Missing Feral Cat -- How do I handle this?

baar baar jinx

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Just thought I'd post here as well. Reading the previous posts on this thread has been therapeutic, but I'm heartbroken right now. I have a colony that currently numbers, all together, around 11, the majority TNRd, with varying degrees of socialization and frequency of visits.  Six of them, I would call my "regulars", they show up every day, have bonded to me very well, some of them let me (and sometimes demand that I) pet them. The others  come and go, are still somewhat afraid of me, but do show up to eat every now and then. Anyway, four days ago (today is the fifth day), one of my "regulars"  disappeared. She just did not show up for the morning feed with the others. I was a little concerned at first because she has not missed a day in over six months, but didn't panic immediately. However, she has not shown up over the weekend either, and now I fear the worst. She was one of my favorites, very friendly, very playful, I  had designated her the queen of the colony.  It had taken me a long time to trap her for the TNR process, but I managed a few months ago. She would greet me every morning and every evening. She has essentially been a staple of my life for more than a year. It's unbearable to think I will not see her again, but in my heart of hearts I know that to be true. This is very unlike her. I have no idea what could have happened to her, I walked around the complex and drove around the parking lot but did not see her anywhere. About 7 months ago, I had another beloved one disappear the same way.  It's probably the only bad part about caring for ferals that I can think of.
 

Baar Baar Jinx2

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I'm in the middle of a terrible weekend, and, turning to this forum for some comfort, stumbled upon this thread that I last commented on three and a half years ago (I'm the same user as immediately above, but couldn't get into my old account, so had to create this new one to post).

This week was the official end of the feral colony that I have been caring for for almost five years. My last regular feral disappeared on Wednesday, and while it's only been three days, by now I know that when a feral that shows up every day suddenly stops, they are never seen again. It's happened too many times for me to hope for anything better. Until earlier this year, there were always between 5 and 8 or so in the colony at any given time. Some were regulars, some came and went. Over the years, I had TNRd all of them and fed and provided them with water every day. I built winter shelters for them and bought a heated water dish for winter. I planned my travels (vacations, business travel, weekends out of town) around the cats, having to make sure a friend was available to feed them when I was away. I did a lot of things for those cats I never thought I would; my life revolved around them in many ways.I couldn't bear the thought of losing them or the day I would have no feral colony to care for.

I live in an apartment complex and there were several scares along the way; complaints from other residents about the cats and threats of hiring exterminators (not with regard to my cats, but there were and still are other colonies on the properties that are not as discreetly managed as mine). My nightmare was always that one day I would learn that my entire colony had been trapped and removed. That never happened, but one by one the regular, daily visitors would suddenly vanish without a trace. On every occasion, I walked drove around the complex to look for them, fearing they were injured somewhere or might have been hit by a car, but never found out what happened. There were never any bodies, and if someone had been setting traps, I would definitely have known; I used to monitor closely for that kind of thing. I don't think there are predators in this area either, so every time, it was a painful mystery. I cried for hours and days each time. For about two years I had a very stable six-cat colony, then in February one of my beloved regulars disappeared and the semi-regulars' visits became more and more infrequent.

Now one of my oldest regulars is gone without a trace, as so many before him, and that's essentially it for my colony. It's devastating and heartbreaking. For almost five years, the feral cats would be there every morning for breakfast and every evening for dinner, which was the highlight of getting out bed and getting home from work. It's hard to fathom the idea that that will never happen any more. I always knew that day would come, but never that it would be so soon. Since the previous regular disappeared in February, I strongly considered the idea of trying to bring my last surviving regular indoors, but he was semi-feral and I doubt it would have gone well. I dreaded the day he, my favorite, would vanish as well, and wondered how I would go on. That day has now come. It's very difficult.
 

Jcatbird

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I am so very sorry. I also have had feral colonies and losses are crushing. I am thinking though that your “semi feral” may have been rescued by someone like me! I have taken in ferals and semi ferals. Lots of people do but many tend to keep it quiet since cat rescuing is not always popular with others. A semi feral would appear to be more of a lost or abandoned kitty. You could put up flyers and look at next door online to hunt for lost cat! Have you tried looking at night with a flashlight! Their eyes reflect light like two glowing orbs! Scared cats go as low as possible to hide it as high as possible. Recently I read a study about lost indoor and outdoor cats that were found. Indoor cat tend to hide within the range of a couple of houses. Outdoor cats go more like 17 houses away! Ferals could go further. If others are feeding, I really think you may find survivors somewhere. Granted, we do have losses but don’t give up. Keep your feeding routine. I have had a feral return a YEAR later! I felt sure she was permanently gone but she had just been to another colony. Often I had newcomers too. Lost kitties. I did search for their families and two were reunited with their homes. One had been an outside cat and he came here from two miles away. He had gone to sleep in the back of the family pickup. If you apartment complex has other cat lovers, ask! Bulletin board? Put up a notice and if you find him, you really can socialize a feral. I had over a hundred here that were being hunted. Over time I brought them all in and socialized for adoption. Not all become lap cats but all ended up adopted or safe with me.
Also, a vacuum effect happens. When there is a place for cats, new ferals show up. They will need you. Please don’t stop helping kitties. It’s only a matter of time before you see one of yours or another. As a fellow feral lover, I can tell you that we need you! I wish you were here! I could put you straight to work!
Is there a feral or rescue group near you? They need you. Ask local vets too! Besides asking about your lost kitty at vets or shelters/rescues, you can offer to help. Besides people to feed or socialize, fosters are greatly needed. You would be of great value as someone with experience. Don’t give up! :alright::hugs:
 

Baar Baar Jinx2

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Jcatbird, thanks so much for your words of encouragement. It's been difficult since there's really no one else in real life who I think understands how hard this all is. I was supposed to have family visit this weekend, but when I realized my last regular feral was gone, I had to ask them to postpone their visit. I was in no mood to have guests under these circumstances. I tried to come up with believable excuses, but finally just told them the truth, though I'm not sure they quite got it.

You may be right that my last semi-feral was rescued. I hope so, as this is the best fate I can imagine. I know of at least one other apartment that feeds ferals (I have seen cats there and also other evidence of feeding). Unfortunately this is not a feral-friendly community, with threats of fines and exterminators routinely made, so posting on a Bulletin Board is out. It's another reason I never tried to approach the other feeders, but now I will try to make the effort. There's nothing to lose at this point. I want to see if they know what happened to my last feral, or if they may have taken him in themselves. Over the weekend I have made several attempts to see if I could talk to them, and will keep trying. It would be comforting to see if they have answers, or at least they could also keep an eye out. I called the local shelter as well, they said they don't have him and wouldn't take in ear-tipped ferals (wouldn't trap them themselves and would advise anyone bringing one in to release them where they trapped them). None of my ferals, even the friendliest ones, could ever have been picked up by people and usually would run if you stared at them or got too close, so it's unlikely they ended up in shelters, but the shelter suggested I send in a picture of my feral so they could post it. I have searched the whole complex multiple times since he went missing, though I haven't checked at night yet since he was semi-feral and always out during the day. He shouldn't be scared since he would be in familiar surroundings and is used to people being around (unless he is injured somewhere). I suppose he could be trapped in someone's garage, if so I hope he gets out soon. I just don't know. Not knowing is the worst part.

I've never had the experience of a missing regular feral showing up after any significant period of absence, but I'm glad to hear hear that it does happen. As of now, whatever ferals are still in the complex are in other colonies and being cared for, and don't need me. There are none left in my former colony and no new kittens have appeared for years (which of course means TNR has been successful). It was quite painful to see no cats waiting to be fed when I get up this morning, but I will try to keep my hopes and spirits up. I don't think I'll turn away any hungry kitties if they show up, no matter how low I feel right now. Thanks for your kind words.
 

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You post made me cry and remember my little cat colony that for eight years I fed and doctored wounds every other day. When that ended I was left with one...little wildie...who stayed during all the construction and everything. But I’ve learned nothing stays the same. When she left a part of me did to. I know exactly how you feel.

But I believe you were put in that particular spot for a time and purpose. You gave of yourself, got ,hopefully, some head butts and purrs in return.

The key is not to dwell on the bad thoughts. Believe me when I say there are others who need you just as much.

As an old vet once told me when I complained “oh no, just what I didn’t need, another stray” she looked at me and said “true, but he needed you”

Stay safe and mask up!

Yep, I’m a crazy old cat man
 

Baar Baar Jinx2

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Trudy1, thanks for your heartwarming message. It brought tears to my eyes all over again. I went back to read your story and saw what a horrible ordeal you went through as well. My last remaining feral was with me from the beginning. As I write this, I'm looking at the spot on my windowsill where he used to sit (on the outside) and it's heartbreaking to think that I will likely never see him there again. His loss truly represents the end of my colony and the end of a phase of my life. At least until now there were other ferals that depended on me so I had a reason to keep going on, to keep feeding, to prepare for winters. Now, nothing. These ferals were like my family, there for me every day, until one by one, they were gone without explanation or warning. Now I feel a void and an emptiness. Yes, feeling like a part of you has died ... that's exactly what it's like.

I have been alternating between feeling like no colony could ever make up for the loss of the one I had and never wanting to get involved with feral cat care again to avoid the inevitable heartbreak, and desperately wanting feral cats to care for again to give it all some meaning. This morning, I went looking for my last feral again, and stumbled upon a kitten I had never seen before (this after stating in my earlier post that we hadn't seen a kitten in years) who ran away as soon as she saw me. I left her some of the cat food I never thought I'd need again and started thinking about the best way to TNR her although she's clearly part of the other colony. Not sure I will be the one to arrange it, but I guess it shows the caregiver instinct never really goes away no matter how bad you feel about your own losses.

I also feel guilty that I didn't try to socialize my last feral when he was the only one left, knowing fully well that he would disappear one day like all the others, but it was never an easy decision. I guess for some reason I always thought I might have a chance in future, although by now I should have known that every time you see a feral leave might be the last time you will ever see them. I have been toying with the idea of getting a socialized indoor cat all these years. If I continue to feel bad, I might consider it. An indoor cat who will not disappear on you will of course not heal the pain of the loss of my colony, but may help me move on.

Posting here and reading replies and other threads has been very therapeutic. Thanks to everyone for listening.
 

Baar Baar Jinx2

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In the end, what provides the most comfort is the idea that we are put where we are to help these cats for as long as we're meant to. Some things are not in our control (including our getting too attached to many of them). I loved every single one of my ferals and will never forget them. I would not have missed a single moment of the time spent with them or the pleasure they gave me, even though I rarely touched them (most not at all). I don't regret caring for them, despite the pain of each loss. I hope I was able to make their brief lives more comfortable. A rescuer I worked with once said she believed there was a special place in heaven for her for all the work she did with ferals. I hope that someday we will all be reunited with every cat we helped.
 

trudy1

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I could have told you one would find you, especially a kitten! That’s no accident! Well I have 7 indoor, some outdoor at the house. I think you need that balance between that and TNR...maybe not 7. Home cat kids will listen and understand when you’re hurting. I wish I could tell you it will go away someday but for me it’s been almost three years and hardly a day goes by that they don’t come into my thoughts. Don’t ever try to get a noncat person to understand, they can’t. Get that little kitten today! Hold it all the time as your constant companion and to whisper those things that make you sad in his/her ear...it will listen, maybe head butt you and no judgement....yay!
Anyway, that’s my solution to world problems.

The other thing I would say is that statistically ferals live about 5 years in no care situations and usually in terrible conditions. My thanks to you from them for the love, food and care you gave to them!

Have peace in that.

Keep the faith!

BTW this is my latest, Gracie, from the Chick-fil-A parking lot. Weight was 7 oz, matted eyes, etc but she’s home now
0CC75A62-B3A6-4AD3-984D-188E011A8F44.jpeg
 

Jcatbird

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A kitten. It always seems that just when we need it most, we see a kitty. It never fails. Little furry messengers. I still have hope that your other feral was taken in by someone. As you stated, it’s not a cat friendly place so that makes me feel that if someone did take him in, they did it quietly. Perhaps had been loving him from afar and worried they would be chastised for taking him inside.
As for looking at night, any cat can get startled. That could cause them to change their routine instantly. Try to hold on to the thought that he is either near and eating where he found the company of other cats or is now being spoiled by someone inside. Either is entirely possible.
I am very glad you came here to post. TCS is filled with warm hearts that share your feelings about kitties. When I first came here I was exhausted from trying to do rescues and the numbers needing help were overwhelming. I found others here who really understood and offered support. I don’t know if I would have made it to the last kitty without them. Our hearts are with you. In fact , trudy1 trudy1 , who posted above, is one of the very first who gave me encouragement. I will always be grateful. Please do keep us updated.
And to trudy1 ,Gracie is absolutely precious!
 

Baar Baar Jinx2

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I honestly did not want to post here again, at least not at this stage, since Jcatbird and trudy1 were so supportive and encouraging in their posts and since I have no good news to report. But this forum has been a godsend to me, as I believe that no one in my actual life truly understands the situation the way my fellow feral caregivers here do. So I hope you'll forgive my unburdening myself here, it really helps.

It has been a rough week, to say the least. I finally spoke to two other caregivers on the complex who have not seen my last semi-feral ("Rio") either since he disappeared eleven days ago or before. They also asked around and are not aware of anyone who may have taken him in (although it does not 100% rule it out; they were surprised that I, another caregiver, had actually been feeding a colony for the past five years that they were unaware of, so someone just as discreet as I am may have taken him in. I can only hope.). I have called the shelter numerous times and posted on the local lost pets site. It's hard, but I will try my best to stay positive and believe that he is happy where he is, either with another colony or with an adopted family. Not knowing is awful, but to allow my mind to entertain other possibilities is unbearable.

The loss of Rio has been weighing heavily on me for the past week and also reminded me of all my previous feral losses. When I first wake up, I remember that I will not have any ferals to feed as I have been doing for almost five years, and that's crushing. At night, I have the same thought, realize even Rio is gone and feel anxiety over it, as if there's something I can still do about it, though there isn't. Losing Rio, who was always one of my most beloved ferals, was quite devastating. I have had ferals vanish before and it has never been easy, but this time, it also meant the end of my role as a feral caregiver, making it even worse. I still keep unintentionally checking my porch to see who's shown up for a snack, only to painfully realize that likely no one ever will again. In the beginning I seriously considered moving, even quitting my job if I had to, because I could not bear the thought of living here where I once cared for a feral colony, and looking at my porch and realizing that Rio is gone and there would never be ferals waiting there again. But that's impractical. I dismantled my well-disguised feeding station earlier this week (both because it was a now-unnecessary risk and because I did not want a constant reminder of what I have lost) and that was emotionally very hard. But I have been doing somewhat better this weekend. My mother felt that since it has been only eleven days since Rio disappeared, he could very well come back, and told me about many cats from her childhood who had been gone for weeks before returning or found living with someone else. It's nice to hear such stories, but as I mentioned before, that has never been my experience and Rio, who has been here every day for the past five years, since he was a kitten, would not stay away for eleven days if he could help it. I wish that I had at least had him microchipped at some point, but who knows if that would have helped.

I have seen several ferals in the other colony being looked after by other caregivers; they all seem to be around. That suggests to me that at least there was no mass trapping around the time Rio disappeared. My multiple daily treks around the complex and the adjoining college campus that initially started off as attempts to find Rio have become daily long walks that do seem to be therapeutic.

I think the advice to find a TNR group/cat rescue group to work with is a good idea and may help alleviate some of the pain. Once the pandemic passes, I will consider it. Sorry again for all the negativity; this thread has essentially become like a journal for me through this traumatic experience and it's very comforting to have a place to be heard and sympathized with. If things somehow take a turn for the better, I will be sure to come back here and update everyone.
 
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