Feral Cat Assistance Program
The similarities we can watch between a wild lion or tiger stalking his prey on the Discovery Channel and a fluffy house cat stalking a toy mouse remind us that the domestic cat shares an important kinship with his wild cousins. That inherited feline wildness usually lurks beneath the surface of our pets, but is the stuff of day-today survival for the feral cats in our community. While genetically identical to house cats, feral cats have very different lives because these cats grow up without human contact or revert to a wild state after months or years of self-sufficiency after being lost or abandoned.
While so shy as to sometimes remain unseen, feral cats are unfortunately common. The population estimates of feral cats range from 13 million in winter, 24 million in
summer (Clifton, M., Where cats belong – and where they don’t, ANIMAL PEOPLE [June 2003] .), to 50 million (Levy, J., Humane strategies for controlling feral cat populations , Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Vol. 225, No. 9. ), to 60 to 100 million (Alley Cat Allies, Tracking Our Success .).
Whatever their exact numbers, feral cats can be expected to contribute substantially to the number of kittens born each year given their estimated sterilization rate of 2% (Levy, J., Humane strategies for controlling feral cat populations (2004), Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Assn., Vol. 225, No. 9.).
Attempted management of feral cat populations by Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs are an increasingly popular and much more effective alternative to mass euthanasia.
The strategy behind TNR is simple but very effective: stop the colony from growing by preventing new litters. Where kittens have been born in a colony, they can often be removed to foster homes, socialized and eventually placed into adoptive homes. For the adults, who are usually too wild to socialize, they are returned to their home colonies and looked after by a volunteer caretaker after being neutered by a vet, and the colony population reduces gradually through natural attrition. Started in March 2005, The Animal Center’s Feral Cat Assistance Program program has always used the TNR strategy to reduce feral cat populations in our community.
What is a Feral Cat?: While the term “stray” generally refers to cats who have been recently abandoned and are still domesticated, feral cats are defined as the “wild” offspring of domestic cats and are primarily the result of cat owners’ abandonment or failure to spay and neuter their animals, allowing them to breed uncontrolled.
About Trap-Neuter Return:
What is TNR? TNR is a full management plan in which stray and feral cats already living outdoors are humanely trapped, evaluated, vaccinated, and sterilized by veterinarians. Where kittens have been born in a colony, they can often be removed to foster homes, socialized and eventually placed into adoptive homes. For the adults, who are usually too wild to socialize, they are returned to their home colonies and looked after by a volunteer caretaker after being neutered by a vet, and the colony population reduces gradually through natural attrition.
What are the advantages of TNR? It immediately stabilizes the size of the colony by eliminating new litters. The nuisance behaviors associated with feral cats is dramatically reduced, including fighting among males and the odor of unneutered males spraying to mark their territory.
What if I do nothing? If nothing is done, the size of a feral cat colony will grow until it reaches carrying capacity (how many cats the available food and shelter can support). When the cats exceed carrying capacity, population control comes in the form of starvation and disease. Female cats can produce two litters per year, with an average litter of four. If even half of the cats are female, it’s easy to see how a feral cat colony can (and will!) grow exponentially. Don’t wait for the size of the feral cat colony to grow beyond control.
What Shelters Take Feral Cats? Based on studies of kill rates for feral cats across the county, we believe feral cats don’t belong in shelters. Recent data from Alley Cat Allies found that 70% of all cats who enter animal shelters are killed–feral, stray and pet. That number jumps to virtually 100% for feral cats. Why? Because most people do not want to adopt cats who are not socialized to people and who hide or display aggression when handling is attempted. We believe that’s it’s more humane to let a cat live out his life in the territory he knows as home after spaying/neutering and vaccinations, ideally under the care of a volunteer. We strongly discourage trying to place feral cats in shelters or relocating them except in extreme circumstances. For more information on this subject, visit Neighborhood Cats
Here are links to sites that we’ve found helpful when socializing feral kittens: