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Tango, the Garden Cat ~ part 3: Home for Christmas

By Diana Wind (windDecember 23, 2009
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This is the final chapter of a 3-part miniseries about a feral outdoor cat we named Tango, who one day arrived in our garden. Tango's garden adventure reminds us of the plight of millions of feral cats struggling daily for survival. Tango and his friends also made my family think about how we felt about other peoples' cats hanging out in our garden. Would they be welcome in your garden?

Gardening picture

If you have read my previous Tango stories, you know that I'm a cat lover. However, after discovering cats in our backyard garden, I began to wonder...

Are other peoples' cats welcome in my Garden?

Cait Johnson, Assistant Producer of the Healthy Living Channels wrote an online article (link posted at the end of this article) about an experience she had about her cats not being appreciated by her gardening neighbors. Many people don't like cats, and if they do, they may not appreciate their neighbor's cats digging around in their garden beds and yard.

After witnessing Cait's kitties sniffing around and digging in her garden, the irritated neighbor began putting moth balls around her garden, thinking that would help keep the cats out. This probably infuriated Cait and inspired her to write the article, because she knew moth balls were toxic.

The list below offers a few of Cait's suggestions, as well as a few by Alley Cat Allies, a non-profit company located in Bethesda, Maryland, dedicated to advocating on behalf of feral cats across the U.S.

Attention all Felines: Please Keep Out!
Plant lavender, rue, citrosa geranium, or  lemon-thyme  
 include river rocks around the garden beds to make them more hindered and less diggable
And the ‘ol standby: a motion-sensor water sprinkler, because cats dislike water sprays!
Scatter around fresh orange and lemon peels or spray with citrus-scented fragrances. Cats are deterred by coffee grounds, pipe tobacco, oil of lavender, lemongrass, citronella, or eucalyptus
Use plastic carpet runners spike-side up, covered lightly in soil. They can be found at local hardware or office supply stores. Or, set chicken wire firmly into the dirt with sharp edges rolled under

Of course, having a dog (or dogs) patrolling the yard is another way to try and keep out unwanted cats, groundhogs and other critters. Personally, I never gave much thought to methods of keeping cats out of our garden -- groundhogs, but not cats.

During a recent chilly winter, we found ourselves observing the life of a struggling, little, black feral cat and his friends that just arrived in our garden.


Click here: part 1 Tango Arrives

Click here: part 2 Tango's Garden Adventure

Tango, the Fox and the Future

Becky and Bill woke up concerned for Tango. After hearing the fox cry out during the night, they were both so worried.

"Bill, do you think the fox killed Tango or his friends?"

"I don't know...I hope not," he replied hesitantly, trying to sound positive.

The day seemed long as the kids searched everywhere for Tango, but there was no sign of him. Outside the air was still, as a sharp-shinned hawk soared above the garden, almost as if it were helping them locate Tango.

Tango's Gone

The weekends were family time for harvesting tomatoes, Italian squash, greens and peppers from the late-summer garden. "Here, kitty; here, Tango," called Becky across the garden towards the hiding spots where she had always found Tango before. She picked a few more ripe peppers for her basket as disappointment and sadness filled her heart. Maybe this time he was gone forever.

As she glanced towards the flopping tomatillos in the back of the garden, a little grey body appeared. Only this time it was Zina, not Tango. The alley cat calmly sat there, her face raised to soak up the warm sunshine, exactly as Tango had always done. The little cat looked at Becky and slowly winked her eyes, as if to say, hello.

"Hi, Zina," Becky said to her little feral friend. "Have you seen Tango?" She knew full well that Zina couldn't talk back, but wished she could. Becky squatted down closer to the ground but just as she did, Zina scooted off under the nearby holly bush bordering the garden.

Back inside, the house the routine remained the same, even though they hadn't seen Tango. As usual, the catfood went out at dinner time and, as always, it was gone by the next morning. At least Zina and Cali were getting fed.

"I really miss Tango," said Becky's mom, as they sat around the kitchen table.

"I hope he is still alive," commented Bill.

"Me too," added Becky.

The summer was coming to an end, and fall was fast approaching. It was time to focus on school. Becky and Bill would not have much opportunity now to keep looking for Tango.

"If only that red fox didn't live around here too," Becky said. "I hope Tango is okay."

'Zina by the Tomatoes' artwork by Carol MooreZina's in Charge Now

Tango's friends, Zina and Cali, sat beneath the Holly bushes, as the mid-autumn night descended around them. With Tango now gone, Zina was in charge of finding them food. Fortunately, the kind people in the house kept the bowls in the garage replenished.

Then came that all-to-familiar sound. Zina and Cali lowered their heads in recognition of the approaching danger. Zina's eyes widened as she saw the red fox making his way into their den.

The fox lunged towards them... rustling could be heard, and a scuffle ensued, as Zina and Cali ran for their lives! Zina darted up a tree, and Cali sprained her leg in the rushed attempt to duck under the wooden steps that led into the kitchen of the house. Cali hardly breathed as she sat frozen in the mud, hoping the fox would not see or smell her.

And then the danger was gone again. The fox had decided to try his luck elsewhere. Zina and Cali reunited.

***

Thanksgiving Day arrived and everyone was getting ready to go to Aunt Mary's house for dinner.

The weather was getting colder too. This would be Zina and Cali's first winter-- a true test of their survival skills without Tango and their brother, Tiger. And to make matters even worse, they were getting old enough to have kittens. More kittens would mean that more food was needed; the people in the house might not want to feed so many cats. Even if the kittens got "rescued", the shelters are always so overcrowded with unwanted kittens, they most likely would get put to sleep.

"Dad, look!" exclaimed Becky, as she pointed out the glass sliding door of the kitchen. "Cali is hurt!"

"Oh, my ...Mom, Dad! Help! Cali is hurt!"

Cali and Zina were making their way to the garage, hoping to find the food that was usually there; Cali, however, was struggling along, using three paws. Her right front leg and paw hung down, unable to bear any weight.

Without thinking about it, Becky barreled out the back door after the cats, who by now had entered the garage. Running up behind them, she slammed the door shut.

"Got you! Now you're trapped," she told them, and then ran back to the house.

"I trapped Zina and Cali in the garage, Mom, ...Mom!"

"We can't worry about them now," her mom said. "We have to leave for Aunt Mary's or we'll be late. They will be okay; there is food, water and a litterbox in there."

That night Becky and Bill took out more food and fresh water for the cats, carefully entering through the side door to prevent them from bolting out. The only sign of the cats was the used litterbox and the empty food bowls. Cali and Zina were quiet as mice, both safely hidden beneath the lawn mower and other stuff piled in the corner of the garage, as they listened to the childrens' voices.

"Hi, kitties, I know you're in here," Becky said in a sweet, gentle tone. "I'll be back to see you tomorrow."

***

This development really forced the issue of trapping the cats. They had talked about it for months but hadn't acted on it. Now the family had to make a decision. What would they do?

"Has anyone seen our HavaHart trap?" Becky's Dad asked during breakfast the next morning.

"I've never even seen it before Dad," replied Becky.

"Here it is. I found it," he said. "But we will need a second trap too."

The next day, after stopping to buy some mums, they stopped at the local hardware store and rented another trap. As they had been instructed by the video from the Humane Society, they covered the bottom of the traps with newspaper, put a bowl of food in the far end of each trap, draped a large towel over each top to make it seem like a safe place to enter, and put the traps in the garage. Since the cats had no other place to go for food, it was just a matter of time before they would be captured.

The next morning was cloudy and overcast, the last few blooms of the hardy pink hibiscus and tall garden phlox brightened up the backyard behind a border of white and pink impatiens that stood out among the golden brown falling leaves.

"I can't wait to see if we got them, Dad. Can we go see now?" Becky anxiously asked.

"OK, let's go," he said.

"I want to see too, please!" begged Bill

Their mom said, "Me too."

Out they all went to see if they had succeeded in trapping the garden girls. As they pulled open the side garage door and looked, they saw that both trap doors were shut. "We got them!" they whispered in unison.

"Oh! It worked, I see Zina in the cage," said Becky to her father. "And I see Cali in the other one."

Pleased with how easy it had been to trap the cats, Becky and Bill accompanied their dad as he drove their feral friends to the animal hospital to get spayed and inoculated for parasites, rabies and distemper. Their mom stayed home to set up a cage in the sunroom, which was ready for them when they got home.

"We also recommend getting the tips of their left ears clipped," advised the lady at the Vet's desk to Becky's dad, adding, "Ear tipping helps Animal Control tell if a cat is being cared for or not, and they won't trap it."

"OK, we'll have them both ear tipped too," he said with a bit of hesitation.

"Dad!" blurted out Becky

Her dad gave her an understanding stare as he widened his eyes. She didn't say another word. Then he leaned over and whispered, "Don't worry, they know what is best; it will be okay."

After a long day at the vet, little Cali and Zina arrived in their new home, safe indoors inside the sunroom of the house.

"They look so scared, Mom," said Becky, as she peered at Cali and Zina curled up together, lying in the small litter box that was inside the cage, unsure of where else to go. Their struggle for survival was put on hold as they enjoyed the food, warmth and shelter of this loving home.

Becky wondered what ever happened to Tango, and if he would be happy to see they had at least rescued his friends.

What About Tango?

Tango crawled out of the perpetually wet, leaf-lined hole where he spent his nights in the never-ending struggle to remain dry and warm. Christmas morning for him was just another cold, wet day filled with the solitary search for food. Life had been a little more bearable when the others were around, but after the dog had chased him across the street, nearly getting him killed by an oncoming car, Tango was afraid to return.

The weather had gotten increasingly worse these past several weeks, and Tango did not want to spend another winter like the last one. Maybe, the others were still around. Maybe he could still get a meal inside that garage across the street - maybe even stay in there undiscovered long enough to get dry. Maybe the dog was still there, too. Maybe.....but he had to take a chance.

Tango crossed the street and set out for the garden area in the back of the house.

Christmas Day for the family was always a warm celebration, and this year they felt especially pleased that their newest guests were protected from the cold and damp weather outside. Cali and Zina were now out of the cage and loose in the sunroom. In a few weeks they would be ready to meet the other cats in the house.... and that fearsome dog, Holly.

Becky noticed one of their regular house cats looking out the window at something, "Oh, wow... Tango's here!" Becky beamed as she shouted, "My Tango's alive!"

Bill ran to the window to catch a glimpse of their little missing friend. "What a great Christmas present this would be!" he exclaimed, still in disbelief that Tango was there.

Bill and Becky's parents knew they had to work fast in setting up a trap to catch Tango and take him to the vet, the same way they did for the others. Fortunately, they had continued to leave the side door of the garage ajar, even though each passing day further dimmed any chance of Tango's return.

***

Tango slinked through the partially open garage door, hoping for some luck. As he gazed around, his eyes brightened at the familiar sight of a food-filled bowl, just where it had always been. Eagerly he scurried over and began to eat. When he heard footsteps outside, his first instinct was to run out of the garage before it was too late; but the footsteps sounded too close. He decided to hide instead. Just as he got behind the boxes piled up in the corner, he heard the garage door slam...and then nothing. He was trapped inside the garage.

After Bill had slammed the door behind the Tango, Becky watched as her dad placed a can of tuna cat food inside the trap. After carefully setting the trap, they draped a towel over the top and removed the original bowl of food that had given Tango such high hopes. Then they all went inside to eat dinner before going to bed.

Tango didn't know it yet, but he gotten much luckier than he had anticipated.

The cage door slammed. Tango was easily trapped inside, too preoccupied with the available food to notice that he had tripped the lever to close the door.

***

Tango was scared, his eyes wide with concern as he faced his captors from inside the wire grate of the trap. The vet confirmed that Tango was a male cat. He got neutered, ear tipped, vaccinated and taken home. Now he was in the cage his feral friends were once in. 'Tango Group' by artist Carol Moore

As the days went by, the whole family began to love little Zina, Cali and Tango even more. The sunroom worked out great. All ferals had the run of the small room. The doors were glass, allowing everyone to enjoy watching them, and the cats could see what was going on too.

The dog, Holly, was curious, as always, and constantly went sniffing around the door. The other house cats seemed uninterested and didn't go near the door for several weeks. Snoops began lying at the foot of the doors playing footsie with Zina's paws through the crack on the bottom

"Mom, can we keep them?" Becky asked.

"Well, we wouldn't want them to get hurt or killed outside... We'll see."


Tango Artwork Copyright ©2009 Carol Moore. All rights reserved. Tango, the Garden CatTM is a trademark of Feral Gardens.

Special Thanks to artist Carol Moore for contributing her time and talent in creating the artwork for this garden story.

Carol provides care to her many grateful barn cats. She is a professional artist from Oregon with a passion for the outdoors, animals and art and creates art for custom commissions and her online galleries. She uses color pencil, water color pencil and/or acrylic-gouache on Stonehenge, Bristol, Canson MiTientes or Arches Watercolor paper. The Original Small Works of Art (OSWOA) of 'Tango Group', and 'Zina by the Tomatoes' were created with color pencil on Stonehenge (acid free paper).

About the Artist: Click here to visit Carol Moore's gallery

Further reading: Gardening for Cats: Lessons I learned from my Four Frisky Felines by Glynis Ward

Related Links:

Keeping Cats Out of Gardens and Yards

Keeping Cats Out of the Garden by Cait Johnson

Effectively Managing Feral Cats CD/DVD byThe Humane Society of the U.S.


  About Diana Wind  
Diana WindDiana is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a passion for gardening and sustainable foods. She is a graduate of the Academy of Culinary Arts and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Food from the garden fuels her enthusiasm for eating right and nutritional science. She especially loves gardening as part of a healthy lifestyle. Gardening engages us with nature, gives us health benefits from exercise, and rewards us with fresh, nutritious foods. To assess your food and garden activity level, visit choosemyplate.gov or her blog. You can also follow Diana on Google.

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» Read articles about: Gardening And Our Pets, Garden Fiction, Feral Cats

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Awsome family jb_green 1 4 Jan 3, 2010 8:57 PM
Great story to introduce TNR - loved it! Ishtar64 5 32 Jan 1, 2010 12:14 AM
aaaaaaawwwwww onewish1 4 37 Dec 30, 2009 4:30 PM
Feral Cats in our territory ljunkin 1 8 Dec 30, 2009 4:04 PM
feral cats dordee 1 10 Dec 30, 2009 3:39 PM
Our feral cat... shesh62 3 33 Dec 30, 2009 3:26 PM
Yes introduce TNR to kids alinehuey 3 18 Dec 30, 2009 12:56 AM
progressing one feral cat at a time gloriag 2 46 Dec 29, 2009 10:16 AM
Very touching story :-) JayneW 1 17 Dec 29, 2009 2:27 AM
Thanks once again, Diana... DonM47 1 10 Dec 29, 2009 2:00 AM
Sweet Aunt_A 2 29 Dec 24, 2009 12:11 AM
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