She weighs less than ten pounds and lives, for now, in a deep downtown hole. During the last three months, the feral (wild) cat and her offspring have significantly dented my heart, my wallet and my time.
Black Mama, I call her. Only a few people know she exists. Even fewer care. I do both. If God’s eye is on the sparrow, surely he spares a compassionate glance for cats.
Wild as racoons and raised without human contact, feral cats often dwell in urban areas. They live, usually in self-established family groupings called colonies, wherever they can find solitude, shelter and safety: in cracks between buildings, under permanently parked vehicles, close to dumpsters, or beneath piles of waste construction materials.
A stray cat knows the value of a kind human and will seek help from people. Unlike strays, ferals, either abused and/or abandoned or born and raised without human contact, find people terrifying. Most become nocturnal, hunkering down by day and emerging at night to scrounge for food. Vulnerable to mistreatment on the streets, they nevertheless have learned to survive and multiply. Quickly.
Rather than view feral cats as a nuisance, some Canadian cities such as Regina, Saskatoon and Calgary have realized their potential as city workers. These cities operate a TNR (trap/neuter/release) program. Rescue agencies supported by volunteers and the occasional grant, capture the animals using live traps. Then they take them to a cooperating veterinarian for sterilization. Some organizations dock the tip of one ear to indicate feral status and prevent re-capture.
Following surgery, volunteers release the cats back into their colonies to live and resume their work of controlling the city’s rodent population. Insulated boxes offer warmth in winter. Residents in pest-riddled neighbourhoods may apply to adopt two or three fixed cats to patrol the area, provided they agree to keep them sheltered and supply minimal food to supplement their diet.
After discovering the feral family, my friend Judy and I captured Black Mama’s ready-to-wean kittens. A local rescue agency found them loving homes. As I write, their young mother, not yet fully grown herself, remains in her hole. A small group of volunteers, including Judy and I, are preparing her for capture. Perhaps by the time you read this, she will have discovered that what she most feared has opened the door to the thing she most desired – provision and freedom.
God often uses animals to teach us important truth. Through the little wild family I’ve come to know, I’m reminded of the blessings that come from trusting his provision when resources are scarce; from remaining patient with him when it’s the last thing I want to do and from trusting him even when he seems scary.
But most of all, the ferals have reminded me that often the very thing we resist most, the thing we’re sure will restrict our personal rights and freedoms, could be the delivery vehicle God, in his love and grace, uses to send our greatest freedom and richest blessing.