• Lian Blaisdell

Mainstay Strays

Updated: Sep 23

When the Clayton Valley campus is quiet, the critters come out. Squirrels, insects, and birds roam the school, seeking out food and anything else they are able to find. But that’s not all. For years, colonies of cats have called the CV grounds their home.

There isn’t a definite time as to when the cats first appeared.

Kelley King, a CV office secretary, shared that “generations of cats have come and gone throughout the years. Stray cats come and go, neighboring cats from nearby homes stop by to interact which have resulted in kittens that have grown up and survived on this campus, scrounging through the garbage cans and eating the dry and wet cat food dry [sic] left by complete strangers who want to make sure they are fed.”

To prevent population growth, King and her daughter used to trap some of the cats and bring them to the Martinez Animal Shelter where they would get spayed or neutered, then returned to where they were found. However, the shelter ended this service and stopped taking cats the Kings brought in.

School counselor Ashley Bonnett and school psychologist Dr. Katie Brown have become parents to some of the kittens born at the school over the past few years.

“I always have had cats growing up,” Bonnett recalled. "And living on my own, I lived in an apartment where you couldn't have animals. But I moved, purchased a home, and I knew that I wanted to get a cat. I didn't know when and one of the other offices–there were kittens in the ceiling. And they were like, ‘Oh my God, there's kittens in the ceiling. Can we try to get them?’ And I literally told them, ‘If you can get the kittens out of the ceiling, I want one.’ ”

Unfortunately, they were never able to. Every time someone attempted to, the kittens ran and hid. Bonnett decided that unless they could get the kittens, she would go to the Humane Society and adopt one.

Two days before Thanksgiving break, an opportunity shone.

“A kid found a kitten on the football field, by himself," Bonnett said. “And so he brought him to the office and someone was like, ‘There's a kitten in the office,’ and at the time, there was a nurse who knew that I wanted a kitten. And so she grabbed the kitten from the front office and was like, ‘Ashley, I found a kitten.’ ”

Bonnett named the kitten Puff, and upon taking it to the vet, discovered it was a boy and changed its name to Puff Daddy. Bonnett took him home at around three and a half to four weeks of age, which is very early to take a kitten home. He was able to eat and drink on his own, though she got a dropper to drop kitten milk in his mouth, which along with wet food, was his diet.

Because Puff was brought home so early, he wasn’t very feral. Bonnet was allowed to bring Puff into work for a while so he wouldn’t be home by himself. He would lay on the floor, on his bed, or in a blanket on her lap. He doesn’t meow, even when locked in a room. However, Puff doesn’t like laying on someone. He prefers to lay on the end of the bed or on the couch. Bonnet suspects that he still has some of the feral nature.

Dr. Brown’s experience was slightly different. “I already had two cats that were rescued from other places,” she commented. “During the pandemic, I really felt like I needed something new to look forward to because I couldn't fly home for the holidays. My coworker, Ms. Bonnett, got one of the CVCHS kittens and brought it to work for a week. I realized that was the thing I needed. I let the CVCHS school staff know that I wanted a kitten if they find [sic] another one. One of my coworkers trapped a black kitten as a Christmas present. We think she is the sister of Ms. Bonnett's kitten. She was probably born in October and was about 8 weeks old when I got her. I named her ‘Eloise -in Paris’.”

Dr. Brown got her kitten a few weeks after Bonnett received hers. In that time, Eloise got to know what it was like to be feral. “I did get her spayed and my other two cats are also spayed. When I first got her she was wild and fierce and scratched and bit my hand until it was bleeding. She had an eye infection, I took her to the vet, etc. But within a couple days, she realized that I was the one who fed her and kept her warm. She started to become tame. She let me give her medicine. She slept in a little cat bed on my desk at work. I bought a dog play pen with a zippered cover and carried that to work every day for the first week, so I didn't have to leave her alone at home. Now she is the sweetest and most affectionate cat. She is about fifteen months old now.”

The difference between these two experiences goes to show how a few weeks’ time can impact how a cat reacts to a new environment. Puff Daddy was young when he was adopted, so he didn’t know what it was like to be feral; Eloise had more time living on her own, giving her the chance to develop some independence.

King’s advice is that we do not feed the cats on campus. While they may be classified as pets, they are still wild animals, naturally drawn to where the food is. Students can help by picking up after themselves and making sure they don’t leave food lying around on the grounds or in the classrooms. This will help keep the campus clean and the wildlife safe.

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