One cat leads to another.
What mostly keeps community cat advocates and volunteers involved in their work is that helping one cat naturally leads to helping another. Now that you know what to do, you can’t ignore a cat in need.
Over the last few years, Monica Dixon, a Salt Lake City therapist who lives on a small farm in the Chesterfield area of West Valley City, has emerged as her neighborhood’s own community cat advocate.
“It all started when this female cat began coming around and I started feeding her. Then I noticed that she was nursing. Sure enough, she brought me her three kittens about a month later. One by one she brought them in her mouth and put them right up under my front porch.”
The mother cat turned out to be friendly. Monica was able to socialize the kittens and found homes for each one, including the mother.
Mama cat #2
Then last year, Monica noticed a new cat hunting in her neighborhood. This cat did not look well at all, with its severed tail and frantic behavior. By March, this cat, too, was visibly pregnant.
“I put food out for 10 days and during that time I prepped an area in my garage where she could have the kittens. I got everything she would need: a scratching post, a heated cat house, cases of food, a big litter box. I even made a birthing box. I didn’t even know for sure if I’d catch her. I just had to be prepared because time was of the essence.”
Monica was able to trap her and a week later, the mama cat birthed five kittens in the box Monica had prepared.
The mother was depleted from having so many kittens through the years—she appeared to be about eight years old—and being on her own without consistent food and shelter. Over the next nine weeks Monica discovered that this mother cat was also friendly and had clearly belonged to someone. It took $2,000 and several trips to the vet to get the mother well again. After finding loving homes for all the kittens, Monica decided to keep the mom.
Helping these two mother cats, two summers in a row, had exposed Monica to a whole new world.
Mama cat #3
Her eyes couldn’t stop seeing what she might have previously overlooked. This March, Monica caught yet another pregnant female cat behind her house. She was able to assess that this one would also be easily adoptable.
After a kitty abortion—“They are very pro-choice down there [at the West Valley Animal Shelter], because being born into homelessness is so hard on the kittens”—and a vigorous social media campaign, Monica’s third rescue was settling into a new loving, permanent home.
But Monica now noticed that the cat’s previous litter was also lurking in her neighborhood.
She set additional traps borrowed from Best Friends.
Cats and kittens everywhere
“First I see the kittens… and then I see other cats… and then I see more cats and I’m thinking ‘what in the world is happening over here!’ By now I realize I’m outnumbered.”
Through a neighbor, Monica was introduced to none other than the cat avenger herself, Julie Davis (see previous story). Julie came to Monica’s house the very next day, taught her how best to set her traps and recommended she borrow even more.
Monica caught seven cats in two days and got them all fixed, vaccinated and returned through West Valley Animal Shelter’s feral cat trap-neuter-return program. She committed to Julie that she would feed and water these cats every day, year-round.
Not long after, just two blocks from her house, Monica saw yet another pregnant cat waddle across the road and into someone’s yard.
She knocked on the door and asked if they needed help with their pregnant cat and, she says, they asked, which pregnant cat? “They said, ‘Well, we’ve got 20 cats here. We just feed them and then more come, and we don’t know what to do.’” The elderly couple did not know about the trap-neuter-return program for cats who are too wild to be adopted. It is provided at no cost to the public.
In three days, Monica caught 12 more cats—nine of whom were pregnant, interrupting about 45 baby cats being born into homelessness over the next two months.
No free fix for ferals during pandemic
Then the clinic suddenly shut down. Due to the coronavirus, they were no longer accepting feral cats for free fixes. That day, Monica had just caught a young Siamese.
She took him home and in several hours noticed a few peculiarities. He would respond to changes in light but seemed to stare blankly in the wrong direction even if she waved her hands about near his face. He was practically blind.
Unable to hunt, he probably would have died. She paid for the spay-neuter herself. Before she could decide what to do next with this new blind kitten, whom she’d named Rama, Monica noticed a flash of white near her hen house. Within 10 minutes of setting out a trap, she caught another small male cat, white with bright baby blue eyes. He was filthy and had hair missing from his tail, but Monica says his friendliness shone from that very first day.
Observing him, Monica realized this cat was “deaf as a post.” She named him Krishna.
Monica is now fostering these two disabled young male cats. While Covid-19 has not made it easy, they are both dewormed, neutered and vaccinated. These loving young guys, who get along well together, she says, are adoptable and need a permanent home. Monica hopes that perhaps, through this story, she will find one for them.
These two will need to be kept indoors. Monica suggests that an ideal caretaker would also be hearing impaired “or at least willing to tolerate a parrot in their house.” Krishna cannot hear himself so he vocalizes loudly, she says.
In the last three years, Monica has so far found homes for 14 cats.
“I don’t know where the end of this project is, I’m just trying to keep my head above water,” she says.
“I’ve always been tuned into animals, taking care of them and intervening on their behalf.” Before college, she worked in grooming and daycare. In addition to cats, she has rescued chickens and even goats.
“But as far as working with feral cats, the difference right now is that after having done it and especially after meeting Julie Davis and having her show me the ropes, I feel so empowered by knowing what to do and what to tell others.”
Emily Spacek is a staff writer at CATALYST Magazine.
A cat for your cabin fever?
Because it is spring and fewer spay-neuter facilities are currently open, more kittens will inevitably appear throughout May.
The good news? Best Friends reports an increase in people interested in becoming fosters for sheltered animals. They are also still adopting out cats and dogs, virtually.
A word about spaying a pregnant cat
Those in the frontlines of cat rescue and trap-neuter-return ultimately have few qualms about spaying pregnant cats. Of course, the earlier, the better. A female kitten is capable of becoming pregnant at 16 weeks of age, and in a feral colony, she likely will.
Each unfixed female can bear at least three litters a year. The average is three to five per litter, but that can vary from one to more than 10 kittens.
Says Monica: “A feral mother cat is often unable to find a safe, dry location to raise kittens and her babies get eaten by foxes, raccoons and hawks, or they freeze to death. Finding enough food for herself and her babies is also a challenge.
“Spaying her is the kindest thing you can do. The whole uterus is removed in one piece, just like in a normal spay surgery. The contents of the uterus quickly fade away.
“If you think about kittens being aborted and you feel very sad, visit your local shelters and choose one of the hundreds of cats who spend years living in small cages alone and adopt one. Then you will feel better.”
• Best Friends offers humane traps and education about their use. They can be picked up by appointment at the Sugar House Lifesaving Center and from trap-trading posts in several locations within the greater Salt Lake area. www.Utah.bestfriends.org/ 801-574-2454
• Contact the animal shelter in your city. Ask if they support trap-neuter-return. If they do, you should be able to work with them to borrow traps and get cats fixed and returned free of charge. You will likely have to do the actual trapping, so educate yourself prior to picking traps up. If they don’t support TNR, do not take feral cats there!
Low-cost clinics that will work with ferals:
• Best Fiends has a clinic in Orem that usually accepts 10 ferals daily, Monday-Saturday. Contact them directly to confirm availability. www.Utah.bestfriends.org
• Orchard Animal Clinic offers affordable spay and neuter for feral cats as well as providing medical care for ferals’ most common issues. Their Facebook page and website are the best sources of information. www.Orchardanimaloutreach.org or Orchard Animal Clinic on Facebook.
• Salt Lake Spay and Neuter offers affordable spay and neuter for feral cats as well as providing medical care for ferals’ most common issues. Call them to schedule an appointment 801-262-6414 or visit
Interested in fostering?
Fostering cats is a great way to help keep cats safe while the right adopter is found. Kittens also need fosters who can diligently care for them as they grow and are socialized in preparation for adoption.
Many city animal shelters and most animal rescue groups have well developed foster programs. In most cases the organizations supply everything needed. Here is a partial list of rescue groups that can always use more qualified fosters.
• CAWS Community Animal Welfare Society
• Best Friends—Utah
• Celestial Zoo—Utah County
• Nuzzles and Co.—Summit County
• Purrfect Pawprints—Tooele County
All of these same shelters and rescue groups have cats available for adoption. Kitten season has begun and many people jump at the chance to get kittens. Please also consider adopting a more mature cat.
Adopt a few working cats
Having a few cats around your yard, office, barn or warehouse comes with great benefits. Several organizations will work with you to match cats for your space. They will bring in a relocation cage for a two- to four-week acclimation period. They will coach you on proper care and sheltering for your cats. Once the cats are set free, they become your responsibility to care for.
• Cats 2 Work, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you come across a friendly stray cat, kittens or ferals that don’t seem to have an ear-tip, please reach out for help. Many of the sources above can help guide your efforts. Several Facebook groups are also very active and can help you help cats.
• Community Cat Action Group of Utah
• Community Cats & Caretakers
• Utah Pets: Lost & found