At the moment, I have three house cats at home and two outside cats in the pet zoo. All have been literally picked up from the streets. Israel has a huge problem with stray and feral cats. Spaying and neutering of cats is not as widely done here as in Europe and the results are disastrous. Sometimes, people will just drop off unwanted cats or litters of kittens in the kibbutz, conveniently dumping the problem on us, I suppose.
Last summer, my mother was visiting from Holland and we were walking through the kibbutz, when suddenly three tiny little kittens ran out on the road and launched themselves at us, meowing loudly and climbing into our legs. They were absolutely tiny, much too small to be all alone. We looked and asked around for the mother cat but there were no other cats there. They had been dropped off by people who didn’t know what to do with a litter of kittens. We couldn’t leave them alone, so we took them and kept them in one of the rabbit cages for a while.
Fortunately, they were able to eat cat food and seemed healthy apart from being too young. They were absolutely adorable! They wanted nothing more than to sit on us and to burrow into our clothes. The children loved them and there were always a few kids in the cage, holding the kittens and playing with them. This type of exposure worked in their favour, because they were all adopted by parents who crumbled in the face of their children’s begging and the cuteness of the kittens. Happy ending to this particular story!
Our current Head of Mouse Extermination, Tseli (“Shadow”), was also a dumped kitten. She showed up as a tiny kitten, about a month old, in the surroundings of the swimming pool, looking for people. It’s always easy to tell if cats are feral or stray (dumped house cats) – ferals run and hide from people, strays look people up. Tseli was lovely and extremely friendly. The children loved her and the swimming teacher fed her every day, until the pool season had passed and the teacher had to leave (she leaves the country after pool season and couldn’t take the cat with her). She begged me to find the cat a home and I had a sudden idea – why not take Tseli to the pet zoo?
So we did – and it was the best decision I made that year. At the time, we were overrun by mice. My friend and pet zoo partner, bless her, is terrified of mice, so I am in charge of mouse eradication. (She takes care of spiders – they freak me out). But I, of course, am a soft-hearted wuss and I think mice are cute, so I couldn’t make myself put out traps or poison (ack). But the problem was starting to be quite alarming, as mice attract snakes and we definitely didn’t want snakes anywhere around.
So Tseli turned out to be the perfect solution. She is a whizz at mouse catching. I hardly ever see a mouse anymore these days. She also never lays a paw on the pet zoo animals. Admittedly, most are bigger than her, but I have heard stories of cats catching chickens and definitely chicks. Fortunately, Tseli never shows the slightest sign of wanting to catch a chicken or rabbit. She does sit in front if the quail cage and stares. The quail cage was the only place where mice still freely ran around – sometimes I saw them cheerfully eating the poultry food, sitting right next to the quail. But I didn’t dare to let Tseli into the cage, thinking she was just as likely to catch a quail or two.
One day though, she managed to slip past me into the cage, unseen, and I found her there about half an hour later, staring intently at something in the corner. To my surprise though, it wasn’t a quail – it was a mouse. While I watched, she pounced, caught the mouse and walked to the door, asking to be let out. I was stunned. All that time, she hadn’t been watching the quail at all, but the mice. Now, I regularly let her into the quail cage for a while. She never touches the quail but only looks for mice.
Apart from being head of the mouse extermination squad, Tseli is also a very friendly cat that loves to be petted. The children love her. Some come to the pet zoo only to play with Tseli. We have honestly struck gold when we found Tseli – I hope she will be with us for many years. She has been vaccinated and spayed, so hopefully this will keep her around for a long time!
The only problem with a barn cat is… the available cat food attracts other cats. Stray cats, feral cats… Some of them just come for a visit and a bite to eat, others take up permanent residence, like these two cuties here:
They were tiny when they showed up and terrified of people. I couldn’t chase them away or not feed them. So at some point, I was regularly feeding about 5 or 6 cats. This depleted the cat food a bit too quickly, and the problem was also: what to do if all these cats started breeding..? We would be overrun with feral cats! We decided to adopt the two little ones, but to stop leaving food out for the others. The two got used to us, but did not let us touch them. At some point, we managed to trap them and took them to the vet for vaccinating and neutering.
Sadly and mortifyingly, the little black and white male managed to escape while being unloaded from the car and disappeared into town. It was impossible to catch him or even find him again. We had to go back without him. I just hope that he found another safe place where there is food…
So now, we have two pet zoo cats. The tabby female is still with us, we called her Stav (autumn) and she is starting to be much tamer – lately, she even lets us stroke her. She catches mice and wild birds but runs away if the chickens try to eat her food. Together, Tseli and Stav are our Mouse Extermination and Snake Prevention Team. They are cats on a mission!