Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cats Rescued From Snow Covered Dens

On February 1, 2011 the Ozark Mountains had a blizzard snow forecast with extreme cold temperatures and the the feral cats that I care for took shelter in the thickets in the woods rather than stay in my shelter where there were insulated beds and a window heater.  

The blizzard covered the ground with 28 inches of snow and ice.  It snowed for 36 hours and when the snow stopped my husband I set out to rescue the feral cats that were trapped in the thicket dens in the woods.  

Thicket dens are man-made from piling pruned tree and shrub branches in an area.  Over time the pile of branches becomes entwined and the feral cat will then dig a tunnel into the thicket fortress and make it a den. 

Snow covered thicket den
When it snows the thicket is encased with snow and the tunnel into the thicket is blocked.  The cats cannot dig their way out because the snow will fall on them and trap them.  

A cat that is trapped in a thicket has limited oxygen, no food and may freeze especially if the snow on the thickets starts to melt and then freezes.

The water from melt down falls into the cavity of the thicket and the cats get wet, and then the temperature dips and the cats are freezing. The cats may develop frost bite, or Hypothermia  . Therefore, it is imperative that we act fast to rescue the feral cats.
Two thickets encased in snow and ice Image by Susan Golis ©
We searched the woods for four days and in that time we found 3 branch thicket dens with feral cats. There were many branch thickets along the mountain ridge and all needed to be checked. The thicket den that housed many feral cats was a large branch fortress; 12 feet high by 32 feet wide.  There were two southern exposed entrances that were encased with snow.  

Approaching the thicket was difficult because I had to climb over a smaller thicket that was covered with ice.  One wrong step and I would fall into the thicket below me. I climbed to the upper thicket slowly and carefully, my husband then followed me to the upper branch thicket.

In order to remove the snow from the entrance we needed to start at the ground level and work upward. Once the snow was removed from the entrance I was able to look into the thicket.  

I saw branches that were overlapping and the space into the cavity was shallow.  There was a strong cat odor that confirmed that this thicket housed the cats.   I poured  dry food into a bowl and shook the food in the bowl. 

 I then set the food down in front of the entrance.  Feral cats are fearful of humans so I backed away from the thicket entrance.  It did not take long for a cat to appear.  The cats had been trapped in the thicket for four days without food.  They stayed hydrated by eating the snow that fell into the cavity of the thicket, however the feral cats were very hungry.

While cats ate I went home to change into dry clothes and to get straw for insulated bedding, a tarp to cover the thicket entrance and to act as a wind block and two cans of  cat food.  By setting the straw at the entrance of thicket it allowed the cats to stand without sinking into the snow.   The cats ate two cans of food and a half a cup of dry food. 

Before leaving at dusk I took away the food bowl, as it is not wise to have food out when coyote are in the area.  Tomorrow I will go back at dawn to feed the cats and hopefully I will be able to complete the rescue by providing them with a path to dry land. 

I am a feral cat colony caregiver, I watch over the cats and I help them to survive outdoors.  This volunteer position and is not for everyone.  I took the responsibility to not give up on the cats. 

There were many people involved in this feral cat rescue they were praying for me and the cats, asking God to show me the way.   A heartfelt thank you goes out to everyone for their prayers and support.  
Feral cats ate 2 cans of food and dry food Image by Susan Golis ©

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