Monday, February 28, 2011

Feral Cats - Winter Snow Photographs

The  feral cats that are in my care reside in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains.  These cats take shelter in thicket dens and in the rock crevices.  

Here is a collection of some of my favorite winter photographs of the colony cats.   The cats were photographed after the February 2011 blizzard .  This arctic blizzard brought 22 inches of snow and ice to our area and extreme cold temperatures.  

The feral cats sought shelter in the woods, neighborhood sewers and few neighbors left their heated garages open a crack so the cats would have shelter from this brutal snow and ice storm.

 It snowed for three days and three nights and when it finally stopped the  Colony caregivers needed to rescue many of the feral cats from blocked sewer pipes, and snow encased thickets that trapped the cats exit. We took turns at digging out the cats as the windchill was 4 degrees. 

Photographs and text by Susan Golis ©

Cat tracks in snow
Adult feral cat crosses snow to get to thicket den

Path to feral cat feeding station

Feral cat eats first meal in 4 days (Cats were trapped in dens, we removed the snow and ice)
Feral cat looks thankful for the food

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Feral Cats Rescued in the Snow

Blizzard in Missouri
With extreme weather conditions in the forecast I needed to lure the feral cats out of their thicket dens and into our garage shelter where there was a window heater and space heaters.  The forecast called for blizzard conditions; wintery mix of snow, ice and artic wind.

The thicket dens are safe haven for the feral cats under normal conditions, however when there is a blizzard condition forecast with a severe snow and ice then the thicket dens become dangerous.  They will be buried under the snow and ice and the cats will be trapped inside.

Feral cat lying on down tree in forest
My husband and I reacted to the weather forecast by hiking through the forest to the cat colony on the ridge.  We used our field glasses to look for the feral cats.  We saw a few cats lying in the brush by the elderberry trees and a black and white cat was viewed lying on a down tree.  

The forest was calm with an average temperature of 29 degrees.  Come late afternoon the temperatures will drop quickly as the arctic blizzard passes.

Space heater in garage shelter for feral cats
 I attempted to move the cats from their thicket dens by leaving a trail of seafood flavored dry kibble I was hoping the cats would follow the food trail to my garage shelter. Where there are kitty tube shelters, insulated cat boxes, and a window heater as well as space heaters to keep the cats warm.  None of the cats came to the shelter.

It started to snow in late afternoon and the white powder was coming down fast. By midnight there was approximately 20 inches of snow on the ground with ice and drifts. 

Path in snow to garage shelter for feral cats
My husband and I went out to plow a path in the snow to the feral cat’s dens.  We did this to provide the cats with a safe passage to our garage shelter. The path was 30 feet long and 30 inches wide.   

We worked with snow shovels to make the path.  When we got to the main den we found that it was covered with snow and that a drift blocked the front and back entrances.  We used our hands to open the front entrance.  This was a slow and careful procedure because we did not want the snow to fall into the cavity of the den.  We worked in extreme cold conditions as the temperature was four below zero.

Feral cat in thicket den
The snow was removed from the entrance and the exit.  I used my flashlight to check for the cats.  We called the cats with a clicker and waited.  The feral cat that I call Lucy came to the ticket entrance.  

Feeding feral cat in the snow
I left her food and water and waited until she and the other cats had eaten before leaving.  The following morning we checked the feral cats at the thicket den and tried to lure the cats out of the thicket den with food kibble trail on the snow plowed path. 

feral cat walking in snow
Two days later at 1:20am there was movement on the path.  I viewed Lucy the feral cat walking on the path.  She was coming for food in the shelter.  

Three feral cats followed Lucy to our garage and remained close to our garage shelter until the winter storm passed.  

There were many thickets in the woods and we searched ten of them and helped the other colony caregivers to locate their cats.  We searched for cats for four days.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Feral Cats Are Prey For Coyote

Cats that are abandoned to parks, forests or wooded areas where there is hunting or poaching activity are susceptible to scavenger predators; coyote, wolf, and bobcat. 

Today I hiked to the forest thicket where feral cats are sheltered.  Along the path I noticed deer hoof prints in the snow.  The tracks went all the way up to the entrance of the feral cat thicket den.  

When I got to the entrance of the cat den I found the water bowl empty and I suspect the deer drank from the bowl.  The feral cats were out of sight. I made up the food bowl and set it on the straw under the tarp.  I then sat directly next to the thicket entrance.  I used this time wisely to scan the area with my field glasses.  

 While I scanned the area a cat came out to eat. The cat ate fast and then returned to hide in the thicket.  Normally cats will clean themselves after they eat, however every cat that ate immediately went back inside the thicket.  

I sat silently as I did not want to disturb the cats coming out to eat.  I went back to scanning the terrain with my  field glasses.   I noted motion in the brush about 30 feet in front of the thicket.  I suspected that the motion could be from a squirrel, deer, cat or fox.  I did not expect the wild animal to be a coyote.  This of course sheds new light on why the cats will not leave the thicket den. 

Coyote in clearing
Coyote have migrated into the woods from the state park that is a two miles away.  I am sure they are here because of the easy prey.

  Coyote are not picky eaters; if they are hungry they hunt  cats, and dogs.  To remove coyote from the area will be challenging, if there is one coyote then there are many.  The predator that feeds on coyote is bear, cougar and wolf.  To rid the area of the coyote I will need to mark the area with freeze dried predator; wolf, bear or cougar urine. 

Today there is snow in forecast so I will not be able to mark the area as the snow will wash the scent away. Therefore,I will bring food and water to the feral cats daily and thus the feral cat’s life will not be in harm’s way unless a coyote tries to enter the thicket den where cats reside.
Feral Cat at entrance of thicket Den

I am a feral cat colony caregiver, and I have adopted these wild cats. I watch over them with my husband and two volunteers and we all chip in to pay for the cats medical needs, feed the cats twice a day and provide shelter. 

 We all have taken the responsibility to protect these woodland feral cats from harm and to make sure that they are spayed or they are neutered and are up to date with  rabies, and vaccines for Feline Leukemia.  These cats live outdoors in controlled forest colonies.

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 ©

Friday, February 4, 2011

Snowed In Feral Cats Rescued

Feral cats will go where they go for shelter, maybe an abandoned groundhog burrow, or a thicket, and some cats will go into the sewers. It is the colony caregivers responsibility to locate the cats by removing the snow from the front of the sewers and hiking through the woods to remove the snow from the thicket dens.

The blizzard of February 1, 2011 brought ice and 28 inches of snow to our area, and if that was not bad enough the temperatures have been record low with wind chills of 16 bellow.

I am a feral cat colony caregiver and have taken on the responsibility of caring for six to 10 cats.  I oversee this colony with my husband and two volunteers’ and presently we are all worried about the feral cats.  All of us are looking for the cats, we put out bowls of food for them and the food is untouched. The snow and the extreme cold has hindered the cats from leaving their shelters. they have no food or water.  They are cold and they must eat snow for hydration.

On February 2, the snow and sleet finally stopped at 8:00 at night and my husband and I made a path from our back door  to the thicket that was located in the woods.  We needed to make a path to get there because the snow was too deep.  It took us two hours to reach the thicket in the woods
As soon as we reached the thicket we realized that it was packed snow.  We took turns shoveling the snow away from the entrance.   One held the flashlight and the other shoveled.  

When the entrance was in sight I got down on my knees and removed the snow from the entrance with my hands. I then set a bowl of food and water at the entrance.  When the thicket entrance was cleared, I needed move on to rescue the feral queen cat we call Lucy. 

This feral cat has shelter under my neighbors back deck. I was determined to free her so I removed snow from the sidewalk and made a path to the front of the house.  

The snow on the street was too deep to cross and it was too late to be in my neighbors yard. My husband assured me that all of the cats ate well 36 hours ago and that we would get a fresh start early in the morning.

I spoke to my neighbor the following morning.  My neighbor told me that he would make openings in the snow to allow cats to get out.(There were no cats under the deck)

The feral cat we call Bob has been observed in the sewer by my home, and he may have gone there for shelters so we shoveled a path all the way up the hill to the area where the sewer is located.  

Cats will go into the sewers for safety the average temperature in the sewer is 55 degrees.  If the cats were in the sewers then I needed to get them out.  With all the sewers entrances blocked with snow the air was limited.  We also need to free the cats because it is not safe for cats to be in sewers when snow begins to melt. 

 We needed to rescue the cats by opening all of the entrances to the sewers.

Entrance to sewer is clear, cats can escape
The snow packed on the street curb made it difficult for me to determine where the sewer opening was.  I ended up shoveling snow for a half block and then I found the sewer entrance.  The snow was over 3 feet deep.  The snow removal truck had packed snow and ice onto the sewer drain opening. It was hard to remove with my snow shovel and my husband helped me with the task.  

When I could see the drain pipe opening I got down on my knees and removed the snow from the sewer opening with my hands.  I called for the cats and set a bowl of food and water at the opening.  I returned to the sewer a few hours later and the food had not been touched.  

I then replaced the food with canned food with strong fish scent to lure the cats out of the sewer. I provided the sewer cats canned food mixed with dry and set the bowl with water at the entrance of the sewer.  At 2 am my husband was walking our dog and he saw the feral cat that we call Bob head sticking out of the sewer eating the canned cat food.  

I was able to save one cats life.  There are eight feral cats  missing Lucy, Daisy Shadow, Stripes, Rusty, Charlie, Tommy and Buddy. These cats have not eaten since February 1st two of my volunteers presume they did not make it, that it was natures doing, but I have not given up on them.

I have provided the cat's with a shelter that is dry and it has insulated bedding and heat.  Plus the room does not freeze because of the window heater and a kerosene heater when there is power outages.  


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