The Mainstreaming of a Feral Cat – Part Two

Christine and Mon Cherie

Christine Michaels, caretaker of the Riverfront Cats Downtown Miami, was what you would call a classic and devout “dog person” for most of her life.  Like many people, she had serious misconceptions about the feline species and now admits that her mindset was due to ignorance. She never had a cat of her own to care for from kitten to adulthood and reflects that she based her opinion other people’s cats rather than her own experience.

As we continue part two of the series, The Mainstreaming of a Feral Cat, we find out how her life took a profound change in direction and why she now so tirelessly dedicates herself to her greatest passion – educating people about the misconceptions of stray and feral cats and saving their lives.

When I found out about the imminent relocation of the feral cats residing on the once pet-friendly Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando, I realized that despite my enormous love for cats, that I too had misconceptions and no real knowledge of what a feral cat was or why it would be dangerous to relocate them. I felt that if I could educate myself, I could become a better vehicle to help others understand the situation through my blog and social networking efforts so that we could collectively empower ourselves to fight opponents with logical and substantiated ammunition.

In the first video episode with Christine from part one of the series, we took a very informative and educational approach to discuss why the decision of Loews management to relocate the cats would be so detrimental to their well-being and we also did a summary about what a feral cat is and why it is so crucial to debunk the misconceptions surrounding them.

Leroy with his luminous eyes and shiny black coat looks like he could be one of my own cats!

In this next video segment, we actually get to visit and interact with Christine’s feral cats to get a “hands on” feel as to what a day in a life of a feral cat is like. This was an incredible experience for me and I can say without question, it changed my life profoundly like it did Christine. I was overwhelmed with emotion with what I saw. To my genuine surprise, these were cats, much like my own crew of seven, exhibiting “typical” cat behavior. One cat was daintily licking his paw without a care in the world. Another was rolling on her back enjoying a ray of sunshine. That is any given day in my house. I was not attacked by mangy, filthy, frothing at the mouth monsters who were living in a pungent environment that reeked of urine, or worse. Instead, I saw cats with their tails held high in happy anticipation that their beloved caretaker was coming by for her nightly ritual to give them food, water, and a little loving and socialization.

Words are not necessary to understand what I saw, experienced, and felt – this video says it all.

Now that I have given you a glimpse into the life of a feral cat, I must caution that this video was not intended to glamorize the situation. There is a very tragic and dark side to all of this and that is why it is so critical that we work within our communities to educate people about the rights of these cats and the misconceptions about them. Ignorance and prejudice is an ugly battle and Christine has had a long, emotional, and hard road to get her colony to where it is today.

As I stated in my previous post, only 2% of feral cat populations are sterilized and there are not enough Christine’s in the world to change that statistic overnight. Cat overpopulation is a huge problem and the numbers of cats on the streets and in shelters is staggering. Although it is impossible to determine exactly how many stray and feral cats live in the United States, according to the ASPCA, it ranges upward of 70 million. I do not have the exact number of cats that end up in animal control pounds and shelters (the Humane Society of the United States estimates that animal shelters care for 6-8 million dogs and cats every year, of whom approximately 3-4 million are euthanized). Of that number, according to Alley Cat Allies, studies indicates that 72% of all cats entering these facilities are killed, and for feral cats, the kill rate in pounds and shelters rises to virtually 100%.

Christine with Leroy (left) and Lion King (right) who settle down to eat after greeting her with their "happy dance."

Christine has seen her own share of tragedy – cats electrocuted looking for shelter, cats with broken bones, cats hit by cars and so much more. Worse is the kittens. About half of all stray kittens suffer and die before 8 weeks and their story is heartbreaking and almost too painful to share.   Christine knows this only too well. She has seen the life of a precious and helpless kitten extinguish before her very eyes, as this brave little being struggles with its last breath. That changes you as a person and that is why the feral cat problem cannot be sugar coated. In this last video segment, you will get a final glimpse of a day in a life of a feral cat as our visit winds down and Christine finishes feeding them for the day. She does this all out of the goodness of her own heart – her efforts are not subsidized, but she would say it is not about money. For her, it is about the reward of a feral cat letting you pet it for the first time in three years, or that joyful “happy dance” they give you when they recognize you as that special person who cares enough to give them not only food and water, but the respect and dignity they so richly deserve.


 
I really hope you enjoyed this series as much as I did and learned something from it. I cannot thank Christine enough for giving me the opportunity to meet these cats in person. The images, names, and unique personalities of each of these cats is forever etched in my mind and no matter how many well written articles I read, or how many pictures I look at, they will never compare to meeting these cats in person in their natural surroundings. Special thanks also go to my fiance, Dan. Without his creativity and talent, we would not have these incredible video episodes to share. He is a true cat lover in his own right and one of the many men of the world who are to be commended for breaking out of   another misconception – that men don’t like cats. But, that is a subject to tackle at another time…

I also want to give Christine special thanks for recognizing my book, The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey – A Journey of the Extraordinarily Ordinary, as being a valuable tool to educating people about the joys of owning a cat. As a prior “dog lover” only, she immediately became my number one supporter because she really saw in my story, a message that would inspire people to not only love and appreciate their own cats more, but to inspire people who might not have a cat, or think that they are not a cat lover, to go out and adopt one.  It has been a dream of mine to make the world a better place for cats and now I really feel I have the platform to make it happen.

For further information on Christine and her Riverfront Cats, or to make a much appreciated donation, please visit http://www.riverfrontcats.com You can also visit her site to learn about ways to help make a difference to save the Loews cats from being relocated.

If you know of a feral cat problem and want to help make a difference in your community, please visit Alley Cat Allies for suggestions and guidance.

To understand the very technical aspect of feral cats and for resourceful information, please visit Vox Felina for more information.

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  1. Marg says:

    That is such a great post and wonderful videos. It sure does show the feral cats and if we could get this message out to lots and lots of people. That Christine sure does a good job with the feral cats. There is nothing better than a feral cat because you have to work so hard to earn their trust and then they are your best friends.
    Great stuff.

    • Deb says:

      Marg – thank you for your compliments – that means the world to Christine and I, because we know that you also manage a colony of feral cats. It is our pleasure to help and we really hope to make a difference!

  2. Great post, Deb! The videos DO tell so much and I am sharing this post, to help educate, too. Thanks for everything Christine (and you) do to help!

    • Deb says:

      Thank you for the share Teri! I really feel it is imperiative we start thinking outside of the box, or we will never make a difference. By me blogging in an area that I am normally not known for, it begins to reach new people that were unaware of what a feral cat is and then the word starts to reach a broader audience!

  3. Vicki Cook says:

    Deb – thanks so much for sharing the story of Christine and Riverfront Cats. I think the videos really help people see that these cats are not filthy, dangerous animals – they are simply cats that have not been socialized to humans. You can see how friendly and comfortable they are with Christine because she has developed a relationship with them over time.

    • Deb says:

      You are very welcome Vicki. I think hands on video is the most powerful tool we have in today’s society to educate people. The impact is strong and lasting…

  4. Wendy. S says:

    I am so impressed by the work Christine is doing, she’s a true angel and you’re help Deb in bringing awareness to the feral kitties. I regularily make small donations to Alley Cat Allies and I made a small donation to Riverfront Cats today. Thank you SO much for all the hard work, you, Christine and her associates are doing to help protect these feral kitties.

    • Deb says:

      Wendy – what a sweetheart you are!! Christine and I both appreciate your donation so much and kitties like Leroy, Lion King, Tabatha, and so many more will be grateful for your support!!

  5. I am closely involved with people who do a lot of work with ferals here in Michigan…I am sharing this to enable those who DON’T understand to acquire much needed information!

    • Deb says:

      Thank you for sharing this Caren, and thank you also for helping the feral cats in Michigan. The information has been available all along, but I just think that if we don’t start learning outside of our comfort zone, we will never make a significant change. For me, my blog has primarily been about my cats and I found it quite liberating to learn so much about the ferals that I never knew myself.

  6. Deb, great job on # 2 in the series. Happily shared!

  7. Carolyn says:

    Christine is certainly doing a brilliant job. Just seen the first video in this post so far. I can’t believe there are so many, even in the US! I must do some research on the UK situation.

    BTW I love the outfit ;)

  8. Ah, I have such mixed emotions about this. On the one hand, I’m so thankful that there are people like Christine who do this for the feral kitties. She and others like her are true animal angels. But I still get so sad thinking about the kitties who will never know the peace and joy of a loving home with a doting owner. I hurt so badly for them, because I know what they are missing.

    Thank you for posting this and getting the message out. We posted an article last year on taming a feral, and someone commented that they were vermin and needed to be exterminated. It broke my heart that there was such ignorance in the world.

    • Deb says:

      Julia – trust me, it was so hard for me to reconcile that aspect of it to. As as cat lover, it seems cruel to let a cat live on the street and when I saw them in person, I just wanted to bring them all home and love them. But, the truth is, they don’t want that from us and do not understand they are “missing” something. Unfortunately, due to circumstances that began hundreds of years ago, such as releasing cats to the streets to keep down rodent populations, we cannot change the fact that cats born on the street without socialization are feral. Sure, there are always exceptions where a feral can be part of a home, but it is often a very long, long, long road to get to the point where they are comfortable in your house.

      The only solution is the most obvious one. We are not looking to increase the feral cat population, we are looking to stabilize the existing one so that it does not continue to be an epidemic. Ideally, we are looking to impliment TNR programs to maintain the populations and we are also looking for less cats to enter shelters and more of them to be adopted. This all requires enormous awareness, and ignorance is our greates enemy.

  9. Hi Deb,

    First – thank you Christine for helping the ever-so needy feral cats. You’re a Saint!

    Sound like heart-wise, you’ve been through almost as much as they have.

    I think that most people are ignorant about cats and especially the plight and nature of the feral cat. Education, compassion, and inspiration is called for. These poor cats desperately need our help.

    That’s heartbreaking working on the front lines like that. It takes an exceptionally strong and caring person to fill such a valuable role.

    It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that you can’t just take a feral cat home. But as Deb pointed out in a comment, they don’t want that from us. They do need some assistance though.

    The three groups you mentioned toward the end of the post are all very good groups.

    Thanx for the article and again, Christine, I really appreciate and admire what you’re doing. I wish you continued success,

    =^-^= Hairless Cat Girl =^-^=