Feral Cats

Feral Cats

Feral cats need friends too

Feral cats. They sleep in our parks, alleys, gardens, factories and run-down buildings. Initially abandoned to fend for themselves by their human families, they band together into groups called colonies and forage on the fringes of human habitation, desperately trying to stay alive in an environment that is frequently extremely hostile.

A feral cat is a domestic cat that is living “wild” – it is not a “wild animal”. No domestic cat would choose to become feral. It is in a situation that has been forced upon it by uncaring humans.

Many “throwaways” die from starvation, disease, human abuse, traffic accidents … or become victims of predators. The survivors are elusive and have learned, usually the hard way, not to trust humans. They make their homes wherever they can find food and if even a small amount of food is available, the colony will grow each spring when litters of kittens are born.

What can be done for feral cats?

Little effort has been made by traditional animal welfare agencies to address the feral cat situation in a humane way. When humans complain about feral cats, the cats are usually trapped and put to death, or are killed by humans in a variety of cruel ways.

Eliminating the cats by trapping and killing them does not solve the perceived ‘problem’. Instead of reducing their numbers, killing makes room for new cats to move in and the breeding process starts all over again. So does the suffering. Most of the kittens born in these colonies die. Their mothers spend their lives pregnant and hungry. Un-neutered tom cats roam across busy roads, seeking mates, getting into fights; untreated wounds often kill them.

There is a better way

KITTEN ACTION supports a policy of SPAY and RETURN where all the adult cats in a colony are humanely trapped, sterilized (spayed if female and neutered if male) and then returned to the colony under the care of a human caretaker.

The Spay & Return system has been practiced in the USA and other countries for many years and has proved to be the most successful way of stabilizing and maintaining healthy, controlled colonies at the lowest cost possible. It also provides the best life possible for the cats themselves.

There are many caring individuals who have quietly ‘adopted’ feral cat colonies, feeing them regularly and providing veterinary care when necessary. These caring people often run into trouble in spring and summer when ‘their’ cats begin to breed, producing litters of kittens at an alarming rate. The kittens’ chance of survival in the hostile feral environment is poor and the prospects of finding homes for kittens that are not tame are virtually non-existent.

What are the benefits of Spay & Return?

Feral cats are territorial and will defend their area against new arrivals. This does not mean that new cats never join existing colonies but it is very rare that a new cat will be allowed to join the ‘club’.

Establishing controlled colonies..

  • prevents kittens from being born into the hostile feral environment;
  • stabilizes the colony at a manageable level;
  • eliminates annoying behavior associated with mating;
  • reduces the possibility of injury or illness caused by fighting for mates;
  • assists with keeping rats and snakes under control.

Colonies are assessed to ensure they are suitable candidates for Spay & Return. The owner of the property must agree to the establishment of the colony – KITTEN ACTION can assist in this regard by explaining the situation to the property owner from the cats’ point of view:

  • no matter how inconvenient it may be, this is the cats’ home;
  • they serve a useful function by discouraging the presence of mice and rats;
  • they have a right to life just like any other animal, and must not be treated as ‘pests’.

One ear of each cat is ‘notched’ while the cat is under anesthetic for ease of identification and to ensure that any new arrivals are quickly identified, trapped and sterilized.

Under certain circumstances, very young feral kittens can be placed into foster care until they are tame enough to be homed. Taming feral cats and kittens is a challenging task requiring time, patience and love. However, once tame, ferals grow into wonderful characterful companions who seem to spend the rest of their lives making up for the love they have missed!

The colony also needs at least one caretaker who will feed the cats every day and take care of other needs.

KITTEN ACTION does not currently have the resources to assist with sterilising feral cat colonies but this will be an important priority in 2013.  If you would like to get involved, please contact us.

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