The Whitman Cats refers to a cat colony located in the Whitman Plaza of South Philadelphia. Home to about 100 cats, this colony, like all other colonies, began as a dumping ground for unwanted cats.
Here, there are a mix of stray cats and feral cats. A stray cat is a pet cat who is domesticated and is either lost or abandoned. A feral cat is the offspring of lost or abandoned pet cats or other feral cats. Feral cats are born “in the wild”. Stray cats can often be tended to, rehabilitated and eventually re-homed. While feral cats over 10 weeks of age are often considered feral for life and too wild to rehabilitate.
The cats that I came across at the Whitman Colony were far more friendly than those at the Pier 70 Colony. I had a favorite cat among this group – a grey shorthair who excitedly came out of the shadows to greet me. I have to admit, I did pop open a can of wet cat food – that may have been his biggest motivation for coming out and greeting me.
As I was taking photos of the cats, the caretaker of this colony drove up in a pick-up truck containing homemade wood shelters. She explained to me that she had asked her friend to make these for her birthday. What a kind gesture.
The woman provides food, water and shelter for these cats. She also is responsible for TNR which is Trap-Neuter-Release. She takes unaltered cats to low-cost vets or clinics to have the cats altered and vaccinated then she returns them to the colony. The vet doing the surgery will usually snip a small piece of skin from the cat’s ear to indicate that the cat has been altered so as to signify who has been altered in the colony and who has not (signaling who are the resident cats and who are the new “drop offs”).
As I sat on the ground playing with Mr. Grey Kitty, the caretaker came out of a fenced area carrying a dead cat. My heart broke. I asked her what may have happened. She explained that the cat was one of the oldest cats of the colony; he may have died of old age or he may have had a UTI which is a urinary tract infection. Having a UTI is an obstacle for the caretaker because she cannot tell who may be sick. Those of us who have cats know when our cats are having difficulty urinating. But, how can you be alerted to a UTI problem when you are overseeing over 100 cats outdoors? It’s impossible.
When I visited the colony, I noticed immediately a huge danger for the cats. The colony is located in the rear of a strip mall. Cars and trucks drive back there frequently. The cats roam free in the area. I was terrified that a cat would get hit by a vehicle.
Another danger for the cats is the cold weather. The caretaker does what she can to help the cats stay warm in their shelters. She lines the inside of the plastic and wooden containers with hay and lays heavy tarp over the shelters. But sometimes, that just isn’t enough. Many cats have frozen to death in the colony.
By taking these photographs, I want you to see what it is like to live the life of an unwanted cat; how they struggle to survive. If people would only take responsibility for their cats, cat colonies like this one would not exist.