When Your Rural Neighbors Have a Different Relationship to Cats than You

I have a sick kitty. Lumi’s foot is sore and swollen and he walks with a limp and can’t put pressure on it. When it’s warm out, he prefers to curl up in the leaves outside and convalesce. When it’s cold out, I carry him in and lay him on the sofa on a blanket, which is special treatment as they are not indoor cats. If I touch his foot, trying to examine it, he yowls and it trembles for awhile afterwards.

Our neighbor’s cat was up terrorizing him and his brother one night last week. It happens nearly every spring and a few times during the summer. Our neighbor has feral cats. He has no idea how many he has. As you can imagine, none of them are neutered or spaded. The boys are looking for a good time or a fight. Even though both our male cats are neutered, they still come up to the top of Red Mountain where we live, get them out of their beds at night, trying to pick a fight. I hear the yowling, so loud it wakes me up. I jump out of bed, flick on the outside light and throw open the door, screaming, “GET OUT OF HERE!!!!” The terrorizer usually flees. Evidently, I didn’t get there soon enough the other night and Lumi got injured.

Todd and I have always dealt with our kitty injuries ourselves. It takes the two of us to contain the injured cat. One wraps him in a towel, keeping the clawed feet inside. There’s always the mouth to bite us however, if the pain is too severe. The other one feels around for a clump of matted fur and then a scab. We soak the injured area in warm water to soften the scab and then quickly pick it off. We used to get a plastic syringe and fill it with hydrogen peroxide and flush out the wound. One time years ago, I held our injured cat in my arms while wearing a down jacket. The wound let loose and exploded foul-smelling pus into my down-filled jacket pocket. That was a horrible mess. One time, our poor cat was bit on the spot where his tail goes into his body. He had tooth marks on top and underneath and the wound went clear through, like a gaping hole.

No, we are not quick to take our cats to the vet. We usually get yelled at when we do, if we can convince a vet to even see them. If they are not regular patients, they often don’t want them. We only go if we can’t find the hole and can’t treat it ourselves, otherwise, they are very healthy. We also get yelled at by the vet if they learn our cats are not up on their shots. We get yelled out if they learn that our cats basically live outdoors. They come into the sun room through a cat door whenever they want to access their food, water, or a cushioned rocking chair. They sleep in there curled up around each other when its cold, but when it’s nice out, they prefer to sleep outdoors, curled up on a pillow on a metal lawn chair, placed on either side of our back porch. They sit there like lion sentinels, guarding an Egyptian tomb. Unless they are sick like Lumi. Then we let him inside.

Actually, the cats much prefer life outdoors. When the sun is intense, they lounge in the flower bed under the high stalks of the lilies in the shade. When the sun is warm and not hot, they lounge on a soft spot in the grass or in a pile of fragrant leaves. No way would outdoor-loving parents like me and Todd try to make our cats stay indoors. I wouldn’t want it for myself so why do our pets deserve anything less.

A life outdoors, in wild nature, comes with consequences, however, as Todd and I know personally and so do our cats. Todd and I think it is worth it and thinking for our cats, we think they think it is worth it too; you just have to deal with an occasional neighborhood bully and injury.

I have spoken to my neighbor about this matter. I threw out a comment one time about how much money I had to spend at the veterinarian because he did not manage his cat population. (Last year we spent a few hundred dollars after a cat fight). He probably said he was sorry but nothing more. We like our neighbor, but he has a different attitude about the animals in his care.

They went away for awhile, leaving their dog (in a fenced-in kennel, who as far as I know is only a “guard” dog and have never been walked in its life) and his millions of kitties, home alone. A myriad of neighbors, relatives and friends were asked to feed them. For the feral cats (only a few are friendly he says) he had two massive bowls of cat food about a foot wide that looked as though it could last the entire winter, unless you were also feeding the neighborhood racoons, possums, rats, and probably the homeless pot-bellied pig we rescued this winter as the first flakes of snow fell in the 28-inch snowstorm. The pig’s owner no longer wanted to care for his pet and just let it loose. (see related story in my blog).

Last Friday afternoon, when we came home from a press trip, we discovered that Lumi’s foot was bad. He felt to me, as if he had a fever. I called the one vet at 2:30 pm, the only one that was still open, and they refused to see him (It wasn’t the clinic I took him to last year with the same problem). My only other choice was a cat emergency hospital. I can only imagine the cost of that as I was just at one myself for an infected gallbladder. We’d take our chances over the weekend and see how he was on Monday.

The fever broke over the weekend and he does not meow loudly when you examine his foot, although he is not yet putting weight on it. He NEVER stopped eating, a sign that he is not THAT sick. Todd googled infected cat feet and it said that they usually heal themselves in time. Last year when we took him to the vet, they could not find any puncture wound either and so just gave him antibiotics to deal with the infection. Probably, that is what the vet would do this time. We don’t want him to be in pain but he seems to be resting and working on getting better himself. I think we’ll let him go another day and watch him.

THE NEXT DAY

I carried the poor kitty into the house, laid him on the sofa next to me and kept him company while I worked on my computer. And then I saw his leg shake while he was lying still and would not stop. I called the vet. They want to keep him overnight and do x-rays. The doc thinks she feels bone on bone and believes it is either fractured or the ligaments/tendons were so stretched that his hock (like an ankle) was dislocated. He was given pain meds and made comfortable.

The next am I get a call and hear that he has a splint on and his activity must be restricted for 2-3 weeks. I have to locate a wire dog kennel, buy non clumping litter, bring him back every week to have his splint changed….$550 for now.

Driving back from the vet, I was furious with my neighbor and his negligence over his cats. Some folks in rural Appalachia might live on farms with plenty of out buildings for their large population of cats, and unlimited milk (which I’ve learned can easily give them diarrhea), and justify saying they are needed in order to keep the varmint population down (not to mention people dump them at the farm’s entrance when they no longer want them). But our homes are so close. The feral males at our neighbor’s house invariably are looking for their own territory and invade our cats’. I had to write our neighbor a letter, sharing my unhappiness, disappointment and frustration of not knowing what to do, nor being able to afford this vet bill, and asking him to help solve the problem.

I asked the neighbor on the other side of our feral cat neighbor, how the situation was handled when they had to take one of his kitties to the vet (when they were away) as its eye was hanging out. “Did he pay you back for the vet bill?” I asked. The response shocked me, “Are you kidding? I have spent thousands on vet bills for his cats. I have paid, out of my own pocket, to have 18 of his cats neutered and spayed, over the years. I have found homes for ½ a dozen of his kitties and caught a dozen more and took them to the SPCA. I have six of his cats living here which I spend $40 a month on cat food for. I do not want cats. I am allergic to cats.”

I asked, “Don’t you get mad?” She replied, “I get mad all the time, but he’s our neighbor, I want to have good relations.” When I asked how he responds to her anger, she said, “He just laughs.”

When I shared with my husband that I had written a nice letter to the feral cat neighbor, but heard no reply, Todd said, “He will tell you to shoot them if you see them on your property. He has a completely different attitude towards cats than we do. They are not pets. He will tell you he has them only to keep down the mouse population. And if you are stupid enough to pay $550 vet bill after a cat fight (as opposed to shooting it to put it out of its misery, I suppose), that is your problem.

There are a few houses in the New Ringgold area where we live that are overrun with cats. One time, my friend and I were walking and we counted over twenty just in sight as we swiftly walked by, the very air pungent with the stench of urine. It’s not unusual in rural areas. According to stats, there are literally hundreds of cats per square mile, a population density that rivals or even outstrips the human populations, and there are as many as 100 million feral cats in America. I also learned that a female cat can breed three times in one year, and in seven years, one unspayed female and her offspring can produce 420,000 cats!! How about this fact…”Feral cats spread many diseases including rabies, plague, ringworm, toxoplasmosis, cat scratch fever, allergies, feline leukemia, feline distemper and secondary bacterial infections.” Yuck. I complained to the vet, “Sometimes I feel as if I live in Deliverance Appalachia.”

The problem is that I really like our neighbor. I just don’t agree with his attitude towards cats. He is entitled to his opinion to a degree, but it does impact everyone else that lives here on Red Mountain. Don’t we count for something?

How about this fact…”Feral cats spread many diseases including rabies, plague, ringworm, toxoplasmosis, cat scratch fever, allergies, feline leukemia, feline distemper and secondary bacterial infections.” Yuck. More unfairness to our cats.

People tell me to call the SPCA or the Animal Control Center. That would surely result in strained neighborly relationships, but I might be forced to. (Actually, I just called the SPCA and they offered no help- “call the police.” That would put our neighbor relations in the tank for sure.)

Lumi kept me up last night as he rummaged around in his dog crate, scratching at the litter in the plastic pan, for what felt like a ½ hour. When Todd got up in the morning, cat litter and food were spilled and mixed all over the pen. When he opened it, the cat surprisingly quickly darted out, dragging its splinted leg like a weight and chain, evidently having enough of this caged prison. He ran up the wooden steps, his splint clacking as it bumped along, and sought refuge in my studio, where he climbed on top of boxes of books and tried to hide. I retrieved him and sat with him on the sofa, petting him in my lap to calm him down. After about ten minutes, he quickly turned his head and bit me. After that, I promptly put him back in the dog crate, where he flopped to the back, against the wire wall and looked at me with utter disgust. It’s amazing how much attitude comes out in their face and energy given off without a seemingly change in their expression. He knows I was the one who took him to the vet and had this atrocious thing put onto his leg. It’s going to be a long three weeks. And I still have to figure out how to handle the neighbor.

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3 thoughts on “When Your Rural Neighbors Have a Different Relationship to Cats than You Leave a comment

  1. Dear Cindy and Todd, You are very good catparents and I know your kitties are happy to roam in the woods and come home to a cozy bed on the sunporch. Talking about your neighbor, It is difficult to understand why some people lack compassion for animals and cruelly neglect them. I hope very much that your beloved cat will heal and give you many more moments of sitting on your lap and purring. With love, Wilfriede

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