You see them in your neighborhood and wonder where they call home. They don’t come up to you in fact they seem afraid of humans. Are these cats strays? Maybe, but probably not. For these outside-living “community cats” though it will soon be “kitten season” and love is already in the air. Every Spring we receive numerous calls about kittens, far more than we can take in.
To try to reduce the amount of unwanted, homeless cats in our community the Humane Society of Allen County is once again raising funds to support our TNR program: Operation Catnip. You may be wondering what the difference is between a stray and a feral cat.
Technically a “stray” cat is one that once had a home, one socialized to humans. It may have been left behind when the people it depended upon moved away, it may have been a housecat who got out one day and is lost. The longer stray cats go without human contact the greater the odds that they could become “feral”. The difference between a stray gone wild and a true feral cat is that the stray can most often be reintroduced to domestic life. Most true feral cats never become fully domesticated.
So what is a feral cat? A feral cat is a true “community cat” it has never had a home other than the great outdoors, is not convinced that humans are to be trusted and, in many cases, is not ever going to be domesticated enough to feel comfortable with people. Some people might call such cats “wild”.
In the State of Ohio cats are not considered companion animals under the law. They are protected somewhat by anti-cruelty laws but not to the same extent that dogs are, they aren’t licensed, not required to be confined (leashed or in a yard) and can be considered a nuisance in many neighborhoods.
Contrary to some common misconceptions, feral cats are not a new phenomenon, and they are not cast-offs from irresponsible pet owners (whereas stray cats might be). Domestic cats came into existence about 10,000 years ago, when humans began farming. According to scientists, cats are one of the only animals who domesticated themselves—choosing to live near humans to feed on the rodents attracted by stored grain. Evolutionary research shows that the natural habitat of cats is outdoors in close proximity to humans—and that is how they have lived ever since. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1940s—and the invention of cat litter—that “indoors only” for cats was even a concept.
Programs such as Trap Neuter Release (TNR) can slow the population growth and improve the quality of life of cats (especially for the females). Trap Neuter Release is the humane, effective approach for feral cats. Feral cats are humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and ear-tipped (the universal symbol of a neutered and vaccinated cat), and then returned to their outdoor home. The colony’s population stabilizes—no more kittens! Trap Neuter Release improves their lives and their relations with the community: the behaviors and stresses associated with mating stop.
A TNR program will not immediately remove “nuisance” animals from neighborhoods but the population will reduce over time. Feral kittens 12 weeks old or younger can often be successfully domesticated and adopted into loving homes. Outdoor cats who are friendly and well socialized are strays who can be rehomed with loving humans. Finding homes for those who can be placed will be another challenge in bringing the homeless cat population under control. Simply removing all the cats from one area creates a vacuum that encourages others to move in—great food source, shelter etc.—and take their place.
Volunteers & Funding Are Critical. While we apply for grants and fund-raise to support the project, we also need volunteer people-power. We will soon begin training volunteers in the proper methods of trapping strays and ferals for Operation Catnip. We will be speaking to neighborhood associations, holding webinar training meetings utilizing information from Alley Cat Allies. If you’d like to help—and we need your help—in identifying hotspots, trapping cats and returning them to their outdoor homes contact the shelter 419.991.1775 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org