My journey into the hearts and minds of cats began more than 20 years ago when I discovered 16 beautiful feral kittens living in a parking lot.
I had always lived with cats, lots of cats. And I had always been very intuitive about them. Although I'm not an animal communicator, I always seem to know when they're happy or frustrated or not feeling well. That intuition sometimes helps me as a cat sitter, and it sometimes makes me sad because I know there's nothing I can do to make the cat's life better.
But those 16 beautiful kittens, and the summer I spent alone with them in the parking lot, changed the way I view cats forever. It was a wonderful, almost magical experience, and I'll always be grateful to those tiny wild ones for inviting me into their world, if only for a short time, each evening.
Over the years, I've read more books and articles on cat behavior and cat health care than I can count. I've read all the "rules" for living with cats, from keeping them completely indoors to giving them measured portions of food on a strict schedule.
Those rules have always seemed sort of repressive and almost cruel to me, and my cats have never lived that way. But after spending an entire summer's worth of evenings with the feral kittens, the rules also seemed disrespectful.
Watching those kittens, I could see how shrewd and intelligent cats are and how they can manage to survive in even the most adverse conditions. They're very, very good at turning lemons into lemonade.
Experts say cats, even our tame house cats, are closer to their wild ancestors than any of our other domesticated animals. When you sit quietly with a cat, especially if you're outside, you can almost feel the wild animal within.
No wonder the cat behavior issues we live with can be so difficult to resolve and our cats' health care needs can become so complicated. It must be very hard for our cats to live with the rules we humans impose on them.
As "mom" to many cats and as a cat sitter and rescuer, I've dealt with every kind of cat issue imaginable, from house cats with seeming intractable behavior issues and acute, life-threatening illnesses to neutered/spayed feral cats determined to do things their way, no matter what their human neighbors think.
After much experience, I've found that the best way to resolve these issues is to consider the cats' "rules," as well as our own.
So are you wondering what happened to the feral kittens? Twenty years ago, we didn't do trap/neuter/return. So I spent the entire summer trapping feral kittens, getting them neutered/spayed and taking them home with me. Three, Tabby, Toby and Little Gray, stayed with me. The others went in groups of two or more to live in horse barns where they all lived long, happy lives.