In July 2018 I started walking around the college that was near my home in Sydney. It’s a favourite walking spot for local people. I liked to walk from my home to a college carpark which was near the shopping centre and a train station. It was safe to walk there as a lot of people went past to go to the train station to catch a train home in the evening.
Two pedestrian paths surrounded the carpark. There were shrubs along the inner path with a metal gate at one end and a small garden at the other. Behind the shrubs was an outer path with a small lawn which was next to the ramp facing a nearby college building at one end and a small bridge over a creek at the other. Beyond the bridge was another pedestrian path heading towards the train station and the nearby shopping centre. It was a pretty spot for a stroll.
There were a lot of college staff and students walking along the outer path to catch a train home in the evening. There were some people walking home from the train station too.
It was beautiful there. Sometimes I saw possums hanging around the trees on the big lawn and a family of ducks near the creek. Frogs sang with a soft background noise of water flowing.
I didn’t notice anything special when I walked first started walking there, but after a few days, I saw a kitten. I couldn’t see her clearly as she stood close to the shrubs on the outer path near the small lawn, watching me carefully. It was winter in Sydney at the time and the outer pedestrian path of the carpark was not well-lit when I was walking there around eight o’clock in the evening.
The little cat looked like a devil—she had what looked like burning flames on both her face and her eyes. I didn’t know at the time that this pattern was called ‘tortoiseshell’.
What’s wrong with this cat? I thought. It’s so scary!
The kitten became more relaxed a day or two later. She started to come near me and we looked at each other curiously. Then I could see her clearly but I didn’t want to pat her as I didn’t particularly like cats at that time. I only felt sorry for her. I thought she might be hungry. I gave her some dry food the next evening when I was walking there. She ate the cat food at once; she was hungry. Later I gave her wet food every day. I called her Luna.
As the days passed, Luna lost her fear of people. One night she was sitting calmly on the pedestrian path leading to the shopping centre, lifting her small head and looking patiently at people passing her. She seemed to be begging for food. This is the plight of street cats—they never knew when they will get their next meal. Some days, there is plenty left here and there, other days there is none at all.
When I walked near, I waved my hands to lead her to the food, which I placed on the small lawn at the end of the outer path. She recognised me at once and followed me happily, stomping like a toy cat with its tail up. After she started eating, I went home. It was good knowing she wouldn’t go hungry that night. As time went by, I saw some other kittens hiding in the shrubs surrounding the inner path when I fed Luna, but they were shy and I couldn’t see them clearly. They jumped like firecrackers among the shrubs when I tried to have a closer look at them. I started putting some cat food near the shrubs outside the carpark for them. They accepted my help but would only eat the food after I’d left.
In mid-August of 2018, Luna was trapped by Sally; she was on the staff at the college and was a self-funded cat rescuer. Luna was neutered and advertised on the college’s social media to see if anyone wanted to adopt her. She was an extraordinary friendly kitten although she was already too old to be fully socialised. Luna was around six months old at that time; it’s optimal to socialise feral cats that are under ten weeks old. Due to her friendliness, she was well-liked by the people who passed the carpark, so a student who had occasionally fed Luna contacted Sally and adopted her.
After Luna was gone, I tried to make friends with the other kittens living at the college to help them. One evening when I came to leave some food, I met Zara and Max, her boyfriend. They were international students studying at the college.
Zara smiled when she noticed I was putting down more food for the kittens. ‘So you’re the one who’s feeding them?’
‘Yes, I am,’ I said.
That made her happy. ‘I love those kittens. I worry about them living here with so many cars inside the carpark. There was a beautiful kitten here not long ago with lovely patterns on her fur. I don’t know where she’s gone. I hope she wasn’t hit by a car.’
‘That was Luna. It’s all right. She’s been adopted and gone to a great home.’
Her eyes lit up. ‘Really? I wish I could have had her.’
‘Never mind. There are more. We’re going to try and help them all, so I’ll let you know when another one is available.’
Micky, the second kitten of the carpark colony, appeared after Luna was rescued. I saw him standing near a tree just outside the carpark in the darkness.
He looked like a lonely, frightened soul as he looked at the path where Luna had socialised with passers-by. I wondered if he was scared to expose himself by standing in the open. Before Luna had been rescued, I had seen him a couple of times, but he was timid and had always hidden in the shrubs. Micky was a male tabby with heart-shaped white fur on his chest and white sock feet.
One night when I fed the cats, I met Sally as she walked past to get a train home. I told her about the change in Micky’s behaviour.
She nodded. ‘Micky’s one of Luna’s siblings. He must miss her and is standing near the tree waiting for her to come back.’
‘Yes, I guess he would grieve over her loss,’ I said. ‘Fortunately, it hasn’t made him lose his appetite. He looks pretty healthy.’
‘I’m glad to hear it. Let me know if you notice any other changes, OK?’ She hurried off to get her train.
I promised I would and continued to visit the colony day after day.
One evening, the third kitten of the carpark colony appeared during feeding time. When I first saw him, he was standing on the path further down the carpark looking at me. He was as big as Micky but braver. I called him Tabby. I thought both Micky and Tabby were probably brothers, especially since they were so friendly to each other.
Gradually, both of them got used to me and showed up for dinner every night. I often saw them playing together after they’d eaten, chasing and ambushing each other. Sometimes they were so excited they climbed quickly into a small tree.
A few nights later, another tabby appeared. At first, I thought it was Micky but then I noticed this cat had a low belly line. She may be pregnant, I thought. She looked like Micky’s twin but had a shorter tail and was a little smaller. She also had white sock feet and a patch of white fur on her chest. I called her Arleen.
I didn’t see Arleen much. Sally and the other people passing the carpark could tell me little about her. When I told some of the people who occasionally stopped to see the cats that there was a kitten with a low belly line, they simply said, ‘Yeah, a few kittens hide around the carpark. They’re scared of people. I haven’t seen them clearly.’
I realised she was a tough cat with a strong will to survive, but she was scared of people so always hid. Hunger drove her out of her hiding places to eat the food left for her, but only in the darkness. She was always on alert while eating.
One evening, it was cold and very quiet, with no one walking past. Arleen came out from the shrubs to eat the cat food I’d placed in the small garden there. She was frightened when she realised I was watching her from a short distance and quickly disappeared inside the carpark. She returned to eat only after I’d moved further away.
Zara loved the carpark colony and went there to visit them frequently. She found it difficult to distinguish between Micky and Arleen.
‘If you want to know which one’s which, look at their behaviour,’ I said. ‘Micky is comfortable around people but Arleen is afraid of them.’
She looked at Micky, who was standing not far from the path. ‘Then I guess he’s Micky.’
‘That’s right. Arleen will be hiding somewhere. She always looks serious and doesn’t have the curious kitten look of Micky.’ I wondered if she belonged to a previous litter.
Zara crouched down to have a look but couldn’t see her, before straightening up and turning to me. ‘It’s great that you’re helping them. It’s hard seeing them out here fending for themselves.’
I agreed and wondered if we could do anything about that.
I saw more of the cats as they became used to me and accepted my presence.
One night I noticed a white shadow hiding in the shrubs as I fed them. Is it a ghost or an angel? I wondered. Luckily, it was not very late at the time and there were still a lot of people walking past, so I dared to walk near the white shadow, discovering a big red tabby with white fur on its chest and white sock feet. I called him Simba.
Another evening I met Sally when she was on her way to the train station and told her about Simba.
‘Yes, he’s the dominant male cat of the colony,’ she said. ‘He’s Micky’s father.’
I had thought the two cats might have a special relationship as I’d noticed they ate dinner together, something he didn’t do with any other cat.
Simba hid in the shrubs during feeding time and seemed to monitor both the carpark and the cats when they were eating. It was easy to see him, as his fur was so light it looked like a white shadow in the shrubs at night. At least now I knew it wasn’t a ghost!
I returned to the carpark at eleven pm one night to see the cats after meeting a friend near the college. It was scary to stay in a carpark late in Sydney and I worried that I would be attacked by someone, but my passion overcame my fear.
I saw a tabby with white fur on its chest hiding in the shrubs. I thought it was Micky at first, but then I saw him hopping in the shrubs somewhere else. How could he go from one location to another in a split second?
Then I saw a third tabby with white fur on its chest in another location in the shrubs. Am I seeing ghosts? Why are three Mickies appearing in front of my eyes?
The third tabby I named Dory. She looked like Micky but had some unique features, such as a bushy tail and white hind legs. I thought Dory was likely to be Micky’s sister as they liked to hide together in the bushes and they seemed to be a similar age and appearance.
Dory was more scared of people than all the kittens of the colony. She hid at the start of feeding time and was always the last one to show up for dinner. When she did come, she usually ran so fast it looked like she was being chased. After dinner, she left at once. She was so scared she looked like she was in a war zone during an airstrike.
Sadly, I noticed that both Dory and Arleen were already pregnant. Pregnancy was probably what had driven them out of hiding to eat in the first place; it would have made them hungry and forced them to expose themselves to people to nurture their unborn kittens. A large part of the kittenhood of Arleen and Dory was about fighting for survival and getting enough food to nurture their babies.
By October, all five members of the carpark colony were known to me. They were Simba, Micky, Arleen, Dory and Tabby. Then the struggles of rescuing them began.
Micky was at risk of being run over by the cars as he came too close to them. One day, someone left a pile of potato chips on the ground inside the carpark. I guessed the people in the cars fed him chips so he gradually associated the cars with food, which meant he might eventually be run over.
Micky needed to be rehomed for his safety. I mentioned it to Zara as she had become fond of Micky after Luna had been rehomed. She was excited when I talked to her about capturing him.
‘It’s not just Micky either,’ I said, ‘I want to rehome all the cats in the colony.’
She liked that idea. ‘Let me know how I can help.’
So I started to look for ways to rescue all the cats, with Zara and Max determined to help me. The rescues started soon afterwards, but they were full of difficulties, setbacks, heartbreaks, surprises and dangers.
The pictures of Ceci's family, Simba, Micky, Arleen, Dory, Tabby and Luna, are posted on Lonely College Cats Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/LonelyCollegeCats.LizaCee/)