Here Kitty, Kitty: Considerations for Taking in Stray Cats

Reader Contribution by Laura Berlage and North Star Homestead Farms
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Kara’s housecat Pumpkin has been decidedly more photogenic than the newcomers.  They may yet come around.  Photo by Kara Berlage.

Over the years, we have become the forever home to a variety of animals.  Pumpkin, Kara’s tortoise shell house cat came from the Northwoods Humane Society, and Belle our original guard donkey (now 30 years old) was looking for a good home via a note at the Feed Mill when the original owners had to move to smaller acreage.

Every year, there are the phone calls, “Could you take my goose?”–or duck or chickens or horse or…you get the idea.  While my heart goes out to the animals needing a home, I also have to be cognizant of the health and maintenance of well over 1,000 animals already in our care.  When you take on someone else’s flock of poultry, with them you can also inherit disease, parasites, and incompatibility issues with current flock members.  The same is true for mammalian livestock as well.

Consequently, we have turned away most all of these “please take my animal” inquiries, instead putting a shout out on social media to our hobbyist friends or contacts who may know the best place to rehome the critter(s) in question.  Ours is a working farm, not an animal sanctuary, and I could be completely overrun if every two to four-legged creature looking for a home was taken in.  It’s a noble undertaking, but it’s not the underlying purpose of our homestead.

But then there was Saturday morning.  Kara and I were in the garden, madly harvesting those frozen zucchini plants before they wilted in the morning sun for the pig’s breakfast, when we heard a car pull up near Farmstead.  It was still before opening hours, so we heard it pull away after a few moments.  It’s not unusual—sometimes folks stop by to pick up literature or check the hours.  But what happened next was unusual.

Mom and Steve were heading down to the Creamery, when they saw on our lane a gray Tabby momma cat with kittens.  At first, Steve wondered, “Are those mink or otters or what are they?”  It was such a surprise to see these small, dark animals on the road.  Skittish at the sight of people, they scurried off into the brush.

While we do have the one house cat, Pumpkin, we have never had barn cats on our farm.  There’s good motivation too, considering that the same reason pregnant women are counseled not to clean the litter box also affects the health of pregnant sheep. Toxoplasmosis runs rampant in mice populations.  However, it is not transferable to sheep (or people) without the cat as a vector.  So if you have sheep and mice (and who doesn’t have mice up here!), then keeping clear of barn cats prevents this aborting disease from spreading to the flock.

We are too far from neighbors to inherit cats by wandering, so the feline-free environment has persisted for as long as I can remember coming up to the farm.  But here were these new, unannounced arrivals.  They must have been left by whomever had been in the car we overheard and wandered down the lane looking for shelter and food.  The momma cat (who Kara named Gypsy) soon took up residence under a pile of scrap lumber in the wood shed, leaving the three kittens there while she hunted mice amidst the round bales nearby.

I’ve heard some pretty crazy animal dumping stories from other farmers, including one shepherd finding a ram had been tossed over a fence in with the rest of her flock!  So much for your work at sheepy planned parenting!  But while a ram can be herded and caught, this has not applied to new cats.  Since their arrival, it has been little else but cold, damp weather.  While Kara has set up a cozy, blanket-festooned kennel in the wood shed and brought food daily, the illusive cat and her little trio have remained mostly hidden.  There are no collars or identification, of course, and no neighbors we called said they were missing cats. 

I’m certain there is a story behind their arrival—couldn’t keep them, couldn’t take care of them, someone got upset, someone died, someone had to move away, etc.  And of all the animals on a farm, the two that can turn feral the quickest are hogs and cats.  Just let them off, someone thought, they’ll figure it out.

But here we are, with all our ewes pregnant, preparing for an October-November lambing.  And now there are feral cats on the farm. Have they been vaccinated? Do they need fixing so we can avoid having a whole army of cats in short order?  All these issues will have to be addressed.

So yes, we love animals, and yes, every day we take care of them, but please respect that we are not a place to leave former pets on the driveway for us to tend to.  If you need help rehoming your animals, let’s talk.  Let’s respect the lives of the animals enough to plan for them in our lives. Thank you. See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. Connect with her on Facebook, and read all of Laura’s Mother Earth News blogs here.

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