Little Poul is a small ladycat who lives on the countryside as a feral. She is our trap-neuter-return cat who we feed every day. This is the story of Little Poul.
Every day I serve my two spoiled cats some very delicious wet food with a high percentage of meat. Some real good stuff that cost me quite a lot of money. Never the less they sometimes leave food and I'm left with some quality cat food going to waste. We live on the country side on an old farm, so there has always been ferals in the area. So I knew that there was someone out there who would appreciate the leftover food. I started to put out leftovers at night for the ferals. Sure enough the food was gone quickly every tim,e even though I never caught as much as a glimpse of the dinner guest. I was curious to see who was eating it, so I set up a wildlife camera. And there she was, a white cat with black spots. I continued to put the camera out with the food and discovered more cats, but the little white one seemed to always be around, even though I never saw her "live".
DIY feral cat shelter
So I knew they were out there and I felt bad for them, so I didn't just stick to the leftovers. Now I bought food for them too and put it out every night. It was November and it was getting cold here in the north (Denmark). When my landlord heard I was feeding the ferals, he told me that the next door neighbor was already feeding them plenty and that they would lie in the hay of the shed. So he thought they were doing just fine, but I was still a bit worried about the cold (the shed doesn't have real walls, just some boards. It's more of an open garage for the tractor). He gave me permission to put up a shelter anyway. In this video you can see how we made a shelter and how the (outside) cats reacted to it. You can also check out this post if you want more details on how to build a cat shelter.
A lot of cats poked their heads inside the shelter, but the only one who used it for sure was the little white one. I could see it walk in and out of the shelter with hours apart on the camera. When I came out with the food, she would sometimes run out of the shelter. She only used it when it was very cold or it was snowing. Thankfully we had a mild winter.
As we didn't know the gender of the white cat when we named her Poul. Well I added Little to it, as she wasn't that big. I started using that name to call on her and it worked very well. She would come running from the woods or from across the fields when I called on her. Unlike my other darlings Little Poul has excellent hearing. Later when we found out that she was female we kept the name. She knows that name and she's our Little Poul.
I was convinced that Little Poul didn't have a home. One thing is to eat the yummy food, another thing is to sit in a box night after night. Some of the other regulars seemed to have very specific times that they would arrive - some of them in the early morning. So someone could have let them out in the morning. This goes for the tabby that we call Big Boy, that you will also see on some of the videos. There was a bunch of cats and there was no way for me to know for sure who had a home and who didn't. But I felt pretty sure with Little Poul. Since I was feeding her I considered her my responsibility then. Especially because we have problems in Denmark with a lot of ferals. Not that they are a pest to people, but they live short and difficult lives and sometimes a lot of feral kittens will be trapped and euthanized. And the problem is just growing. So feeding a feral and not getting it fixed is contributing to that problem. So I had to find a way to get her fixed.
Trapped and released
I contacted the local cat union who instructed me how to catch Little Poul. First I would put out the food in a box (I used a cat carrier) and give her some time to get used to eating inside a box. Then I would borrow one of their traps and put the food in there. Once she was trapped I could take her to the vet where they would set up an appointment for her. It worked well at first and I pushed the food bowl further and further to the bottom of the carrier and she would eat inside it. There was other cats eating from the carrier as well. In this video you will see Little Poul, Tommy and then Big Poul.
The first time I borrowed the trap she did not want to come near it. So we went back to using the cat carrier for a couple of weeks and tried again. It took me many tries and many different snacks until she finally ventured into the trap and the door slammed behind her. She took it rather well. The stories I have heard of a trapped scared cat are a lot more fierce than went down with Little Poul that night. She let out a cry when we lifted her and that was it. Of course she wasn't happy about being in the cage, but she ate and drank during the night. The next morning I took her to the vet, who told us she was a girl of about two years. Here's a picture of her from the vets office - in her beautiful winter coat.
She had no chip or tattoos - only a huge tick on her neck. We concluded that no one seemed to own her and went ahead and chipped her in my name. She also got a C tattooed in her ear, if anyone ever wonders if she has a human already. And now she does, kinda. She spend another night in the cage, making sure she would be fully awake from the sedation and fit for fight before letting her out again. She was fully awake the next morning, so I decided she was ready to move on. Here you can see her go.
Of course it must have traumatisd Little Poul to get caught, taken to the vet and be held in that cage. So it was understandable that I was no longer her favourite person. She did not sit and wait for me the following night as I had come accustomed to. I put the camera over night, but she did not turn up there either. I told all my neighbours to look out for her and tell me if they spotted her. Just so that I would know she was okay. But they didn't see her either. I went out with food every night and called and called on her. I even started to call during the day. I felt so bad. Finally after 14 days and nights, she was sitting there waiting for me as I came out with the food. I was so happy to see her! She seemed very hungry and kept licking her plate when it was empty and looked under it. So I got her another portion and she swallowed that as well. She didn't feel as safe we me as she used to and I couldn't get close to her as I could before. She no longer stopped to look when I called on her - she was like "nope, better safe than sorry". But that she had made it and finally came back every night was good enough for me. I now also make sure that she gets a tablet in her food once in a while so she doesn't have to deal with fleas and ticks.
I made a deal with the local cat community from the get go that if she ever seemed ready for human contact, they would find a foster family and finally a forever home for her. But they wouldn't recommend taking in a wild one before she would at least eat from my hand. My big problem in having contact with her was that she came late at night - when it was pitch black and I was supposed to go to bed. And also it was freezing to sit still out there. I did it, but not enough to really make any big changes. So when spring came along I was getting more hopeful. Nights were getting brighter and Little Poul came a little earlier. I could actually sit outside with her for an hour without freezing my butt off. We spent a lot of nights sitting and slow blinking to each other. She seems to react well to that. However I could never really get close to her. And some days she wouldn't even eat until I left completely. So some days were better than others.
But as the summer came closer so did all the neighbors. And she didn't come around when the neighbors were sitting outside enjoying a nice evening. When the neighbors got back inside and it was safe for her to come out, I thought we could have some bonding time. Nut then often some other neighbors would come home in their cars and she would run away again. So now the weather was fine, but it had gotten too busy to work on the domesticating part and I spent a lot of time getting nowhere.
That damn dog
It didn't make things easier that the downstairs neighbors got a puppy. We share an entrance and this puppy's biggest passion turned out to be chasing cats. So she can no longer eat in peace and I have to take into consideration where the puppy is and if it has had its evening walk or not. I don't know if she associates the door opening with the potential threat of a dog, but she seems to have pulled away from me again. Like she did after I had trapped her.
We had to move her food away from the house, to keep her safe from the dog. I got her a new shelter where her food can stay dry even when it's raining. She hasn't used the cave yet, but she likes to sit on the roof and wait for me.
I'm not sure if Little Poul ever would be ready for a forever home, dogs and neighbors aside. So I think we should just be happy that she won't be putting more cats into the world who are left to fend for themselves. It's also a better life for her now she is neutered, because the boys won't chase her as much. Her body doesn't have to go through pregnancy after pregnancy and she doesn't have to care for kittens. She just have to take care of herself.
And I'm here to help her with that to the extend she will let me.