They’re found in cities, in suburbs and in rural areas. Feral cats are everywhere, and their numbers continue to increase.
A feral cat is a kitten born and raised without human contact. Each generation becomes increasingly unsocialized. By the 10th generation without human contact, a newborn kitten with closed eyes will hiss if petted. Feral cats often gather in groups called colonies. They’re in fields with mice, in industrial areas with rodents, and around stores or homes with dumpsters.
The problem of feral cats
Cats are well-suited for hunting and provide natural rodent control. If cats breed freely, however, a few quickly become too many. Some people love cats and some people hate them, but most everyone agrees – there are too many. Not only does this result in the tragedy of unwanted, starving animals, it also impacts the ecosystem, particularly the bird population.
For years, people unsuccessfully tried to control the feral cat population through euthanasia. They found unneutered cats quickly moved into the vacated territory, and the cycle repeated itself. Surprisingly, stabilizing the colony with a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program is more effective. With TNR, feral cats are trapped humanely and brought to clinics where they are spayed or neutered. Tame kittens and cats are placed in good homes, and the others are returned to the place they were found. Volunteers provide rudimentary food and shelter for the remainder of the returned cats’ lives.
Help end suffering
“You need a compassionate heart to be involved,” says Leah Kennon, operations director with the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon, based in Portland.
Volunteers in locations around the country coordinate clinics, arrange for local veterinarians and distribute fliers.
“The people bringing in cats are usually the caregivers who feed them. The cats are screened – we don’t operate on pets. This is for feral cats, and the need is tremendous,” Kennon says. “In the winter, the cats we see are fluffy. When spring comes, the boys have abscesses (from injuries incurred during fights) and the girls are pregnant. By the end of the summer, the girls are bedraggled. They’ve all had two litters and there are kittens and kittens and kittens.”
In addition to spaying or neutering, all cats are vaccinated against distemper and rabies, have their ears cleaned and wounds addressed, and receive a penicillin injection, pain relief and flea treatment. As with all TNR programs, the cats’ ears are notched to identify which animals have been spayed or neutered. If cats have a medical condition, the volunteers either help or humanely end their suffering.
How You Can Help
Follow these steps to control a feral cat colony in your area:
- Check out the Web site www.AlleyCat.org. You’ll learn about feral cats, Trap-Neuter-Return and resources in your area. Visit the Resource Center to find members of Feral Friends Network in your area.
- Understand the current situation. Does anyone know the history of your colony? Is someone already feeding the cats?
- Set up a feeding station and schedule. Remember, cats are creatures of habit and will learn food is available at a certain time each day. Come at the same time, leave the food for 20 minutes and take any remaining food with you. Leaving food encourages rodents, coyotes and other wildlife.
- Spay or neuter the cats! Learn about low cost options in your area by visiting www.SpayUSA.org or by talking to your local humane society.
A Home Where Kitties Don’t Roam
Feral cats can make a dent in songbird populations. But equally devastating, advocates say, is predation by domestic cats. If you don’t keep your cats indoors all the time, try to limit their outdoor activities to times when you are outside and can encourage them to hunt rodents instead of wrens.
For More Information:
- Johnson, Karen, A Report on Trap/Alter/Release Programs, www.Fanciers.com/other-faqs/feral-trap.html
- Alley Cat Allies, The National Feral Cat Resource, www.AlleyCat.org/
- Spay USA, www.SpayUSA.org
- National Audubon Society, www.Audubon.org
- Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon, www.FeralCats.com