Blogger Nina Cat died of acute respiratory failure on November 5, 2021, after 18-plus years with us.
Like Ron and her brother Nino, Nina was family. She was also the inspiration behind this blog. When I saw her snuggled up with So You Want to Live in Hawaii, by Toni Polancy, I knew she was onto something.
Long before that, however, our cats’ humble beginnings had put Bob and me onto something—feral cat rescues. As so often happens, you don’t get involved until a problem lands litter-ally in your own backyard.
Twenty years ago, our Lakeview neighborhood in New Orleans had an out-of-control feral cat problem. It still does. The Metairie Small Animal Hospital, which operates a clinic in Lakeview, defines ferals as unowned community cats that have never had close contact with humans. MSAH estimates their number as “staggering.” The Humane Society’s estimate for the United States is a little more precise—30 to 40 million.
According to the Feral Cat Project, 75% of feral kittens die or disappear by the time they are six months old. Although they keep the numbers of rodents and reptiles under control, they risk being hit by cars, injured by other cats, attacked by predators, or getting sick. While all these factors lead to an average lifespan of about three years, the population continues to grow, given that cats as young as five months old can procreate.
As we watched all that happening in our backyard, we learned that the most humane and effective way to control feral cat populations is through TNR (trap, neuter, and return) programs. In exchange for a promise to provide food and water to the dozens of ferals that we trapped and returned, local vets examined, vaccinated, and sterilized them.
Unlike wild adult cats, kittens who are rescued and socialized are adoptable as pets. Ron slipped indoors on a particularly cold (for New Orleans) January evening in 2003. Nine months later, Nino and Nina adopted us, too. The three of them quickly adapted to—and improved—our lives as well.
Together, we evacuated New Orleans in advance of Hurricane Katrina, landing first in Mandeville, about an hour to the north of New Orleans, then Houston, six hours west. After three weeks, we all settled into an apartment in Baton Rouge. Eight months later, we moved to Fairfax, Virginia. In 2020, in the midst of the onset of COVID, Ron and Nina flew with us when we moved to Southwest Florida. Nino had died 8 years earlier of cancer.
In his pre-Katrina days, Ron would wait for Bob on the doorstep. Post-Katrina, it was in the hallway. Nina, on the other hand, preferred that we wait on her. And Nino, who waited for no one, sometimes deigned to let us pet him.
Following Nino’s death, we increased our healthy-cat visits. We caught Ron’s and Nina’s medical conditions early and managed them well. When you add these conditions to their feral births and multiple relocations, Ron and Nina far surpassed their legendary nine lives.
Nina had a rough time when Ron died 13 months ago. Perplexed by the absence of her lifelong companion, she would sniff around their favorite chair, hide in corners of rooms, and demand affection—odd behavior for a typically aloof feline. But she gradually assumed a regal role as the sole cat of the household.
Always feisty, she demanded treats and long brushing/combing sessions. In addition to her cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, advanced kidney disease, and hyperthyroidism, she had developed lesions on one lung. The vet cautioned us to look for labored breathing. When that happened, he said, she would likely die quickly. She did.
There’s a popular bumper sticker out there with a paw print that reads, “Who rescued who?” Although that sentence grates on the English teacher and editor in me (I always correct the second pronoun), the answer is simple. Ron, Nino, and Nina rescued us. They were anchors in our lives as winds blew us from Louisiana, to Virginia, to Florida. Nino entertained us with his antics. Nina and Ron inspired us with selections for What the Cats are Reading.
They still do. In their honor, this blog will continue, dedicated to feline readers everywhere.