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A Tale of Two Kitties

Vinsetta Park neighbors work together to find homes for feral cats.

In recent months, our Vinsetta Park subdivision has been home to several litters of feral kittens.

Neighbors who live near the intersection of Greenleaf and Fairlawn, in particular, have spotted tiny tabbies or black-and-white tuxedo kittens scampering across manicured lawns and hiding in the shrubbery. 

But thanks to a heartwarming community effort, what was once viewed as a local animal-control problem has turned into a neighborhood crusade with more than one happy outcome.

A successful rescue attempt

I've learned over the years that fate plays a cool hand in the game of cat ownership.

Driving home from an errand last week, my husband Doug was stopped on Greenleaf by an elderly woman waving for help. As it turned out, an incredibly tiny kitten had run beneath the woman’s car and she was afraid she’d run over it.

In a single gesture that would swiftly rearrange our two-cat household, my husband reached under the car to fetch the frightened tabby, then brought her home.

Who wouldn't have fallen in love? Sporting a richly patterned coat with black stripes and splashes of tan and orange, the 4-week-old tabby resembled a miniature bobcat. While Doug and I were fairly certain the kitten was feral, we had to be sure she didn't belong to another family.

That same day, I sent a notice through the neighborhood email chain, which is managed by our neighbor, Dan Ferris, and reaches 150 households in Vinsetta Park. The email chain keeps us all updated on important issues such as block parties, Neighborhood Watch alerts and, more often, lost pets.

I attached a photo of the orphaned kitten to my email and asked if anyone owned her – or would consider adopting her.

Assuming that a stray kitten isn’t an easy sell, I was surprised to get email responses from four neighbors who were eager to give the orphan a home. One was Julie Martin, the mother of three little girls – Mackenzie, Kate and Avery –who’d been planning to adopt a companion for their older cat, Motley.

In the meantime, my son in Chicago saw my photos of the orphaned kitten and urged me to keep her. I didn't need a bigger nudge than that, although I felt a bit guilty for reneging my initial adoption offer.

I promised Julie, who was first on the list of responders, that I’d let her know if we changed our minds. Happily, the story doesn’t end here.  

Another orphan finds a home

A day later, I heard from Angie Alexopoulos, a Vinsetta Park neighbor who had just rescued a black-and-white feral kitten from her front yard. Several members of Angie’s family are allergic to cats, so she had to locate a new home for the stray. Could I connect her to one of the families who wanted to adopt?, she asked.

Within minutes, I shared the good news with Julie Martin, who promptly ran to the next block to check out Angie’s kitten.

“We walked into Angie's house and we were in love as soon as we saw the kitten,” Julie said. “He has the sweetest little face and personality to match.”

Julie’s daughters named their new kitten Vinny – after Vinsetta Park – which suits him as perfectly as his spiffy tuxedo markings.

The Martin family had no qualms about adopting a feral kitten, but Julie admits Vinny initially required special care. When Vinny first came home, she explained, he was fed a kitten milk substitute (available from pet supply stores) from a dropper. “Vinny is also too young to be tested for feline leukemia. To be safe, we’re separating him from our older cat until he’s tested,” she said.

“The way it all worked out was awesome,” Angie told me after the adoption was final. “This kitten found a home with the Martins because our neighborhood is so connected.”

A furry population explosion

Angie did all the right things when she first discovered the tiny tuxedo kitten in the bushes of her front yard. She drove him to veterinarian Jim Mast at the for an exam. (Stray cats often require treatment for fleas and parasites in addition to basic immunization.)

Dr. Mast, also a Vinsetta Park resident, has a personal interest in the local feral cat population. Over the past several months, he has spayed and neutered several strays in Vinsetta Park and he hopes that ongoing neighborhood efforts will lead to the humane capture and treatment of the feral mother cats still roaming our subdivision.

"Many veterinarians will spay and neuter strays at a discount," Dr. Mast said. "It's in the best interests of everyone in the community."

So how did Vinsetta Park become a breeding ground for wild kittens?

“Last fall, a pregnant cat was dumped off on Bassett Street and started hanging out in our yard. She had four kittens,” explained Julie Dean, another concerned neighbor who’s been trying to manage the strays and find homes for them. "When summer came, only two of the kittens and their mother still came around. Then all three got pregnant and had four kittens each.”

Julie Dean said she contacted the Humane Society, but they had too many cats and were not able to help. “I continually ask everyone I meet if they would like a kitten,” she said.

If you find a stray cat or kitten you can’t keep, Dr. Mast suggests asking your veterinarian for the name of the nearest animal rescue league.

Most vets will also offer tips on how to care for the cat until you locate a home for it; or you can check the “Kitten Care” section on Home At Last Animal Rescue. At the present time, the is overstocked with cats waiting for adoption.

Feline soul mates

 “I love cats because I enjoy my home, and little by little, they become its visible soul,” wrote the French author Jean Cocteau. Anyone who’s ever kept a cat knows exactly what he meant.

As I type this, our new kitten, Izzie, is perched next to my keyboard in my home office. She’s purring at full volume, waiting for her chance to jump on the keys. I can’t help but wonder where she’d be if my husband hadn’t brought her home.

Meanwhile, I learned through the neighborhood grapevine that there are at least four more kittens and two feral mothers still on the prowl. A long, cold winter is predicted and I wonder how they'll survive.

Cindy La Ferle will be signing copies of her story collection, Writing Home, at The Yellow Door Art Market’s “Holiday Open House” 2:30-4 p.m. Nov. 19.

Judy Gates November 04, 2011 at 11:42 AM
Thank you Cindy for this article!! You are fortunate to have a neighborhood email chain to get the word out about these "feral" kitties. And of course a thank you to Dr Mast and North Main Animal Hospital! I do TNR and I live in Royal Oak as well. I want to make Royal Oak residents and anyone residing in Oakland county aware of a TNR program. It is called Oakcats and you can visit the website at http://www.oakcats.com/ or call 586-435-6930 and tell them you are calling about OAKCATS. The OAKCATS program is a collaborative effort led by the Oakland Pet Adoption Center (Oakland County Animal Control) in collaboration with the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance and All About Animals Clinic, through the generous support of PetSmart Charities. The fee for the spay/neuter, ear tip and rabies vaccine is $10...yes you read that right!!! You are required to attend a 1 time TNR class that is offered at All About Animals in Warren once a month, the cost of that class is $10 here is the link http://www.allaboutanimalsrescue.org/tnrtraining.html....once you take the TNR training class you are also eligible to borrow traps from AAAR free of charge...It's a win, win program!!! Again I am so grateful that you posted this so the word can get out to all residents about free roaming cats and a solution to the problem. I am listed as an Allie Cat Allies Feral friend and if you would like to contact me with questions feel free.....neighborkitties@gmail.com
Cindy La Ferle November 04, 2011 at 12:57 PM
Judy, I am grateful to you for writing! Many of my neighbors will be reading this, but I will be sure to share info about the OAKCATS program -- and will keep it on hand for future reference. Thanks for all you're doing!
Alan Stamm November 05, 2011 at 03:36 PM
Delightful snapshot of a neighborhood that seems more like a rural village than part of a metropolitan suburb with more than 57,000 residents, thanks to personal connections and an electronic version of old-time telephone party lines. (That phrase doesn't refer to how your grandparents organized keggers, kids.) And between the heartwarming lines is a pat's name that makes me think of Detroit News cartoonist Larry Wright ('Wright Angles'), a former colleague, whose characters included Motley the Cat (the title of a 1988 book by Larry). I bet Julie Martin was a fan.
Joanna Jenkins November 05, 2011 at 06:00 PM
What a fabulous neighborhood you live in. In my Los Angeles neighborhood we have the same problem with feral cats but there seems to be zero interest from the neighbors to help with a solution. I learned a lot from this article including feline leukemia! Who knew. I'm going to do some more research and take this nudge as a jumpstart my actions. Thanks!
Cindy La Ferle November 05, 2011 at 07:36 PM
Thank you, Alan and Joanna. And you're right about our neighborhood. In fact, I've lived in two other Royal Oak neighborhoods since moving here 29 years ago -- and those were just as small-town friendly and caring as this one. We're lucky. And Joanna, you might be able to find a TNR group in your area -- such as the OAKCATS program noted in the first comment. Thanks for writing!

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