Gina Spadafori has the week off. This column originally was written for Sept. 8, 1990. Hidden in the thicket behind the lovely old house, we sat together, my friend and I, and waited for the wild ones to come out and play.
The sun had fallen, and between us and her house, a patio light spread a pool of brightness across the concrete, the light playing crazily off pie tins filled with cat food. The night was warm and quiet, all sound dampened by the dense foliage that embraced the property.
We didn't have to wait very long.
The young mommacat, glossy black with perfect white whiskers and neat white toes, slipped out of the darkness, sniffing the air to catch our scent before turning to the food. We turned the flashlight on her and she padded back into the night.
"She's got the little ones in that drainage pipe," whispered my friend, as the older kittens danced into the light. Half-grown and still playful, they stalked the tins and each other before settling down to eat.
They were the spring litter, one black like the mother, the two tabby twins, and our favorite, the little female with long orange-brown fur, white paws and tabby stripes on her legs. Her eyes were a startling green, their lovely appearance enhanced by the black fur around them, patterned like eye-liner. Alone out of all the wild ones, she wanted to be tame, and spent the !B evening as close to us as she dared, no nearer, no farther, always just out of arm's reach, no matter how much we entreated her.
In the darkness behind us, we could hear her purring.
The spring litter turned as one to look into the undergrowth. The first of the summer litter, another black-and-white, tumbled toward the kibble, followed by a little calico.
"I think there are four, maybe five of the little ones," said my friend. "She takes such good care of them. Aren't they a nice family?"
I agreed. Then we moved to the topic that brought us there: What should we do with them?
The answers are easy, at least in theory. In practice, they require a cool head and a cooler heart than either of us seemed to possess.
I had agreed to help her because I thought I had such a heart, until that evening. Feral cats, I know too well, live short lives full of injury and illness. Cars, poisons and leukemia claim them in too short a time; parasites and hunger make their brief lives miserable. Feeding them is an ill-considered kindness that allows them to reproduce at a rapid rate, dooming more and more wild ones to a miserable life.
There are close to a dozen cats and kittens at my friend's house, and soon, there will be many more, as the tomcat is already eyeing the spring litter, she said, and the mommacat will soon be in season again.
So we talked, and we talked, about neutering them all, about trapping them all, about taking them one by one to the shelter to meet a merciful death. Country homes were discussed and dismissed as unfeasible, as the tiny calico batted down a cricket and chased it across the lawn.
So we decided, she and I, to trap the mom and the dad, spay the one, neuter the other and return them to the life they have known for as long as they can survive it, their meals provided by my warm-hearted friend.
The spring and summer litters we would trap as well, taking them to the shelter for the fast, easy death we know is kinder than what awaits them if we don't intercede.
As we firmed our resolve, we heard a noise behind us, and turned the flashlight on the wide green eyes of the sweet female, awakened from her nap with a soft cry. Still outside of our reach, she did not flee, but folded her paws in under her furry chest and started the purring anew.
"We don't need to do this right away," said my friend. "But we have decided, right?"
I agreed. She picked up the flashlight, and I followed her inside. The cats and kittens scattered as we approached, except for the little female, who stayed close until we opened then door, then shrank into the night.
TH "Such a nice family," sighed my friend, as she turned off the light.