Wild oranges

Wild oranges

untitledThere are, in fact, some things about Tabby’s Place that are undeniably el Stinko.

Actually, they all boil down to one: we can’t rescue every single cat.

A baited trap, ready to humanely capture a feral orange feline.
A baited trap, ready to humanely capture a feral orange feline.

Everyone knows and empathizes with the heartbreak of saying goodbye to one of our residents. But there’s a daily, low-grade heartache that takes its toll as well. Aside from the Guardian Angel and Exceptional Circumstances Programs, we typically can only take cats from shelters where they are on the list to be euthanized. And so each day our hearts ache from saying “no” to the numberless folks who call, begging us to take 23 cats, spay 80 cats, do something.

We are doing something, I know. Heck, we’re doing a Big Giant Something, to the tune of nearly 1,000 saved, loved cats now. Something isn’t everything – but it’s the something to which we are called, and it’s our something. We are not in this labor of love alone. There are many, many, many heroes doing big somethings for the many, many, many cats in need.

But, still, it hurts to say no. It hurts to know there are cats that we can’t take.

So when the opportunity presented itself to do something more, we pounced.

Denise and Dr. C preparing a feral cutie for surgery
Denise and Dr. C preparing a feral cutie for surgery

The amazing Shelly Kotter, of the amazing Best Friends Animal Society, journeyed out to Tabby’s Place late last month. Over the course of a few hours, Shelly delivered a TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) Boot Camp that was, all at once, delightful, funny, moving and compelling. Armed with Shelly’s wisdom and a bigger-than-Jupiter love, Tabby’s Place staff and volunteers then embarked on a brave mission.

I don’t use the word “brave” lightly; this was not for the faint of heart. Their quest: to trap orange ferals.

Yes, orange ferals. Not tabby, not calico, not Siamese…it’s all orange, all the time, in this particular feral colony. Scan any crew of cats, and you’ll see a rainbow of colors…except for this colony.

All orinch.

One of our feral buddies recovering from surgery
One of our feral buddies recovering from her spay surgery

Through members of the community, we’d known about Team Orange for some time, and had been especially worried when caring folks noted that their numbers were dwindling in this brutal winter. So, led by Danielle, Tabby’s Place sent a brave team to trap orange wildcats; bring them to Tabby’s Place; get them spayed, neutered and treated for any medical issues; then release them back into their wild home.

I can imagine the obvious question here: why not keep them at Tabby’s Place? Isn’t that safer and better and kinder than putting them back into the wild world?

Safer? Probably. Better and kinder? Depends who you ask. According to these wild orange souls, that would be a resounding, horrified no. True ferals (and, as you can tell from these photos, these guys are true ferals) do not want to be indoors. They loathe the very thought of human affection, and will rapidly become depressed if forced to live a domesticated life. We’ve encountered this tough call before, with Phoebe and Marischka. Ultimately it came down to the decision: do we love them enough to let them truly live, or are we so rigidly clinging to our own system that we’ll force them to live a “safe” but soul-killing life? Will we accept them as individuals, loving them in the way that respects their wild hearts?

That’s the wisdom behind the “R” of TNR.

Born free! Fully recovered from their spay and neuter surgeries, the orange ferals show their approval of the "R" component of "TNR."
Born free! Fully recovered from their spay and neuter surgeries, the orange ferals show their approval of the "R" component of "TNR."

Danielle and the team painstakingly captured nearly a dozen orange beauties, bringing them back to the sanctuary to be…well, snipped and tipped. With their kitten-making components snipped, all that was left was for Dr. C, Denise, and the other veterinary professionals volunteering their time to “tip” the cats’ ears. Notching their ears this way lets folks know that the cats are altered, and that they’re under the watchful care of someone who loves them.

That’s the most important piece of the TNR puzzle: ensuring that, untouchable though they are, these feral angels will be loved long-term. I don’t mean merely “looked at with affection” or “cared about.” It’s crucial that ferals, like all cats, have a love that acts. And so, we worked with the community to ensure that the orange cats’ neighbors would gladly feed and look after them over the years.

Now spayed/neutered and looked after, Team Orange sprints off to a better life.
Now spayed/neutered and looked after, Team Orange sprints off to a better life.

This was a first-time outing for us at Tabby’s Place, but it won’t be the last. We hope to have a second TNR Boot Camp sometime in the future, and ultimately to do TNR on other feral colonies as we are able. 

While we can’t be all things to all cats, we’re grateful that we were able to do a life-changing, life-blessing something for these wild oranges. To Danielle, Dr. C., Denise, and all who so selflessly made this happen, I tip my orange taffeta hat to you in awe.

PS: Special thanks to Danielle for these stellar photos of the whole TNR process – and especially for making this all happen.

PPS: Fixin’ to learn more about TNR and feral cats? Best Friends and Alley Cat Allies provide a cornucopia of resources. I thank God that we are all in this together.

6 thoughts on “Wild oranges

  1. I agree – TNR is a fantastic, and critical program/concept. I wish every community believed in and supported it. **As we have a big orange softie here, the orange ones hold a special place in my heart.

  2. Just when I think Tabby’s Place can’t possible be any more AWESOME!!!! Great work to everyone involved in this exploit. You’re AWESOME, too!!!!

  3. This is something that has been going on in Carolina for some time and it would be great to see it catch on even more. As with you people it is mostly voluntiers even the vets. Another gold star for Tabby’s Place.

  4. What a great program! I’m glad there are people around, both at Tabby’s Place and in these designated communities, who are willing to take care of feral kitties in a way that doesn’t force them to go against their nature. 🙂

  5. Everyone who is dedicated to savings these cats is a hero — it’s really hard to see any cat not get a perfect, loving home and it breaks my heart that they have to be released after surgery…but as Angela says, we have to love them enough to let them live the life they have to live. Bravo, Tabby’s Place!

  6. Sometimes it is so hard to see a beautiful cat and want to save it, bring it indoors and give it a warm, loving home only to find it won’t allow you to. The TNR program is the best idea yet for giving these most beautiful of God’s creatures a chance at a full and happy life, living it the way they want to live it. Enter Rascal, a six year old feral cat that just will not let anyone get closer than a fingertip to him. One day, two years ago, on one of the coldest days we’d had and a rainy one at that, he crawled up under a car that had just parked apparently trying to get warm. He had such a soulful sound as he lay there meowing his little heart out. I don’t know what prompted me to decide I wanted to commit suicide that day but I managed to get just close enough before he spotted me and grabbed him. I took him inside my lab and placed him near the warmest spot in the room while a coworker retrieved a can of tuna from his desk. *Blink* That tuna was gone! I thought about taking him to one of the no-kill shelters but I just could not get away from that sound he was making. So, to the store, new litterbox, litter, food, bowls, etc., and then home. I set everything up and then brought him inside. I showed him everything and put him down. Under the couch he went and would not come out! I left him and went on about my business but kept an eye out for him. Several hours went by and he was still hiding. I really thought I had made a terrible mistake but I had to try. While I was in the computer room and away from the area he was in I heard a sound in the den. Upon looking, Rascal was not only eating but had used the litter box! I did not know until much later that he was a TNR kitty, ear tip and all. To cut to the chase, after about three months of him hiding and me feeding him I had given up on ever having him trust me enough to come out when I was in the room. One night as I sat in my chair watching television I was suddenly surprised by his jumping up onto my lap and letting me pet him. Then he started singing. Now, two years later, my one-time TNR feral cat is so spoiled and so much a part of my life I can’t begin to think back to when he wasn’t here. I don’t know who trapped him initially and did the TNR on him but I can only say a heart-felt God bless you! Not all TNR ferals can be made into pets but once in a while a jewel comes along just begging to be tamed. Such is my Tabby buddy, Rascal.

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