Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lessons from Feral Cats, or My Year as the Cat Lady

This last year, while teaching at the University of Tennessee, I lived at a place that hosted a pre-existing feral cat colony of 20-30 beastlings. During the year, I therefore learned quite a bit about ferals; most of my neighbors had no desire to deal with the cats or feed them, and I couldn't stand strong against the cats' protruding ribs and desperate meows.

Policy nowadays with feral cats is ‘TNR, trap-neuter- release.’ Local feral cat groups will help by supplying traps and paying for the procedure at participating vets. I trapped and neutered the majority of the cats (with a little help from one kind neighbor, who took in a few herself). It’s a slow process, depending on how many traps one has available and how many spots the vets have open on their ‘feral fixin’ days.

Momma Cat, her kitties, and Yellow Cat, investigating the traps.

The other problem is that wild cats are prone to feline leukemia, a truly vicious disease that is spread through grooming and sniffing and sneezing on each other. It manifests in a wide variety of horrible ways, including pneumonia-like symptoms, stomach problems, or slow starvation. And so, after TNRing so many, I found two dead on my doorstep and five more had to be put down. It was a depressing and draining several months.

Then there was the problem that, the first few times I encountered a sick or injured kitty, I rushed it to the vet. I did not realize that various vets charge dramatically different prices for the same procedure. I learned to my intense frustration that one should ALWAYS call several vets to get price quotes before tearing down the road. One should also feel confident about refusing to pay for poor service. After Powell Animal Hospital mistook a loose baby tooth for a shattered tooth that HAD to be pulled immediately, only to discover on the operating table that it was actually a simple offering for the Kitty Tooth Fairy, I was still charged several hundred dollars for all the surgery expenses. Certainly I complained and asked them to reduce the price due to their ineptitude, but like a fool I still paid them. In the end, my first few months with the ferals cost me nearly $1500 that I could not afford.

The lesson? Feral cat groups actually have accounts set up with certain vets and they will help you in dire situations, so always call your feral contact person first!

It’s not all trials and tribulations, of course. As soon as I moved in, a momma cat with three kittens showed up and over the year I gentled them and turned them into perfect pets. Phantom went on to find a home at the Pet Smart Saturday Adoption Event. She is happy and healthy and has a family that adores her now.

Phantom, still in the wild.
Phantom’s Brother, who I contemplated naming Lover, Rake, or Mr. Darcy, stared boldly and deeply into your eyes while being petted. Alas, after losing all interest in playing with his sisters, dropping weight, and beginning to look fragile and creaky, I discovered he had leukemia and he had to be put down. I held him in my arms and wept the entire time.

His last sister is the ever-demanding, hilarious, and extremely energetic Mayhem. This kitty wants to play all the time and to my surprise, taught herself to play fetch. Whether it’s a bit of plastic or one of the crocheted ropes I made her, she loves nothing more than to go galloping after it and drag it back to you. She was the one I couldn't bear to give away. As an archaeologist involved in fieldwork overseas, the pet situation can be complicated. Mayhem will be spending the summer with my mother, where she is gamboling about, safe, full of food, and no longer a hollow-eyed feral cat.  

Mayhem, in October, napping.
Keep yourself educated about feral cats - why they can be good for neighborhoods, how you can build them winter shelters, and most importantly, how to control their population. Check the web for your local feral cat groups, or read these sites:                                                                                                                        

Education material from Alley Cat Allies

Feral Feline Friends in East Tennessee (w/o these ladies I would have been buried by my feral cat disasters)       

Friday, June 6, 2014

The excavation season begins

Things are picking up in the ancient Mediterranean field season. Many digs started in early May, in order to follow the summer schedule of universities on the semester system. I myself won't head over until the end of June.

If you'd like to keep up with some of the people I know (sort of) already working in Greece, here are some links:

Follow along with Kostis Korelis, who will be mapping tiny villages and houses in Greece (Objects-Buildings-Situations) Always interested in domestic architecture, Kostis will examine houses that still stand, as well as houses long gone (via archives). Not only will you find great insights on this blog, but you'll also get to see Kostis' wonderful drawings and sketches. Additionally, a Poggio Colla student is representin' on the house project, our very own Joel Naiman!

Then there is Bill Caraher's The Archaeology of the Mediterranean (recently moved to Wordpress from here), which follows Bill's fieldwork with students in the Argolid. It includes some beautiful pictures and discussion of archaeological methodologies, such as surveys.

For pictures of Roman villas destroyed by Vesuvius, follow archaeologists such as Angela Trentacoste on the Oplontis Project Facebook page.