Okay, Cleveland, much like in Game of Thrones, it is time for us to accept that winter is here. We’ve already seen snippets of snow and temperatures have shifted to the colder side of the spectrum most days. Not only do we need to be making preparations for our pets when they go outdoors, but we should also be on the alert for how the change in seasons will affect strays. Namely, I’m thinking of cats.
Dogs spotted on the loose are generally taken to shelters, adopted by those who find them, or at least taken in by those who find them until other living arrangements are secured. A loose cat, on the other hand, is far more common to see than a loose dog, and is usually seen as much less of a concern. Pet cats often wander outdoors and, since cats breed rather quickly, stray cats are a bit more abundant. Cats are generally also better equipped to live outdoors and tend to have a higher survival rate than dogs, making stray cats more prevalent.
During my senior year of college, I lived in an off-campus apartment in the alley of a small town brimming with felines. Cats roamed on campus, off campus—everywhere. It was not uncommon for me to return from class, work, or social events to find two or three cats sitting on my porch, only to scatter as I approached. It was as if they were having secret cat meetings to plot against the humans.
Whether they were actually scheming to dominate the world or not, the cats hanging out on my porch were never a concern for me. Once winter arrived, however, I had to watch out for cats that saw my car as a source of shelter. Not having a garage, I parked my car in the gravel driveway, which sat a fair distance from my porch, giving cats a comfortable berth to get near my car without getting near humans. I did more walking than driving, so I would often pass my car and see cats sleeping beneath it during the winter months, frequently nestled against the tires. Seeing this served as a reminder for me to, for the occasions I did drive, bend over and make sure the coast was clear before putting my car in motion. I made a point to do this every time I prepared to pull out of the driveway.
I’m also someone who is generally quite aware of my surroundings, and I have a tendency to worry more than many. I could only hope that everyone else in that town was aware enough to routinely take an extra minute to look under their vehicles.
In addition to looking beneath the vehicle, it is also helpful to give the hood of your car a hard tap before starting the engine. I did this as well during my senior year. After graduation, however, I had an experience with a coworker who was not accustomed to this habit.
I worked as a bather at a local dog grooming salon, where I eventually picked up more hours by cleaning the building early in the morning before everyone else arrived. One winter morning, I was taking out the trash when the first of the other coworkers pulled into her parking spot. I heard a weird noise as I took the garbage to the dumpster and my coworker waved me over to her car. It was clear once I got closer that the noise was a cat meowing in distress.
My coworker told me she’d heard the noise from inside her car as she was driving, but she hadn’t been sure what it was. We opened the hood to look for it and release it. Being an Ohio winter morning, though, it was still quite dark, so I ran inside to fetch a flashlight. We spent a few minutes shining the flashlight under the hood and under the body of the car, as we could still hear the cat meowing. After some searching, we eventually saw the outline of the cat dart off across the parking lot without ever being sure what part of the car it had emerged from. I wished we could have done more for it, but frankly, the cat was fortunate to be safe if it had been within the car after its engine had started.
Cats are known for being able to slip in and out of tight spaces, and if a car engine is running or has recently been running, the warmth will attract them. My coworker had probably started her car and let it run for a few minutes before getting inside so that it would be warm for her, and the cat had most likely seized its opportunity.
So if you keep your vehicle parked outside, or if you keep your garage door open for periods of time, please be sure to look under your car and tap its hood before getting going this winter. Such simple, quick little things can truly help keep the cat community safe.
Written by: Kayla Kennedy, Executive Pet Services Pet Care Specialist