Monday, March 25, 2013

The Batman problem

Batman is back.

This is a long story.

When we moved to the farm a year and a half ago, we had four cats that we'd brought from California. They were all spayed/neutered, vaccinated, pampered indoor cats. Four cats seemed like a lot to me at the time.

Immediately upon taking possession of the farm, our cat population doubled. That was thanks to the Pasta cats, who were left here by the previous owners. Things probably would have been manageable if it had stopped there. Bottom line, as an ex-city dweller, ex-surbanite, I was unprepared for the attitude that many in the country have to cats -- half pet, half wildlife. Pet when it's convenient, wildlife when it's not.

There have been many examples, but the worst was a crazy little cat named Batman.

Batman is a feral tom whose territory covers at least a half-mile radius including our place and two horse stables directly across the road. Both barn owners named him  (though each a different name), both fed him, both tolerated his comings and goings. Neither attempted to trap or neuter him for going on 7 years now. That's bad enough, but one of the barn owners also knowingly allowed a boarder to dump an intact female at that barn. I know this, because, before our barn was built, we kept a couple of the wayward ponies there.

Not surprisingly, this intact female came up pregnant about the time we moved here. The barn owner took the mama indoors to have the kittens, but mama was back in the barn, still unspayed before the kittens were even a month old. The barn owner eventually found homes for two of the kittens, but her solution for the other two was the pound. She was leaving town for Thanksgiving and didn't want to deal with them. Big surprise,  at the 11th hour we brought them home across the street. Also not surprisingly, the mama cat came up pregnant again almost immediately.

I really tried to stay out of it. I tried. I suppose I thought the barn owner would step up and do the right thing. Find the kittens homes, get the mama spayed, etc.. But she showed no inclination to do it. This time the boarders objected. One offered to take the mama to the pound before the kittens were born. The barn owner gave her blessing. When I heard her agree to dump not just the cute, adoptable kittens, but also the plain jane adult mama cat at the pound, I couldn't take it. I volunteered to bring the mama across the street on the spot. At least that way I could be certain that everyone would be safe and fixed.

I brought mama, Tigger, home and set her up in a bathroom, away from the other cats, to await the second litter. Unexpectedly, Batman, the feral daddy, followed us across the road to visit nightly. He'd sit outside the screened porch where the inside cats congregated and howl. I plotted to catch him.

That second litter was born on Groundhog's day. Five healthy kittens, each as cute as could be. We kept them in a bathroom with their mama until they could be weaned, vetted, and fixed.

Things got a little tragic at this point. This part's hard.

One particularly warm night last spring, while Tigger was still nursing the groundhog litter, I left the window of the bathroom opened just a crack, at the top. At least 6 feet off the ground and maybe 2 inches of air. The next morning, when I went in to feed them, mama was gone. Poof. I was so convinced she couldn't have gotten out of the cracked window that I actually searched the house looking for her...twice. Finally, I went outside, just to cover my bases, and found her on the ground just below the bathroom window. Safe, but accompanied by Batman.

That third litter was born in due time. But I'm here to tell you that three back-to-back litters for a young, poorly fed, poorly cared for barn cat is too much. There were ten kittens in the last litter. Two survived the birth. One, Artie, a beautiful , silver-tipped, black long hair sweetheart, had a birth defect that killed him within two months. We named the survivor Solo. He's about 9 or 10 months old now and the spitting image of his plain jane mama. He is the baby of the colony and well-loved by everyone.

Throughout the spring of kitten births, Batman continued to visit the house, but never allowed anyone to approach him. Around the time that I finally got mama spayed, I got proactive with Batman, for fear I'd lose my chance once the river of hormones was turned off.

I baited the screened porch where he loitered. Tuna fish at one end, a trap door at the other, and before he knew what he'd done, Batman was inside the porch and the screens were closed around him. He truly was feral though and I couldn't even step inside the porch without causing panic. He'd climb straight up the screen walls and launch himself across the porch over my head. Once he landed on me, claws fully extended, and that was enough for both of us. I switched to plan B -- wait and see.

He was a mess. Inside the porch, up close, I could see that he was tiny, mostly fur, and in very poor condition. He looked like a Maine Coon, but small. All the kittens and the pasta cats were housed elsewhere at this point, so I just brought the California cats inside and gave the porch over to Batman and Pilgrim -- another neighborhood stray.

Batman lived on the porch for about a month, fattening up with regular meals and ever so slowly getting used to me. I kept saying I'd take him to the vet as soon as I had some time to figure out the haveaheart trap. Blah blah blah.

Then we had a night time visit from some raccoons. This is how I learned that vinyl chicken wire is not worth the nickel you pay for it.

The raccoons used their teeth and in short order let themselves right in to Batman's diner porch. Batman, Pilgrim, and the 12-year-old were all equally aghast at this turn of events. The cats very quickly ceded the food and got out of the raccoons' way. By the time I had chased the raccoons back out the hole they'd come in, and found the zip ties to close the hole back up, Batman was gone.

I asked around at the barn, but nobody there ever saw him again. I thought he'd absconded with the raccoons, until I finally saw him at the other barn around Thanksgiving. Still no attempts to get him neutered. I was happy to see him at the second barn, just to know that he was safe and was no worse for wear after his ordeal in our porch. I was also resigned to letting him be.

Until now. Maybe it's spring. Maybe he's lonely. I don't know what the reason is, but for the past couple of weeks, he's been visiting the porch again and patrolling the yard and checking out the old barns and sheds, just like before. He comes to the porch and howls. I don't know why. There are no intact females here now. There are no hormones of interest. Every cat on the property is fixed. I made sure of that last summer. Yet he comes. I do feed him when he calls. He may remember all the food. He spent most of the day here today, on the porch, in the sheds, in the garage, on the porch again.

I'm happy enough to see him and if I can convince him to move into our barn, I will. But I don't like watching him cross the road  as he patrols his territory and I don't like listening to the coyotes at night, knowing that he's out there. It's easier not to know. If I can catch him, I will.

You've been warned Batman. If I catch you again, I won't mess up this time.


  1. It's so complicated. You sure have had your fair share (and more) of kitten/cat rescue. I went through something similar some years ago and ended up spaying and neutering 10 cats! It's endless - but what's the alternative? I admire your stick-to-it-iveness.

  2. You'll get him. And bless your kind, responsible heart.