Our backyard opens out onto open space, so we’re no strangers to feral cats. There’s one that we feed regularly, a black spayed female, and my hubby (who is “not a cat person”) spent three months last Fall coaxing her into the garage and getting her to sleep in a heated cat cup so that she would be safe, dry and warm during the winter months. She is wholly feral; she will talk to us and sometimes we can get close enough to sorta-kinda pet her, but there’s never any doubt that she prefers her wild ways to the lap of luxury. She only tolerates her proximity to us because she recognizes a food source when she sees one.
We were more successful in socializing our “psycho stray cat,” Tripper. He was about six months old when he started showing up, and although my intention when we captured him and delivered him to the vet for a hooha-ectomy and shots was that we would release him and leave him be in the wild, Tripper had other ideas: he wanted to live in the house. It didn’t help that I fell in love with him. A wild thing still stirs within him, but he’s all housecat. And he knows exactly one trick: on command, when I say “Kiss me, Trip!” he enthusiastically licks my hand.
Traditionally, I thought of feral cats as housecats I just hadn’t tamed, yet. But the truth of it is that, although feral cats are the same species as companion cats, they arent socialized to people, and so they are fearful of humans and usually are not adoptable. They live healthy, natural lives on their own, content in their outdoor home. Well-intentioned citizens might think they should call animal control when they spot a feral cat, but here’s the catch: In the current animal control system, the only happy ending for animals is adoption. Animals who arent adopted are killed. This includes most every adult feral cat who enters a shelter. Quite simply, feral cats do not belong in the shelter system.
Feral cats live outside, but are killed in pounds and shelters, so think twice before you call your local animal control, and educate your friends and neighbors about the best course of action in dealing with a feral cat colony.
Tripper was lucky. We were able to socialize him as a kitten, before he became irreversibly feral and treated to a one-way trip to the animal shelter through the actions of a (perhaps well-meaning) neighbor. Trip was a rare Trap-Neuter-Return case who elected to bid adieu to the feral life (perhaps lured to domesticity by the siren call of tuna), but still, TNR is an excellent option for feral colonies, allowing ferals to lead happy, un-reproductive lives.
Through education on feral cat management, many communities are learning to deal humanely with feral cat populations. You can help! You can donate your time (even just a couple of hours each month) to caring for feral cat colonies and/or setting traps. You can TNR any feral cats you encounter rather than calling animal control: many communities offer free spay/neuter services for feral cats. For example, here’s what they’re doing in Chicago:
At the PAWS Chicago Lurie Family Spay/Neuter Clinic we spay and neuter feral cats for FREE all year round. Rabies vaccine, ear tipping, a dose of penicillin, Droncit dewormer and Revolution flea and tick preventative are included for only $17. (If you live in one of our targeted twelve zip codes or are on public assistance there is no charge.)
To Celebrate National Feral Cat Day all Ferals will be Fixed and Receive the Complete Feral Package for FREE on October 16, 17 & 18!
Check your local shelters to see if they offer similar services — either on National Feral Cat Day or year-round. If every cat lover in the U.S. donated an hour of her time each month to either trapping ferals or caring for feral colonies, we’d be very close to eliminating the number of feral cats needlessly killed in shelters each year.