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Lady, used to cycle round and pick cats up and take them home in her basket
[according to an environmental health officer]. About a dozen cats. Became a
member of the CPL [Cats Protection League] but wouldn't let anyone take a cat if
they [the CPL] came to re-home them. Extension of house solely for cats, built wire
fence for them. 'Roger' [environmental health officer] heard she'd moved house and
left the cats, so he referred the case to the RSPCA.
Private house with large walled garden, lady had a cat, adopted a stray, had
lots of kittens which started a colony. Neighbours complained…can't go and visit
as lady is a bit schizophrenic [sic], although 'Steve' [environmental health officer]
will talk to her.
These comments are suggestive, with their intimations of peculiarity, eccentricity
and 'madness', even maybe echoing a pre-modern stereotype of 'witch with cats'.
While it would be easy to read too much into these observations, and we certainly
do not have enough material to draw any firm conclusions about perceptions of cat
feeders, it would be interesting to explore the idea that perceptions of feral
supporters are gendered and that feeders dangerously transgress domestic norms.
Returning to 'little Darcy', it is evident from our study that feral cats are not
necessarily the 'inhabitants of dereliction', as the Cat Action Trust advertisement
asserted. As well as retaining their freedom in the wild, feral cats may be well looked
after. This view is supported by Remfry (1996:523), who has argued that 'feral cats
can thrive in a free-living state, usually enjoying more interesting lives than those
pets confined indoors, so long as certain criteria [relating primarily to shelter,
feeding and supervision] are met.' This is also now the position of the Royal Society
for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). However, it is apparent that
human responses to feral cats are affected by constructions of the built or cultivated
environment, which render cat spaces either discrepant or acceptable features of the
urban scene, and by representations of ferals as wild or potentially domestic. The
interplay of imagined cats and imagined landscapes contributes to the definition of
places where ferals belong or are discrepant. The many associations of animals and
place, between cat-friendly Fitzroy Square or the shoe repairer's and the mini-safari
park of the Catholic church garden or the oil refinery, are reflected in complex
human responses.
The problem could be seen as an instance of the much wider issue of what, in the
constitution of space in a modern urban society, is defined as belonging or not
belonging. At the level of the home, the neighbourhood and the city, visions of
strong and clear boundaries and predictable, recognisable geometries can be seen as
a response to heterogeneity, with the consequent uncertainties about social
relationships, and the precariousness of urban living: that is, the precariousness of the
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