My wife and I live with 26 cats. And yes, we are crazy cat people. Who else would put up with so many cats? But it’s not like we set out to be overrun with cats. Almost every cat we have was forced onto us, one way or another.
When we moved to Arkansas in 1997, we had one cat, Pete, a fluffy orange and white. We rented a house at the edge of Fayetteville. We had no idea what was about to happen to us.
I think it was in 1998 we took in our second cat. One day my wife Ann heard a kitten meowing, but couldn’t tell where the sound was coming from. The next day, we realized the dogs next door had a calico kitten treed in their yard. At that point, the kitten had been up there for at least a day without food or water. Ann went over and talked to the neighbor and he got the kitten out of the tree and she came home with it.
One day another neighbor showed up on our porch with three tiny kittens. “This guy that has ‘em is gonna knock ‘em in the head if you don’t take ‘em,” he told us. We took ‘em. They were so weak they could barely raise their heads. Ann had to bottle feed them, and they survived. We were up to five cats.
Another knock came months later. People in the neighborhood had figured out we had a weakness for cats. A man I’d never seen told me this story: a cat (not his cat) had given birth to kittens under his trailer. The mother cat had then gotten run over and killed in the road in front of his trailer. Did we want the kittens? They were going to die without their mother.
I went over to his trailer, crawled underneath and gathered up kittens and put them in a box. I don’t even remember now how many I took home, maybe five or six. The next day, the man who lived in the trailer showed up at my door again and said, “You missed some,” and gave us two or three more. Our cat total: mid teens.
Two neighborhood girls found two kittens dumped under a bush at the side of the county road. Being at the edge of town, we were in prime animal dumping territory. The girls named them, but we became their new caretakers.
Our neighbor’s cat, Charley, decided he liked living at our place better than his. Some other neighborhood cats gravitated to us because we were always willing to feed a hungry cat.
Our kittens grew up. Our income was limited. We had more cats than we could afford to get spayed and neutered. Several of our girl cats got pregnant. I don’t remember how many kittens were born, maybe about 15. Cat population: Now in the low 30s.
Why didn’t we give some of the kittens away? Because my wife and I both have a serious flaw in our natures. If we spend time around an animal, we bond with it. It becomes part of our family. And you don’t give away your family members. I would call us extreme animal lovers. Others might call us hoarders. In our defense, it’s very difficult to find good homes for animals, and even if we had placed a few with responsible families, we’d still have had big numbers.
Five years into our Arkansas time, we were struggling to support our horde of cats. The numbers were threatening to spiral out of control. We put all the money we could into spaying and neutering, took advantage of some low-cost programs from our local agencies, and got all our cats fixed.
Our landlord didn’t like us having all the cats. In late 2001, he decided we couldn’t live in his house anymore. We had to be out by the first of the year. We frantically looked around, trying to figure our what to do. We were afraid nobody would rent to a couple with 30-plus cats.
We got lucky. We found an older mobile home on a few wooded acres a few miles outside of town and managed to scrape up enough money to buy it. The cats dearly loved having woods to run around in. We liked it too.
But when you have lots of cats in your yard, you can’t avoid becoming a cat magnet. People from our new neighborhood started bringing us orphaned cats. We’ve lived in the old trailer for about ten years now and most of the younger cats we now have are strays or dumpees that were brought to us.
We started out 2010 with 33 cats. At the start of 2011, we had an even 30. This year started with 26. There are some real negatives that go with maintaining a large number of cats. We’ve seen just about every kind of cat tragedy there is. We’ve had cats run over, killed by dogs, die from Bobcat fever (cytox), cancer, and kidney failure . We’ve had months when the vet bill was more than all our other bills combined. Some cats just disappeared. We lost three cats in two nights this summer and we suspect coyotes, but have no proof.
The real reason we have all these cats is because cats are a surplus commodity. There are too many cats because too many humans are irresponsible and won’t get their animals spayed or neutered. When these same people’s animals have babies, they just kill the young ones, or take them out and dump them.
We still spend thousands every year on cats. It’s difficult to travel. The inside of our trailer smells like a zoo. Cats have broken or destroyed or damaged more stuff than I can list.
The cats have changed our lives significantly in many ways. Would we do it again? Absolutely. Because the cats are loving creatures who know who cares about them and give back. They snuggle with you, they seek you out, they want to give and get attention and affection. It does take lots of cash, time and thought, but it’s worth it to see them happily living out their lives.
The Beatles said it better than I can: In the end, the love you make is equal to the love you take.