Notes from the Field:
Updated: Mar 5
The community cat population in South Beach is estimated at 150,000. I look after 9.
They are NOT my cats. They are not my cats because I have not named them. If you name a cat it’s yours. That’s the universal rule. A few of the 9 have names that were given to them by other people. Not by me. The closest I go is to name geographical groupings - the florida oranges in the back, the ghost cats in the front garden, the indoor cats. Each group has their own territory.
When I moved into my little beach bungalow condominium, I inherited the care and feeding of 11 cats who had lived here for a long time before me. They are a fixed community.That expression is an apt, albeit unintended, double-entendre. It means the cats are always the same. Outsider cats are not welcomed by the community and there are never kittens because the cats have been, ahem: “fixed”. There are only 9 now (sadly, there has been some attrition) but the gap has been partially filled by two other cats, also inherited, but in their case, from an elderly relative of mine. I didn’t name them either.
I take my caretaker responsibilities pretty seriously. Even though the cats are not mine (!), they get the same good care any bonafide pet of mine would get from me. IF I had a pet. And I do not. All cats get fed twice a day - rain or shine. Water is also changed twice a day.When it’s really hot I add ice. They eat a mixture of grain-free chicken kibble and Friskies wet food. Added to their diet is Lysine which boosts their immune systems according to anecdotal evidence, probiotics because the vet is a fan , and fish oil which is good for their skin and fur. The ones I can touch also get flea and parasite meds monthly. The indoor cats get taken to the vet as needed and for annual vaccinations.
This is not the norm for South Beach. There are a lot of scrawny looking cat colonies out there. 149,991 is an awful lot of cats left to feed. And while there are many kind souls who feed and monitor cat colonies in their neighborhoods: residents who put out a can or a handful of kibble when they think of it or see stray cats ( you’d be surprised by how many people keep cat food in their cars “just in case”.) and tourists (who mostly feed them wrong unless their dinner leftovers are meat), there are still lots of hungry cats.
Random acts of feeding is good and bad. Good because people need opportunities to do good deeds like feeding strays and good bcs the cats don’t starve to death. But it’s bad because feeding the cats on paper ( heaven forbid styrofoam!) plates that are not picked up after, or even throwing the stuff on the ground is littering. Nevermind the misguided attempts to feed them things they won’t eat - like bread. Bread feeds the ants. For the most part though, people here do the best they can.
To help manage that cat feeding chaos, the city has created a registered feeder program which is working pretty well for the pilot program it is. Regular feeders have credentials and a tag to wear around their necks on a lanyard so they're not fined by the police for littering or hassled. Cat haters will hassle regardless of credentials though.
I have such a credential.I’m kind of proud of it because I helped pioneer the program and have had to do a little bit of stern advocating with my own condo board. ( that “channeling-change- through-law-and-reason”essay I wrote in fifth grade came in handy after all.) Sometimes I wear it when I feed the cats here just for grins and to pretend I’m important enough to flash credentials. Like it will get me to the front of some line No one ever sees me except the neighbors occasionally. And that may be why this happened:
There is a wall about 4 feet high that separates the back of my little bungalow complex from the neighboring apartment building's parking garage. The other day someone put 4 piles of kibble and a little can of fancy feast on top of that wall. No doubt meant for the 4 florida oranges who hang out there. They ate the fancy feast of course. It’s not called “fancy”for nothing. And also predictably, the cats left the kibble - either because it was inferior - they don’t eat plain dry anymore - or because they were suspicious of food just lying around. Their food comes plated (on pyrex pie dishes) and is served at their own feeding station located discretely further back from that part of the wall and on ground level.
My first reaction was indignation. To me, it was the equivalent of going into someone’s home uninvited and feeding their beloved pet. Who would do that? You just wouldn’t. I mean,my (oops) these cats look really well cared for, even from a distance. They just lounge around looking like supermodels waiting for their next photoshoot. Plus-size supermodels I should add. And they are certainly well fed enough to turn up their nose and stalk off when the food is beef and not the chicken they were in the mood for at that meal.
Boy was I offended. Even though they are Not My Cats(!). And then, I changed my mind.
Because really, this sort of random act of kindness should be encouraged no matter how misguided... yes I’m still a teeny bit annoyed. So I wrote a lovely thank you letter suggesting other ways to collaborate. I put the letter in a sealed plastic bag (rainproof) and stuck it on the wall for when the person comes back. It is addressed “To the extraordinary human being who left food for the cats (who are not mine)”.
And in writing that letter, I was reminded of the tremendous kindness of my brother in law who regularly sends a humongous bag of very premium kibble. That bag gets mixed in with the regular purina cat chow and friskies canned food I buy which is perfectly fine but not quite as healthful as the stuff he sends. Some days, because of the way deliveries run, the kibble mix has more premium kibble than the other. I don’t know why, but those are the days the opossums get boldest and eat with the cats. They must like it best.
I already reported on the generalized favorable response his contribution received once before, but this last time - oh my! I'll tell you about it another time.