April 16, 2012 at 05:51pm
There are 50 million in the U.S. today. Most of us have spotted them in our neighborhoods but failed to recognize them for what they are. They are known as feral cats, and they're a force to be reckoned with.
Those pesky felines that appear in your backyard or start cat fights in the middle of the night are most likely feral. They are offspring of lost or abandoned pet cats or other feral cats that are not spayed or neutered. They aren't used to people contact and are typically too fearful or wild to be handled.
If you're tempted to make a feral cat your pet, you will most likely be disappointed. They don't easily adapt or may never adapt to living as pets in close contact with people. They typically live in a colony--a group of related cats. The colony occupies and defends a specific territory where food and shelter are available. Abandoned buildings and porches are typical hideouts, and trash dumpsters or people who feed them are sources of food.
Once I began to research feral cats, I realized I had at least two such wild cats in my own neighborhood. An orange tabby often shows up to hunt rabbits or to sleep under our neighbor's pine tree. A black and white tabby shows up on our deck looking for mice or food scraps. Neither will let me come close and run away the moment I come outside.
As you can imagine, many feral cats don't survive because life is very hard without human caretakers. They are without reliable sources for food and shelter. Females may become pregnant as young as 5 months of age and have 2-3 litters a year. This is very stressful on cats that are struggling to survive. More than half of all kittens born to feral cats are likely to die without human intervention.
Here is a link to a video about what to do with feral cats on the Human Society of the U.S. website: http://video.humanesociety.org/video/774083885001
Even with high death rates, the feral cat population in a colony can get out of control. But there is really just one solution that offers a humane way to effectively treat this problem. It's called Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). This is a process where feral cats are trapped live and taken to clinics to be neutered or spayed and then returned to their original habitat. At a minimum, feral cats who are TNRed are spayed or neutered so they can no longer reproduce, vaccinated against rabies, and surgically ear-tipped on one ear. The ear tipping is a universally recogtnized sign of a TNRed cat.
Dedicated feral cat caretakers feed and provide shelter for TNRed cats, monitor them for sickness and remove new cats for TNR if feral. This care allows the cat colony to be healther, prevents the birth of more cats and reduces the number of cats over time. The overall cost of caring for feral cats this way is less than other alternatives such as removal, shelter care or euthanasia.
If you're currently feeding feral cats, you may need help. Because they aren't spayed or neutered, you'll soon be overwhelmed with kittens and more kittens. There are organizations that can help you trap-neuter-return the feral cats you're feeding. Even some veterinarians are willing to provide low-cost services for feral cats. Here is a link to a list of feral cat resources, organized by state: http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/maps/feral-cats.html.
Other things you can do:
- spay or neuter your own cats
- be a feral cat caretaker for an organization/agency
- socialize feral kittens
- volunteer at a spay/neuter event for feral cats
- build shelters for feral cats
- educate others