Do We Rescue Cats or Do They Rescue Us?

LUYE’s Eartip Team is on official alert for lactating mothers whose litters are still too young for a required spay absence of up to three days.  Team volunteers attempt to identify lactating trapped females before removing them from the site. It’s not always easy and it’s tough not to worry that a nest of helpless kittens might be out there.

Feeders can first learn of a new litter’s existence when a cat has been trapped for spay and removed from the colony.  Her hungry litter eventually will shriek for attention, a surprise fraught with stress.  First hint might come from the ASPCA Spay/Neuter Alliance (ASNA) team advising that the newly spayed cat is lactating.  In all cases, LUYE assists the feeder to reunite mama cat with litter as soon as possible.

Despite the nearly 8,000 Haywood County cats trapped, sterilized and eartipped since 2009, there is work yet to do.  Those big-headed males you see on camera have walked countless miles, crisscrossing their territory to hunt and mate and chase away competitors from his food sources.  Some of these guys are pretty beat up: ears torn, eyes slashed, and serious bites to neck, legs and back.

Mature unfixed females can have 5-7 kittens in a litter and can manage a third litter in some seasons.  These matriarchs have babies into their senior years unless spayed. Cats do not have menopause. MEOW!

Cats typically calm down after spay/neuter, showing more of their personality and less of how they handle stress of the reproductive cycle.  You might have stories of elusive ferals or repeat litters from trap-savvy cats?

There’s a common joy when cats are finally eartipped, proving they are sterilized and protected from rabies. Eartipped males stay closer to home; there will be fewer (if any) serious fights over territory and no interest in traveling to visit unfixed females.

A recent discussion of the new psychiatric diagnosis of “prolonged grief disorder” noted that those of us who struggle to maintain mental well-being in these trying times have days when we can’t get out of bed. Inviting community cats to stop at your food bowls connects you to daily routine.

Feeding community cats offers an emotional bond like those formed with live-in pets.  We worry about their free-roaming lifestyle when days pass without appearance.  They force us to pay attention to the rhythms in life, to seasonal cycles, and to the value of building trust.

Community cats offer benefits in line with Emotional Support Animals (ESAs).  Cats in general are ideal ESAs. They are calm, intelligent, affectionate animals that can provide a soothing, comforting presence. They are small, clean, quiet and non-intrusive.

Seeing eartipped cats waiting on deck for their morning greeting and bowl of cat chow is good therapy.  Scratching their heads or a quick stroke to their backs while they eat makes cat and feeder purr.  If that’s not an ESA experience, then educate me please!

This article by Head Cat Susan Kumpf first appeared in the June 2022 issue of Positively Haywood by Vicinitus.

Stray Thoughts on Feral Cats

As Spring bursts forth in flower and beast alike, Haywood County residents who feed eartipped cats can celebrate our longer days without worrying about unplanned litters. Take a sunny one to survey your yard for makeshift litter boxes created atop the frozen winter ground. Use gloves and a mask to clean up the mess and sprinkle garden lime to neutralize and break down what’s left in the soil.

How would you describe your outdoor cats?  You’re likely to point out a cat’s willingness to interact with you, right?  How many of these common terms have you heard?

Feral – has a wild nature that increases with each generation, avoids humans, lives outdoors

Skittish – keeps its distance, runs when you make a move, lives outdoors

Barn – any cat that prefers hunting prey around outdoor structures

Pet – claimed by an owner, often tame, lives indoors or indoor/outdoor

Stray – tame, is lost or was abandoned, wants to come inside and not live outdoors

Adoptable – kittens age 4 to 6 weeks that quickly tame down once human handling begins

Not My Cat – comes regularly to eat; may belong to a neighbor but you’re not sure, you finally named it but still call it Not My Cat when someone asks

Community Cats – the mixture of feral, skittish, stray, pet and Not My cats that hunt prey, stop at food bowls in their territory, and freely roam

Eartipped – clipped left ear proves the cat is sterilized and vaccinated against rabies

Females who had their heats or estrus in January began delivering their litters in March – it’s 63 days gestation for an average litter of 4 kittens.  Mama cats will move their litter several times in the weeks ahead to avoid drawing predators to a smelly nest.

Mark your calendars because mama cats are safe to spay when their litter is 4 to 6 weeks old and kittens have begun eating on their own.  You’ll often see the kittens for the first time at this age when she brings them to your food bowls.  They will be adorable and also need to be wormed.

As litters are weaned, unneutered tomcats will begin to come around because mama is ready to mate again.  If you don’t see the toms, you might hear night fights or smell testosterone-tinged urine where they’ve marked – a kind of calling card and valentine combined.  MEOW!

Unspayed females in heat can escape the house and disappear for a few days to mate. Unfixed cats will mate with their unfixed relatives, so keep boys away from girls until their spay/neuter appointment!

This article by Head Cat Susan Kumpf first appeared in the May 2022 issue of Positively Haywood by Vicinitus.

Magical and Very Human Cats of Cartoons

Fresh spinach from the garden is a springtime delicacy that invokes childhood memories. Canned spinach with hard eggs and bacon bits to hide the flavor. And Popeye the Sailor Man, who by all rights as a man of the sea had a cat as his sailing companion to protect ropes and food supplies from rats.

The unsophisticated Popeye with a New Jersey accent first appeared in a Betty Boop comic strip – a cursing, short-tempered underdog undeterred by a challenge.  His famous lines include “That’s all I can stand, cos I can’t stand no more!” and the more philosophical “I Yam What I Yam”.

So imagine my surprise that it was not a weirdly drawn cat gifted to Olive Oyl by her uncle Ben but an exotic “jeep” – a magical animal transmuted from the African Hooey Hound with yellow fur, brown spots, large brown nose, and feline-like tail.  Jeeps are highly intelligent and eat only orchids.

Most importantly, the magical jeep is more powerful than the sea hag, which was Popeye’s nemesis – he could not conquer her.  A sea hag’s greatest weapon is her horrific appearance fueled by jealous rage: just looking at a sea hag saps your strength, it’s so frightening!!  The magical power of spinach is no match.  But with spinach, a cat, and a jeep, Popeye could face anything at sea or on land.

Another comic memory is Felix the Cat, which appeared in film ten years before Popeye hit the strips. Felix was a male (although not drawn that way) with a girlfriend named Miss Kitty White. His pace was famous—hands behind his back, head down, deep in thought.

Felix was the first balloon featured in Macy’s 1933 Thanksgiving Parade. Some think his character was inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s “The Cat that Walked by Himself” (1902) which says: “But the wildest of all the wild animals was the Cat. He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him.”

Felix was drawn as a black cat and certainly had a dark start. His early story lines include a search for food by any means necessary (even theft) and coping with the issues of the day.  His debut as Master Tom in the 1919 “Feline Follies” animated short (silent) film is the story of how he loses his job as a mouser – the watchman of a house – and gets kicked out on the street for abandoning his work in favor of spending a music-and-kisses MEOW day with Miss Kitty White.

Fandom’s Felix the Cat Wiki summarizes his homeless fate:  “Helpless and depressed, the cat goes after his girlfriend just to find out that she got pregnant and that he’s now father of 17 young kittens [and] seeing no sense or bright in his life, poor Tom kills himself.”  Despite 17 being an impossible single litter size, a wiser cat would have made spay/neuter appointments for the couple – and the kids.

 

This article by Head Cat Susan Kumpf appeared in the April 2022 issue of Positively Haywood by Vicinitus.

Koko’s Kitten

New Year celebrations include remembering friends and pets long passed. LUYE recently donated a copy of “Koko’s Kitten” to the Haywood County library as a resource to help children deal with grief associated with the death of a pet.

Koko was the famous female lowland gorilla who used American Sign Language to say that she wanted a cat by pulling two fingers across her cheeks to imitate whiskers. When given a toy cat in response, she pouted.

Koko’s desire for a cat didn’t surprise her caretaker, American animal psychologist Francine ‘Penny’ Patterson, who taught Koko to sign. Koko’s favorite stories included “The Three Little Kittens” and “Puss in Boots.”

It was many months after the rejected toy that Koko finally got her wish:  she was presented with an unusual litter of three abandoned kittens that had been wet-nursed for a month by a Cairn Terrier. “Love that” she signed and chose the tailless gray male, poetically naming him All Ball.

Sensational photos in the January 1985 National Geographic show Koko sniffing the kitten and treating him like a baby gorilla. She dressed Ball in linen napkins and hats. She signed to Ball that they should tickle each other – one of Koko’s favorite games along with toy alligator chases. Koko was gentle and would laugh or sign “obnoxious” when Ball would bite.

When Ball was hit and killed by a car that same year, Koko grieved for months and once signed “sad bad trouble” when asked about him. Koko helped Patterson create a children’s book about grief and death. Koko never had her own gorilla babies but adopted additional tailless or Manx kittens in the years that followed.

Born in 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo, Koko was loaned to Patterson for a Stanford University research project on interspecies communications. Koko eventually moved to The Gorilla Foundation in California and died in her sleep in 2018 at age 46, the average lifespan for her species.

All Ball was almost a year old when killed on the road. The average lifespan of outdoor cats is less than the 15 years of indoor cats given the higher daily risks they face. Community cats live for 7 years on average. Spay/neuter and proper parasite control add years of life for those avoiding cars, toxins, and eluding predators like dogs, foxes, owls and coyotes.

Make 2022 one of your best years yet by including the joy of cats in your life. It will make you purr and keep rodents from invading your home. MEOW!

 

This article by Head Cat Susan Kumpf appeared in the January 2022 issue of Positively Haywood by Vicinitus.

Bastet the Goddess of Home

History tells us that the cats hiding in the loft of Bethlehem’s stable on Christmas Eve had themselves been revered for generations. Archeologists have found engravings and pottery that depict cats from the late Stone Age dating 10,000 years ago. The community cats outside your door evolved from cats that hunted rodents in these Fertile Crescent farming communities and eventually migrated outward on sailing ships and caravans crossing continents.

It was in ancient Egypt about 5,000 years ago that the first known feline-headed deity emerged. “Mafdet” had cheetah or African wild cat features and ruled over legal justice. As Wikipedia reports it, Mafdet ripped out the hearts of wrongdoers and delivered them to the pharaoh’s feet. It certainly sounds like wild cat justice, doesn’t it?

Amulets with cat heads and litters of kittens came into fashion 4,000 years ago and were worn by everyday Egyptians. Two feline-headed goddess ‘sisters’ who were worshipped at that time included 1) Sekhmet, the ferocious and vengeful lion-headed goddess of war and 2) Bastet, the fearsome protector of the pharaoh and cat-headed goddess of home and family.

At the height of Bastet’s popularity, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians (no children) would make an annual pilgrimage to pay their respects. The festival of Bastet at Bubastis was the most joyous and fervent holiday in the Egyptian calendar. Like today’s Mardi Gras, it featured drinking, dancing, making music, and (according to Herodotus after his 5th century BC visit) the raising of the skirts by women who were freed from all constraints. MEOW!!

Goddess Bastet as offered by popular retail giant, Walmart

Bubastis is an active archaeological site of red granite ruins with the Temple of Bastet one of its largest buildings. When visiting Cairo, go north along the Nile River to nearby Tell-Basta, which was lost for centuries and is the biblical city of Pi-Beseth mentioned in Ezekiel. When the temple was first excavated in 1887 and again in 1889 CE, over 300,000 mummified cats were found.

Another Bastet temple from around 230 BC was recently discovered under the streets of modern-day Alexandria Egypt, considered one of its most important discoveries in the last hundred years. The ancient site had some 600 cat statues.

The Goddess Bastet’s popularity as a deity declined with the rise of Christianity during the Roman Empire and the medieval persecution of cats. She is sometimes portrayed with a litter of kittens at her feet but more often as a sitting cat gazing ahead. Jewelry and other art featuring Bastet continues to be popular and make cat lovers purr.

This season, give the gift that benefits cats for life: spay/neuter and tip the left ear to prove it’s fixed. May your home and holidays be blessed with the purring of an eartipped cat curled up in your lap!

 

This article by Head Cat Susan Kumpf appeared in the December 2021 issue of Positively Haywood by Vicinitus.

TNR Summer Camp Fun

Lucky kids can choose from an array of enrichment camps.  Music, art, sports, space –anything goes.  Wouldn’t it be AWESOME if cat-loving kids opted for Trap-Neuter-Return taught at a TNR Camp?

Exploration would include finding trails and tracking paw prints to locate colonies and feeding stations. Curriculum would include feline behavior, wellness, and the benefits of juvenile spay/neuter. Kids would learn how to use humane traps, in-trap care, and how to estimate age and weight for pre-op meds.  They would live in boxes, snack all day, and sleep for hours on top of furniture.

Before the digital age, camp kids wrote letters to their parents to chronicle the day. Remember the 1963 hit, Allan Sherman’s letter from camp?

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah   is a portrait of boredom and loneliness. The song lays out complaints after his first day and the promises made if only he can escape Camp Granada and come home.

Let’s pretend there is a TNR Camp and have some fun with the letter from camp, which might go like this:

Hello muddah, hello faddah. Here I am at Camp Entrada, which is very entertaining and they say we’ll trap some cats if it stops raining.

Now, I don’t want this should scare ya, but the cats here cause hysteria! And the campground wants no litters, so spay/neuter is the rule for three-pound critters.

I set two traps, rather slyly. Turned out it was poison ivy.  Lynyrd Skynyrd knew of shivery: they sang black cats crossing trails cause double misery!!

Traps are vexed by pollinators and the lake has alligators! And the head coach, Mabel Molehundt, nightly bets on eartipped cats as they chase rodents!

Take me home! Oh muddah, faddah, take me home! I miss my bruddah. Don’t leave me to track down all these cats.  I might get eaten by a rat!

Wait a minute; it stopped hailing. Kids are trapping, fun’s prevailing! Now more eartips, gee that’s better.  Muddah, faddah, kindly disregard this letter!

 

This article by Head Cat Susan Kumpf appeared in the September 2021 issue of Positively Haywood by Vicinitus.

Listen to My Ears

A cat’s ears tell all. “Facing forward, just aside, my happiness is multiplied.”

A friend once commented that I have small ears. They’re likely normal for a cat my size, but she clearly had sent important signals that I had missed.

Her comment brought to mind American novelist Ernest Hemingway who said, “I have learned a great deal from listening carefully.”  Hemingway  admired cats for their emotional honesty.  His Key West colony of 30+ cats included his first polydactyl (six-toed) cat gifted to him by a ship’s captain. 

Cats hear frequencies higher and lower than humans (and dogs), tuning in like RADAR to distinguish between two different sounds 3 feet away that are within 3 inches of each other.  That’s a big MEOW when hunting prey and staying clear of predators.

Kittens are born with closed ear canals.  Watch their ears unfold as they gradually orient to sound during their first month.  A left eartip says a kitten is fixed and vaccinated. 

Cats hear five times better than humans. Their 32 ear muscles (vs. human’s six) allow them to swivel and rotate 180 degrees like a periscope for a sensitivity boost of 15-20%.

It’s because cats hear so extremely well that their ears provide a feline sign language for us to learn.  Here’s a quick & easy way to learn:

WATCH ME
or How to Listen No Matter How Small Your Ears

It’s not meows or random growls that tell you how I’m feeling now.
My every mood is clear to see.
It’s what my ears are telling thee.

Slightly forward just aside, my happiness is multiplied.
Swivel quickly, bow to stern? Is something up to cause concern?
Tightly pulled against my head when it’s the bully that I dread.
But straight and flat like Cessna wings? Back off! It’s time to end this thing!

 

This article by Head Cat Susan Kumpf appeared in the July 2021 issue of Positively Haywood by Vicinitus.

Gertrude, Patron Saint of Cats

Medieval artists symbolized souls in purgatory as rodents. And because she prayed for purgatory souls, the Patron Saint of Cats, Gertrude of Nivelles, became a cat lady in a sense, chasing forlorn mice into heaven.

Gertrude and her mother Itta co-led their Catholic nunnery in 7th century Belgium.  Gertrude and Itta were among the elite whose resources and connections influenced the king’s favor and support.  They gave refuge to women; healthcare to the poor; and hospitality to pilgrims and animals alike.

I can imagine a cloistered Saint Gertrude hurrying through a colony of lingering strays as they wait for spilled milk or praise for dead rodents laid at her feet.  Without spay/neuter, there would be more than a few.

Gertrude’s life was described as one of exhaustion, praying for souls in purgatory and not really taking care of herself.  With so many unfixed cats around, I can imagine that, too.

Later in history, the inquisition and superstition paired cats with paganism and witchcraft.  In 1233, Pope Gregory IX’s first Voice of Rome proclaimed black cats as Satan’s incarnations. His “Thou shalt not suffer a cat to live” imperiled cats for 100+ years, setting the table for the Black Death to fill purgatory with 200 million souls.

in 1894, French biologist Alexandre Yersin discovered the plague was spread by an airborne germ, Yersina pestis bacillus, which also spreads through infected bites of the Oriental Rat Flea and its host.  Both were plentiful on 14th century trade ships docking at ports depleted of cats.

Comparing the Pope to the Saint, Gertrude was wiser with words:  “Ye shall not possess any beast, my dear sisters, save only a cat.”  Bless her.

 

This article by Head Cat Susan Kumpf appeared in the March 2021 issue of Haywood Vicinitus.

 

Cats in Space

Canine lovers rejoice. Two of the brightest stars in the dark winter sky are the constellations Canis Major and Canis Minor, Latin for the “greater” and “lesser” dogs.  Canis Major outshines its Minor with Sirius or the ‘Dog Star’, a giant blue flame that’s twice the size of our sun.   It’s no accident that satellite radio SiriusXM is named after the night’s single brightest star.

Dogs also get coveted attention as the 11th cycle in the 12-year Chinese zodiac calendar.  The Year of the Dog rolls over again in February 2030.

A dog’s sense of smell is 20 times that of humans, so NASA used them to sniff Mars rocks to discover foreign life forms.  If NASA wanted to distinguish the VARIETY of life forms on space rocks, they would have chosen the cat whose sensitive nose has 30 variants of the protein used to detect scents.  Dogs have only nine compared to human’s two.  No wonder cats are finicky eaters and rely upon familiar scents (and marking) to conquer stress.

Feline lovers who are jealous of attention given to dogs ask, “Where is the cat in space?”

  • No cat constellations.
  • No Cat Star.
  • No Year of the Cat in the Chinese zodiac (and the legend that cat was outwitted by rat for that spot is dubious at best)

There is one space that dogs and cats share in astronomical history:  flight. 

France sent the first cat into space in 1963.  Felicette was one of 14 female cats purchased from a pet store or (more likely) community cats taken from the streets. Felicette’s temperament won her the 15-minute, 100-mile suborbital flight, but some say she was one of the few that could still fit into the capsule after so many ‘training treats’.

Félicette is immortalized as a bronze statue “perched atop Earth, gazing up toward the skies she once traveled”. The piece premiered just last year as a part of the 25th anniversary of France’s International Space University’s Master of Space Studies program.  She is the only cat to survive space flight – and that’s nothing to sniff at.

This article by Head Cat Susan Kumpf appeared in the Holiday 2020 edition of Vicinitus Haywood.

Or Would You Rather be a Cat?

Whether you whistle, sing, or hum as you go about your busy day, retired kids of a certain age have tunes and jingles pop into memory for a spin around the brain before moving on.  But it’s the tune that sticks around for days that raises curiosity.  Why this song?  Other than the chorus or few remembered words, what are those forgotten lyrics?  Thank goodness for Internet!

Those who love learning remember Going My Way, the highest grossing movie of 1944 starring Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley.  His “Swinging on a Star” earned the Academy’s Best Music award for songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen and lyricist Johnny Burke.

The lyrics encourage listeners to aspire in life:  be better off through schooling, without which we grow up to be a weak-brained mule, a rudely lazy pig, or an illiterate fish.  The lyrics further warn us that all the monkeys aren’t in the zoo (as everyday we meet a few), so go to school!

I still remember from childhood about the unschooled lives of those four animals and didn’t want to be one.  But what about life as a CAT?  Things look pretty good for indoor pet kitties from where I’m sitting.  It’s the outdoor cat who needs our warning.  Kittens deliver their first litters around six months – two months after their first heat.

To that end, let’s have some fun and mix up the lyrics.  Ready to whistle, sing, or hum along?

Would you like to swing on a star?
Carry moonbeams home in a jar?
And be better off than you are?
Or would you rather be a CAT?

A cat is an animal that lands on its feet.
A move with a powerful complete!
It purrs like an engine tuned to 25 Hertz,
A stretch follows napping on a lap or your shirts!
But if you want a life of chasing rats?
You may grow up to be a CAT!

And it’s not just eartips running free;
You’ll meet full-ears, that’s guaranteed!
Like pursuit of life, liberty –
Don’t show yourself to be a dunce.
Spay/neuter kittens at three months!

This article by Head Cat Susan Kumpf appeared in the August 2020 issue of Vicinitus Haywood.