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The Eastside cat: Caring for one of Austin's many feral kittens

The Eastside cat: Caring for one of Austin's many feral kittens

austin photo set: news_aug_modery_feral kitten
A photo of Sherman Courtesy of Lauren Modery

His eyes look like a universe, a friend said to us. And they do. An ever-changing galaxy of marble blue, green and yellow. Whole oceans could be turning inside his ocular cavities. The number of fleas far outweighed his number of ounces — our hands spotted with reddish brown flecks after we first held him.

His body was too small for the amount of insects noshing on his blood, the vet said, but other than that he was healthy. No worms, no diseases. A rarity with feral cats.

Sherman came into our lives the day his namesake moved up to the "de-lux apartment in the sky" (only the 5,125,750 time that joke has been made). His alter-ego's namesake, Batman, stemmed from the recent release of The Dark Knight Rises and the fact that he does indeed look like a bat: piercing blue eyes striking through smoky gray fur.

 Trapping feral cats is like an extreme sport. There is an art to trapping and avoiding get scratched to living hell. 

Some days we call him Sherman, sometimes Batman, but we mostly call him Baby Kitty, because that is what he is. A tiny moppet of a creature that darts around our house, learning about himself and us.

He is the son of a feral kitten, who is the mother of a feral kitten and so forth. A long lineage of Eastside cats. We are familiar with one facet of the Eastside cat because a gaggle of them took up residency in our neighbor's yard. Our neighbor does her best to trap and neuter any cats she spots without a clipped ear, but occasionally one slips through the routine inspection, and then several baby kittens slip out of her.

Pulling in and out of our driveway, my boyfriend and I would spot the neighborhood cats going about their daily business of light napping, heavy napping and sleeping. We had names for all of them: Whitey, Orangie, Gazelle (due to her stripes), Zorro (due to the brown hair around his eyes) and Fatface (due to his fat face). For two dreamers, we're sure not creative in the animal-naming department. Our bird is named "Birdie."

One morning, we were doing our morning ritual of talking at the cats when we spotted several tiny blobs of fur nursing under one mother's belly. In fact, there were seven blobs and in what I can only describe as the Animal Kingdom's version of 16 and Pregnant. The teen mother shot us a grave look that said "I'm in waaaay over my head." It was then that we made it our mission to neuter as many unfixed cats we could find.

We let the appropriate amount of time pass before taking the mothers — there were two — away from her weaning kittens, and with the help of the neighbor and traps from the Austin Humane Society's Trap-Neuter-Return Program, we scooped up five unfixed (and very pissed off) cats. Trapping feral cats is like an extreme sport. There is an art to trapping and avoiding get scratched to living hell.

Tip: If somewhat unfamiliar to cats like myself, when you trap them they may act similar to the alien that pops out of that dude's stomach in Alien. Keep all fingers and toes as far away from cage as possible.

In the midst of Operation Hot Mother, the neighbor scooped up the runt of the kitten litter who wasn't looking so good. Having two human and one feline youngster of her own to take care of, she gave us the little guy in hopes we could take him to the vet and maybe, just maybe, prep him for a better life off the street. This is how Sherman came into our lives.

We promised ourselves he was only temporary, that we would give him to our interested friend once he was back up on his feet. But isn't that what everyone says?

It's been exactly two weeks since Sherman first sat in our kitchen sink, completely defeated, as we hand-picked fleas off his tiny body. Within that time he has grown big and strong. He has grown to need us. He climbs (with excruciating needle-like nails) up our bodies and rests on our necks. He talks to us, he does back flips and he even lets us blow raspberries on his fat kitten belly. We pay for it later in ample bitting and scratching that leaves our bodies marked with thin red lines.

Every day we discuss whether or not we should keep him and every day we don't come to a conclusion. If Sher-Batman were to go with our friend, we would miss him, but we would have the comfort of knowing that he has a better life than on the street.

That his life expectancy went from 4.7 to 14 years. That he will no longer have to lay in the hot sun, covered in insects and fleas. That his name is Sherman.

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Not long after I wrote this piece, Sherman became very ill and quickly and unexpectedly passed away. His departure has left a large hole in our hearts. It was in Sherman's passing that I realized how much the little guy impacted our lives and made it better.

Austin has seen a huge influx of feral cats over the past few years. If you're interested in trapping any feral kittens in your neighborhood, please check out the Austin Humane Society's Trap-Neuter-Return Program.