Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Stray cats and bureaucracy

In late October we started feeding these two stray cats. One is about a year old and obviously had been around people and the other is about 4 months old and is feral. A couple of weeks go by and its starting to get cold so I rig up a way for them to get into our backyard and start luring them to the back room of our house which has a door to the outside. They are pretty trusting as long as there is food, so after a few days they are comfortable going in the house.

Then one evening while we are watching TV and the cats are hanging out in the back, a tomcat comes in and kicks the kitten's butt. She is limping and scared to death, so we try to catch her, but catching a feral is pretty difficult. Unfortunately she climbs a pine tree about 25 feet up and I can't reach her. We trap the older one and hope the best for the little one.

A day passes and we don't see the little one, so we are fearing the worst. Then a day later we see her across the street in the desert brush. She is hungry so we put out food on the front porch and she comes running. Once she is eating, we open the front door and and let her see the older cat who is clearly visible behind the french doors to the back room. She only likes one thing better than food and that is what we later come to figure out is her mom. So in the house she comes and we shut the front door. While we still can't touch her, at least she is now safe from the tomcats outside. Both are now in the back room with plenty of food, water and warmth.

At this point I am researching stray/feral cats and the city of El Paso's regulations about pets in general. On their site I see its law to get all pets microchipped and vaccinated/registered. Ok, so we have one cat already and now we have these two strays we aren't sure what we are going to do with, but we know they all have some visits to the vet to bring them up to regulation.

Its now a day or two before Thanksgiving so we figure we can get all this done after the holiday so we know the offices and vets will be open and maybe we can figure out how to get the two strays into carriers and to the vets. The day after Thanksgiving(Friday), I am using food to socialize them and the older one bites me pretty hard. Deep puncture wounds that bleed pretty good, so I wash and clean with rubbing alcohol. By Sunday I have now read everywhere on the Internet that Rabies is fatal and that once you have signs its too late. The best you can do is go to the doctor right away and have the cat tested or quarantined. So, I go to the emergency room and they give me a band-aid and some anti-biotics and report the bite to Animal Control.

Monday at 8AM Animal Control is at our front door. I let her in and she asks some questions and wants to see the cat. She now informs me that I have two options. One is I surrender the cat and they kill it so they can run tests on its brain, or the second is I 'declare' that it is our cat and they quarantine it. But the catch is, if I declare ownership, they have to cite me for failure to microchip/vaccinate/register and I am on the hook for all the costs associated with that. She tells me that we have 3 days from the time we start feeding a stray cat to get these things done or we can be cited. Sounds ridiculous, but it is the government. And I understand she has a duty as an officer, and she could have cited us for the other two as well, so while I am angry, I am also appreciative of this.

So I declare that its my cat, she writes me a ticket and takes the cat. The little one goes crazy now that she knows she is alone in a strange house without her mom. We can get the cat back in 7 days by paying some fees.

The little one is doing ok with us and is actually starting to warm up since she doesn't have her security blanket and we are after all feeding her.

We actually go to Animal Control on Saturday to make sure 'Socks' is doing fine and to see what we need to do to pick her up on Monday. They take us back to the quarantine area and Socks is friendly as usual and even the officer comments on how good she is, as she is reaching out of the cage with her paw to the officer. We weren't allowed to touch her.

Monday comes and we head to Animal Control and find out that we need to pay the fees before they vaccinate/microchip/register(totally understandable considering they would put her to sleep if we didn't show up to claim her.) Frustrating, but its only one more day. We cough up the $115 for getting Socks out of the hoosegow and pick her up on Tuesday.

A week later after the cats settle down and get comfortable, we start on the 'Three days of Vet visits' starting with our bad cat(she is almost 15 years old and has been an indoor cat her whole life. She was a feral when we took her home at 6 weeks, so I guess we will never learn.) She gets her microchip and booster shots and is done. The next day we take the little one, Leeloo for shots and the 'wellness' exam which has to be done before she gets spayed. She was actually pretty well behaved. Day 3 Socks goes to the vet for shots and wellness exam. The date is set for Socks and Leeloo to get spayed, two weeks away.

At this point, each cat has cost about $150 each at the vet, and $115 for Socks at Animal Control. And the spay will cost another $100+ each for the two new cats. Ok, I guess after all is said and done each cat will cost about $300 each. No big deal.

So on 'Spay Day' we drop the new cats off at the vet for most of the day(arrive at 7:30AM, pick up at 7:00PM.) Coincidentally, this is also my court date for my citation. The total sum for the violations is $290. I bring all the paperwork showing we are now in compliance with Socks and am ready to explain to the judge that it was a stray that we had just managed to get in our house when she bit me when I was feeding her bacon from my hand. Hell, I would have done the same...I LOVE bacon. But the dumbass teen and father before me riled up the judge and he 'reset' my case so that I now have to go downtown where he said "they are known for dismissing the charges sometimes." I figured it was better to see a judge that may be more understanding of a situation with strays and such than to try to explain to an already riled up judge that its not like we have been skirting the law, but just didn't understand the time restrictions. Live to fight another day.

So where are we now and what have we learned? Our original bad cat is 'up to code' and was spayed 14+ years ago, so she is done. The other two survived Spay Day(two days ago) and are glad to be back 'home' with food, warmth and medication. They are now both 'up to code' and are busy growing fur on their bellies. They have a follow-up in two weeks to get the stitches out and a check-up. They will mail me a court date and hopefully they will drop the charges completely considering we adopted these two and did the right thing by getting them spayed, etc. Of course its a bureaucracy, so I am not holding my breath.

A couple of notes, when I 'declared' ownership of Socks the Animal Control officer was shocked. She said she only had seen that one other time in her career. When we went to Animal Control to check up on Socks the officer at the shelter was also shocked that we claimed her and were going to adopt her. I guess I was shocked to find out that more people don't have what I consider basic compassion.

Also, one evening before we got the cats inside, the neighbor rugrats(ages 6-10) were 'playing' with the cats. The next day when I went out to our front yard, there were rocks everywhere. The little beasts were actually throwing rocks at the cats. Leeloo, the smallest one, had a red nose with dried blood on it for almost as long as we have seen her. I guess this partly explains why she has been so skittish. Between Tomcats, kids and cars, its a surprise that this one of Socks litter actually survived. Socks couldn't have been much older than 8 months old when she had her litter.

In the end, the citation and fines are inconsequential. Killing innocent animals when we have the means to prevent that seems cruel. While we have accepted responsibility for these two, there are many more in our neighborhood still. I am not sure if we are going to keep them, but when they curl up together and sleep, I know they should probably stay together. If there is one regret I have about bringing home the bad cat is we should have brought home two. Maybe she wouldn't have turned out so bad.