You can find Robin on Cherry Street most days. Three to four times a week, she loads up her car with wet and dry cat food, clean dishes and heads out to feed a feral colony in the area.
Robin has been feeding The Cherry Street Annex Cat Rescue colony for over five years. Robin got her start many years ago; when working near the Port Lands area she began noticing feral kittens and cats daily, so she took it upon herself to begin feeding them. It was from this colony that Robin took home her cat of 14 years — Pebbles.
Committed to continuing her work, Robin looked for opportunities to volunteer further, knowing that she did not want to work with cats in a shelter, but instead preferred the type of feral colony feeding and trapping she was already involved in. She came across an article in a newspaper for ACR colonies in need of volunteer feeders and she remains an ACR feeder with the Cherry Street colony and the coordinator of ACR’s Feral/Stray Line today.
The Cherry Street colony started with about 25 cats and over the years has decreased to about 15 cats. Due mainly to the efforts of ACR to Trap, Neuter/Spay and Return (TNR), new litters have not been born into the colony and the cat population has been controlled. “This is the goal of TNR, of course, but you don’t realize how attached you get to them; it’s hard when the older cats pass away,” says Robin about her successful efforts with the colony. Disease, accidents and old age are all realities of feral cats living outdoors. Through efforts such as those by Robin, ACR can ensure these cats get the food and medical attention they require.
The feeding process takes about 45 minutes from start to finish. An obvious cat lover, Robin is clearly very committed to her colony. The prep and clean up add to the time commitment, including the time Robin takes to commute to and from the colony, which is no longer in her immediate vicinity.
But it’s clear the experience has its rewards; “They know me by now, and come up to me,” Robin tells us. Most cats allow her to pet them, some can even be brushed or groomed, although some older feral cats, particularly those who grew up without any human contact, remain reluctant. This is a common challenge feeders face, particularly if trapping is required for the purpose of neutering or tending to medical issues.
The cats that are truly tame and show signs of being able to be transitioned successfully into a human home, are removed from the colony so that the socialization process can begin. This is often the most difficulty step for a feral cat. Depending on age and amount of human contact, the process can be very overwhelming.
The reality of feral cat colonies is that every cat has different needs, and ultimately socialization and living with humans is not an option for some. Robin tells us about one of her favourite cats, which she calls Stubby. Stubby had an injured tail when Robin first met him that ultimately had to be amputated, earning him his name. Over the years he became much friendlier and allowed Robin to brush and groom him; however, when Robin attempted to bring him indoors, Stubby reacted extremely poorly. Although he remained friendly outdoors, Stubby was a good example of a feral cat who simply would never be happy living indoors with humans.
Another favourite of Robin’s, Maggie, is now Robin’s pet of four years. Maggie was part of the Cherry colony, but she did not get along with the other cats and was very isolated. She marched right up to Robin and began rubbing up against her legs; and Robin took her in immediately.
The trapping process can be as varied as the cats themselves, depending on the situation and level of trust between the cat and feeder. Ideally, cats should be hungry when volunteers attempt to trap them to encourage them to approach the trappers. Trapping most often occurs at the time and place where a regular feeding would occur. In most situations, a volunteer will literally walk up to a feral cat that is eating and drop a trap over them. However, this is only in cases where feral cats allow you to approach them. For trickier cats, a trap with bait or a drop trap would be needed, which can be used from afar. Challenges can arise when trapping one particular cat in a large group or when the cat being trapped is sick and may not be able to eat. In those cases, volunteers must get creative with stick and string lures. Once a cat is trapped, they can spayed or neutered and then returned. For most cats this is all that is needed; however, some cats — particularly older ones –have other medical issues. Robin has seen injured legs and tails, dental issues or mouth diseases that prevent cats from properly eating.
— Kathy Ribeiro