Hamtramck is city enough that wild, country elements are present. Like the occasional pack of free-range dogs owning the middle of the street on their busy way to somewhere, actual pheasants raising ring-necked families along the railroad tracks, and so-called 'feral' cats work the alleys and nap wherever sunbeams congregate.
'Feral' sounds unfair to me, full of negative connotations that impugn the feline character unfairly. The lip curls the same way when calling a child 'precocious.' As if it can be helped.
"Don't feed the homeless cats," they say, "it only makes the problem worse." Because healthy cats have more sex, I guess, creating little litters of love kittens that become even more homeless cats. I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. But when the black and white oil-smeared guy from my alley is hunched in a ball on my porch in below-zero windchill, it's hard not to put out a box for him. And the fluffy white and grey with the always sad face and too many bones---how do I not toss him something to eat when our eyes meet? We know each other.
Being a good person, environmentally aware and with the Big Picture in mind, means letting my feline neighbors starve. Or, at least not helping them live. Faces I know sacrificed for lives unborn.
The dilemma of street cats; it's one of those things that makes me want religion, or at least a god who can comfort my empathy pains. It's also one of those things that makes me kick religion to the curb, because why God when suffering is so unavoidable, unfair, and arbitrary? I know these same animal dynamics play out in the wild . . . but I'm not there to see it. Much as we long to feel our universal oneness, being human means never quite fitting in with the rest of nature, because we hurt when just one guy suffers; the natural order of things works in waves, in big rolling patterns, but we fixate on the pixels.
We are pixels.
Spring is coming to Hamtramck, and with it at least one new clump of furry little hunters in the alleys I walk with my dog. On a sunny day when I've had enough sleep, I'll tell myself that these kittens have a good life ahead of them, full of freedom and trash-picking, playing and hunting the mighty rat. But a cloudy day will come, when maybe I see an older kitten limping as it ducks under a fence more slowly than the others, and I will change alley routes for a while to avoid wondering about wounds that won't heal and not enough food and hungry dogs. And winter approaching.
And I'll try hard not to leave any food out for my friend on the porch.