A tale of wonderful irony, of how animals who normally share a predator/prey relationship, ended up saving each other.
The story starts with feral cats. As with many small towns, Mineral Wells, TX, the location of Bat World Sanctuary headquarters, has its fair share of stray cats. Several years ago two cats began hanging around the trash bin outside the back of the Bat World facility. Both cats were very thin and both were pregnant. Taking pity, we started feeding the cats, created a shelter, and a relationship began. One of the cats (later named Dumb Bell) had 3 kittens and promptly abandoned them. We watched in amazement as the other cat (dubbed Miss Kitty for the lack of anything more original) moved the abandoned kittens to the spot she had chosen for her 3 newborns, and proceeded to nurse and care for all 6 of them. Within two years, however, the situation had grown well out of hand when 14 cats and kittens of various sizes had taken over the back parking lot.
Upon looking for a humane solution over the internet, we came across the Trap, Neuter, Return plan (TNR), a rapidly growing program promoted in the US by Alley Cat Allies. The TNR program is the most humane and effective way to reduce feral cat populations. It is designed for homeless cats living outdoors in cities, towns and rural areas.
Kittens and tame adult cats are caught and adopted into homes if they are available. Feral adult cats are humanely trapped, then spayed/neutered and vaccinated. After recovery they are returned to their familiar habitat where they remain under the lifelong care of volunteers. Some people feel that the TNR program is destructive to wildlife. However, the destruction to wildlife is greatly lessened when wild cat populations are controlled and care is provided. One wild, unspayed cat is capable of exponentially producing a whopping 59,049 offspring in just 5 years, and cats that are regularly fed by caretakers hunt less wildlife as a source of food. Lethal methods to control wild cat populations do not work as they don’t get to the root of the problem. New cats take over the territory of the previous cats, and they will continue to breed.
We were able to find homes for a few kittens. Others were captured and taken to a no-kill shelter in a larger city. The two original cats remained. Miss Kitty was the first stray cat to enter our local TNR program. After her return from the vet she tamed a bit and allowed us to slip a collar and ID tag around her neck. Although still wild for the most part, she began hanging around a few hours each evening, allowing us to pet her at times. Not long after she began bringing us presents.
As any cat owner will tell you, cats have long been known to bring their owners little gifts of live bugs, mice and the like. Miss Kitty, however, brings bats. Not bats she has hunted and caught, but grounded bats that are in need of rescue. To date she has brought three grounded bats to Bat World. One bat was emaciated and dehydrated, with no injuries from being carried in her mouth. Another bat had a wing tear and was unable to fly (again, no injuries from being carried in her mouth) and a third had an open fracture, the exposed bone long-dry, indicating the break was at least a few days old.
The first two bats arrived during the fall of 2005. Each bat was deposited on the sidewalk while Miss Kitty sat close by, waiting for us to emerge from the back door, seemingly holding her stance to make certain it stayed in place until helping hands retrieved it.
These two bats only needed a short stay in rehab and were eventually returned to the wild (with, we imagine, harrowing tales to tell their roostmates when they returned!). Amanda Lollar, President of Bat World, had the opportunity to witness the third bat being brought to us in May of 2006. She was outside at dusk and noticed Miss Kitty scurrying across the parking lot toward the back of Bat World, carrying something gently in her mouth. Amanda cringed at the thought while hoping for the best. Miss Kitty gently laid the injured form at Amanda’s feet, then looked up into her face and proudly meowed while arching her back to be petted. Amanda bent to scoop the bat up with one hand while petting Miss Kitty with the other.
The dried bone in the little bat’s wing could not be repaired well enough to allow flight, so he is not releasable. However, he healed very quickly and has adapted well to captivity. To honor his rescuer he has been named Mr. Kitty. Mr. Kitty is now a permanent member of the indoor cave at Bat World Sanctuary. Oddly enough, like his rescuer, Mr. Kitty himself has a ‘take charge’ attitude and spends his time in multiple roosting rocks, seemingly checking on the activities of the other bats. Mr. Kitty learned to self-feed on mealworms and has grown quite plump. He does not, thankfully, bring us presents.
For information on starting a TNR program in your area visit alleycat.org.