We've recently gone through a very exciting and rewarding little exercise with some street cats who adopted us. It started with a tiny meow coming from under the ocean kayaks on our carport. One meow led to another and before long we were seeing lots of kittens playing around our carport, as well as on the front and back porches.
They just decided to come to our house one day, a mother and four kittens, a cute little pride of gray tabbies. We knew right away that cute doesn't help at all with animal overpopulation; it's extra important to spay and neuter in the Islands where there is no place to put the little guys, so we had some work to do.
The mother cat, whom we named Mamacita (which quickly became Mami), is fairly small with an even smaller head. As the kittens grew, sometimes we couldn't tell her apart - she almost looks like a kitten herself.
The little ones we called Loco, Coco, Rico, and Chico. Telling them apart was a challenge for me, less so for Deb. Loco had a big fluffy black tail, so he was easy. And Coco had more brown on him than the others, hence his name. He also had a white face. Unfortunately, before long Coco had disappeared - the life of a street cat can be short, but we can always hope that someone found him wandering and took him in. Rico and Chico remain difficult to tell apart but Chico is slightly smaller with more muted features. Probably the easiest way for me to recognize him is by his behavior. He's the most shy, is very skittish around us, etc. We referred to them as males but we never knew for sure, especially thinking that Chico might be a girl.
After some time we also spotted the father, who we immediately named Daddy Yankee, after the big personality of the popular Puerto Rican rapper. A huge wild tomcat (the rescue people said he was the largest one they've seen), Daddy Yankee is a force of nature. He's got to be way over 20 lbs, with a big wide head and a face that reminds me of Lewis Carol's Cheshire Cat, although not quite as friendly looking. A true tough guy, Daddy Y has run off his share of other tomcats in noisy knock-down, drag-out midnight fights, right outside our window. I shudder to think of an unarmed human getting into a fight with that beast.
We quickly decided we'd work with the local rescue, called Our Big Fat Caribbean Rescue, to get all these felines spayed and neutered. We'd already seen Mami have a litter in March; this was early September and she'd done it again. It's not a good life for a cat on the streets to just keep having more and more kittens, nursing them, looking for food, raising them, teaching them to hunt, and then doing it all over again a few months later. No wonder she's so grumpy - she hisses at us and bosses her kittens around with growls, hisses, and some swats.
After already having sterilized well over 1000 dogs and cats, the rescue was having another big Spay-a-Thon coming in a few weeks, and were happy to help us out. It starts with them delivering traps and setting them up. Between their hunger and natural curiosity, the cats go in and hit the trigger plate. Then, the rescue people come back to gather the traps and take them off for shots, flea and tick treatment, and of course, the spay or neuter operation. They finish by clipping the tip of one of the ears so in the future it's easy to see that they've been "done". If they are an "owned" animal they go back to their owners (these don't need to be trapped, just put in a portable kennel). If they are a street animal, they are returned to where they were captured and set free.
The Spay-a-Thon is a crazy big event where they go through and spay/neuter animals by the dozens, I think it was around 200 this time, assembly line style. It all gets done in a 2-day period. We have enormous respect for the people who do this work, and not just the veterinarians. Everyone involved is doing God's work, helping keep the island from being overrun with cats and dogs. Between them and the Vieques Humane Society (where Deb volunteers weekly) it's a big reason Deb and I chose Vieques to check out among all the other possibilities in the Caribbean. Animal welfare says a lot about a community and these people represent a lot of good here.
If anyone out there would like to donate to help these groups out, you can click the links below - thank you!
So while waiting for the big event, we fed the kitties and Mami twice a day until they were hooked on coming around our house. But honestly, they'd really already moved in on their own. They hung out around the yard, and sat in the window louvers just watching us, or waiting for a meal, or both. Much to our surprise and delight, they were fairly quiet; they didn't bother us with meowing and howling for food. It was mostly just Mami, Loco, Chico, and Rico. Coco was gone, and Daddy Yankee would only come through once every few days to let everyone know he still runs this barrio.
One day it was apparent that Daddy Yankee's job was to teach the kittens how to land like cats. You know, twisting around and always landing on their feet? He was lazing about in our carport, which has a decorative concrete wall with a gap at the bottom, and a 3 foot drop-off into the tiny side yard between houses. So the kittens would climb on him, and play around him, and with one massive paw he'd just casually push them off the edge! I don't know if they landed on their feet but I suspect so, since they'd always come back up and around.
Finally the big day arrived and we were fully prepared to capture and take care of 4 cats, Mami and her 3 remaining kittens. We didn't think there was a chance of getting Daddy Yankee, he was just too bad ass to ever be caught in a trap. We were also told to not feed them the night before and the day of the event, so they'd be extra hungry for the traps.
Four traps were delivered and set up on our carport by the rescue people, with a stinky, oily cat food smeared at the trap entrance, down the middle of it, and some dumped underneath where the trap would sit. So once they went in the trap they'd really try to get to that food. We were told to throw towels over the traps once we had one captured, and they'd settle down. Within 20 minutes, we'd caught Rico and Loco in the same trap - score! Mami was also sniffing around, and in fact went in one trap twice before walking away suspiciously.
We called the rescue to pick up the first cage and then ran some errands. When we returned, there were only 2 traps left from the original 4, AND DADDY YANKEE WAS IN ONE OF THEM! Hahaha! They'd already taken 2 traps away with, presumably, 3 cats - Rico & Loco in one and Mami in the other. We were sure it was Mami in the third trap but we never actually saw her get trapped. We only needed to catch one last kitten, Chico, in the last trap and we'd have the whole family! There was no more action before bedtime so we went to sleep in our bed while Daddy Yankee grumbled in his trap/bed. Around 5:30 the next morning we heard the final trap and had Chico!
We'd done better than we could have hoped for, catching the entire family in less than 24 hours. The rescue people came to gather up our new sterilization patients and let me tell you, Daddy Yankee was one mad dude! He was the Tasmanian Devil in a cat trap; I was so glad the rescue guy was handling that cage instead of me.
Off they went to the rescue to continue their work while we sat down, relaxed, and enjoyed our victory. Whew - what a day!
And then, AND THEN, Mami walked across our porch. We looked at each other like we'd seen some sort of paranormal activity. What just happened? OK, OK, the second trap they'd taken had some other cat in it, not Mami. From that realization, we called and asked them to bring us another trap, because Mami was the initial focus of this whole adventure. The poor girl needed to be fixed, to quit having kittens! But at that point, the Spay-a-Thon was winding down. They told us we could come get a trap and trap her ourselves, and take her to the Vieques Humane Society, so that's what we decided to do.
Since all of our other cats were now coming back, we were in a bit of a bind because we only wanted to catch her, not a kitten that was already "done". We got another trap, hoping the little ones would be leery of it, and that Mami would be hungry enough to fall for it. As luck would have it, we did manage to catch her even though the kittens were sniffing around the new cage. We felt very fortunate that we were able to then take her to the Vieques Humane Society where they did the procedure on her. It turned out she was already pregnant again (as Deb was suspecting) so they took care of that as well.
Finally, when all were returned it was quite a sight - open that door, give them a little encouragement and see how fast a cat can run! When Daddy Yankee was released I swear he looked over his should at me with a snarl - this was all my fault and he wasn't going to forget it! But off they went, including some other random cat we'd never seen before, the bonus cat. And guess what? We've never seen him since either. Maybe it was the long lost Coco? We don't think so, even though he was only a blur as he took off into the bushes. We also found out the kittens were all boys.
Within a day, Mami and the kittens were back and in spite of their sore groins and ear tips they didn't seem to hold a grudge, as long as we kept feeding them. As time went on, we found that one of the little guys, the one we called Loco, was much friendlier than the others. We realized that he could become a sweet house-cat for someone (not ours - we have enough animals!), and have a much nicer life than that of a street animal. He'd let us pet him - none of the other kittens would, and Mami just hisses at us. Eventually Loco even let us pick him up. With the longest hair of the group, he was incredibly soft and cuddly, completely unexpected from a feral cat! So we put him out there on social media and our friends Joce and Emma decided they should take him. He's now named Mac and is doing great in a house with cats, dogs, and people.
Things have settled down now, with only Mami, Rico, and Chico hanging around. We're weaning them from cat food, and have already eliminated their nighttime feeding so they'll hunt chickens and mice at night. Before long they won't be getting any of our food in the daytime either. They may continue to hang around but they aren't a (growing) problem any more, and we'll never let them in the house. Except for Loco/Mac, they are all feral cats who will always live on the street. There is a lady three houses down who appears to feed street cats so I suspect they'll get supplemental food there.
The whole thing was a huge success, getting 6 cats fixed when our target was 4. Even though 5 out of the 6 are still on the street, they're much better off without having to repeat the reproduction cycle every few months. And again, they're strays, not always easy to turn into pets but thanks to Emma and Joce, Mac is doing great. Of course Our Big Fat Caribbean Rescue and the Vieques Humane Society both deserve a huge thanks for all they've done, and continue to do. We thank you, the barrio thanks you, and Vieques thanks you!
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Stray Cat Strut, by the Stray Cats. What, you were expecting something else?