On October 16, Cat lovers will be celebrating the 12th annual National Feral Cat Day, an event with the long-term goal of bringing greater awareness to the plight of stray and feral cats that are forced to live in the shadows of big cities as well as rural areas.
The official definition of feral is: "Living in a wild state after domestication." These cats are also often referred to as "free-roaming” because the term embraces lost, abandoned, loosely owned and stray cats, too.
People who carelessly -- and often deliberately -- abandon domestic pets, leaving them to fend for themselves, largely bring about the problems of feral cats. It is cruel and unkind to think that any animal that has been in a domestic situation can suddenly fend for itself. And, if the cats have not been spayed or neutered, the colonies quickly multiply. Consequently, National Feral Cat Day was introduced by AlleyCat Allies, a national advocacy organization dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats, with the idea of promoting successful Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs. They also celebrate the millions of compassionate citizens who care for these cats.
As a result of their efforts over the past decade, there are now more than 250 local nonprofit organizations around the country that help to educate their communities about feral cat colonies and carry out TNR programs.
Undoubtedly, one of the most unique and successful feral cat programs is Project Bay Cat, a TNR and humane colony management program run by the Homeless Cat Network in Foster City, California since 2004. At the time, therewere 175 unsterilized cats living on a long stretch of a popular walking/biking trail along the San Francisco Bay coastline. Determined to protect these cats and manage the colony humanely, with the goal that one day it could cease to be necessary, Cimeron Morrissey founder of the Homeless Cat Network, approached the municipality of Foster City looking for their support along with the backing of Foster City’s District Attorney’s office.
Legal backing meant that all animal abuse, neglect and abandonment cases could be rigorously prosecuted and the offenders brought to justice. Having such legal back up means that residents in the area are less likely to attempt to abandon their cats and seek help from a shelter instead.
The city organized signs to be put up along the trail explaining to the public that this was a managed colony and any interference was punishable by law. The Homeless Cat Network built special feeding stations along the trail, and the organization’s volunteers took charge feeding the cats on a daily basis. While Homeless Cat Network provides the food and necessary supplies, many of the volunteers pay for their own supplies, which helps a lot.
Public feeding of these cats is discouraged because that makes it more difficult for the volunteers to trap the cats so that they can be spayed and neutered and safely returned to live peacefully in the colony. The organization also has special arrangements with local veterinarians to perform these procedures, and they also offer the cats on-going medical care. In fact, these cats have everything a domesticated cat would have -- except a permanent roof over their heads.
“Most people have such incredible misperceptions about feral cats. It’s eye-opening to see them as happy, healthy, and sometimes very friendly creatures,” says Morrissey. “The public needs to be made aware that there are feral cats everywhere and educated to understand that they are everyone’s responsibility.”
Since the inception of the project, many of the more people-friendly felines have been adopted into permanent homes, reducing the population on the trail by 59%. (Others have passed away with age). Today, there are 72 cats remaining at Project Bay Cat, and 95% are already spayed/neutered. Luckily, the remaining five percent have not procreated, meaning that no kittens have been born there adding to the population.
“Project Bay Cat is not a cat sanctuary,” explains Morrissey “The ultimate goal is to humanely manage the cats that live there and let them live our their lives in peace and good health and ultimately have the colony cease to exist.”
In celebration of National Feral Cat Day, Morrissey offers the following helpful suggestions...
If you find community cats in your neighborhood, the very best way to help them is to get them spay/neutered. Not only will it stop the population of cats from growing, but it also makes the cats healthier and happier. It stops nuisance behavior as well, such as yowling, fighting and of course, having litter after litter of kittens.
Just about every community has low-cost or free spay/neuter clinics to help, and they often offer free rental of trapping equipment. To find one near you, contact your local feline rescue group, Humane Society or SPCA. You can also find local spay/neuter resources at: www.neuterspay.org.
4. Provide shelter
This is particularly important if you live in a colder climate. You can make a very simple and inexpensive shelter using a plastic storage bin and straw, or you can build something more sturdy and insulated. Here are several great plans for easy-to-make shelters: http://www.neighborhoodcats.org/HOW_TO_FERAL_CAT_WINTER_SHELTER
5. Encourage your neighbors to participate, and to spay/neuter their pets
Chances are that the feral cats that you're seeing in your neighborhood are the descendants of unfixed domestic cats. By encouraging your neighbors to spay/neuter their pets and educating them about low-cost or free options, it will help prevent the introduction of more homeless cats in your neighborhood.
Morrissey adds that the best way to humanely trap cats is to withhold food from the cats for 12-24 hours and then set the humane traps with tempting treats, such as tuna or wet food. “Once caught, cover the traps entirely with old sheets or towels, which will calm the cats,” says Morrissey.
She points out that many spay/neuter clinics operate by appointment only, so be sure to plan ahead.
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For recovery post-surgery, Morrissey suggests keeping the cats in their covered traps for 24-72 hours, taking guidance from the veterinary clinic and watching for signs of illness or surgical complications (which are rare). Finally, after the cats have recovered, they must be returned to the exact location where they were originally caught.
Your can find out more about National Feral Cat Day, along with an interactive listing of events going on around the country at www.alleycat.org/NFCD.
Other useful links:
For her tireless work and dedication to feral cats, Cimeron Morrissey was named Animal Planet’s person of the Year in 2007.