Here’s a little update on the state of our colony, dubbed #FortFaulsey.
Fort Faulsey dates back far before human beings built houses on Faulsey Way and nearby streets. Our little section of Manchester on Pittsburgh’s Northside is close enough to the river and secluded enough by the giant brick sound barrier wall to be a hot spot for urban wildlife and homeless domestic animals. The area was colonized in the mid to late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Some houses were a little fancy, but many were simple rowhouses occupied by families that had to do a lot of things including grow some of their own food, maybe keep a cow or goat, and deal with vermin. Enter cats. Cats were often a combo pet/working animal. They had a job to do, but they sure could be sweet and fun.
As the neighborhoods fell into delict status thanks to white flight and more colonization, the housing wasn’t well maintained. Renting to people with few options seemed like a step on the ladder to success. Sigh. Cats as vermin hunters were even more necessary when the white landlords didn’t keep their end of the bargain.
But my colony was tied to a particular house – 1418 Page St. It was demolished in 2021. The house was built in 1900 and purchased by a white family. Eventually, they turned it into rental property, I think when the parents died and the daughter was living in a suburb with her husband.
The seems to be when the Bush family began renting the property. Elmer and Mary Jane. Elmer died in 1970 and Mary Jane lived there with occasional stays from her family until her death in 2000.
The cats never left. Her family tells me that she had a spiritualism belief in animals, what we might consider a kinship or special connection. When she died, her body wasn’t discovered for a bit and the cats kept vigil. Or so I like to think.
After she passed, the house just lingered there for 21 years, still filled with her belongings and some of the original design elements like mantels. And the cats, possum, groundhogs, and more. Generations of cats gave birth to litters of kittens who grew up there. People dumped cats nearby. People dumped a lot of things nearby so the cats were busy.
Neighbors report that kittens were regularly born in their yards. They report awful outcomes that I can’t bear to write. One neighbor would split open a 22 lb bag of cat food and leave it on the porch. He was trying to help. We found dozens of empty bags in the house, proof that people tried.
This is how we entered the picture
We live about five houses away on the back alley. After our dogs died, we noticed what we considered stray cats coming to our yard. We love cats so we started feeding them on our deck. We put out fresh water each day. This was circa 2018.
The first cats who regularly came to our yard we dubbed Mamma Mia and Maylee. Mamma Mia had kittens she brought with her and Pops came along, too. Maylee seemed to be maybe a kitten from another litter or something. Neighbors caught the kittens and took them to Animal Friends. We continued to feed the adults and asked Homeless Cat Management Team for advice. A volunteer, Lisa, came out and taught us how to use a trap. She made appointments for us with Animal Friends spay and neuter clinic.
We trapped Mamma Mia one night. She was a pretty little long haired tabby turned out to be two years old. Maylee spent all night looking for her and walked into the trap in the AM as I was getting ready to transport. So they both went, both were spayed and vaccinated. Mamma Mia was still lactating so we had to let her go. Maylee went to live in our second bedroom. Like suckers, we couldn’t let her go.
We tried to retrap Mamma Mia and miraculously we were successful in July. I suspect losing her entire family had an impact. She joined Maylee in our second bedroom. They are still here. They lived in that house.
Then Oksana and Mx Pajamas showed up in 2018. They were ear tipped so no need to TNVR. We fed them, put out shelters, eventually heated beds, a proper feeding station, even elevated cat beds so they could lounge off the ground. Oksana is super friendly, but bonded with Mx Pajamas who is not.
Then came Jennie Jane, named after my great-grandmother. She was a wee little torbie (tabby + tortoiseshell) who was terrified. She showed up in the winter of 2018 and kept coming back. She ran toward Miss Mary Jane’s house. Then she stopped coming around until surprise! She showed up with her five kittens. We trapped all five kittens and got them into a foster group (and into our bathroom.) We tried for weeks to trap Jennie Jane but she was wiley. She could pull the bait out to eat and not trigger the trap.
Eventually we realized she was pregnant again – less than two months after her other litter was weaned. A rescuer with a drop trap finally got her. She was spayed and vaccinated. The rescuer kept her for two weeks, but she showed no signs of social tendencies. So we set her free and she took back off for the house. At least, she was freed from the instinct to reproduce or care for other cats. She could take care of herself. That was August 2019. We didn’t see her again for years or so we thought.
We bumbled along with Oksana and Mx Pajamas living in the backyard. We continued to foster. Then a year later in December 2020, we received an urgent call from a neighbor that someone was moving and the kittens they were feeding had no one. Those kittens lived in the lot next to the house so we were sure they lived in the house. Every day, we visited the yard to feed the kittens. All were eventually trapped. We set up trail cams to monitor the situation and realized a lot of cats were living in the house.
We trapped and trapped. Fast forward to now, all of the cats at the colony are TNVRd.
And we found Jennie Jane! She looks pretty okay. She was there all along, but we had to wait for a trail cam image to see her distinctive coloring.
We also realized this house was sort of a portal for lost cats. We found six. There were other feeding stations between the cats last seen location and our colony so it wasn’t making sense. I am pretty sure there’s a portal there, perhaps one Miss Mary Jane opened, and the cats land in an established colony where they will be noticed.
In fact, one of the most recent found missing cats belongs to Miss Mary Jane’s great-niece. He’s safely home. He took a little sojourn?
In July 2019, the City tore down Miss Mary Jane’s home after a portion of the roof collapsed. Our trail camera caught the exact moments the house collapsed and it breaks my heart for many reasons.
After Miss Mary Jane’s house was demolished and someone (we are pretty sure it was jerky neighbor) had the feeding station truck towed away, then what? We tore apart the houses (it was summer) and created temporary feeding stations. The next door neighbor is a friend of mine and he gave us permission to set up on the back portion of his property. Eventually, we found better shelters and feeding stations. And most of the cats came back.
We know that one was hit by a car. Otherwise, they seem to live in another abandoned house and use the shelters we provide. There are three main residents and a handful of visitors who do not come out when we are around. Several migrate between the colony feeding station and our backyard.
The good news is that this colony is stable. Everyone is spayed or neutered. So we have not had kittens born for two complete years. There are at least six feeding stations in a one block wide area and they report no kittens either. Some of the cats roam between the stations.
Our colony demonstrates that TNVR with community caretaking works. Jennie Jane is at least 6 or 7 years old. Being spayed at young age made her life easier. Being vaccinated helped, too. I can show the photos to illustrate how clean water and regular food plus warm shelters have made it possible. And I can show you photos of Jennie Jane playing with the toys at the colony.
I can tell instantly when a new cat shows up because of the reaction of the regular occupants. If it is ear tipped, I ask around and usually identify the primary base for that cat. And they work it out. I simply spread out the feeding bins a bit more widely. If the cat is not ear tipped, I trap, scan for a chip, get spayed/neutered and figure it out from there.
So we have an area of about four square City blocks that is TNVRd and maintained. Keeping the neuter/spayed cats well fed with clean water and shelter from the cold is a win. The cats continue to hunt vermin, but aren’t as excited about birds because they aren’t fundamentally hungry. They aren’t desperately driven by instinct to mate or fight. They don’t ransack trash.
I put out toys to keep my cats busy. They spend a lot of time just sunning themselves and resting, a luxury for community cats. They don’t often leave the location. Why would they – their needs are met?
Now there are some negatives. Cat food can attract raccoons and groundhogs, but those animals are there anyway. Keep the food supply in control for the cats helps. Securing trash cans helps. Remembering these are urban animals helps. We are planning to plant distraction crops for the groundhogs this year. I literally watch them on the trail cam – they come, poke around, and leave in a matter of minutes. It is just a stop on their nightly routine. The groundhogs sit on the cat beds and sun themselves.
Killing wildlifeis cruel and pointless. Others will move in. Same with community cats. Take care of the ones you have and you’ll know what you are dealing with.
And remembering that ALL of these animals lives for 20+ years in an abandoned house where a woman died alone can help our perspective. Most of them trace their lineage here in Manchester further back than us. The cats and wildlife showed her more respect and decency than her neighbors. They had a bond with her.
Miss Mary Jane is one reason I began using the term ‘cat folx’ rather than ‘cat lady’ – I wanted a more gender inclusive term, but it is important to me that it be ethnically and racially inclusive as well. White women have no exclusive claims to liking and caring for cats.
Cats get stuck on roofs, but usually putting up a ladder encourages them to come down. They cross streets – cars are the worst predators. Loose roaming dogs are a problem, but mostly they just eat the food and leave – the cats know to hide. And the cat do sometimes take up occupancy on neighbors property especially those who have blacktopped or paved their backyards. My neighbors in that situation give treats to the cats.
The other issue is pottying. The best solution I know of is to make the potty yard part of their territory – put a feeding station with clean water and some catnip, maybe toys. Put shelters there. They will then soil somewhere else.
So we think Mamma Mia beget Jennie Jane who beget the kitten caboodle that went into foster care. Mamma Mia probably beget Maylee. None of these eight cats begetter every again.
We think Jennie Jane beget Pretty Girl and Callie. None of these cat are begetting.
Except for the deceased Captain Kirk, all of our male cats are almost solid black, some have a little white. Oksana is gray and white, but he’s the exception. This creates a lot of confusion trying to track them. But across our four block area, we have a lot of black cats and tuxedos. And tabbies.
If you are not a cat lover and live in Manchester, you are sort of stuck. Finding a way to live in harmony with homeless domestic animals and urban wildlife can happen. You don’t have to love it, but you can accept it and not spend your energies on hopeless cycles of trying to conquer Mother Nature.
You can find lots of tips from a Manchester neighbor about pest proofing your garden and trash cans via this post. If you ask me, I’ll connect you to the neighbor and she will help if she can.
So what’s next?
Right now, we need help purchasing six feeding stations from a company called Feralvilla. The stations are well designed to be weather proof, easy to clean and sanitize, and keep the cat covered while it eats. They have a subtle design so they blend into the shrubbery and fence.
A large feeding station is $85 plus $40 shipping.
A small feeding station is $40 plus $30 shipping.
3 large stations with shipping is $375
3 small stations with shipping is $210
So we need to raise about $600.
If you are willing to chip in, you can do so via
- Venmo @PittsburghLGBTQ
- Paypal bit.ly/PayPalPLC (no fees)
- Facebook.com/PittsburghLGBTQ click Donate Button
- Checks can be made payable to “Pittsburgh LGBTQ Charities” and mailed to 1439 W. North Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15233
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