When Susan Wood sees a cat in somebody’s yard or on the side of the road, her first inclination is to wonder if the feline is stray and if it’s being fed. It’s a natural question for her because she spends a great deal of her time taking care of cats, especially those known as ferals.
When she and her husband, Oren, moved back to the Lowcountry recently from Greer, they brought seven indoor cats and three ferals with them. The day they moved into their rural Charleston County home in Hollywood, five feral cats showed up in the backyard. When it’s feeding time, it looks like something out of a Stephen King movie. There are cats everywhere, and that’s just fine with Susan. She says her husband of 17 years tolerates the cats — complaining about and loving them at the same time.
Working from home, Wood sometimes feels like her job is to earn money for cat food. At the end of the month, that expense is considerable. Her best estimate for feeding these felines is 120 cans and 50 pounds of dry food every month.
To make that happen, Wood foregoes manicures, highlights or haircuts.
But why do it at all?
Wood believes too many people consider cats second-class citizens of the animal world and, as a result, the cats are easily surrendered to shelters and thought of as disposable. Feral cats, those that are wild and not socialized to humans, are especially vulnerable.
“They’re not beady, red-eyed devil monsters,” she says, adding they deserve to be fed and protected from coyotes and other predators.
But Wood also is hoping to educate others about managing these feral colonies and not just feeding them. She applauds the Charleston Animal Society and their no-kill mission. But she wants people to participate in a program called TNR: trap, neuter, return. If a feral cat is merely trapped and taken away, that often invites new cats to appear.
After a cat is trapped and neutered, its ear is snipped as a sign that cat is being cared for and then it is returned.
Feral cats do not trust humans and resist being picked up. Might be best not to try some of this at home. Use the experts.
Wood says, as a child, she drew comfort from her cats and still does today.
But is she controlling them, or are they controlling her? She admits her concern for cats may be on the obsessive side and she’s heard all the jokes: Dogs have owners, a cat has a staff.
Wood’s feline affinity is unwavering. When it’s feeding time, the outside cats respond to the banging of a spoon on a can. She feeds them twice a day, once in the morning and often won’t see them again until about 4:30 for the second feeding. But when they return, she enjoys watching them bask in the sun or rub on the bark of a tree.
Wood maintains she doesn’t name the outdoor cats because she doesn’t want to get too attached. But in the same breath, she’ll admit that there goes Foxy or Whiskers or Gray Man.
I’ve never felt much affection for this animal. I love dogs, but never cared much for cats. I confess to not really understanding Wood’s devotion to these furballs, but one thing’s for sure, she is committed.
“It’s what I do, it’s my thing,” she says.
She knows some people probably already refer to her as Hollywood’s “crazy cat lady.” But her passion gives her life purpose, which at the end of the day, makes all nine lives worth living, right?
Reach Warren Peper at email@example.com.