If you doubt that feral cat colonies are matriarchal, I present Harley, the model matriarch. Harley emerged from the woods one day and surveyed our property. The available food and water passed her test, so she made 5 return trips the next day, each with a kitten dangling from her mouth. She quickly claimed the east side of our clearing as Harley Land.
She was a beautiful cat, with features resembling a Maine Coon. Although primarily a gray tabby she also had touches of calico. The color combination brought the word harlequin to our minds, so she became Harley for short and her family became the Davidsons.
It was not unusual for litters in our colony to stick together, but the Davidsons were unique in their degree of cohesiveness. Not only did Harley’s first litter stay close to her and to each other, her second (and final) litter stayed just as close. After they matured it was impossible to tell who came from which litter by behavioral observation. You had to know who was born when.
Harley allowed a few other cats to come near but she kept most cats (and us) at a distance. You can see from the photos that the most consistent feature is her alert, focused expression, as if she is saying, “I have my eyes on you, buster!”
Her family was exceptionally loyal, even after Harley was spayed. When Harley finally was gone her clan was at loose ends for several weeks, looking for a new way to organize their lives. They eventually mixed with other cats in the colony, but their primary allegiance always stayed with family. If there was a pile of cats resting in the shade, it was a good bet that the Davidsons were enjoying a nap together.
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