The Things We Do for Love: The Many Faces of Feral Cat Caretakers
Caroline Golon, the human behind popular humor blog Romeo the Cat, shares stories of pet owners who have gone the extra mile for their pets in this series, The Things We Do for Love.
When Dorian Wagner of Deerfield Beach, Fla., began feeding a couple of cats in her office parking lot, she had no idea that five years later, she’d still be taking care of them.
Wagner is one of many people across the United States committed to feeding and monitoring feral cat colonies.
According to the ASPCA, the estimated tens of millions of feral cats in the United States are either born in the wild, or have been abandoned or lost and turned to wild ways to survive.
Many feral cats live in colonies, and proper management of these groups by dedicated human caretakers can keep colony populations down and improve the cats’ quality of life.
But who are these caretakers? From lawyers and monks to students and retirees, they don’t fit just one profile. But what they do have in common is their sense of duty and their compassion for animals.
It Makes a Difference
“I honestly didn’t mean to take them on,” says Wagner, who has two cats of her own. “But cats just seem to find me.”
One day, after a few months of feeding her “parking lot kitties,” Wagner noticed another woman feeding cats in the adjacent parking lot. She struck up a conversation and learned that the woman had been caring for the cats in the office park for 20 years.
Over time, Wagner met two other ladies who also fed small colonies in nearby lots.
The women eventually joined forces, and today they take turns feeding all of the cats in the office park. Wagner no longer works there, so she pulls weekend duty. “It’s about an hour out of my day on Saturdays and Sundays to drive over and feed them,” she says. “But it’s part of my life.”
The women update each other every time they visit the cats. “If a cat is MIA for a few days, we go on a full-out search to make sure the cat’s OK,” Wagner says.
The number of cats in the office park has declined, thanks to the women’s Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) efforts. They have also found homes for some of the friendlier cats.
Wagner says other employees in the building were interested in the cats. “I’d be in the elevator, and someone I’d never seen before would ask how the cats were doing or tell me where they saw one that day. Everyone knew me as the cat lady.”
Wagner believes her efforts have made a difference for the cats in her care. “I like to think that people are nicer to these cats because they know someone cares about them.”
We Owe It to Them
Steve Ferguson is a longshoreman who works on the Baltimore, Md., waterfront. For seven years he’s cared for a colony of cats near the dock where he works.
Ferguson started feeding the cats when their original caretaker — one of his coworkers — retired. “He used to tell me stories about the cats, and I got to know them,” Ferguson says.
The colony’s numbers have dropped because most of the cats have been spayed or neutered, thanks to Ferguson. While he didn’t know anything about TNR in the beginning, Ferguson educated himself. “I learn as I go,” he says, chuckling. Now he borrows traps from local rescues and pays for the spay and neuter surgeries himself.
When a cat does have kittens, Ferguson finds homes for them.
Caring for colonies isn’t easy and certainly not for everyone, Ferguson concedes. “But they’re like my cats. I don’t even look at them as a feral colony anymore.”
People often ask Ferguson, who has two cats at home, why he spends so much time and money on the ferals. “I believe we owe it to these guys to take care of them,” he says. “Hopefully someone will see what I am doing, and that will inspire them to be just a little more courteous to animals.”
A Sense of Purpose
Buffy Tarbox and her husband, Orpheos, began helping care for a local colony when they saw a plea for assistance on Facebook.
Buffy, a public relations professional, and Orpheos, a San Francisco police officer, have cared for a group of cats in Golden Gate Park for more than a year.
A network of volunteers feeds the cats in the park, Buffy says. She and Orpheos are assigned to deliver food once a week to one of the park’s many “feeding stations.” They frequently cover for other caretakers and make multiple visits per week.
The couple is dedicated. Even after working until 1:00 a.m. the night before, Orpheos still gets up early in the morning on their designated day. He and Buffy then walk two miles to the feeding station where the cats live.
Buffy says the operation is well organized through texts and emails. She’s only met the lead volunteer once.
Like Wagner and Ferguson, Buffy and Orpheos have two cats at home but consider the colony their extended family.
“We’re not ‘crazy cat people,’” Buffy says. “We just both believe strongly in helping innocent animals.”
What do you do for love? We’re looking for the funny, sweet and special stories that will make other pet parents smile. Email us at [email protected] to share your story. Please put "The Things We Do for Love" in the subject line.