Hungry Hungry Kitties

Cats Alive recently rescued a colony of 49 cats. It was heartbreaking. The owner and his wife contracted COVID in October. She died and he never fully recovered. At the end of January, his children had come to the conclusion that he was no longer able to live on his own at the family home north of Sanford, CO where they had grown up in and he and his wife lived in for 35 years. When they came to take him home, they took the three smallest kittens to Dumb Friends League in Alamosa and called Cats Alive for the rest of the colony of somewhere between 30 and 80 cats (depending on which of his kids you talked to!). Cats Alive had been preparing to open a spay and neuter clinic for a few months, and was almost ready. (That’s SLV Spay and Neuter Alliance!)

Knowing that such a big colony could not reasonably be picked at with 5 or 6 surgeries at a time (and a 3 hour round trip drive for each trapping!), surgery for these cats was scheduled for our first big clinic, February 10th, with the help of a professional tech from Bergen Spay to help our vet, Dr. Linda Behrns. Our vet specializes in spay and neuter surgeries and with a trained tech to assist, she can accomplish twice as many surgeries in a day. So timing was key in dealing with such a large group.

Lisa Karst (that’s me!) travelled out to the colony a week early to make an assessment and leave traps for acclimation before trapping day. The cats came charging down the drive, yelling as they came. They were frantic. I counted 20-22 very very hungry and underweight cats, 90% black, and two large herding dogs, also hungry. I laid out the small amount of food I had with me for trapping purposes, and an intense scrum resulted, with over a dozen cats picking up food bowls and running, dogs wading in and flinging cats in an attempt to get to the food. When ordered to leave the cats, they did it. Not bad dogs, just hungry and left alone too long. Meanwhile, I was trying to unload about a dozen traps. The cats were so hungry they were invading the van to get to the scraps of food, trying to eat cardboard trap liners that smelled of tuna.

Doing a little triage, five of the smallest cats were trapped and taken to Dumb Friends League San Luis Valley Animal Center for temperament assessment. One had a broken leg and was immediately sent to their hospital in Denver. The other four failed the temperament tests and were returned to Cats Alive as agreed. Calling the family in Oklahoma, I was told the dogs were to be taken in by a neighboring family the next day. When I stated that the cats were extremely hungry and getting thin, the message was passed to the caretaker to leave more food. Traps were left, and with the assurance that the cats would have more food and the dogs were going to a new home the next day, I reported back to the vet that we’d have a full day of surgeries for this one colony.

However, when I returned a week later to trap, I found I had greatly underestimated the size of the colony. I had 36 cats trapped in less than an hour, and four more would not approach traps after all the chaos of trapping their colony right in front of them. Those were two large tom cats and two smaller cats, one of which had a badly broken leg and the other of which was a small tabby with an owl-like face unlike the rest of the colony. Additionally, the dogs were still there and still hungry. A call to the family resulted in assurance they’d contact the family that was supposed to take the dogs and make sure they did it.

A week later, I returned with a colleague, Evette Young, to trap the last four and check on the dogs. Sure enough the dogs were there and hungry. Again, Dumb Friends League was a valuable resource, taking in these ungroomed, underweight, and under socialized large dogs. These dogs had never had a leash on or been inside a vehicle. Evette’s dog handling skills were absolutely key that day. We got the dogs to a safe place, although it’s never first choice to take dogs to a shelter, especially under socialized ones that will be afraid of the whole experience.

These poor cats were not provided adequate food and water. As a result they were underweight, constipated, and dehydrated. For the first few days in our care, they emptied water bowl after water bowl, ate buckets of food (wet food, with water added to baby their poor systems), and pooped sticks. That’s right, they were so hungry they ate the sticks that smelled like food at the ranch because their food had been being poured on the dirt.

With the 36 trapped, the four that failed temperament tests at DFL, and the last four that were trapped the following week, Cats Alive provided 44 spay and neuter surgeries at a cost of $50 a surgery. That’s $2200 in surgery alone, never mind travel, food, litter, etc, etc. The family was not up for contributing at all.

I can only assume the old rancher loved these dogs and cats, and cared for them to his best ability. What he didn’t do was fix the cats as soon as they showed up at his place. His family has told me the first cat showed up 8 years ago, a male. Three years later, a female, also black. So this whole colony originated with those two. And literally, a stitch in time on that female cat’s belly could have saved all this drama. Imagine the expense to this rancher feeding cats all this time. The cost of a surgery instead, it makes all the sense in the world.

Next week, I’ll write about the people who adopted these cats. In just two weeks, Cats Alive and our wonderful community found homes for 44 semi-feral cats by sharing, liking, and commenting on the post asking for homes for these cats. That post has been seen by over 12,700 people on Facebook, an amazing reach for a post from our valley of about 16,600 people. Adopters came out of the woodwork from all parts of the valley and even beyond.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

3 thoughts on “Hungry Hungry Kitties

  1. Thank you for taking care of these poor animals. So, all these cats now have homes – last I saw, on FB, there were 11 needing homes.


    1. Yes, although two are still there, they go home tomorrow. We still need homes for two black and white house/shop mousers, and there are two pet cats needing homes too. But all the Sanford colony will be off to new lives by Thursday. What a relief!


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