Quoting from Wikipedia “According to the dictionary definition a feral animal is one that has escaped from a domestic or captive status and is living more or less as a wild animal. Other definitions define a feral animal as one that has changed from being domesticated to being wild, natural, or untamed. Some common examples of animals with feral populations are horses, dogs, goats, cats, and pigs.”
I live in a feral world. South of downtown, West of the Arkansas River, Urban neighborhood, Tulsa, Ok. USA. It is a place for families, and government housing, and emerging neighborhoods, and crack houses, gangs, cheap real estate, and river view value homes. It is heavily industrial, home to the refinery, storage tanks, interstate highways, a grade school, fast food restaurants, liquor and convenience stores, and many small churches with outreaches to the fringe living in the neighborhoods. Cross the bridge to the East side of the River, and the real estate values triple, and mansions of the early Tulsa Oil Barons dominate the landscape.
And cats. Lots and lots of cats. Many colonies I am guessing. They are seen and unseen. They dine on rats and mice and the occasional bird and mole. And one colony that visits me daily and nightly. Survivor, Thor, Spooky, Midnight, Madras, Dijon, and Snow. These are the cats I know that visit me. Other than an occasional night time glimpse I know little about Madras, Dijon and Snow. Such is not the case with the others.
The cat adventure at my house started nearly a year ago. I had moved to the West Tulsa neighborhood, returning to Tulsa after a 30 year sojourn round the country. I was joined on my move with Tank. My beloved dog of 10 years now. We moved into Casa Canine together. My house was a “flip” property. It had been empty and abandoned for several years. Tank and I were the first new residents. I would come to discover, there were some squatters who had been using the property.
As I have written before, Tank is a special friend, and a constant reminder or my deceased wife Michelle. Tank stories can be found on my blog. Tank is not a feral, but he is a player in the story.
Survivor was the first. Almost certainly I remember seeing her from the early days of my residence. Prior to my move, there had been the removal of an old brick building in my backyard. I guess now, as I survey the neighborhood landscape, it served as a popular cat hotel. But it was gone by the time I moved. And with it went the resident cats. All but Survivor. Survivor was a hanger on. She wandered around my house, dined on mice and moles and an occasional bird. And then on dry food I would set out on my porch. We eventually became friends, and I wanted to adopt her and give her a home. The shortened version is, friendship, “capture,” a trip to the vet, and a move inside my house. The move lasted only a week. Survivor was not pleased with the inside accommodations, she had friends on the outside. And though she befriended my dog Tank, she was destined to return to her love interest Thor, though now she would never bear his children.
But this story is not about Feral Cats, it is about Feral People. And let me tell you they exist. One of them is “M”, a wonderful person of the streets. Not exactly homeless, not exactly with a safe place to lay her head. Let me assure you, she is not a bum. A hard working “junker” and scavenger of the streets. Collecting scrap metal and cans, dumpster diving, and rescuing “junk” to sell weekly at her flea market booth. I actually met M at the flea market, and had purchased some hearty mums from her… which are actually pictured above, on the porch with my feral cat friends.
M was “just a flea market vendor” to me until the day she got hurt. She had dropped a very heavy object on her foot, I happened to be around, and went to get her some aid and relief, a bandage, pain meds, and cigarettes. She ultimately was fine but sore. And we became friends. Over the weeks, we would chat on occasion.
I also have a storage unit space at the flea market, though I rarely worked it. (I am more an EBAY guy.) Because of this “junker/picker” connection, M and I are in a similar area on a weekly basis. We would small talk. She had a significant other. However, one day not long ago, M also had a swollen lip. I am not afraid to ask questions. And though I will not share all details, I will say this, I got her number, I made sure she had a safe place to stay, we had a “safe” word that she could text me in case of an emergency.
During this same time frame, I had started to become very restless in my own home. Casa Canine (my house) was the landing ground for around 7 feral cats, my 3 dogs, and some foster dogs. My house was also a warehouse and shipping center for my business. As I tell people, I am either a hoarder on the mend, or a picker gone bad. Whatever the truth is, my house was becoming a place of paths and stacks. I believe I was weeks away from a reality TV session filmed locally, if you catch my drift.
It was time to act. I must confess, I was paralyzed. I would look at the piles. I was paralyzed. But action was required. No one felt comfortable in my house, not ever me. So I decided to hire someone to help me open Casa Canine to 2 legged guests. I set a goal. Invite friends to my house on a future date, and fix them dinner. I needed to find help. The house would NOT clean itself.
I employed M. She was hard working, I had seen that. She also made her living as I shared earlier working outside selling and scrapping… and scraping to get by. The winter in Tulsa, as in many places, has not been the place to try and make a living this year. Too cold to dumpster dive, and too cold for customers to walk the flea market and purchase. Even the before Christmas buying season was hard on the flea market population.
So M and I made a deal. I figured I had about 40 hours of work or more at Casa Canine. And I had thousands of items of inventory. I would offer her a fair wage, which she could take in cash, or in inventory for her booth as we emptied my house, or any combination in between. All her choice. It was a great arrangement, and the end result was a successful dinner party for 8 just days ago.
But here is the drama. M and I have become friends. She is smarter than I could have ever known by her street life. She is prettier than I could have ever seen behind her street appearance. She is a victim of tragedy with the loss of her mother, killed by a drunk driver. She has a heart beyond kind. She is the only car owner among many of her friends, so she is the taxi for almost all. She has a hard time focusing and committing to scheduled arrival times. “Be there tomorrow morning” could easily mean 2 pm, or not at all. Time, it seems is contingent on a friend’s immediate need, or the attraction of a pile of junk seen in an alley on the way to come to work for me.
In the 6 degrees of separation that is our world, I came to find out the first time M came to work here, is that she knew my property. She had knocked on my door one year earlier to see if she could scrap the old air conditioner on my driveway, and take the old train board in my back yard, as well as other remnants of the “flip house” conversion. I was not at home during these “knock-time” events. I never answered the door, I had always wondered how that “crap” had disappeared from my yard. I was always thankful it was gone.
But as I shared earlier, dinner for 8 was served this past week. It was postponed one time for an additional 2 days in order to get M focused on the task at hand. But when she arrived, she would work hard. Sometimes we would work together, as we sorted my ‘discards” to become her “inventory.” Generally, she worked alone, and she worked hard. She did a great job. And we talked a couple of times. But mostly she worked hard.
Just don’t depend on her to make good decisions about her life. Because she, like Survivor, find that lifestyle changes are uncomfortable.
During our conversations, I came to find out her “safe” house remains the same house she was always in. Even though a spare bedroom has been offered for her protection until other arrangements can be made, M has returned to the streets.
She has not returned my texts in two days, except one line “still sleeping.”
Maybe I will see M at her flea market booth in a few hours. Saturday is a work day, and today will be warm in Tulsa. Maybe I won’t. I don’t know where she lives, but I do know where she hangs on most Saturdays and Sundays.
I choose not to moralize. M my friend, like Survivor my cat, are welcome at Casa Canine anytime. I can’t make them live inside. I can only love them as I am allowed.
Feral Cats and Feral People are for real.
Cats, it seems, have an easier time accepting help.