her under our car in our apartment garage, as opposed to where the rest of us eat on the 4th floor—husband, me, and our two cats.
At times I’ve felt guilty about giving her grocery store cat food as opposed to the high-end stuff we buy for our own cats from boutique pet stores. I did feed her that for awhile—and I must say she was looking sleek and glorious—but then I did our budget and booted her back down to Friskies. I’m still wrestling with that decision.
My husband and I often disagree on how much food to give her. I vote for two cans, he thinks that’s too much. We’ve seen her both clean her plate and leave leftovers. So that back and forth continues except in winter when she definitely gets two cans. After all, we all need more calories in winter.
Speaking of winter, I have no idea where she bunks during snowstorms. My husband once had the idea of leaving a window open in our car so she could slip in from the weather but I, the most enthusiastic cat person you could ever meet, drew the line. Besides, I could just see me absentmindedly getting into the car one day and driving off to the grocery store only to be ambushed en route by an enraged cat.
There are several things I marvel at: that she recognizes our car when we pull in the garage, emerging as the garage door rises. How she knows it’s a Volkswagen Passat, I don’t know. But she does. And she recognizes me when I come home through the back gate on foot. She trots out from several cars away as I turn the key, tail up, which means in cat, “hello.” I know we’ll never get past hello. But that’s ok. I accept her terms. Lastly, she has never gotten herself knocked up. I admire her standards.
Sometimes, while she dines underneath the car, usually by the right rear wheel, I sit in the driver’s seat, door ajar, and read my mail. I just like her to feel that I’m not the type to always sling down the food and go.
I fret about if we ever move or something happens to us, who will take care of her? (Right now, when we go on trips, we pay our cat sitter to include her in the feeding schedule.) I’ve got my eye on a sympathetic couple in our building. Armed with a fully funded Downstairs Cat Trust provided by us, I’m sure they’d take over.
So why, you may ask, do I go to such trouble for an ungrateful, often antagonistic creature? Because she needs me. And despite all her shortcomings, I love her anyway.