Where You Been, Memphis?
Elvis lives! I was very happy when he showed up on our back stoop after a 2-week absence. I have no idea where he was. Trapped, possibly, or hiding, nursing some kind of illness.
He seems to have lost his innocence a little, wherever he was.
I'm not trying to gross you out with the photo. This is one of the realities of feral cat life: serious illness, without the opportunity of medical care. Memphis has been struggling with upper respiratory infection since he was a kitten. Judging by his eyes, ears, and nose, which I have only been able to inspect closely with a zoom lens, he still has a pretty bad case. All of these cats have had it, like chicken pox, and the rest have managed to shake it through strong immune systems and decent nutrition. Since he won't let us touch him, antibiotics are not an option. And it is quite possible he is FIV or FeLV positive.
Most TNR specialists argue that trapped ferals should not be tested for FIV/FeLV. If you bring them inside and let them mix with indoor cat populations, it is an absolute necessity, but outdoors, there is no way to control their exposure. Cats with otherwise good health, warm shelter, and decent food can have long lives even with FIV/FeLV. Vet professionals differ in opinion about how easily the viruses are spread. Some believe a cat walking across a place where an infected cat walked is enough. Others say it can only be transmitted through bodily fluids, which in the case of neutered cats, means fighting primarily.
Upper respiratory infections are the main killer of feral kittens, and for our indoor cats, this is covered in the distemper immunizations. But the standard procedure for immunizing ferals is to skip the distemper shot (and FIV/FeLV too), since the sterilization surgery makes the immune system vulnerable. From a public health standpoint, rabies vaccine is necessary and routine. But the others are too risky to undertake.
So, I'm glad he's back, but still sobered. Memphis seems to be a little more skittish, but is otherwise in good spirits, hanging out with his brother, and eating well. Hopefully the others have built up immunity to this infection, and with any luck, Memphis will recover too. A smart feral can dodge cars, mean humans, dogs, and other external threats, but the microscopic threats are wily and just as dangerous.