My Days with Hemingway

By Mary Beth Barber

Last month I returned my neighbor’s cat without a few of its parts. Before you think I’ve turned into some kind of feline Dorthea Puente of Carmichael, let me explain …

The front yard of my nice suburban Carmichael home has become overrun with cats – feral cats, kittens, you name it.  For years my live-in boyfriend and I have been stumped about the cat issue, especially considering we have two energetic dogs that chase the cats any time they get (usually when I’m at the other end of a leash prepping for a walk) and bark loudly at their kitty antics.  So why would this gaggle of felines risk imminent death-by-Golden-Retriever?

Because of the crazy, food-dumping, apartment cat lady, of course.

Unbeknown to either of us, cat food is frequently dumped onto our property in the bushes between us and the apartment complex next door.  BAGS of cat food.  BUSHELS of cat food.  Our front yard was the “IN” place for local cats to come and get a quick bite to eat, with so much food there that even with all the cats noshing, there was still leftovers for the visiting skunks.  And what really irks me is Crazy Cat Lady doesn’t even LIVE in the apartments next door, only a frequent visitor who we’ve watched waiting until we’re out of the front yard to empty her bag of Friskies. (If the boyfriend ever catches her in the act … well, stay tuned for an update story. Hopefully not from the local sheriff’s office.)

I am an animal lover. I don’t necessarily mind feral cats (meaning cats that have never had human contact and can’t be touched without putting up a fight) – until they breed.  It’s terribly unfair to the offspring.  The fate of a feral kitten is a bleak one, as most ferals don’t live beyond a few years, are ravaged by fleas, worms, and other parasites, easily catch all the diseases we’ve learned to vaccinate our animals against, and live a lonely existence seeking out their next meal. So when two little kittens popped up in the front yard, I decided to do something about them and their promiscuous parents.

Sacramento has some good resources for animal lovers, including a number of organizations that support individuals who manage feral cat colonies with Trap-Neuter-Return programs. The basic philosophy is this: if cats have a constant food source (like Crazy Cat Lady), capturing and exterminating members of the colony will not solve the problem, as other feral cats will come and take their place and the cats will continue to reproduce. (A mama cat can have up to three litters a year.) A better policy (especially the soft-hearted) is to use a humane cat-trap, bring the snarling animal to the vet for surgery, and then let it go again where it was originally caught. TNR, as it’s called, has many supporters, including the Sacramento Area Animal Coalition, a nonprofit for local animal lovers that provides coupons for feral-cat colony managers so they don’t have to pay out-of-pocket any more than $10 per cat. I’ve utilized four coupons so far, although they’re more recently run out of funds. (See how to donate)


While I was busy getting up early in the morning to set out traps and get some pretty pissed-off cats to the vet before 8:30 a.m., my boyfriend opted to use the coax-with-canned-cat-food method to befriend the kittens, Stripes and Fluffy. (Stripes has stripes, and Fluffy is … well, fluffy.) It didn’t work, until Hemingway came along and saved their little kitty lives.

Hemingway is the name I donned on the white-and-gray cat that started mentoring the kittens between long naps in our driveway. We thought the cat was Mama until I got a good look at the hindquarters on day and realized Mama was actually Papa, and the nickname Papa Hemingway stuck. Hemingway was obviously not feral, and his interest in our food led Stripes and Fluffy to trust us. After multiple failed attempts at trapping the kittens, Hemingway led Stripers directly into a holding cage, and off to the vet.


Hemingway was not a feral cat and therefore not eligible for the $10 SAAC coupon program, but I wanted to keep him and paid full price for his snipping. I had assumed he was a stray (based on his thinness, as well as the fleas we neutralized with Advantage), until there was a knock on our front door one Saturday.


Fortunately the neighbor wasn’t upset – heck, she got a free neutering service on her cat – and we found Stripes found a loving home as an indoor-only, spoiled-rotten kitty. Fluffy, who was smaller and extremely timid, was much harder to catch and I was convinced would be killed by one of the mean ferals that snarled at her at the Crazy Cat Lady feeding trough.

But my boyfriend – the “I hate cats, I can live outdoors for a week, I’m a DOG guy” boyfriend – caught Fluffy and fell in love. Fluffy is now Frankie, as in the play “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” although a nickname for “Frankenstein” is more appropriate in my book. Frankie now thinks she’s a dog and tries to cuddle with the Border Collie and Golden Retriever (both give us looks, “What do you mean we can’t kill it?”).  But I love Frankie all the same, and life has pretty much returned to normal after my battle with the reproducing felines.


  • DO use humane traps to neuter ferals.
  • DO utilize local programs for assistance (see list).
  • DO spay/neuter ALL cats, including indoor-only.
  • DO consider microchips (if Hemingway had a microchip, he would still have his testicles).
  • DO NOT dump an inside-only cat outside – he or she won’t survive!
  • DO NOT put out a trap overnight, you could get a skunk.
  • DO NOT leave copious amounts of food outside, you’ll get rats, skunks, ants, etc.
  • And DO NOT dump cat food on your neighbor’s property!


  • Sacramento Area Animal Coalition (fantastic feral TNR program sometimes with $10 coupons, but needs funding assistance) (LINK)
  • Sacramento SPCA (twice-a-month inexpensive feral cat TNR clinic, and free pet food for needy) (LINK)
  • Cats About Town Society (see info on their spay/neuter discount program, including inexpensive microchipping) (LINK)
  • Coalition for Community Cats (spay/neuter program) (LINK)
  • Happy Tails (dedicated nonprofit for cats in Sac) (LINK)
  • UCD Feline Club (through the vet school; they also have a feral TNR program for campus cats) (LINK)
  • Sacramento City Animal Control (low-cost spay/neuter clinics, vaccine clinics, other programs) (LINK)
  • Sacramento County Animal Control (low-cost programs available) (LINK)


  • Folsom Felines (great program for Folsom residents!) (LINK)
  • Field Haven (Parts of Placer County) (LINK)
  • Placer County SPCA (has a low-cost spay/neuter program, as well as feral TNR) (LINK)
  • Yolo County SPCA (LINK)
  • Placer County Animal Control (LINK)
  • Yolo County Animal Services (inexpensive vaccine clinics) (LINK)
  • El Dorado Animal Services (LINK)

As many as 50,000 animals are euthanized in the Sacramento area annually. Spay or neuter your pets!

EDITOR’s NOTE: We want to hear your pet stories and/or reviews of pet boutiques, doggyday cares and shelters!  Send them to girlsonthegrid AT gmail DOT com

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  1. Mary Beth Barber says

    KITTY UPDATE! Last night we found four — FOUR — little kittens again. Two fluffy, two short-haired, about 8 weeks old. All are up for adoption … they are very sweet, so please help me out and get a Christmas kitty at the same time!

    My efforts on furlough Friday will be to find this poor single mom Mama cat who’s been able to keep the kittens alive despite the freeze and rain and relieve her of mama duties forever ….

  2. Mary Beth Barber says

    Further update — we caught Mama last night and brought her in for spaying today. She has to stay for a week at the vet because of a broken foot — she got it caught somehow in the mesh and wrenched it so hard she broke it — the only time in 8 years the vet tech at All About Pets vet clinic had ever seen an injury like that from a humane trap.

    But she is 1. definitely the mama to the four currently huddled up in my bathroom and up for adoption (who strangely look like a cross between her and Hemingway, the slut boy), and 2. is the splitting image of Stripes. I’m so hoping we’ve solved our kitten problem here – and thank you tons to All About Pets (at San Juan and Greenback) for taking care of mama’s foot and being so nice to me this morning. You guys have been great! Mama will be re-released in about a week.

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