We’ve all seen them — lean cats with large frightened eyes who move across our yards and parking lots like wind on the water.
Feral cats have never had contact with humans. They’re the offspring of stray or feral cats, not domesticated cats who have gone primal.
Feral cats have short lives — 8 to 9 years as opposed to domestic cats, who, if kept indoors and properly taken care of, have very good chances at making it well into their teens or twenties.
In the course of those short lives, ferals can add drastically to the cat overpopulation problem. Here are some things you can do to help.
1. Set up a Feeding Station and Shelter
This is compassion in action, putting your money where your mouth is and putting food down where the ferals’ mouths are.
“There is nothing wrong with your helping this free-roaming cat,” maintain the Feral Cat project people. “It actually gives you a feeling of accomplishment and fills your human need to care for those whom we deem less fortunate.”
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When it comes to putting some kind of roof over the cats’ heads, not to worry: Alley Cat Allies has a list describing different options, ranging from the K&H Outdoor Heated Kitty House to a camper-topper-turned-shelter. The group also lists the pros and cons of each.
The camper-topper shelter, for instance, can house ten to fifteen cats, but making the modifications requires a certain amount of technical skill . A 50-gallon storage container can be transformed into a shelter much more easily. But it provides less protection than, say, a wooden shelter.
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In a perfect world, all these cats would find good homes. But for some ferals, that may not be the solution, and that’s where trap-neuter-return (TNR) comes in.
The cats are captured in Havahart cat traps, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered. During surgery, the vet will remove the tip of 1 ear from each cat. This way, people will know that the cats are rabies-free and no longer adding to the kitten crop.
The cats are then returned to their original territory where a caretaker will feed them and monitor their health. The caretaker will also TNR any new ferals who arrive on the scene, causing the colony’s numbers to stabilize and eventually shrink.
“There is a realistic concern that TNR may encourage dumping, and that certain situations and climates are unsuitable for TNR,” observes Ellen Perry Berkeley in her book Maverick Cats: Encounters With Feral Cats. Berkeley believes that “negatives attitudes are fading, eroded by the news of greatly reduced homeless populations and greatly lowered euthanasia statistics in cities where TNR has been practiced for almost a decade.”
Don’t have a Havahart trap? Local rescues “can sometimes help with trapping or loan out a trap,” says Robin A.F. Olson of Kitten Associates, Inc. “Some clinics also loan traps for a deposit.”
3. Be a Part of the Solution
Help spay/neuter a feral cat or a feral-cat colony. Donate to a group like Alley Cat Allies that helps ferals. Volunteer at free or low-cost spay/neuter clinic.
You can also be a foster parent. “Kittens that are young enough can be socialized and adopted,” maintains the Feral Cat Project. “Foster parents are always needed to help care for these kittens until they can be altered and placed into adoption.”
4. Got a Barn?
The Feral Cat Program of Georgia (FCPG) of The Humane Society of Forsyth County runs a “Barns Wanted” ad on their website. Instead of dealing with pesticides or traps, you can contact the society and “obtain the perfect mouser” — a spayed/neutered feral cat. This is an ideal way of dealing with those ferals who seem to defy socialization.
5. Is a Feral Cat Adoptable?
A lot of people think not, although I’m inclined to believe that it depends on the cat and human(s) involved. Berkeley and her late husband Roy got to know a number of ferals up at their home in Shaftsbury, Vermont. Over the years, 4 of them — Turtle (the star of Maverick Cats), April, Leona and Roscoe — gave up their feral status and became loving pets.
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So, don’t rule out a feral cat as a possible pet, because you never can tell what difference a permanent home can make.