Cats and Shelters

I did a fund raiser for my  local shelter last night, the Dane County Humane Society. They are about to open a state of the art facility for cats, designed to treat cats with ring worm (a fungus, not a worm) so that they don’t have to be put down (as they often are at shelters, even some ‘no-kill’ ones.) They have developed a nationally recognized treatment program, and a new facility just for cats is part of the program. They call it the FIT Center (Feline Infectious Treatment? I’m making that up.) and it will be opening up next week. Yeah DCHS!

I am bushed today, but am so gratified to be able to help. Over 200 people attended, we raised lots of money thanks to a generous community and I auctioned off Willie’s slightly used Polly the Pig stuffed toy and discovered it’s really really fun to be an auctioneer. I think I might quit my day job.

I’m especially happy to be able to help cats in shelters. Every shelter I work with seems to be inundated with cats for the last few years, and are much more successful placing dogs than they are cats. I wish I wasn’t allergic, I’d have a passle of cats. I just adore them. (And horses, and goats, and rabbits and ducks and CHICKENS. Oooooh, I loooove chickens!)

My Sushi came from the shelter, the only cat who didn’t give me hives when I held her up to my face. I am allergic to her, as I’ve written before, but not life-threateningly so, so we cope as best we can. By the way, for those of you who remember my challenges with Willie and Sushi (Willie considers Sushi to be a small version of livestock with extremely soft hooves), that is going well too. Willie was, predictably, much less interested in Sushi when Hope was here (one of the many reasons why I want another dog) but things are very manageable. He does obsess when she is sitting outside the window, but as soon as I let her in he gets a toy and plays with it. I do have to remind him on occasion—the tendency to stalk and herd her is still there and will never be gone, but it’s manageable now and none of us seem to feel particularly frustrated.

Here’s Sushi now, sitting on the hay in the top of the barn. I love how the light reflects from her tapetum, the membrane that allows cats to see so well in the dark.

And here’s Willie just minutes before. We were walking up the hill and were surprised to find Brittany and friends walking down. Look at how Willie’s ears are back. I believe that he is surprised and a tad unsure. I suspect that Brittan was equally surprised. A second later Willie turned his head and looked at me, asking for direction. When he did Brittany took off the other way, and I sent Will to round them up. I didn’t need them in the barn, but it’s lovely to let a dog work more on his own sometimes; we’ve been doing so much precision work it’s good to just let him work freely for awhile.

Now we’re off to take a long walk. Jim and I and friends are doing the Milford Trek in New Zealand after the November seminar, and boy do I need to get in better shape. I am NOT ready to walk 13 miles with a pack on yet! Anyone out there done it? Any words of wisdom (beyond being prepared for it to rain for 5 days straight?)?


  1. Marguerite says

    I’m so glad you were able to contribute to the kitties’ welfare! I’ve always been a “cat person,” and have three currently, plus two rat terriers.

  2. Frances says

    Your Sushi is very similar in colouring to my Tilly – I call her ginger-au-lait. I don’t have the herding problem, but Poppy the toy poodle in particular tries to persuade the cats to play chasing games. Every now and then Tilly will oblige – or even initiate the game herself – which of course makes it even more exciting, wondering if this will be the time she plays! They all greet each other nicely with nose touches, though, and Tilly will curl up against a (slightly horrified) dog – very nice to see, and reminds me with a jolt just how small my dogs are.

  3. says

    I am so bummed that I am going to miss your seminar here in NZ I had my tickets bought and everything, then realized it was over Thanksgiving weekend, when I am supposed to be visiting family in MD! Sigh… I hope to meet you sometime in the states hopefully:)

    I haven’t yet been on the Milford track but have some friends that want to come down and do it sometime. Its supposed to be beautiful and well worth the work! How long will you be in NZ ? I would love to Host you and Jim if you decide to spend some time in Wellington. Although I have 3 cats so maybe not such a good idea 😛

  4. says

    I love kitties, too! I have two. One doesn’t get along with my dog at all, but one plays with her often:

    It’s very clear that Maisy is having a great time, and I’m pretty sure Malcolm is enjoying it too (although I admit, I don’t understand cat body language nearly as well). In the moments after this video ended, they took turns chasing each other. We have lots of kitty hidey-holes that he could have used, but didn’t.

  5. DebraS says

    take lots of chocolate and gummi bears. I used to carry a small bag of gummi bears on my pack belt to keep me going up the trail.

  6. Alexandra W says

    I have an orange tiger, myself. I’m so glad I don’t have pet allergies, I don’t know how I’d cope — and I’m impressed you’ve managed to own a cat! Do you wash her? I know some people with allergies bathe their cats weekly, something which I find frankly terrifying. Not for the cat, mind you – for me!

    BTW, what do you think of leash-training cats who live in the city? Or of trick-training cats to begin with? I’ve grown up with these animals, have known them far longer than I’ve had my dog, but I still feel like I have the thinnest understanding of what makes them “tick”.

  7. says

    I have had cats and horses, now only have the dogs and the sanctuary – which is quite enough. We are part of a larger sanctuary which mainly has cats and some dogs. So I get my cat fix and plan to volunteer at a local horse therapy program for my horse fix. Sushi is a pale remembrance to me of my orange and white long hair cat Squash. Both he and his half sister developed diabetes, living several years with insulin. Squash was diagnosed too late and quickly developed neuropathy. He had always been a meticulously clean cat. When he was no longer able to keep himself clean and use his litter box, I sent him to Heaven. The photo of Willie and Brittany is very clear – I can tell Will has startled and backed up a tad….please enjoy your trek in New Zealand.

  8. Liz says

    On the thirteen miles- practice as much as possible (with a pack, even an empty one) and set your own pace. At 5’4″ (rounding up) it can be intimidating to walk with longer legged hikers. When you compare your pace to others, frustration just makes things harder. Much like the rest of life, I suppose.

  9. joanna says

    Milford trek sounds awesome!!! Think about taking/using trekking poles. They really minimize the impact on your joints. Some hikes in New Zeland have steep drop offs – poles can help with any moments of hesitation too! (hiking is a pretty mental process if you ask me…). Break in your boots, take a few sock changes (REI in madison has great sock options) and pack some mole skin/Nu-Skin (you can get these at walgreens or at REI) to help with hot spots and blisters. As a former wilderness instructor, i wouldnt hike 13 miles with a pack without them! Comfy shoes to hang out in at camp are great too. Above all, chocolate is a survival tool. That place is truly magical…enjoy!

    thanks for all that you do, and for sharing your wisdom and expertise with the rest of us.

  10. Alexandra says

    My hiking advice (I used to backpack a lot in college) is climb to stairs or use the Stairmaster at the gym while wearing your pack. Get used to wearing the backpack and learn how to pack it so that it’s comfortable. Generally, you want the really heavy stuff about in the middle and closest to your back and up near your shoulders (you’ll feel more balanced with the weight close to and over your center of gravity but not so high that you are off balance) and lighter stuff on the bottom, top and on the “outside” of the pack furthest from your back. I second the advice about breaking in your boots, extra socks, and moleskin.

  11. LynnSusan says


    I am so sorry about Apollo. :( I live in suburban NJ , feet away from 2000 acres of protected woodlands. I have coyotes , foxes, and owls which all consider cats prey-sized animals. I hope they have easy pickin’s in the reservation, but the feral cat population has been radically reduced without explanation—except that it corresponds to the rehabitation of the coyotes.

    Everycat I ever had has been adopted, and only Simon, my creamsicle cat, never showed any desire to go outside. But I would never willingly let them out. New Jersey is too densely populated, too many people, cars and dogs, to allow me to be comfortable letting them in and out. They adjust–truly they do. If you can put up with the caterwauling for a brief period of time, and stamp your feet and hiss loudly ,whenever they approach a door, they will make the adjustment.

    Trisha, thanks so much for taking up the Cat Cause. Here, we have large colonies that I would hesitate to call “feral” for many of them are obviously former pets, but they breed and the kittens, unless we can catch and tame them early enough, grow up to be truly feral. The ACOs won’t deal with them, and if they do, they round them up to be destroyed (ignoring the ear tags or notches that signify the cat is sterile and part of a colony). The facilities (I think “shelters” is a euphemism) cannot possibly handle all the cats, and there will never be enough homes for them. Towns are now discouraging real TNR programs citing health department issues and, inevitably, the dense population. I wish there were a model way to handle these problems–which are largely separate from the cats, and involve politics and money.

    My hope is that eventually the spay/neuter incentives will do as much for the cat population explosion, one day, as it did for dogs. Puppies are almost non-existent in NJ animal facilities.


  12. Teri says

    I will add my advice for hill walking with your pack and also for the hiking poles. If you own a pair of crocs shoes they are excellent for an around camp shoe that lets your feet breathe and are super light to pack with you. I have used moleskin lots of times but honestly have found the absolute best thing to prevent blisters is duct tape. Sounds strange but put it on those areas likely to blister, put your socks on and you are good to go, never had a blister since trying that! I usually take it off each night and reapply next day.

    My cats are the finishing touch that makes my house a home. I once said goodbye to a cat and thought I would probably not get another as they make travelling difficult (dogs usually travel with us) but only lasted a month before adding another to our home. Our cats are strictly inside cats with the exception of hanging in the back yard in summer with us and one who used to be outside before we came has absolutely no interest in going back outside now.

  13. trisha says

    To Crystal: Laughed out loud at your video of your cat and dog playing. Such a great example of two different play styles!

    To Sandy: Argh, so difficult to find the best solution for cats determined to go outside. There ARE fences that are cat safe: maybe you could manage on at your new place?

    And for all with hiking suggestions: You’re great, thanks sooo much. I do have a good pack that fits my back very well, and am taking walks with it, now that my back has healed from an unfortunate incident with a fellow passenger’s flying suitcase. We also have collapsible poles, I like them too. Jim got us some years back and they help me a lot on tricky ground. It is nice to be able to dump them though, so I love that we can attach them to our packs. And thanks for the mole skin/Nu-Skin/Duct-Tape-Skin suggestions. Great advice. (I think I’ll take both. Also taking vet wrap…. can’t imagine going anywhere without it!) Love the chocolate idea even better! I’m up to walking 3 miles right now, not very much, but going slowly on my knee, super happy to be able to get to 3 miles actually, knee took a heck of a smash in spring and it’s doing great, but not quite all better yet.

  14. Frances says

    I too have the problem of safety versus a natural life for my cats. I have lost two cats to RTAs over the years – and Pippin survived a serious accident. We don’t have cougars, etc (foxes for the most part seem to leave cats alone) but cars are a constant anxiety. I am surrounded by green fields on three sides, with more green fields across one of those country roads that are even more dangerous than busy city streets – irregular, fast traffic. Guess where my cats choose to hunt? They have been indoor/outdoor cats all their lives, and I simply cannot see them adjusting to indoor only life until they are much older and lazier. There are benefits – they are fit and healthy at 7, with excellent teeth, and we see very few rats since they moved in. I just wish they were as sensible as my Siamese of many years ago, who would not set paw on tarmac.

  15. says

    Thank you for bringing awareness to the cat issue. It’s huge. I’m constantly hearing people say that they’re feeding stray cats in their neighborhoods and thinking that they are doing a good deed. In reality, they are keeping the cats healthy enough to reproduce. I try to encourage them to find a Trap-Neuter-Return program to get the cats spayed/neutered to stop the overpopulation. The public should know about the staggering numbers of cats who are euthanized in shelters. So sad…

  16. em says

    Ahhhh, the indoor/outdoor cat dilemma. While I lived in the city, my three cats (two of whom were adopted straight out of my front yard; one stray and one true feral) were indoor only. For nearly ten years I lived with one cat who DESPERATELY wanted to go outside (the one I adopted as a four-month-old feral), one cat who wanted NOTHING to do with outside (the stray, oddly, another creamsicle cat), and one who was indifferent but hates any restriction placed on her comings and goings. I stayed strong for all of the reasons people have listed above-fast, careless traffic, unfriendly urban wildlife, dogs, etc.

    Once we moved out the ‘burbs, though, I realized that if it wasn’t safe here at the end of our dead-end village street, with no traffic, no serious wildlife, very few strange people or dogs, it wasn’t safe anywhere. I’ve started letting them out into the fenced back yard (they can escape it easily but usually choose not to) tentatively, only during the day and only when I’m home to keep an eye out for them. My indifferent kitty (indoor only from teensy kittenhood) stays out for maybe thirty minutes, max, usually sticking to the deck, before asking to come back in. She likes her new freedom, but could probably have gone her whole life inside without really feeling bereft.

    My desperate girl, though, is in HEAVEN. She doesn’t go far and she comes when she’s called, but she is just so HAPPY to be able to go out that I feel terrible in retrospect for having had to deny her this joy. She chases squirrels, crouches under the hostas and stalks chipmunks, lolls around in the grass, and just generally seems fulfilled for the first time in ten years. I’d chalk this up to having been feral and thus more comfortable outside than in, except that she is also one of the friendliest, most gentle and affectionate cats I’ve ever met. She loves people and wants to be right up my nose every minute. I think this paradoxical quality is the essence of why it is so difficult to make any generalizations about cats and their needs. Much more than dogs, cats are a law unto themselves.

  17. Ken Warner says

    Dr. McConnell

    So far no one has mentioned the no-seeums/sand flies. My wife suffered from them all the way across the south pacific while I told her “Just don’t scratch them”. She got her revenge when we arrived in NZ. The suckers ate me alive while my wife gleefully told me “Just don”t scratch them” DEET containing repellents worked well for me if you can use them. I am not sure about some of the newer product. Enjoy your trip it is a great place to visit.


  18. trisha says

    To Frances: My sympathies. It is tough… people who haven’t had cats used to going outdoors often aren’t aware that they will sit at the door and cry. All day. All night. For years. I “road trained” Sushi when I finally gave up and started letting her outside (for a year she spent her every waking minute attempting to get out of the house, in spite of teaching her that if I put hand to door knob that chicken would appear behind her. She didn’t care. All she wanted was outside (she’d been a stray, I got her from my local shelter). Basically we let Sushi out and then someone hid behind a convenient tree and whenever she’d get close to the road the hider would burst out like a banshee, yelling and waving plastic bags. I won’t say it’s perfect, she’s seen her on the other side of the road perhaps 3 times in 6 years, but it’s better than nothing. However, she does have lots to do on my side of the road, so that makes it easier. Could you try something like that?

    And to Chris: Oh yes, absolutely, I’m happy to write about this topic. It’s such a huge welfare and environmental issue. We need the same kind of public awareness campaign that began in the 60’s for spaying and neutering dogs. It’s not perfect, but it’s been extremely successful in many parts of the country, and we just need to same for cats…

  19. Frances says

    Interesting idea, Trisha, but I think they would simply vanish into the fields to either side, and cross the road from there …

    In the UK there is probably more awareness of the need to neuter cats than dogs – we still have a huge number of cats needing homes (I believe this year has been particularly bad, with the shelters swamped), but it is now very widely accepted that only a very irresponsible cat owner would deliberately breed non-pedigree kittens. And even one “accidental” litter is frowned upon. It still happens, of course, but most pet cats are house cats, and most house cats are neutered. I have not spayed my dogs – having carefully weighed up the pros and cons, I have decided against it. I have neutered both my cats, however – it is nearly impossible to keep an entire female cat uncaged, and not end up with kittens, and I did not want the male roaming the neighbourhood fighting every night!

  20. Alexandra says

    The cat I had as a child was an 18-lb declawed neutered male that someone had abandoned in a marina. Despite the lack of claws, the cat quickly became the boss of the stray cat colony and then took to knocking a resident cat on a family friend’s houseboat overboard. Shortly after that we adopted the cat and named him Champ for being so scrappy. Champ constantly wanted to be outside, though. He would bolt out the front door at any chance, although he loved people and was extremely friendly. Without his front claws (who does that to a cat? Ugh.) he had no way to defend himself or climb a tree to escape the dogs that everyone used to let run loose when I was a kid, so for safety he had to stay inside. During one escape he chased out neighbor’s GSD right out of the yard but was later almost killed by a terrier. Champ was very doglike and I was able to walk him on a leash around the yard and nearby fields. Not ideal, but at least it was something and he really enjoyed it. My current cat spent the first 6 months of her life in a no-kill shelter and has always been terrified at the prospect of going outside (I once thought she might enjoy walks on a harness like my last cat, but nope), which is fortunate because there has always been too much traffic where I’ve lived to allow her out safely.

  21. Laura says

    All 4 of my cats go outside. I would prefer that they stay inside but they are not happy unless they go out. During a time when I was trying not to let them out one of my cats ripped the window screen and jumped out of the house. If people have cats who seem content not going out then more power to them! I wish my cats were this way. One time a guy chastised me for letting my cats out because it is unsafe and I told him that it would be much safer for his childen to stay inside as well. There all all kinds of things out in the world that can hurt children and also adults. But what kind of life would that be? I can’t imagine never feeling the sunshine. So I made the decision and live with the worry. I live on a fairly quiet street in suburbia and I try to keep an eye on them. I don’t know what I would do if I lived near a busy road or an area with predators.

    I do however have oppossums in my backyard that are driving my dogs absolutely out of their minds every evening. Does anyone have any ideas on how to get them to relocate? Thanks!

  22. mungobrick says

    Interesting discussion on the indoor/outdoor cat topic…My first cat was indoors while I lived in an apartment in downtown Montreal, outdoors when I was in suburban Halifax for the summers and when I moved back there. It didn’t occur to me until we were on our second round of cats that having them indoors all the time could work. We were living in Calgary by then, where there is a cat leash bylaw (cats not allowed off owner’s property off leash), so the last three have all been indoor cats, even now that we have moved to a rural setting. They have all been fit and happy cats – the only one who actively tried to get out is the one adopted as a stray at 5 months. But even he hasn’t wanted to go out since he accidentally spent a night outside in -45 C weather in Calgary and the skin on all his paw pads froze and peeled off (his temperature was so low by the time he was found that it didn’t even register on the vet’s thermometer). We now have a multitude of bird feeders and I don’t think it would be fair to provide onsite predators. And I guess that’s my bottom line – I know the song bird population has been affected by domestic cats, and I really don’t want my cats bringing dead rabbits, baby birds, etc. home. The cats enjoy watching the birds – we call our glass garden door “cat TV”- but since they haven’t been outdoor cats they don’t know what they’re missing.

    Love the picture of Will and the sheep!!

  23. maggie jones says

    Last year getting ready for bird surveys in June by doing a lot of hiking, I developed very painful plantar fascitis,,and as a result went to a podiatrist, who taught me to tape my feet with athletic tape available at any drug store.
    This spring, I was nervous about getting into shape for a hiking trip to Ireland in June, but armed with tape I had no problems at all.
    Youtube has some great videos of taping for plantar fascitis,,I tape now as a preventative, and it works SO WELL. Your cohort, Zorba Paster has links to taping on his website, I must credit his influence here.

    Thanks for all of your great help with animals, especially my beloved dogs over all these years,,

  24. Dania says

    How funny! I have a cat that looks like Sushi and his name is Sushi, too!! Cute little thing <3

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