The experts tell us that we should feed our cats at specified times, give them measured amounts, and find the food that suits their systems. Unfortunately, at the Sanctuary, it’s like catering to a holiday camp with a limited number of cooks.
There is always dry kibble on offer – there are many cats who don’t really like canned food. We’ve moved from the early days’ instructions of “two full bowls” to “no more than half a bowl” – that way we can better gauge where the greatest need may be. Only half-filling a bowl helps, too, when a slug moves in and leaves a slimy trail, or an over-eager cat gobbles and then throws up in the bowl – there’s less food to throw away in wastage.
In the back pens we will occasionally arrive in the morning to find all the outside bowls are empty. That, combined with dirty water, tells us that the raccoons have staged a raid – another reason not to leave too much food out. We’ve never had a cat/raccoon confrontation – the cats quickly retire to the cabins – and a little kibble is a small price to pay for keeping the peace.
Canned food is offered in the evenings – generally allowing the equivalent of about half a can per cat. For some, that’s the most important meal of the day; others will still be nibbling when the morning cleaners come to gather up the plates. The med staff keep an eye on the cats that need coaxing to eat a little more, and offer tempting morsels of choice varieties.
Some cats are very anxious about their food. Buzz (Single-Wide), Dexter (Leukemia), Austin (New Aids) and Rufus (Moore) are quick to let us know when the service is not meeting their expectations. Their demands are often vocal, but are usually accompanied by walking all over the plates (or sitting on them). Volunteers have different ways of dealing with this; if there’s a spare cage I may fill a plate and put it in there with Buzz, so he’s out of the way. It’s best to do the same with Rufus, though he doesn’t need a cage. Both Dexter and Austin help themselves from each plate as it is filled.
For other cats the draw is not so much the food as the gravy. We warm the cans in hot water before opening them, and there are usually cats who wait anxiously for the juice, before it gets all mixed up with the meat. SaraLee (Double-Wide) is my quality control girl at mealtimes, checking that each batch of juice is up to standard.
There is always a certain order to food service. In the Double-Wide, Colin and Lincoln are always anxiously waiting for the first plate; Colin is ready to swat if he thinks I’m not moving quickly enough. The other cats take their time – usually there is only one cat per plate; the next one moves in as the first vacates. In the Single-Wide, on the other hand, as a plate is put down, there are half a dozen cats immediately in place. There’s no fighting, but they’re all determined to get their share. The more timid cats wait till plates are put on the deck or the cage-tops.
Sometimes, if they’re very lucky, the feeders will bring special treats – not empty calories, but raw or cooked meats, or different varieties of canned food. Cats always know when those folk arrive, and there is usually a welcoming committee at the door. But for even the most food-oriented of them, the best part of the evening is the petting and interaction with the humans who love them.