Nov 052011

A feral cat is one that you might see around your neighborhood, hiding under porches, or parked cars, existing on the fringes of human society. Unfortunately, these poor creatures all share a very typical fate: difficult lives that end far sooner than cats who have someone to love and care for them. Fortunately however, reaching out a caring, helping hand isn’t difficult, and it’s also very rewarding, with long term benefits.

A feral cat can be defined in this way: “a cat who has no socialization, or, is too poorly adapted to be handled, and cannot be adopted into a typical home”. That is a heart breaking definition. Even more heart breaking – today, there are an estimated 80 million ferals roaming the streets in cities and suburban areas all across the United States; that’s just as many feral cats as cats who live in suitable homes. And, as female cats can become pregnant as early as 16 weeks of age, and then go on to produce up to three litters per year, the problem is almost incomprehensible – one single female cat and her offspring can in turn produce 420,000 more.

street cat

It might be easy to envision a cat roaming free and enjoying the life of a hunter and tiny tiger, master of its domain, but that is sadly not the reality of a feral cat’s life. The truth is that they live in all types of weather, often without adequate shelter, and certainly without shelter beyond what they can provide for themselves, all while avoiding cars, scavenging food from trash dumpsters, and being preyed upon by other wild animals.

They are subject to diseases, the never ending cycle of pregnancy, birth, nursing and weaning, and the abuse of any random person who has a mind to do them harm. It’s little wonder that the lifespan of the typical feral cat is a maximum of three years, while well cared for cats in loving homes can easily live into their teens. It’s also worth pointing out that feral cats cause a variety of issues for the humans who co-exist with them such as noisy cat fights usually in the wee hours of the morning, territory marking, infestations of fleas and of course, the breeding.

Many animal experts advocate TNR programs – which stands for “trap-neuter-return”. TNR programs are aimed at reducing the overall incidence of unwanted cat populations by taking the proactive steps necessary to break the endless cycle of reproduction among ferals. The programs work in this fashion: the cats are captured humanely, examined by a veterinarian, vaccines are administered, and they are then surgically sterilized and observed for any issues before being returned to their familiar, wild environment. At this point the hope is that caring volunteers from the community might provide food and shelter whenever possible, and observe the feral population for any signs of illness. Those who do advocate these programs claim that the advantages for cats include fewer health problems, and of course the end of unwanted litters. Not all animal advocacy groups stand in support of TNR programs.

They assert that releasing the cats back into the wild is simply abandonment all over again, and the larger problem remains unaddressed. These groups often offer relocation or euthanasia as alternative measures. Relocation may seem like a humane solution at first blush, but, it is ineffective in the long term because a so-called “vacuum effect” exists in feral cats. No matter where these animals are released a new colony will eventually form in that location, because due to their instincts, feral cats gather where they are able to obtain food, water, and shelter – however meager and inadequate. There are still more reasons why relocation isn’t a viable solution. Cats are territorial creatures by nature, and it’s completely natural for a cat to try and return to its established territory, and along the way, while trying to return “home” they are at risk of grave injury or death. As for euthanasia or eradication, while the public will often give generously in charitable support of TNR programs, once the idea of “putting down” animals becomes known, the charity tends to dry up.

You might be asking yourself why feral cats aren’t being tamed and adopted out to loving pet parents. The sad reality is, an adult feral cat has returned to a wild state of existence and is therefore virtually impossible to tame. Even through rigorous effort, the percentage of ferals who are eventually socialized in a way that’s sufficient to become a pet, is exceedingly low. The ASPCA supports the continued adoption of available cats and kittens currently living in shelters and awaiting their forever homes. Ultimately, the solution must consist of a final human component. Once the feral cat populations have been trapped and then released, there must be a human caregiver who is willing to adopt the colony and provide for them.

If you have a heart for animals, and I’m sure you do if you’re still reading this article, there is one single action you can take that’s vitally important – don’t contribute to the problem. Our society is more aware than ever of the importance of spaying and neutering our pets, and that’s a good thing. Also, please consider keeping your cat exclusively indoors, to keep him/her as safe as possible, and so they can never be lost and end up a tragic statistic. Beyond that, donate your time, and your money, as often as possible, in whatever ways are possible.

It is our obligation as members of a civilized society to care for those who exist at our mercy. That responsibility absolutely includes domestic animals whom we elected to take from the wild and make our dependents.

This is a guest post from Stephani Spitzer, who contributes to Advance Me America’s Leading merchant cash advance provider. However, that’s just her day job. As she says: “feral cats [are] something that I’m extremely passionate about.” She and a neighbor are taking care of a feral cat colony in their neighborhood and working a TNR program.

  5 Responses to “What You Can Do to Help Feral Cats”

Comments (5)
  1. I’m glad you liked the article. While feral cats is something that I’m extremely passionate about, I was afraid it *might* be a bit too heavy a topic. It’s a rather sad topic and not all pet lovers can deal with it.

    • Thank you for the post. You’re right, it is a heavy topic, but a very important one.

      I live in a neighborhood where I see a lot of cats roaming around. I think some of them are owned by people, but others I’m pretty sure aren’t. It breaks my heart to see them and I have to remind myself that I can’t save them all. I know I’ve done some though – I’ve brought 2 of them into my home and my heart. Together with the 1 we adopted from the local humane society, 3 cats and 2 adults are kind of crowded in my 650 sq foot apt. But, we love them all and wouldn’t dream of letting them out of the house again. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • I happened to move into an apartment complex about 5 years ago, and at
        the time, there was a trailer park behind us, mostly immigrants and people
        struggling to make ends meet living there, lots of dogs and cats roaming
        free, even at that time.

        About 2 years into our residence here, the town I live in decided to rezone
        the area, close the trailer park and move everyone out. Of course this was
        a cruel and tragic thing to do to the humans living there, the majority of
        whom had no means to find another place to live, but, once the job was
        complete and the commotion had died down, a HUGE population of stray
        animals, mostly cats, was left behind.

        In the years since, the strays have procreated and a feral cat colony has
        developed. A really large one.

        Well, that’s how I became interested in and passionately involved in the
        welfare of feral cats. I’m like you in that I have to remind myself that it’s
        impossible to rescue them all, but myself and another lady have adopted
        the colony and we do work a TNR program with them. It’s slow going and
        it takes time before any results can be observed.

        And, I currently have 3 cats that were kittens from the colony at one time
        or another who were in poor physical shape and would have died if I hadn’t
        stepped in.

        Anyway, there’s me being long winded!

      • Stephani,

        That’s really cool that you and your neighbor took over the colony! I know that some of the cats around me are strays, but others I’m pretty sure are someone’s indoor/outdoor cat. They look sleek and well groomed, so either they belong to someone, or there’s someone in the neighborhood who has decided to look out for them.

        But, on the other hand, there are some that look a little more scruffy/thin that are probably strays. Although, a couple of them were probably born on the streets, so they would actually fit into the category of “feral.”

        The latest addition to my family ended up in the basement here. I figure he must have wandered in while I was doing yard work and I must not have pulled the door all the way closed. We tried to lure him out, but no dice. So, we decided to keep him, although he was supposed to be my mother-in-law’s cat. We caught him in a trap, and took him to the vet for a thorough check up and neutering.

        Well, he was a fraidy cat and ended up hiding all the time. She decided she couldn’t handle socializing him and gave up, so we took him back. She’s convinced that he was feral and that he hates her. Although I just think he was terrified of us at first and doesn’t like strangers, which she is to him.

        It took us a couple of weeks to get him to not be so scared around us, and play a little. But, we had more patience than she did. It’s too bad, really, because she wanted a lap cat and he’s become a little glutton for petting. He spends all evening with us on the couch as we eat dinner, or watch tv, or read. If our laps are free (or even if they aren’t!), he’ll flop over our legs and nose our hands looking for petting, or a chin scratch. It was rocky going at first, but I’m really glad that we did keep him and not just trap him and let him go, back into the neighborhood.

        Anyway, now I’ve gone on and gotten long winded. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. That’s such a great story!

    I wish that everyone would try when they’re met with a “difficult” cat
    as much as you all did. The scaredy ones almost always end up
    being so sweet and loving, just like your boy did.

    Thank you for being a goodhearted, animal-loving person. There aren’t
    enough of us in the world!

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