I have a sad story to share. I feed two feral cats in my neighborhood. I have gotten them fixed and look out for them every day. When we got the big freeze a few weeks ago, the temperatures dropped to single digits.
I was worried sick about where they would sleep those nights. I even put a chicken coop heater on the patio to offer them and any other animal warmth. The good news is, they survived the big freeze and continued to show up at our door each night for food. It was such a relief.
But then the unthinkable happened. On Christmas Day, we left the house to visit some friends. On the way, we heard a thump and thought we had hit an animal. So, we turned the car around and discovered the animal lying in the middle of the road was one of our feral cats. Apparently, he had gotten into the wheel well for warmth, and we didn't know this when we drove off. He fell out of the wheel well, and, we hope beyond hope, he was killed instantly. We were devastated to lose one of these feral felines in such a traumatic way.
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Someone told me a few days later that when it's cold outside, you should hit the hood of your car to scare out any animals that may have crawled into your car engine for warmth. I didn't know to do this and assume others don't either. Can you share this story? Maybe it will prevent this from happening to other animals. It's just devastating to have something like this happen.
— Patricia, Nashville, Tennessee
I am so sorry to hear about your loss, and on Christmas day, no less. I actually shared your story with several family members and friends and was surprised to learn that they didn't know either that they should hit the hood of their car to scare an animal out of the engine.
Apparently, this is not common knowledge as I hoped. As you point out, an animal also can crawl into a wheel well, so all parts of the car should be knocked on before starting the engine. So, yes, I am sharing your story in the hopes that people living in cold weather will begin implementing this life-saving habit before starting their car.
People with a remote starter for their cat also need to think about this since turning on a car engine from a distance prevents one from banging on the vehicle. If there is a remote horn or alarm, one should activate that to scare an animal out from under the vehicle.
I was dismayed by your reply to the lady about building a community "home" for "outside" cats. Outside cats, or feral cats, destroy millions of harmless songbirds worldwide each year. Many of these bird species are already in peril due to habitat loss. The only reason to feed feral cats is to create a bait station so they can be captured, euthanized, and removed from the landscape. Please reconsider your response. Respectfully,
— Ron Stromstad, via email
Thank you for your letter, even though I respectfully couldn't disagree with you more. Feral cats deserve our compassion and empathy. These felines have either been dumped by their owners when no longer wanted or are the offspring of those abandoned cats.
In other words, this is a man-made problem, and the solution is not to kill cats but to find humane ways to care for them, prevent them from breeding, and provide for their needs for the duration of their short lives. When their needs are met, they are less likely to go after birds and get into trouble with the public.
We also must educate people to not dump their cats. When cats are fed, fixed, and cared for, they don't display annoying mating behaviors and aren't fighting with other cats to mate.
I was always taken aback by a young man in his 20s who helped his grandma's neighborhood fix about 80 feral cats. He said, "All we can do is let them stay," he said. "It's just as much their neighborhood as it is ours."
I can't change your mind any more than you can change mine. But I can use this as an opportunity to educate people about how TNR – trap, neuter, return — is the most viable solution to addressing the plight of feral cats.
If you want to make a difference, ask your neighbors not to dump their cats. Thanks for writing.
(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to email@example.com. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)