There are daily and predictable shift changes on our front porch. Feral, vagabond kitties—also known as community cats—make their appearances and exits based on when they think other cats might be absent from the same communal feeding station and watering hole.

Early morning is the diciest time for run-ins. Michael refills the dish with fresh dry food, and replenishes the water. We’ve learned to shut off the all-day buffet by bedtime. Otherwise, raccoon and possums will make a mess that’ll require the garden hose. While scooping the food into the bowl, he can sometimes see little heads popping out of the bushes, or from around the car. Usually they’ll avoid meeting on the porch at the same time.

May pet

Our community cat regulars include Ginger, a friendly tom who was obviously cared for by someone in his young life. He’s been neutered, and in his twice-daily visits he seems as much interested in belly rubs and affection as in his hasty meals. Often, he positions himself on the doormat so that he can see us when we look out onto the porch. We never know how long he might have been waiting to catch a glimpse of us, but when he does he immediately begins to meow plaintively. Unlike the others—who are skittish, and tend to run off the porch when we open the door—Ginger can’t wait till one of us comes out to see him. When we do, he purrs, meows, and weaves in and out and around our legs, arching his back for caresses, and turning his little head up for rubs.

It’s heartbreaking to see his neediness. His face implores us to open the door and let him come inside. In these recent days—with the uncertainty that affects every aspect of our lives—it’s just not possible. Not to mention that Mojo the dog is not cat friendly except to Bernie, with whom he’s built a cautious, but amiable alliance.

Another reliable visitor is a Siamese mix we call Pretty Boy. This male cat has a brother with similar distinctive markings, but for whatever reason our cove is not part of his territory. We often see him at the end of the street, and we assume he belongs to one of the other colonies that inhabit the underground sewer system. Pretty Boy is less friendly, but still grateful to find a predictable nutrition source. He scoots from the porch if we open the door, but these days he doesn’t go far. He knows we’re his food providers, so he waits patiently in the bushes until we’re safely out of sight. As he eats, he pivots his head side to side, alert to possible interlopers.

Then there is Merle, a grayish cat who flees the moment he hears the sound of the door being opened. Merle is probably the most feral feline who currently comes by, and he also has a hard time eating in peace. Every moment or two he stops, looks carefully over each shoulder, then resumes gulping the dry food as quickly as possible, as if expecting an enemy to arrive any moment. We’ve witnessed uncomfortable encounters in the past with warring felines who arrived at the porch simultaneously.

We’ve had to break up some yowling, operatic brawls between cats that didn’t coordinate their dinner hour. In a few instances we tried to set out feeding stations on both sides of the door for two customers, but the unruly guests wanted to claim the entire restaurant, not just their reserved table.

At the moment, these are the only community cats we’re feeding with regularity. That is, the only ones we are aware of. Community cats are feral, or semi-feral felines that live in an area where several neighbors offer food, water and safe harbor. Often there is one or more who will assist with veterinary needs. These are cats who do not “belong” to anyone but are cared for by almost everyone. Sadly, we sometimes encounter community cats who were abandoned by their family—as we suspect Ginger was. These cats are easy to spot, as they often seem lost and confused by their new state of homelessness.

If you have community cats in your neighborhood, set out a dish for them. They won’t trouble you. If anything, they may bring a smile to your face. And better yet, you’ll provide another layer to their security.

Contact Deborah at deborah.camp@comcast.net

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