This is very close to my heart because Seren-Kitty was dumped on the streets at age seven weeks, and Karma met the same fate at eight months old. Had I not found and adopted them, their lives would have been much different.
Feral cats live life on the fringes. They breed, give birth, and raise kittens with little to no human contact. These are not pet cats gone wild (strays)–they are wild animals that really cannot be tamed unless caught as kittens. Even then, they may never be a typical pet cat, but face behavior challenges all their life.
Why should we care? Because if not managed properly, feral cats become a nuisance and health risk to owned cats, and even humans. Felines squabbling outside your window wind up your owned indoor cats and can result in cat fights, as I described in this post about cat fights. Caring for ferals is also the ethical, humane thing for caring people to do.
What can be done? TNR has become the gold standard for managing feral cats. The acronym stands for “trap-neuter-return,” a program designed to control and decrease the numbers of roaming felines. TNR first appeared in Europe, and became better known once animal welfare societies in Great Britain began advocating the approach more than 30 years ago.
Louise Holton, an early proponent, first learned of TNR in the mid-1970s while living in South Africa. Once she moved to America, Holton founded Alley Cat Allies (ACA) in 1990 as an educational resource for humane methods of feral cat control.
Today, ACA is arguably the best organized of many such organizations and provides incredible support and information to cat lovers wanting to “do the right thing” for the feral felines in their communities. About 70% of cats who enter shelters are killed there, including virtually 100% of feral cats. That’s one reason so many people (up to 10 percent of people in the United States) have fed a stray or feral cat. People care–they often just aren’t sure what to do or where to find help. And simply setting out food only “feeds” the problem, it doesn’t manage or control the situation. But TNR does. I’ve written more extensively about the issue here.
Trapped cats receive a health exam to identify very sick cats, which are humanely euthanized. That prevents the spread of disease. Healthy kitties are sterilized and vaccinated, to prevent reproduction or illnesses such as rabies.
Tame-able kittens are adopted while the wild adults live out their lives–sometimes a decade or longer–in the managed colony. Without vaccinations and sterilization, the cats’ lifespans would be much shorter, and they’d produce many more sick kittens destined to repeat the cycle. The removal of one ear tip identifies these cats as managed. The caregiver(s) monitor the colony and provides food and shelter.
Not everyone is a fan. People dislike the noise and mess of roaming cats, and the potential for disease such as rabies. They also may not want to spend funds on wild cats. But alternatives are more expensive.
Feral cats can rarely be tamed or easily contained by fences. Sanctuaries and shelters fill up too quickly and ferals are not good candidates for adoption–most would be euthanized if taken to the shelter.
Simply removing cats from the area that offers shelter and food won’t work. Once the original kitties are gone, other feral cats simply move back into that niche–a “vacuum effect.” But if you maintain the colony and keep it healthy and unable to reproduce, the ferals in the colony keep other cats out. Trap and kill programs have been tried–they were expensive and didn’t work because of this vacuum effect. Besides, most Americans dislike the notion of treating cats as vermin.
Alley Cat Allies and other educational resources have made great strides in educating the public about feral cat solutions. People on both sides of the TNR fence agree that owned cats should be sterilized and identified, and safely confined in some way.
Feral cat programs have impacted our world in an intangible but perhaps even more important way. TNR demonstrates that all cats have a value, even those that can’t be touched. We as human beings now recognized our ethical responsibility toward these community cats and that they should be cared for and treated humanely.
So what are you doing on October 16, National Feral Cat Day? Have you ever feed a “community cat” or adopted one? Does your community have a TNR program in place…or needs one?
Read this post that contains my last Cat Fancy magazine article, covering feral cats.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!