It was never my ambition to live with a lot of cats.  

In fact, when our longtime friend Smokey died a year ago last May, I started drawing up a plan to turn our backyard into a more friendly place for birds than it’s been for many years. Life, however, had a different plan, and I opened the back door about a month later to discover that a mother and her four half-grown kittens had moved into our garage.

One dependable gateway to a life of servitude is to start feeding hungry kittens and their mother. A half-full sack of kibble that Smokey hadn’t finished was sitting right there in a cupboard by the refrigerator, and before I knew it, I’d taken the irreversible first step.

A little while later I realized that not only had I signed up for the job of providing food and water, but it was also up to me to assure that the five newcomers didn’t become 10 or 20 — because they certainly weren’t going to take care of that on their own. To the contrary, all they intended to do was eat, wrestle with each other and lie around in the shade looking adorable while avoiding any direct human touch.

Fortunately for me and the cats, I know one of the most experienced cat wranglers in the Valley. For five years, Barbara Noel was coordinator of the Cat Management Cooperative, an organization that traps feral cats, has them spayed and neutered through Blue Mountain Humane Society, and returns them to their caretakers and colonies, which are then monitored.

 Barbara and I, and a neighbor we recruited around the corner, trapped the five in our back yard, as well as six more neighborhood cats and kittens on our block, in traps loaned to us by the Humane Society. The next day we took them to the BMHS feral cat clinic, where they were not only “fixed” but also received rabies and other preventive vaccines. Four of the neighborhood kittens were too young for surgery, but that meant they were also young enough to be fostered by a Humane Society volunteer so they could be adopted into a long-term home.  

A few weeks later, Barbara led our crew on another trapping expedition on the block, and we took four more cats to a BMHS event. Fifteen cats may seem like a lot for one city block, but it’s fewer than there would be today (to say nothing of next year) if we’d left them to their own devices. The word is that a single cat can have four litters a year and can get pregnant at the age of four to six months — so assume half of each litter is female and do the math yourself if you dare.

Meanwhile, the mother cat took off over the fence soon after her surgery, and the four kittens have grown into adult cats with their own names and opinions, as well as an acquired taste for hanging around with select people. They’re beautiful, playful friends, but I still wish they could be living indoors.

We all know that there are many more cats born than there are safe and loving homes for them to live in, which means that those of us who live with cats have to be sure they’re spayed and neutered before they have a litter or get a cat down the street pregnant.  

This past year, though, I’ve learned that we also have to look out for the homeless descendants of cats who were lost or abandoned by their owner months or years ago.  These community cats lead precarious lives, dependent on the whims, kindness, and responsibility of all of us who live here.

 Barbara Clark, who is currently mayor of Walla Walla, can be reached at clarkbh@charter.net 

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