Feral Cats: Frankie, a Not So Gentle Soul
The Case for Feral Cats
Thirteen years ago, Frank came to visit our backyard in Metairie, Louisiana. After she produced three litters of kittens, we realized she must be a Frankie and borrowed a humane trap to capture our backyard queen and take her to be neutered. Catching her was not easy as she'd lived on the street for at least two or three years, but she could not resist the smell of tuna and at last took the bait. When trapping a feral, tuna works in the humane traps simply because it smells too wonderful to resist -- or to Frankie, it did.
She was furious at being trapped in a cage and howled all the way to the vet and all through our wait in the waiting room, causing some nasty stares from the owners of all the waiting dogs who had begun to growl. I left Frankie in our vet's capable hands and picked her up later that day, now unable to reproduce and beyond livid with me for causing it. She howled and hissed all the way home. When I let her out, she took off like a shot and I thought I'd never see her again. The next morning, she was at the back door, waiting for her breakfast and has lived in our back yard for 13 years since. One of her sons is our inside cat. His name is General Lee. They loathe each other and stand at the storm door and hiss and spit back and forth. One is a feral cat, the other the son of a feral cat.
Frankie and Katrina
During Hurricane Katrina, I cried every night, knowing that Frankie would be drowned or blown away. We were gone for nine days. We took General but didn't dare try to manage her as she still doesn't let us touch her unless it's at her whim, not ours, and still spits at me every time I feed her. When we got back after the storm, she was pacing in front of the back door, waiting to be fed. We figure she climbed a tree during the high water. That's a video I would love to see!
The squirrels in our backyard often paid with their lives for thinking Frankie was not fast enough or smart enough to catch them. She would lie super still in the grass pretending to be asleep until they carried their teasing too far and came too close, then she would pounce. Squirrel supper.
When we travel, we leave Frankie here. We went to Geneva last summer and had a friend check on her a couple of times. She had sliced up a squirrel for one day's meal and a dove for another, despite the fact we left her food. I was a bit queasy, but hey, it's nature. Feral cats make wonderful pets. They don't require or even like a lot of petting. If you forget to feed them, they kill their own. They can be left amidst a natural disaster and survive by their wits. I will miss being hissed and spit at when Frankie is finally gone. We were going to move across the lake at one time, but knew she would not make it in the woods on our property, and would kill General Lee if we tried to keep her inside, so we decided to stay put. And as I make the case for feral cats, I suppose she's become important to us after all these years.
I learned how intelligent our Frankie is one night when I walked outside to find a huge silver raccoon eating her dinner. She was sitting quietly in the grass, watching him eat. I ran him away with a broom, which he tried to bite, incidentally. I have seen her chase dogs and any number of cats away from her yard, but she knew what a formidable enemy that raccoon was and kept her distance. Smart, resourceful, and tough; that's Frankie. Grateful? Nah. But that's okay. She is and always will be a feral cat.
After what we believed was her second stroke, Frankie died this summer. She died exactly as she lived: tough. At the end, we were reconciled to trying to catch her, an almost impossible chore, and take her to the vet because she was moaning in pain. We went to bed sick at heart and dreading daylight. The next morning, we put on gloves and took a blanket out to the backyard to try to trap her. There she was, already gone, doing things her way to the end. Our indoor cat General is her son and he turned 13 this year, so we know Frankie was 14 and could have been much older. She lived longer and had a far better life than she would have had without us so we feel good about that. We will both miss her forever and still expect her to come for her food when we go out the back door. Rest in Peace, Frankie Pratt.
One of my friends gave me an outdoor cross for Christmas this year. I walked out a few days after she gave it to me to put it on the fence near Frankie's grave. Suddenly I was sitting on the ground, crying, with a broken heart that hadn't healed. Sometimes I don't think grief ever leaves us; we just learn to keep it hidden until something causes it to surface. It's hurtful but also is a tribute, in my case, to the greatest cat that ever stalked a squirrel.