Monday, 15 February 2010

A Wandering Minstrel I Shall Be

You would think, wouldn't you, that the neutering message should be starting to filter through by now, but there is still a large percentage of cat owners who through ignorance, arrogance or sheer laziness don't get their cats neutered.

Some people think that it isn't fair - that a cat should be allowed to "enjoy" the opportunity to mate, but in fact what they are doing is imposing human feelings onto something which, for cats, involves no element of choice.

Female cats come into season whether they'd want to or not, and for several days until the season ends, they are relentlessly pursued by tom cats, determined to mate with them. For the female cats, the actual act of mating is very painful - nature's way of stimulating ovulation to produce as many kittens as possible. This is one reason you may hear screaming from mating cats. That's without the risk of disease, bites and the possibility of getting lost or injured as they run from the waiting toms. A queen (female cat) can be mated many times during her season, and she can produce kittens from each mating. For female cats, this is repeated at least twice and sometimes four times each year.

Tom cats don't get a much better deal. To successfully mate, he firstly needs to find an in-season queen (and this may involve a journey of several miles) and once he finds her he needs to fight all the other tom cats to get himself at the top of the pecking order and first in the queue. This is another reason that you may hear screaming when there is a queen in season. After he's mated her (sometimes several times) he will go looking for another queen, and so on. Of course, like the queens, he is exposed to disease, danger from becoming lost and injury and accident. Gradually, most tom cats forget where they live, they establish a territory with places to sleep and eat (if they're lucky) and become less and less used to going home and interacting with people.

The tom has absolutely no choice in this behaviour, his hormones dictate his behaviour and he has no possibility of denying his actions.

We see a number of youngish tom cats each year, who have embarked - without intent - on such a life. Generally speaking these are friendly cats, although they may be initially nervous, and they often come in with injuries and/or parasites. They are normally reported to us as strays or nuisance cats - cats who enter homes through cat flaps and steal food for the feline residents. They may nest in gardens - greenhouses or sheds - or make use of open windows or cat flaps to access a home - and of course worst of all from the home owners' point of view is the smell they leave when they spray urine to mark their territory.

Freddie, pictured above, is a typical example. He's a young-middle aged lad, un-neutered who was found straying in someone's garden. He'd been visiting her for six months, and she'd been feeding him, but couldn't keep him as he did not get on with her cat.

He came to us with a large abscess on his head caused no doubt by fighting, dreadful earmites - his ears were almost solidly filled, and the usual complement of worms and fleas. He wears an aroma of tom cat which would make all but the most hardy faint, and he eats as though every meal is his last.

But he is such a friendly lad, loves to be stroked and petted and will curl up and sleep on a comfy lap if anyone sits in his pen for more than a few moments.

The really sad thing about Freddie, is that at some point in his past he has been loved. Some family, couple or individual will have been thrilled to bits with their new baby kitten - all fluff and breezes and chasing his tail, the things that all baby cats do. They will have taken photos, told all their friends about his latest antics and maybe put his picture on facebook or other social media sites.

Then, one day he will have gone out - missing for a couple of days and they will have worried themselves daft, wondering where he'd gone. But hey! It's OK, he's back and he's safe. A week or so later he will have done it again - they would have been concerned but not quite as much because, after all, he came back last time. And sure enough, after a week or so, he's back. Tired, a bit bedraggled and hungry but OK. And so it goes on. Gradually he stays away longer; gradually his owners get used to it, and stop worrying. In fact after a time they don't notice when he's gone - in fact they're surprised when he comes home. And eventually he doesn't come home at all.

The owners don't care, he'd stopped being loving to them some time ago. He didn't have time for cuddles and purrs, he just wanted to sleep and eat - regain a bit of energy before his hormones pulled him out back on the treadmill again. But they still want a cat, so off they go and get another one - again usually a male because after all they don't want to be irresponsible and have kittens - and the cycle begins all over again.

Meanwhile, their previous furbaby/bundle of fluff/cute kitten is sheltering from the rain under a hedge while he fights off other tom cats for a few seconds of testosterone-driven pleasure with a queen.

Wouldn't his life have been better if he'd been neutered, remained that "love sponge" that he was in his kittenhood, and slept by a radiator or on the foot of a warm bed every night?

Freddie has been advertised as a found stray. No one has responded. He will be neutered very shortly and then we will find him that loving forever home that he so greatly deserves.