Monday, May 25, 2015

FERAL CATS



Not a week goes by that I do not hear someone talk about the feral cat problem in Tehama County.  In many other areas around the world, for centuries ferals have comprised a large portion of local stray animal populations. Tehama is no exception. 

All ferals are strays, but not all strays are feral.  A stray may be someone’s companion cat who became lost, or had been intentionally abandoned.  These socialized cats are adoptable and can be reintroduced into a home.  Adult feral cats are not socialized and are not considered adoptable.  They may be former pets who, over time, regressed to a wild state or they may be the offspring of felines who did not reunite with their guardians. 

Colonies are groups of ferals living together.  They can be a combination of ferals and strays that share territory and a food source.  Unfortunately, these colonies can grow from a couple of cats to hundreds as each new generation of kittens is born.  If these kittens never have human contact, they will also grow into fearful wild cats.  Unless a rescue is available to take the adults, an extremely high probability for euthanasia occurs if brought into a shelter.  However, feral kittens under eight weeks of age have an increased chance of not sharing the same fate if there are people readily available to socialize them.

Ferals, avoiding humans, live in the shadows and hidden spots of our community, and struggle desperately to exist.  Food sources, often provided by dumpsters and garbage or the rodents that feast on the same, are limited.  Some ferals are lucky enough to receive food from benevolent people who do not wish them to starve.  Unfortunately, as well intentioned as these people are, they may be inadvertently contributing to the overall problem if they do not concurrently spay or neuter.  The community where the cats live often views them with disdain due to the cat’s scavenging, mating, and territorial behaviors.  In addition, the perpetuated misinformation about the effects on wildlife does nothing to aid these animals.  Their life, like any other domestic pet who does not have a human guardian, is fret with illness, injury, starvation, and predation. 

For many, the way to deal with these woe-begotten creatures is simply to eradicate them and the colonies in which they live.  Research has shown us that this is not an effective fix.  Even though the quantity of cats in a locale is reduced, the solution is temporary.  Any survivors will continue to breed and other breeding cats will move into the vacancy created. 

The only proven method to manage feral cat colonies is Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR).  TNR is not about rescuing or eradicating every feral.  It is about reducing the number of feral cats in a given area and lowering intake euthanasia rates.  It is also about creating a better environment for both the cats and the people around them.  

With TNR, each cat in a colony is trapped and transported to a veterinary clinic.  At the clinic, the animal is vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and ear-tipped (the ear is trimmed) to identify them as ferals who were sterilized.  Once recovered, the cats are returned to their original colony.  Ideally, a “caretaker”, who is either an individual or a committed group of people, provides food, water, and shelter to the cats.  In addition, the caretaker monitors the cats for illness or injury and also for any newcomers who would require TNR.  A comprehensive resource for caretakers, or those interested in TNR, is “The Neighborhood Cat TNR Handbook: A Guide to Trap- Neuter- Return for the Feral Cat Caretaker”.  It is available to read or download at no charge at http://www.neighborhoodcats.org/article/HOME/142 .

Society, in general, would prefer that there were no feral cats.  Ways to help prevent ferals is to avoid the initial actions that perpetuate the situation.  Ensure that pets are not only safely contained but, if lost, that they have some form of identification on them in order to assure their guardian is contacted.  Do not abandon domestic pets and force them to learn to fend for themselves in unfamiliar, unfriendly environments.  In addition, do not let unsprayed/unneutered cats roam free.  Better yet, spay or neuter all your pets.

Feral cats may never become beloved household companions, but that does not mean their life has no value.  Both they and we are part of this community.  It is up to us to find solutions to coexist.  Next week, I will discuss TNR in greater depth, along with its alternatives.


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