We have always had a number of feral cats living here at Powerscourt Estate. They are usually found hanging out in the old farm buildings and whilst they serve a purpose in keeping the mice count down we felt it was time to address the issue from a humane point of few. It was heart breaking to see kittens having kittens and then not being able to look after them. My colleague Brenda approached the management team here at Powerscourt and they gave us their full support to undertake a neutering program. We found a wonderful veterinary practice in Roundwood and Bernie and her team agreed to help us out, without costing an arm and a leg! I volunteered to drop the cats in and collect them as I was passing by on my way home.
The first couple were successfully neutered and released back without any drama. I got a call from Justin in the Garden Pavilion to say he had trapped a kitten but it was very small. I called over to collect it on my way home to drop it in to the vets and when I saw the little mite I felt quite emotional. She was so tiny, a jet black ball of shivering fur curled up in the cat trap. It hissed a little as I placed her in the boot of the car, but I never hear another peep out of her all the way to Roundwood. When I got to the vets I left her in the care of the staff but I just couldn’t get her out of my mind. Bernie phoned to say she was a little on the small side but she would go ahead with neutering her, but she had to keep her for an extra night as she was so tiny. Her size indicated a kitten of about 3 months old but she was in fact about 5 months! The following day we trapped the mother and she was quite the opposite well fed and well able to live at the Garden Pavilion! Again I dropped her into the vets and agreed to collect her and the kitten on Saturday morning. I planned to keep them both for the weekend and release them out on Monday. A very different story unfolded.
I collected them both on Saturday morning and admittedly I was even afraid of the mother feline as she was well and truly wild. The little black kitten on the other hand looked more vulnerable than ever with her bare patch and stitches. I knew I hadn’t the heart to let her back out! Mother cat was getting anxious in the cage and unfortunately I could not let her out as she was too wild to handle, so myself and my two kiddies brought her back to Powerscourt on Sunday morning. My son was concerned that she would bite me when I was holding the cage open but I explained to him that she was planning her escape and not too concerned about my hand. With that she bolted and was gone. The staff in the Garden Pavilion still leave food out for her and the other cats everyday especially as the weather has been so cold.
We now knew the kitten was female and I had agreed to keep her at home to build her up a bit, but in the back of my mind I knew I wasn’t going to let her go. I didn’t want to build up the children’s hopes just in case things didn’t work out. Rather than having her in the cage that we caught her in we decided to try her in a hamster cage that we had at home. She was so tiny in the hamster cage but she was a lot more content. She used her litter tray immediately and lapped up the warm milk with great gusto. After a couple of days we decided to try and pet her and although she cowered away there was no loss of anyone’s fingers. We did this everyday so she got used to us and each day she got more used the noise and hustle and bustle of a busy household. At this stage it was obvious she was going nowhere so we named her Tilly.
With every passing day she gained weight and grew bigger and is now a member of the family. She sleeps by day under the duvet in the bedroom and in the evening when we arrive home she is hugged, kissed, petted and played with! There are times when she just wants her quiet time and sits on my shoulders and sings but early in the morning she has great energy and is like a bolt of lightning running around the kitchen. She loves chasing shadows, playing ball and playing hard to catch! She is still nervous of outside but in time we will introduce her to a whole new world of adventure and discovery. (For further tips of taming).
Thanks to my colleague Brenda for initiating this program, to Justin Smyth in the Garden Pavilion for helping us to catch them, to Powerscourt Management for covering the cost of the programme and an especially big thank you goes to Tess and Finn for their patience and love for Tilly, they have done me proud.
Now is the perfect time to trap and neuter cats before they have Spring kittens. “Feral” cats are abandoned cats or the offspring of abandoned cats and are not vermin. They are sentient creatures as entitled to life as any “tame” pet. Neutering not only prevents more kittens but it also reduces straying and fighting, and marking by male cats. Contact your local vets and they can refer you to a charity who can loan you a trap and can often help you find a vet offering reduced cost neutering. Roundwood Vets have been very good to us. (It has been relatively easy to “tame” Tilly, using the hamster cage (or a dog crate would work too) to let her experience family life while feeling safe with her own space. Children should be supervised with kittens as the kittens are so delicate and can scratch if they are frightened (when they are sitting on your lap and purring and grip you with their claws this is actually showing affection!). Do share us your stories! For more feral cats advice see http://tinyurl.com/jx8y5h3