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Feral Cats Need Care in Blizzards, Too

President Becky Robinson Shares Her Tips
February 11, 2010

When 29 inches of snow fell in my neighborhood of suburban Washington, DC last Friday night and Saturday, I was stunned. Yesterday we experienced the second storm in five days with even more snow (eight inches in my neighborhood and around 20 inches in areas just north of us including Baltimore, Philly and beyond.)

Mother Nature has broken our regional record of snow accumulation and the federal government has been closed for four days straight—an unprecedented event. The impact of all of this snow is that great, and it is taken very seriously.

Of course, it wasn’t just people who were affected by what some are calling “snowmaggedon.” Feral cats up and down the eastern seaboard were experiencing their own state of emergency.

On Monday, I joined with caregiver Sharron and my husband Ed to do what thousands of caregivers are doing right now: shoveling out feral cats and colony feeding stations and ensuring they are safe and sound. It is the 5% of ‘other’ in the feral cat caregiver job description. Our target in Falls Church, Virginia, was “Earl Grey” (aka: Earl) a feral cat who comes out only in the evening, and never during daylight hours.

Some notes: Don’t procrastinate. Feral cats need your help, sooner rather than later. You’ll need proper supplies, like the vehicle to get you to the colony if needed, and extra “muscle”—recruit friends or family who can give you the support and decision making that will be needed. It’s daunting to do this alone. Give yourself extra time. Lastly, be sure to dress warmly… we were piled high with all of our winter gear!

Here’s what we did, and I hope this is of help to my fellow caregivers.

We had four types of shovels—snow and ‘garden,’ and we used them all. We spent some time hunting for the colony, because the landscape changed and everything looked different. We then spent about 15 minutes figuring out where to dig, taking into consideration where we normally see Earl, how he enters Sharron’s backyard, where he eats, and other entrances and exits he uses on a normal basis.

We created a path for us and Earl and uncovered about a foot of snow around the area. We also shoveled a walkway to Sharron’s backyard, which is where Earl goes to eat normally. This required us knocking on the neighbor’s door, who was more than willing to allow us access to his backyard. We slowly trudged through more than two feet of snow. We also dug out an area under one of the fences—Sharron has witnessed Earl squeezing under there.

We took extra boards and bricks and created a lean-to for a second, albeit, make-shift feeding station, since he wasn’t showing up at his usual spot. And, we set out more dry food and water than usual. Since canned food freezes quickly, we only set out one can and figured that Earl would have plenty of dry food if he came late at night. We also left plenty of fresh water that Sharron will replace once a day—it’s critical that outdoor cats stay hydrated. Cats won’t eat snow, and if they happen on a puddle of melted snow it will most likely have the salt and sand in it from the treated streets.

Cats will find shelter if one has not been provided by the caregiver. They’ll go under a deck or shed, or even under a car to escape the high winds and heavy snow or sleet. Then they get snowed in and trapped. They won’t and can’t dig out. So, if you don’t know where the cat is, think, “If I was a cat, where would I hunker down?”

That same day, Alley Cat Allies staff member Amanda and a volunteer in Atlantic City made their way to the boardwalk colonies. She emailed and told us, “I dug an igloo out—one of our kitties trapped inside of it! Another volunteer was cleaning up his spot at the boardwalk and also dug a cat out of a shelter! But overall it really was not too bad for them (it could have been a lot worse). In most spots the snow did not blow under the boardwalk - thank goodness!!! We went back yesterday to check out more spots and then today to feed and prepare for the next big storm.”

It took the three of us about an hour and a half to dig out places for Earl, and afterward we went for pizza. We were a little tired but as always, the reward is knowing Earl is fairing the storm with a little help from his friends.

We would love to hear from you about how you helped your feral cats survive this unprecedented blizzard. Visit our FacebookMySpace and Twitter pages to share your stories and photos!