There’s a high profile, eccentric old lady on Folly Beach whom I encounter practically every day feeding feral cats. I’d say she’s in her mid-to-late 80s, and even if you were to straighten out her stoop, she wouldn’t hit 4’10.” Not surprisingly, people who don’t know her name – and I don’t – call her the Cat Lady.
Every block or so she has placed plastic containers, and every afternoon feral cats gather in anticipation of her arrival. Sometimes, she has a helper, but on most days when I see her, she is alone, wearing an expression of great seriousness as she leans over dumping dry cat food into the bowls. In fact, I saw her this afternoon when I was headed to Chico Feo for a pre-supper malted aperitif. Staring off into space, she had her hands on her hips, like a diminutive, determined, female edition of General Patton. Obviously, this diurnal “mission trip” is her raison d’etre.
Of course, feeding feral cats is an environmental no-no. According to FETA (not exactly an anti-animal organization):
Many people who encounter feral cats start feeding them, but feeding alone can actually make the situation worse. Feeding ferals increases their ability to give birth to even more kittens who are destined to suffer and die premature deaths. It is essential to get these cats off the streets in order to prevent not only their own suffering, but that of their offspring. Feeding should only be done as a prelude to trapping, to get cats accustomed to eating in a certain place at a certain time.
The article goes on to state that feral cats have abbreviated life spans, suffer from a multitude of maladies thanks to non-vaccination, and even if their autism rates are super low (I just made that up), the food can also attract non-feline varmints. The Cat Lady learned this the hard way last year when a rabid raccoon took a chunk out of her, an event so newsworthy it made the Charleston papers.
Folly Beach is certainly no “Mayberry by the Sea” – its official civic moniker is the Edge of America – but even after the coon attack, the authorities, Sheriff-Taylor-like, look the other way as she putts along in her cart circumnavigating the island. Maybe they figure what the hell, stopping her would kill her, so what if scores of cats suffer or some surfer comes down with a case of rabies? Sometimes targeted human compassion trumps common sense, and going by Haruki Murakami’s brilliant novel Kafka on the Shore, feral cats dig the freedom of homelessness.
One of the characters in the novel, Satoru Nakata, through circumstances too complex to relate here, has obtained the ability to converse with cats. People hire him to find their lost pets. Nakata usually begins his investigations in city parks where the ferals hang. In one incident, he strikes up a conversation with a stray and asks the cat his name. “I used to have one when I lived with people,” the cat says, “but I’ve forgotten what it was.” You get the idea [absurd mixed-animal-metaphor-cliché alert] that wild horses couldn’t drag him back to domestication.
I’ll admit that the Cat Lady has irritated me on occasion, blocking my path when I’m running late, but even if her head isn’t in the right place, her heart certainly is. Nevertheless, I sense something sinister about her, so for fun, I’m outlining a murder mystery set on Folly in which she’s a serial killer. What’s really enjoyable is deciding whom among the people on Folly I don’t like she murders, in what order, and how. Hey, it’s summer time. It keeps me off the streets, safe from a potential attack by a mad, foaming calico.