Kitties Get a Home

Reader Contribution by Laura Berlage and North Star Homestead Farms
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Kara with Gypsy in the farmhouse, and Gypsy meets Lena.  Photo by Kara Berlage.

You may recall the story I wrote about the momma cat and her kittens that were dumped on the farm and took up residence in the woodshed.  Many of you have been asking for an update on the kitty story, and we are happy to report that they are all doing well and have been homed.  Here is the update:

As temperatures dropped and momma cat (who Kara named Gypsy) learned that we have two herding dogs on the farm, she moved the crew into the machine shed.  Here, the crew could mouse in peace and hide from the wind.  Within a few short weeks, the mouse and vole population dropped, the red squirrels lost their boldness, and the kittens appeared to double in size.

The crew had settled in at the farm, but if the situation was left untended, there would no doubt soon be a feral cat population explosion—and an in-bred one at that.  It was time to be stewards of the situation.

For weeks, Kara worked to gain as much trust as possible with the cats—bringing food and setting up a dog kennel filled with warm blankets.  Soon the kittens would play in the open when they saw her coming with food, though they remained too skittish to catch.

Kara worked with Sherrie Shelton of Animal Control and Lisa at the Northwoods Humane Society to borrow a set of live traps to catch all four of the cats.  There was momma Gypsy, a gray tabby female, and two black males.  Through a program with the Human Society, all four were able to be spayed and neutered at no cost to us through Dr. Haugen and the staff at the Family and Farm Veterinary Clinic, as well as have a health checkup.  All were free of fleas and ear mites, which spoke to their health and vigor.

We then brought the cats back to the farm for recovery, letting them recuperate in dog kennels in a heated part of the garage. This gave us a chance to consider what would be best for the cats going forward.  Did we actually need four cats on the farm?  What about the issue with the health of the pregnant sheep and concerns about Toxoplasmosis?

As she cared for the healing felines, Kara soon realized that Gypsy was well socialized to people, while the kittens were asocial and much wilder in their nature.  While the kittens remained quite attached as a social unit, Gypsy seemed relieved to be on her own and away from the rabble-rousers.  Drawn by Gypsy’s socialness and encouraged by her negative test results for feline leukemia, we moved her into the spare bedroom of the farmhouse.

“Gypsy was obviously loved,” Kara announced one morning at breakfast.  “As soon as I reach into the kennel, she rolls over and purrs.”

The momma cat that was once so shy you hardly could get a glimpse of her now absolutely loves attention, purring constantly and loudly when Kara comes to visit her.  She and our original housecat Pumpkin bat at each other’s paws under the bedroom door, and both dogs Lena and Finlee have had a chance to meet and greet. 

Gypsy has an especially long and expressive tail, and though she is in thin condition is doing quite well adjusting to her new life indoors.  As of yesterday, she had a chance to explore the bathroom and kitchen before opting to retreat to the safety of the spare bedroom.  It won’t be long before she’s become fully acclimated to the farmhouse and its residents.

But the kittens needed to have an outdoor life that would also keep them safe and warm and well-fed through the winter.  Again, Lisa of the Humane Society was greatly helpful, as she was able to put us in contact with Matt.  Matt own a historic farm in the area and is restoring the large dairy barn that serves as a cat sanctuary.  While many cats through the Humane Society are able to be homed as indoor cats, some do not have a disposition that is compatible with living indoors. 

Matt agreed to take the kittens, picking up the trio in the dog kennel from our farm one wintery afternoon.  At his farm, the kittens will have plenty of space to romp and play, mouse and chase, while having protection from the weather and busy roads.  The farm caretakers stopped in over the weekend to return the dog kennel and report that the kittens were doing well. 

So the cats are homed, spayed and neutered, have a clean bill of health, and have adequate sheltering from the oncoming cold weather.  They are quite the lucky crew!  It took time, care, and attention from many members of the community to turn the surprise situation around into a win-win for the cats and the farm.  So please, if you are ever tempted to dump cats off at the farm, think not only on the life of the cats but the other animals and people on the farm that will become the unwitting recipients. 

As stewards, we are reminded every day of how crucial it is to make the right choices for the safety and comfort of the animals under our care.  This week, think on how you can be a better steward this winter to the animals around you—both domestic and wild.  When we transpose “what’s easy” with “what’s right and true,” changes begin to happen.  We learn to listen to that inner voice that helps us know what is right and true, even in a difficult situation. 

Gypsy is a lucky cat.  My hope is that through sharing her story, fewer Gypsies will be dropped off in the cold in a foreign landscape this winter, wherever that may be.  The community resources we utilized for helping the cats are available to everyone.  It’s a message that we all must care for our stewardship piece in our own stories, especially in the winter season.  Would you not agree?  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453

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