According to Alley Cat Allies (an organization dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of feral cats) a feral cat is a cat who has either never had any human contact or the contact with humans has diminished over time. Further, they can survive on their own outdoors and rarely ever enjoy living indoors.
Does this description fit any of the cats that you may have seen around your neighborhood? If so, then you probably have a feral cat colony somewhere nearby. Many times, they may be there and you just haven’t noticed. Most cats are very good at hiding. This is especially true of feral cats. In fact, they usually prefer not to be noticed or have any human contact at all.
Over the last few years at my home, that’s exactly how things have been. Initially, I saw a male orange tabby walking in and around some of our neighbors’ yards. After seeing him on a more regular basis, I decided to name him Charles because he looked very regal. Initially, I assumed he was an indoor/outdoor cat who explored his surroundings until returning to his home each night. As Charles began to visit my home at all hours, I realized that he may not have a permanent home. So I began to put food and water out for him by our garage twice per day.
Over the course of a few months, Charles began to feel more comfortable around me, and one day he showed up with his three girlfriends, whom I named Momma Kitty, Natasha, and Miss Cali. By spring, Charles’ girlfriends had given birth to a total of seven kittens. They, too, frequented our home for food and water each day.
I gave each kitten a name that closely resembled one of their outward features or characteristics. Itty Bitty and Miss Kitty were the first to be born to Momma Kitty in the shrubs located in the front of my home. Itty Bitty is a long-haired, orange Maine Coon while Miss Kitty is a light yellow tabby like her mom.
Ash and Cole showed up next. They’re brothers who were born to Miss Cali. They are both gray tabbies with white chests and paws. Pumpkin, Rusty, and Angelica were the last to arrive and were born to Natasha. Pumpkin was a solid orange tabby while his brother, Rusty, is an orange tabby with a white chest and white paws. Their sister, Angelica, is a light yellow tabby like Natasha.
As a few more months went by, each of the felines learned that our house was a safe and reliable place to get food and that they wouldn’t be bothered. While talking with one of our close friends, we learned that our neighbors two doors down were also feeding the cats and kittens. We compared stories, I mentioned each of the names I had given them and, since there were now 11 of them, we agreed that we should join efforts to have them all spayed and neutered.
Thankfully, a vet in our area specializes in spaying and neutering feral cats. She was also able to perform pediatric spay/neuter surgeries on each of the kittens. At the time, I didn’t realize these weren’t commonly offered by many veterinarians in our area.
One by one, I would trap a cat or kitten in a borrowed humane Havahart trap and take him or her to the vet; our neighbor would pick up the cat the same evening. Still groggy from the anesthesia, the cats would recover in our neighbor’s garage and be released the following afternoon. Over the course of a couple of months, and through our combined efforts, each of the four adult cats and the seven kittens were spayed or neutered.
From the beginning, I have given them full-time access to our garage in an effort to provide them shelter from the elements. Leaving one of our garage doors open about six inches provides them the freedom to come and go as they please. They also have access to small pet beds, some of which are heated. While some of the cats enjoy the beds, others still prefer the cool cement during the summer or to sleep on top of our SUV.
Over three years of caring for this colony of feral cats, two have found themselves permanent homes, one was hit by a car outside of our neighbor’s home, and a couple of the others chose to join another nearby feral cat colony. The six cats who continue to visit me every day haven’t caused any problems. Now that I’m accustomed to seeing them each day, I realize that I honestly enjoy having them around.
It’s wonderful to see them arrive each morning and evening. It gives me great joy and satisfaction to know that they are being taken care of, and most of them honor me by sticking around all night. On any given summer evening, a half dozen or more of the cats lounge in my driveway. We’re always careful when pulling into the driveway, though, because some of them are so comfortable that they don’t move and think that all cars should yield to their presence.
In the evening before going to bed, I’ll open the door to my garage, tell them all goodnight, and turn off the light. It makes me smile to see them all taking advantage of the warm beds and safety I have provided.
Needless to say, I’ve learned a great deal about taking care of, and living harmoniously with, feral cats over these last few years. I hope that what I’ve shared about making the lives of each of these cats and kittens a little better has inspired you to do the same for the feral cats and kittens that may frequent the areas around your home. After all, every animal deserves our appreciation and respect.