50 Plus 1 To Grow On: Pandemic Birthdays, Milestones, and Community Cats

I turned 50 years old on October 22, 2020. Our big plan to celebrate with a weekend spa trip – something I would ordinarily never do – were postponed. And I was bummed, but resigned.

I had hoped to ‘make it up’ this year before 50 slipped further away from me, but that’s not going to happen. It still isn’t safe, my close friends are all out of town that weekend, I’m struggling with my health, and I’m still waiting for our families to acknowledge our wedding earlier this year.

50 is a big deal, especially for survivors of childhood trauma for whom any ‘milestone’ birthday has significance. I am lucky to have made it to 50 without the additional trauma of excessive self-harm coping mechanisms. I’m fortunate that my life is literally better than at any previous point. I have a good life, with meaningful work and projects, a nice home, lovely friends, and my wonderful wife.

Trauma means 50 could be “the” milestone for me in spite of all of these wonderful pieces of the life I’ve built.

A difficult childhood reduces life expectancy by 20 years among adults who experienced six or more particular types of abuse or household dysfunction as kids, while those who suffered fewer types of trauma lost fewer years of life, a large-scale epidemiological study finds.

Those dysfunctions are known as ACES or Adverse Childhood Experiences and I’ve experienced all six. I didn’t even realize that until I was 40 years old.

And that’s scary. But I’ll unpack that in another post.

Sue Kerr
I am disappearing

I have a good life, but I am struggling a lot. My health has been ridiculous and the next invasive test is this week which means we weren’t able to follow through on our plans to go to Elk County and stay at a familiar B&B for my actual birthday. It was a small, safe plan. But the test may or may not wipe me out of energy. It may or may not provide information that is devastating. And I’m still struggling not to lose weight – I’m almost down 35 lbs this summer making all exertions almost overwhelming. My clothes don’t fit, my body is not working properly, my symptoms are interfering with my psychiatric medications. I trip every time I walk more than a few steps. I’m pretty sure I’ve fainted here and there.

That’s a lot to constantly assess when making any plan. Some days I’m so weak, I can’t drive to the T to pick up Laura after work. Others pin me down to my bed after I’m awake – I can’t literally get up even though I want to and I’m trying. I’m confused, forgetful, and experiencing other signs of malnutrition.

See, when I was a good sport about missing my 50th birthday milestone, I assumed I could celebrate this year when I turn 51. Any longer and it wouldn’t have the same oomph, the same look in the eyes of my friends who talk about big birthdays. And while in our current reality that is not a huge sacrifice, especially given the state of the world, I am still reeling from this loss. It is personal and deep. So much has been stripped from me, including my actual physical self, that I just feel unable to rebound from this profound sadness.

Birthday Pary Pandemic
My friend Amy’s birthday party circa 1975. I still remember that cute little dress I wore. Winnie the Pooh was embroided on the bottom.

So I’m trying to make the best of it by doing what I do, organizing a response to help others, in this case cats.

If nothing else, I so very much want to wake up on October 22 and go to feed my cats and find a big bunch of bales of straw awaiting me, probably with cats stretched a top of them. That’s the dream. Straw to keep my cats safe, warm, and comfortable. 

You may recall that in December 2020, I inherited a cat colony (The Faulsey Ferals) near my home. We got to work providing winter shelters that we purchased from cat org who sold them as fundraisers. We figured out most were living in a nearby abandoned house know in the neighborhood as Miss Mary Jane’s house. They were eating underneath an abandoned pickup truck parked on a lot owned by the URA and next door to my friend Ed’s garage.


A difficult childhood reduces life expectancy by 20 years among adults who experienced six or more particular types of abuse or household dysfunction as kids.


We got supplies and set up a routine and then began to trap so we could TNVR the cats. Along the way, we ‘found’ four missing/runaway cats and reunited them with their humans. We met new-to-us neighbors. Between January and June, we TNVRd nearly 20 cats. And you were significant in making that happen by donating supplies and monies to pay for the procedures. I can’t count the number of times I opened the front door or the back gate to trip over a bag of cat food or a delivery box of supplies. I’ve driven all over the region distributing your generous, well Laura has done most of that driving.

The first cat I trapped was Captain Kirk, a then-six-month-old ginger tabby. He now meows at me when I show up with his supper.

Things took a turn in July. The City had to demolish Miss Mary Jane’s house for safety reasons so I worked for many hours to find a way to keep the cats safe – and we did that. Someone began allegedly poisoning groundhogs and leaving them in our yard. We were fearful for our two sweet yard feral kitties who mostly stick around but take an occasional jaunt up the block. We learned that some unknown person was bidding on the URA lot and had to push back because it isn’t a fair process. (Sell the lot to Ed!)

This is where some of the cats lived for 20+ years. Until this July.

This past month, someone towed away the truck we used as a feeding station. Prior to that it had been ransacked a bit – someone stole our straw, someone tossed our stuff around. When whomever towed the truck, they didn’t even move our dishes and broke some. We had to bust open the remaining winter shelters that we had planned to reuse to create a temporary feeding station. Thankfully, my friend Ed is allowing us to use his property.

Feral Cats
This truck was parked and used to feed the cats (underneath) until last month. This view is from my car while I was trapping in February 2020.

So for my 50 plus 1 birthday, I am asking you to pick one of these ways to help rebuild better a feeding station so we can get through the winter safely and inch closer to a long-term solution I think you’ll really like (hint – Gisele Fetterman likes it a lot.)

NOTE: As an adult with a lifetime of chronic trauma, this is a HUGE risk for me. Not asking for donations, but tying them to my birthday celebration. So I’m trying to do scary things and be okay whatever the outcome. 

  1. Purchase 4 Feralvilla feeding stations. We have on in our yard and it is really sturdy and easy to maintain. They will look much nicer than modified plastic bins which will keep the neighbors happy.
  2. Donate 10-15 bales of straw. You can pick that up at Lowes, local hardware stores, feed stores, even farmer’s markets. We are going to create a wall of sorts between the street side empty lot and Ed’s garage to serve as windbreak, offer some privacy, and even bedding for cats passing by who don’t know the lay of the land. We also use the straw the stuff the winter shelters, keep bugs and mud under control, etc.
  3. If you have premade winter shelters you can contribute or you know where you get them for a donation, we need a total of 12. I personally like the styrfoam covered by black plastic bags and duct tape. But anything in great condition is welcome. I do not have the physical energy to make shelters so no parts or pieces please as that just creates more work for me to find them a new home.
  4. Shelters are on our wishlist as well. They will be assembled and secured at the colony.
  5. Rugged plastic bins that we can use as feeding stations and shelters until we get more permanent solutions. We flip them on their wide side and use the lid as an awning secured by bricks.
  6. The bowls that were destroyed need to be replaced. I like sturdy big bowls for water and dry food (I put bricks in them to keep them secure) and we have some on our wishlist as well. Stainless steel is good but not so much in the winter.

    Feral Cats
    This is what we are working with right now.
  7. Cleanliness – keeping the bowls and station clean is important for the cats hygiene and the community. I like unscented baby wipes and alcohol wipes to clean at the colony, then I bring the dishes home every so often to go through the dishwasher. Again, on our wishlist.  They remained a lot cleaner under the truck so I imagine this will be a pretty extensive cost increase.
  8. Trail cameras – trail cameras saved the lives of the four missing/runaway kitties. My wife is the one who spotted them as we reviewed the footage each night. I can ask Ed to mount a camera on the roof so I can observe the cats and any human colony marauders. I can mount a camera at the semi-abandoned house they occupy for now. I can observe the overgrown lawn that was cut down to the ground last month destroying their hiding spaces.
  9. Batteries – oh, my we goTo convert into feeders, we take off the lid, flip this on its side and use the lid as a rain shelter awning. They can also be used to make winter shelters. through a lot of AA and AAA batteries with the cameras, flashlights, etc. 51 batteries would not last 3 months.
  10. SD cards – I change them daily, they get dirty from the site, they fall into the ground, the get bent, etc.
  11. Decorations – If I’m going to have a bill wall of straw, why not have some fun and make passersby smile? Actually, we had planned this for the dearly departed truck. We are going through out attic to see what we can rustle up. So if you have any extra fall/Halloween/autumn type decor, it would make me smile if you dropped it off. I’d love a handmade scarecrow to look like a cat!
  12. and while you are at it, winter holiday decorations are welcome, too. this can become a thing. Hopefully by Valentine’s Day, I’ll be healthier.
  13. Also, mums. I love mums.
  14. Food. We always need food. We always share food. We appreciate food. I personally take 50+ pounds of dry food to the the colony each week and use another 30 pounds at my home colony. Plus, 42+ cans of wet now that winter is approaching.
  15. Blankets – I specifically need 4 solid dark colored blankets preferably cotton so I can drag them home to launder them once in awhile. Two airline carrier type crates were donated that I can use as shelters during not so bitter weather but I need to cover them so I need queen size blankets. Dark will keep them inconspicuous.
  16. Bait – we have at least three new faces without tipped ears so we need to TNVR them soon. That requires delicious bait. Sardines, tuna, salmon in a can, please.
  17. White vinegar – we love this as a cat safe disinfecting tool. We use it between big washings, we use it as fabric softener on their stuff, etc. They certainly don’t love the taste/smell, but it doesn’t hurt them.
  18. Mulch – beyond straw, it would be nice to mulch the space. I have no energy to haul mulch. So this would be a two-parter.
  19. Spreading mulch.
  20. Help trap cats. I am anxious about sitting out there alone. Sit with me.
  21. Paper towels. We use many.
  22. A deck/porch box. We have one where I store donated cat food to give to feeders. I’d love to have one to store my own colony stuff. Used is fine, but I cannot clean or haul right now.
  23. Pumpkins and gourds for decoration that can then be mulched on the property to create edibles for the groundhogs next year. See how you solve that? It is called a distraction crop. It works – we do this in our backyard.
  24. Cat treats. Every living thing deserves a treat.
  25. Join our Facebook group, Pittsburgh Cat Folx and Friends
  26. Oh, new litter pans. I can no longer accept used pans because my health makes it too difficult to haul out the hose to clean them. When you have kittens with GI issues and emissions, changing litter pans is a frequent occurence.
  27. Litter?  We use 40 lb bags of Somerset Wood Pellets because it is healthier and much less expensive. But heavy. We time our purchases for when our lawn guy comes so he can carry them in and up/down the stairs.
  28. Did I say mums?
  29. Did I suggest donating for a Steel City Snowflake with a message?
  30. Adopt a kitten or cat!

If you’d like to chip in cash rather than stuff, that’s clearly fine as well.

Facebook Fundraiser

Venmo @Pghlesbian

CashApp $Pghlesbian

Paypal.me/Pghlesbian

Bales of straw, mulch, etc can be dropped directly near the colony in the very back end of 1416 Page St 15233, an empty lot. I cannot physically lift a bale with the current state of my health. Sigh.

If nothing else, I so very much want to wake up on October 22 and go to feed my cats and find a big bunch of bales of straw awaiting me, probably with cats stretched a top of them. That’s the dream. Straw to keep my cats safe, warm, and comfortable.

**********************************************

This blog proudly built by snowflakes, social justice warriors, and the politically correct. Steel_City_Snowflakes

Join the Steel City Snowflakes with a one time or recurring investment in our projects.  Click the image  to see our current snowflakes.

Follow us on Twitter @Pghlesbian24

This post and/or others may contain affiliate links. Your purchase through these links support our work. You are under no obligation to make a purchase.