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How You Can Help Feral Cats

“Feral” means “wild.” Feral cats either grew up wild or turned wild after being lost or abandoned. They live in feral “colonies” with other wild cats. Sometimes a person or a group will act as a “caretaker” for a colony. Caretakers provide food and water and occasionally a small shelter, as well as spaying or neutering of the entire colony. Cared-for ferals can live as long as 10 years; without a caretaker, they will live only about two years. As long as they aren’t breeding and are left alone, they pose no threat to humans.

A feral cat is hardly ever suitable for adoption as a pet. Some owners have had success retraining feral cats, but it took years. Some semiferals are able to adjust if caught soon enough. It’s best to let ferals live with their own kind. Ferals do not need your home. Ferals are at home in the wild.

Facts About Feral Cats

  • Never touch or handle a feral cat.
  • Feral cats usually make bad house pets. Ferals live in and prefer the outdoors. They do not consider your home a paradise—to them, it’s a prison.
  • There are about 60 million feral cats in the United States alone. About 17.5 million Americans feed feral cats.
  • If a feral is returned to a different colony, he may try to return “home” even if it takes crossing several miles of highways to do it.

Why Be Concerned About Feral Cats?

If feral cats continue to breed and multiply, their numbers “swell quickly to unmanageable magnitude,” according to Esther Mechler, director of SPAY/USA in New York. That’s no lie: One female cat and her offspring theoretically can produce 420,000 cats in seven years. This problem becomes everyone’s responsibility. Without the tireless efforts of volunteers and veterinarians who trap and alter cats, our cities would be overrun with cats.

Destroying feral cats only keeps a steady stream of new cats invading the area. However, if an entire colony is trapped, altered, and returned to the same area, their numbers remain steady. Some cities and counties pledge funds to control the population—a form of “animal control.” The results have paid off. Studies across the United States and Europe have shown not only that the stray cat population is decreasing, but that it is actually cheaper to spay, neuter, and return ferals to their colony than it is to kill them.

What to Do If You Find a Feral Cat Colony

A few shelters may know the location of feral colonies and caretakers in your area. Because some agencies simply kill feral cats and others offer assistance, call different shelters. Ask about organizations whose mission is to spay and neuter feral cats. Some shelters will trap, alter, and return the colony if the caller or community can locate a caretaker who will commit to feeding and watering the colony every day. Backup caretakers also are needed. Shelters don’t like to return fixed ferals to an area that has no steady food and water supply because the cats won’t live long under those conditions.

SPAY/USA and Alley Cat Allies have a growing friends-of-feral-felines national network. They can help you organize your community.

What Else You Can Do for Ferals

  • Raise community awareness. Ferals are easy targets on which to vent abuse.
  • Set a good example for kids. Let them know that anyone who tortures cats or other animals is doing something very wrong and needs a mental health professional.
  • Volunteer to feed and water a cat colony. You must be able to go to the colony every day and have a backup for any day you cannot make it.
  • Volunteer to trap ferals and transport them to the vet’s office to be altered. Then transport them back to the colony.
  • If you see a cat roaming the neighborhood that doesn’t appear to be taken care of, consider calling the shelter to have him rescued. Some people will agree to have a stray altered and then find him another home. Neighborhood cats are no longer anyone’s pet. They don’t have regular proper care, but they are not yet feral. When caught and fixed soon enough in life, a neighborhood stray is quite adoptable. But if he runs the streets with little or no human contact, he will lose trust and become feral in no time.

Contact List for Spay and Neutering Services

For information on affordable spay and neutering services, contact:

Alley Cat Allies

Alley Cat Rescue

1-800 248-SPAY (7729)

The mission of SPAY/USA is to end pet overpopulation. SPAY/USA is a network of volunteers and veterinarians working together to popularize and facilitate spay/neuter services through a nationwide toll-free referral service. SPAY/USA empowers local groups to start their own spay/neuter clinics.

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