Feeding Bob – Feral Cats on the Big Island of Hawaii

Bob appeared on my lanai shortly after I arrived on the Big Island. I would have recognized him right away even if his picture didn’t show up every hour or so in my screen-saver photo rotation.

Photo Credit:  P. Nixon

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

He looked just the same as he did four years ago–short-legged and stocky, white chest and paws with gray tabby markings,  dark-rimmed green eyes, and a tipped left ear indicating he had been neutered.

Back then he traveled with a buddy, a large gray-and-black striped male.   Very shy, the neutered tabby would hang back a few feet while Bob stood at the screen door cajoling, wheedling, demanding. Once I put out food they would both eat. Bob was generous about sharing.

This time Bob came and went alone, stopping at my back door every few hours. I figured he was making the rounds to other cat-friendly lanais, but hoped he also had access to a regularly maintained feeding station. I fed him small portions of canned Little Friskies and a few cat treats. One morning he napped on the doormat while I sat outside drinking coffee and writing. He was friendly, but cautious, moving away if I came too close. He looked healthy, but had a cut on a front leg that seemed to be healing.

Two days before I was scheduled to leave, Bob showed up with not one, not two, but three friends. At first I was dismayed, not sure I had enough time to get in touch with one of my contacts to borrow traps, bait and capture the felines, and then arrange transport to and from a clinic for spay/neuter. I looked more closely. Every one of the cats had a tipped ear. Someone had already done the work.

All four took up residence on and around the lanai, napping on the chairs, alert to my every move. A few hours before my flight back to the Mainland I opened the last can of chicken cat food and emptied the bag of dairy-flavored treats. I wondered how long it would take them to figure out I wasn’t coming back.

Before each trip to Hawaii, I reassess how I feel about feral cats in a place with so many endangered birds.  So far, I haven’t come up with any better ideas than those I wrote about in a 2011 essay. Between visits I stay in touch with AdvoCATS Hawaii.  Over the last 15 years they have spayed/neutered almost 16,000 cats on the island. They were probably  responsible for fixing those that showed up on my lanai based on the emails we traded after I returned home.

It crosses my mind, just before I hit the publish button that maybe I shouldn’t share this post.  It seems a contradiction to be writing about efforts to save endangered Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and, at the same time, about feral cats that threaten endangered birds in Hawaii.  But that’s the world I live in, really the world we all live in. Everything we do, whether consciously or not, impacts nature, the physical universe. That’s why I write this blog, not only as a way to recognize and appreciate that universe, but also as a way to puzzle out my place in it.

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