Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Meet Valentine - Colony Matriach

It was a few days before Valentines Day in 2003 when I first met the beautiful brown tabby I decided to call Valentine. And she was pregnant. I was concerned for her and the arrival of her babies because it was mid February and it was cold. I called a local cat rescue group for some advice and I have to say I was somewhat disappointed in the response I got. They assured me Valentine could not be pregnant at this time of the year - it was too early in the season. Well she did have kittens. I'm not sure where or when she delivered but I could tell when she was no longer pregnant.

In early April Valentine came out from the lumberyard with the other cats from the colony to have breakfast. She ate and then wondered off and a few minutes later returned with 3 adorable wee kittens. She was weaning them and teaching them where to come for food. I was mezmerized. There was a little brown tabby that looked exactly like Valentine and two black kittens. I was so impressed with the way Valentine sat quietly as the kittens bounced around. They came for a bite of food but the slightest move from me and they dashed back behind the chainlink fence and the "safety" of the lumberyard. I named the shorthair black kitty Jet, the longhaired black F.J. which stood for Fluffy Jet but changed to Frances Jane when I learned she was a girl. The little tabby kitten disappeared shortly after I first saw her.

In late July Valentine delivered 5 more kittens. These wee babies were discovered by one of the workers in the lumberyard and thankfully he was a kind hearted man. He told one of the women employees about the kittens which set off a series of phone calls. The kittens were removed and Valentine was caught in a humane trap. Arrangements had been made with a vet who would allow Valentine to care for her brood until they could be weaned. Afterwards she would be spayed and homes would be found for her family.

Valentine returned to the colony about the middle of September. I was concerned she would be shunned by the others in the colony after her absence but she marched right back into their midst and resumed her roll as the matriach.

I'm not sure when it happened but eventually Valentine allowed me to pet her, and even groom her. She loves to rub up against my legs when I arrive with the food. In the 8 years I have been feeding this colony, I think Valentine has only missed about three meals. She loves her food.

Sometimes Valentine plays and runs and carrys on like a young cat but I think she is at least ten, maybe even a bit older. She loves catnip. When she finishes rolling around in the little pile I give her she will walk over to another kitty and take over their catnip. Valentine just has to look at any of the other cats and they move off.

The past few days she has been particularly affectionate. She has made a point of rubbing against my legs so that I will stop and scratch behind her ears. She is a sweetie but when she has had enough she is swift with the paw.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The East Side Gang's Winter Shelters

In late January 2007 the weather was getting very cold because of the constant wind chill and I realized that the cats, particularly Doodle and Ollie, were shivering. I was beside myself trying to come up with a solution for them. I ended up running to my computer and I Googled "winter cats shelters" and was instantly linked with a list of potential websites. The site I focused on was because they had a few suggestions that seemed doable. The design that caught my eye was one made from 2" pink insulating styrofoam.

My husband, being as soft in the head as I am about cats, took me by the hand and off we went to our local home building supplier. We purchased the necessary supplies then returned home to begin construction. We don't have a real basement in our house so we have to work in our driveway when it requires the tablesaw and other messy tools. So there we were in the freezing cold cutting the stryrofoam into the appropriate sized pieces to make two sleeping shelters for my ferals.

We assembled the shelters on the dining room table with help from Teika

It took about 24 hours for the caulking to dry but once it was I took the shelters to my ferals. The instructions suggest painting the exterior of the shelters so they blend in with the surroundings but it was more important to me to get the shelters in place for the cats. Fortunately at that location the shelters were also out of site so I wasn't too concerned about the bright pink styrofoam being seen by anyone.
It took the kitties no time at all to start using the two shelters so I immediately got two more shelters made and put in place. I am so glad I made the effort because right after I got shelter #3 and #4 in place, we were hit with a snow storm.
I had a little Kitty City. I had four sleeping shelters, which could accommodate 6 to 8 cats, depending on their size and how buddy-buddy they are with other members of the colony. I also had three feeding shelters, one of which was a wonderful heavy wooden doghouse I had found at the side of the road a few years prior.

In the summer of 2008 after using the shelters for two winters, the shelters were discovered and removed. The land between the two commercial buildings was so overgrown it was perfect for the cats and nothing could be seen until one was right at Kitty City. All the overgrowth was cut down and removed which forced me to yet again move the colony.

Now the shelters are all located in a little alcove further back so again they are not visible to anyone unless they walk way to the back. I rebuilt two feeding shelters and this time because I was not in such a panic, I constructed four shelters and painted the exterior. I had a bit of leftover paint from another project and it was a good colour. So the kitchen counter was were I did the assembly, this time with the help of Boomer
And the painting was done in the living room. When the paint was dry I put the tops on all the shelters and filled the them with wood shavings used for hamsters and guinea pig cages.
My sister lives on a farm so I made a quick trip out to her place to pick up some mouldy bales of hay which she was quite happy to get rid of. I used the hay as ground cover for the shelters as well as putting around and on top of the shelters to help make them even warmer.

The current location of the shelters is a good one because they are tucked up against a building on one side, a very high wooden fence on another side and a chain link fence on the third side.
This past fall I checked the shelters for damage and then added fresh bales of straw and lots of leaves from my yard at home to give the cats added protection. I made a few changes so that there are two entrances/exits into the four sleeping shelters and used some pine boughs to help keep wind and blowing snow from getting inside.

A few days after making these changes I arrived to find Spirit had tucked himself into the pile of leaves. As the days passed, he burrowed deeper and deeper into his leaf cave. The only way I can tell if Spirit is in residence is if he opens his eyes to look at me. He seems very content to sleep away the day in his little leaf cave. His cave is the black hole in the leaves near bottom right of photo.

If you visit the website you will find a full set of instructions, along with a materials list for these shelters. They are easy to make and easy to transport but they do need to be secured so they don't blow away.

Our weather usually comes in from the north and west so ideally the shelter entrance should be on the south side. However because of the location I was only able to have the entrance on the north side.

Also keep in mind that it is not a good idea to feed the cats too close to their sleeping shelters unless all left over food is removed daily before dark. The food will attrack other animals. One of these days I will do a post about Mr. Stinky, the skunk who took up residence beside the feeding shelter two years ago. He has left but it was a very uncomfortable winter for me knowing he was right there.