It is with a broken heart that I share some feelings this evening. We've had acts of animal cruelty in our neighborhood this week. I'm not sure where to start, but I suppose the beginning would be an appropriate place.
Those of you who read my ramblings know that one of my passions in life is caring for cats - stray cats, homeless cats, abandoned cats, cast-off cats, new cats, old cats, sick cats, and any other cats in need. I've been caring for cats for decades and have sometimes received criticism from neighbors who don't share my love for felines. I've never asked nor expected anyone to love them as I do. What I do expect is a moderate amount of civil and humane treatment for those furry innocent creatures who share our planet and our lives.
Last Sunday, October 25th, began as most Sundays recently had. Spouse and I placed Kelly and her kittens in their travel carriers and headed to the adoption center for another chance to have them find forever homes. Inside the garage was Chester, my sweet little stray that had finally trusted me and become my constant companion on nightly rounds to feed the other strays. Why this area has become such a collection ground I do not know, but if a cat is here, I'll feed it and I don't, and won't apologize for that.
Chester had been spending nights inside the garage as the weather had become colder and I'd recently had him neutered, so he was a bit vulnerable. He loved being inside and came in very willingly. Our habit had been to keep him safely tucked in the garage at night, then allow him to go outside in the mornings. I want to clarify here that I do not sanction leaving any cats outdoors, ever, but Chester had not been tested for leukemia (that was next on my list for him) so I could not bring him inside with the resident cats. He was used to being outside and generally stayed very close to the house. I will always regret not finding a way to bring him inside.
Last Sunday was a beautiful day and I thought Chester would enjoy the sunshine then happily greet us on our return from the adoption center and church. I had no idea that was to be the very last time I'd see him. He was not waiting for us when we arrived home. I wasn't alarmed at first since cats, especially males, do tend to roam. I expected him by dusk, but he didn't come. Again, I thought he'd be here later, so I waited...and waited. He never came. I was feeling a bit anxious about that, but wasn't in panic mode. I did see three small wild kittens huddled together behind our shrubs though and wondered where their mama had gone. She had always been with them, but was no where to be found. Neither was her sister.
The kittens had been one of my projects since late summer when I learned they'd been born under a neighbor's shed. He gave permission for me to go onto his property and humanely trap them and their mama, and I did make several attempts, but the cat and her kittens were elusive and frightened. I decided to keep feeding them, watching them, and slowly try to gain their trust. My hope was that Kelly's kittens would be adopted quickly, thus making room for the others who needed help. That hasn't worked out as I'd hoped, but we're still trying.
All week long, the kittens came to my porch to be fed and all week long I watched for Chester and the kittens' mama, who didn't come. The night I went outside to feed cats and not one adult cat appeared, I became upset and very suspicious. I had a deep rooted feeling something was terribly wrong. I told Spouse something awful was happening to the strays and he thought I was making too much of it. He brushed aside my comments and reminded me that cats move around and wander off from time to time. I knew that, but this was something very different, something sinister. Seven cats do not disappear all at once.
Negative thoughts nagged at me because we have a neighbor who has a history of setting out antifreeze in order to kill wildlife. A few years ago, we saw the vat of antifreeze and the results of it. I reported him myself, but a slap on the wrist does not stop a cruel person from doing foul deeds. I have good reason to believe the neighbor is back to his cruel and abusive ways. So far, I cannot prove one thing, but I have the word of another neighbor who witnessed very suspicous actions from the cruel man.
This week, there are at least seven cats missing, and probably more, since sometimes other cats have come and gone at will. I just thought of three more I'd fed from time to time that I haven't seen recently. I'd named the "regulars" Chester, Shiloh, Grayson, Momcat, Sister, Little Stripes, and Gray Boy. Not one has been seen since Sunday night, when Shiloh came to eat. That was the last time I saw him. I was out every day and night last week, calling to the cats, doing my strange whistle to which they always came running, but knowing in my heart something was terribly wrong. If Chester could have come to me, I know he would have.
Last night I went outside and talked to a neighbor who was walking his dogs - he lives next door to the cruel man. Without telling him why I wanted to know, I asked if he'd seen anything out of the ordinary from the cruel one. Without hesitation, he said he had, then told me about seeing the man walk to the shrubs in the front of his house and stoop to pick up what appeared to be a pie pan with something in it. He said the way the man was carrying it made him think there was liquid in it. The man put the pan inside his garage and closed the door. When I told my dog walking neighbor all the adult cats had disappeared, he gasped and said something I cannot repeat here. We instantly knew the man was up to his evil ways, poisoning animals with antifreeze. Unfortunately, we can't prove a thing - yet. I do have witnesses who heard the evil one's wife scream at me a couple months ago about feeding strays and threaten to call the police if I stepped foot on her property, which I had not. When I'd explained what I was trying to do and that I was doing all I could to stop the over-population of cats, I thought she accepted that. She seemed to calm down, so I never thought she and her spouse would stoop to this. I naively thought they'd learned a lesson years ago.
I was shaking when I re-entered my home and told Spouse what had been said. I think he finally realized what I was feeling was not my imagination running away with me. I'm sure the evil doers think they did away with all the cats up here. What they don't know is that on Halloween night, even though it took most of the night and into the wee hours of the next day, I humanely trapped the three motherless kittens and they are now safe with me inside the house. I know without a doubt, they would have been the next ones to disappear. Right now, there's not much room to house kittens while keeping them away from the resident cats until they're able to be handled and vet checked. They seem to feel secure in my utility room bathroom so that is where they are for the present time. They were scared to pieces and had never experienced human touch until I caught them. What I'm going to do with more kittens, I honestly do not know. I'm not going to worry about it though. One thing I'm sure of is the evil doers will not be able to do away with these kittens. I'd thought I would have them spayed and neutered under a spay and release program, but that is out of the question now. The three kittens, plus one forlorn white and gray cat, Dixie (who delivered kittens on our front lawn in Sept.) are apparently the only survivors of this tragedy. Dixie's newborn kittens did not survive though we did all we could for them. I tried for months to capture her so she could be spayed but she's the most frightened cat I've ever seen. The saving grace for her was that she hadn't wandered further than our house.
I spent most of today walking through the woods behind our home and scouring the area around the evil neighbor's house. I am torn between hoping and praying I find Chester and the others....and hoping and praying I don't. I've spoken to an animal cruelty investigator and to law enforcement officials. All of them say we need proof, but I already knew that. What I didn't count on was the high level of cooperation I've received. The cruelty investigator and the local police are coming up here to "interview" the evil neighbor and my dog walking neighbor has promised to testify if/when that becomes necessary. He and his wife had been helping me with the strays by buying huge bags of cat food for us every few weeks. Their daughter is a police officer and was here last night. She is also taking this very seriously. She offered advice on what I needed to do and how I should go about collecting evidence. It might prove to be a gruesome task, but I have to do it for my little furry ones who came to trust me. I can't imagine how much they suffered at the hands of such cruel people. I feel as though I let them down and I'm grieving for them all. I still can't fathom this has happened in my otherwise peaceful neighborhood.
Some caring neighbors spent the afternoon trudging through muddy fields and wooded areas looking for the cats. Spouse and I went out again late this afternoon. Our efforts were fruitless, but we're not about to quit trying to find them. The longer the cats are out there, the less chance we have of making a case. There is so much over growth and so much ground to cover that it's like looking for a needle in a haystack. I truly feel I'm meant to find something that will help convict this criminal. Chester and the others deserved to be treated humanely but their lives were cut short by cruelty. They were all loved by me, but sadly, that wasn't enough to keep them safe.
I am beside myself with grief and am praying for justice to be served. To some, these may have been "just stray cats", but not to me. They were my furry friends.