When working with feral cats, the hardest part is having no control over their comings and goings. Logic would tell you that if you provide food and shelter for the cats, they will certainly want to stay. Yet, all logic is thrown out the door when working with feral cats. They do not see things logically as we humans do. Feral cats are all about protecting themselves. Not only do they want protection from humans, but also from other cats, predators and weather. They also want territory where they feel safe and comfortable. Once their space is threatened, they often choose to move on. I have had 2 feral cats never return after TNR and a third that recently left on his own accord.
Each time one of the ferals has departed, it has left a hole in my heart. It is so hard to not know what happened to them. Patches and Hampton(see update on Hampton’s return here) each never returned after being released from TNR. Each of them had a more difficult time with the trapping and being held over night in the trap than the other ferals. I would wait and watch for them every day after their release, hoping for their safe return. The outside surveillance cameras were also in place in case the cats returned during the night. Yet never once did they return. I kept trying to understand why they would leave their food and shelter. Yet, the experience was a traumatic one and they both felt the need to move elsewhere. I knew that I did the right thing in neutering them, but it was hard to lose them at the same time. Even though TNR is essential, it the difficult for some cats to be trapped, neutered and then then held in a small trap for the night. The experience is sometimes too frightful for their souls to handle. I always hope that there are other kind-hearted caring individuals who took both Patches and Hampton under their wing.
Cisco recently decided to leave on his own free will. I have not seen him around in 4 weeks. I often wondered if he felt like the 3rd wheel here. Shadow and Stellar are so close and Cisco was left on his own. The territory around here also belongs to Shadow and Stellar as well as a few neighboring cats. I wonder if there was not enough territory space for him too. I feel as though I will never truly understand why he chose to leave. He seemed quite happy and content here and I was making good progress with socializing him. I am now just left to wonder.
There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about the feral cats I have lost. Not only do I think of the joy they brought to me, but I also think of the difficulty they experienced in their lives. All of them lived a life of fear. To some degree they all trusted me in different ways. Yet their fear outweighed everything else.
There is something about caring for feral cats that most people will never understand. I believe that unless someone has walked in the shoes of a feral cat caregiver for a day, they could never imagine how these cats affect our lives. The countless sleepless nights, the crying for the ones you couldn’t save and the “I wish I had just… or why didn’t I …” are a few of the difficulties of a feral cat caregiver. I recently saw the following quote: “Only the softhearted can have their hearts broken and still have a heart. Only people who feel pain the strongest can take the pain from those who can’t handle it alone. And those same people can turn around to do it over and over again with nothing in it for themselves but more heartbreaking.” This sums up the sentiments of many feral cat caregivers.