For pet lovers with big hearts, seeing stray and feral cats around town can be distressing. These community cats often seem malnourished and sickly, but given the many factors to be considered in each situation, widespread solutions can be as elusive as the animals themselves.
While the lifestyles of outdoor cats are similar, their origins are varied. Strays have somehow become lost from their homes or abandoned by their owners and are often more receptive to human interaction. A feral cat is “any cat who is too poorly socialized to be handled,” according to the ASPCA, and is usually the offspring of strays who were lost or abandoned by their owners.
The problem can multiply quickly, given that in just seven years a single female cat and her kittens can produce 420,000 more cats, according to WebMD. For this reason, many animal welfare organizations encourage Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) strategies to help control wild populations.
TNR involves humanely trapping stray and feral cats, then transporting them to a veterinarian to be examined, vaccinated, and surgically sterilized. It is common practice to surgically tip the ear of feral cats during the TNR process so that caretakers will know at a glance that they have been treated. The cats are then returned to their territory. Ideally, a community cat caretaker will coordinate ongoing food, water and monitoring of the colony where they live.
There are several steps you can take to make a difference for stray and feral cats in your community by yourself, by joining a local group or even by starting your own:
- Help to educate your community on safety and support measures, including TNR
- Spay/neuter your own cats as soon as they are old enough for the procedure
- Donate to local organizations that support TNR programs
- Volunteer to help at a spay/neuter event for community cats
- Volunteer your time at local shelters
- Volunteer to socialize feral kittens
- Set up inexpensive or DIY cat shelters
- Become a community cat caretaker to provide shelter, food and/or healthcare
Serving as a caretaker can be a big commitment, so forming a team of like-minded pet lovers to share the responsibilities is a good idea. Also, think about an exit plan in case you have to move away or can no longer provide support before the colony you are helping becomes dependent on you.
However you decide to become involved, helping to manage and provide for community cats is compassionate and will make a difference for many of our feline friends.