That sound. It is natural, but it doesn't belong. It is unexpected, not something that I expect to hear while heading out to the chicken coop, or into the building at work. Similar to a bird, but not quite right. If you aren't familiar with it, you would not notice it. It makes me stop, though, dead in my tracks, and cock my head to side.
"Was it?" I hear it again and surmise that it is definitely not a bird. At this point I usually sigh and start talking to the bushes and overgrown lot. "Where are you? Come here. C'mon, it's okay." If that doesn't work, I let out a plaintive mew. That almost always works. Voila, a kitten appears.
This has happened in Ohio, Pennsylvania and now in New York at Audubon. One day this July, I was headed toward the building, coffee in hand, work bag on shoulder. I heard the sound, furrowed my brow and stopped. It did it again. To my right I spotted something that didn't look quite right. "Are you a cat?" I asked in a friendly voice. This orange and white tiger kitten came bounding out of the weeds. I exchanged my coffee and bag for free hands to coax it within reach.
The Humane Society of Chautauqua County is best equipped to deal with stray and unwanted cats and kittens, not Audubon.
Then a volunteer showed up, just as I got my hands on the kitten. It purred and purred and purred. She asked, "Is there only one?" I didn't know but said, "Probably not." A few more minutes of mewing and calling and a second, just as friendly all orange tiger, came out of the same weeds. Kittens in arms, we took them into the building, dug out a rabbit cage and set them up with food, which they devoured, and water.
All told that week, we rounded up eight kittens from two different litters and one mom. Someone thought it a good idea to drop them at Audubon, after hours. The day camp kids learned two very valuable things - compassion for these animals previously loved by someone then carelessly dumped in the wild, and to spay or neuter your pets.
Audubon is not the place for cats. We love animals - but act on that love by protecting the habitats they live in and the natural balance of ecosystems, teaching people about nature, and fostering a sense of wonder and positive experiences. From our perspective, cats threaten the biodiversity of our sanctuary and tip the balance. Essentially, and this may sound harsh, they are invasive and need to be removed.
We trapped and caged the cat and kittens. Ever the sucker, all nine went to my house. Gracious families adopted three. The next step was to do the right thing. I called the Humane Society of Chautauqua County. It is their mission to care for those unwanted or abused domestic animals, not Audubon's. They took all six of the remaining cats.
Now, sensitive readers and cat lovers may cringe at this next sentence. Had the Humane Society refused them due to lack of room, Audubon would have had them humanely euthanized. (I can hear the gasps of horror). Now hold on. I ask that you consider it from the point of view of a nature sanctuary. Stray cats kill and can decimate populations of songbirds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. They are skilled and voracious hunters. To a place dedicated to protecting wildlife, a stray cat is like a lion loose in preschool. Of course we are going to protect the wildlife, just as anyone would protect their children. Does it make more sense? You don't have to agree, just understand.
Don't get me wrong, personally I'm a cat lover. I have many, but they are all indoor cats. They are also all rescues - strays that showed up, unwanted, at my door or strays that were dumped that I trapped and tamed down. There is research that shows that the life of a feral or stray/dumped cat is short and fairly miserable. Between ticks and fleas and disease and roads and animals trying to eat them, the wild spaces of the world are not places for domestic cats. Even outdoor cats with homes would be healthier and live longer lives inside. And trust me, all of mine are quite happy.
It is wrong to dump a domestic pet animal anywhere. Not only is wrong, in many cases it is illegal. There are a lot of things I want to say to the folks who thought that dropping these cats at Audubon was a good idea. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt, however. Maybe they equated a wildlife sanctuary with people that care about animals and thought well, I don't know. But next time, they can save everyone involved, including the animals, a lot of grief by doing the right thing to begin with.
Please don't dump your strays. They live short, famished and unsheltered lives. And especially please don't dump your strays at Audubon. We care for the foxes and coyotes that prowl the woods, along with great horned owls, hawks and eagles, all of whom would find a cat a delicious snack. The SPCA is much better suited to take your strays or no-longer-able-to-keep animals. Help Audubon protect the wildlife at our sanctuary and everywhere by spaying/neutering your pets, keeping them indoors or on a leash, surrendering animals to an appropriate facility, and not feeding stray cats.
Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62, between Warren and Jamestown. The trails and Liberty viewing are open from dawn to dusk. The center is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, except Sundays when it is open 1-4:30 p.m. Information can be found on our website jamestownaudubon.org or by calling 569-2345.
Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon and has a soft spot for all animals.