this online advice column, Callie, the
CSCC calico cat, answers your questions about feral cats.
If you'd like to see your question answered on this web
site, use the form at the bottom of the
page to submit your
Please note: If you have an issue that
requires an immediate answer, please visit
page to communicate with
one of our members.
The common advice is to take non-feral cats to a shelter, as opposed to TNR,
which is meant for untamed cats. The problem is, the shelters are almost always
full (understandably), and can't take them! If non-feral cats
aren't supposed to be part of a TNR colony, but the shelters can't take them,
what am I supposed to do? I put out
food and water so they at least have something. The idea of trapping and
neutering has crossed my mind. There are so many, that I don't think most have
owners. It would be incredibly difficult to find them all homes. So, the advice out there needs to address the fact
that shelters are usually filled to capacity, and some don't even have a
waiting list. I actually trapped one cat at one point, hoping a shelter could take
it (no dice), and they said to just release it...not much else I could do. I'm
looking for better advice than that. Thanks.
Dear Animal Lover,
Well, as we ferals will attest, it's not a perfect world...and there aren't always perfect answers. You make valid points. The fact that it is so challenging to find homes for even the friendly outdoor cats helps make one of the arguments for TNR, actually—that it just isn't feasible to adopt all us outdoor cats into homes, which is what some TNR opponents offer up as the solution.
Yes, ideally, all the friendly or socializable cats and kittens would be removed and go into shelters or homes. The frequency with which that actually happens will depend on the resources of the person/organization doing TNR. It usually takes a pretty fair amount of time and effort. You may end up fostering cats quite a while as you keep trying to get them into a shelter, or you may have to adopt them out yourself. (See previous Ask Callie answers for advice on how to find homes for adoptable cats.) If you commit to taking the cats inside for eventual rehoming, you have to be prepared for the possibility of ending up with one or more permanently if you are not successful.
Another approach: Identify the friendliest cats/kittens in the colony. Make a list with colors, descriptions, gender. as much info as you know about the cats. Contact all the area shelters/humane societies in your area. Tell them you want to stabilize the colony via TNR , and that you want to pull friendly cats and kittens from the colony but need their help to do so. See if one or more of them will agree to take a certain number of the friendlies. The more forward-thinking agencies you contact will understand you are helping them work toward their goal of ultimately taking in fewer cats and kittens by taking it upon yourself to get these cats fixed. (Check your area resources for free or low-cost surgeries.) It is better to have this understanding upfront than to pull the animals and hope on a case-by-case basis that you can find a shelter to take it.
If no shelter can take the cats, go ahead and fix them and return them. If you don't, they will be outside anyway—and reproducing. You can continue trying to find adopters or a shelter for the friendly cats even once they are back outdoors.
I suspect this is not the "better advice" you were hoping for. But, to paraphrase a certain feral-friendly humane society leader, sometimes you have to do not what is ideal, but what is possible.
Do what's possible.
Thanks for caring,
A cat named Shaggy was abandoned in our neighborhood about a year ago.
His owners evidently could not get Shaggy to go into a crate when they were ready to
leave. So, they left him behind.
They told a few of the neighbors to keep trying to get him into a crate, and they
would come back for him.
One neighbor tried a few times and got severely scratched, so he gave up.
The new people who moved in feed him sporadically,
but they do not let him inside the house because they have another cat.
He seems to be hungry, so we feed him too. Other neighbors feed him
I am worried about him with the winter coming.
I would like to take him in, but he needs to get shots first. (I have a dog by
the way.) I have no idea when he last had shots
and he's been living outside for about a year now. How do I get him to a vet? If he will not go into a crate,
I am afraid to try, I don't have any experience with cats. what if he has a
disease from living outside so long?
Thanks for caring about your neighborhood kitty. Former housepets who were lost or abandoned and revert to a wild state after time are one reason why there are so many of us feral cats out there. If your neighbor's cat was not fixed before they left him behind, that compounds the problem, as he may have fathered many litters by now, unbeknownst to you. (The guys roam looking for mates so any kittens he helped create are not necessarily in your neighborhood.)
The first order of business is to trap him with a humane box trap. You can rent or borrow these traps from many organizations, including ones listed on this Web site's contact page. Call the organization closest to you for more details and the specifics of their program.
Once Shaggy is trapped, he can be sterilized, if not already done, and get up to date on his vaccinations. He can also be tested for diseases such as feline leukemia and FIV, treated for fleas and dewormed. (Most feral cats are actually found to be healthy. In fact, a report published from the University of Florida on more than 1,800 feral cats demonstrated only 4 percent to be infected with feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus, which is similar to that found in pet cats. )
Once he is indoors, safely confined in either the trap or a large dog crate, you'll be better able to get an idea of his domestication status. From your description, it sounds possible this cat was never very well socialized or domesticated and may have been feral or semi-feral even before he was left behind. Does he try to get indoors? Or does he run away when you approach? Will he eat in front of you or wait until you leave? Will he make eye contact? You can find more tips to tell the difference between a feral and stray at www.alleycat.org and www.pacthumanesociety.org. You can find links to those organizations on our Links page.
We true ferals perfer living outdoors to living indoors with you humans. If that is the case with Shaggy, you can still care for him, only outdoors, after you get him fixed. The main thing is to make sure he has someplace dry to go to to get out of the wind and elements. You can make an easy-to-build shelter (see www.spayandstay.org/howtobuild.htm and www.pacthumanesociety.org/core/WinterTips.htm for some great ideas).
Purrs for caring about my outdoor friends!
I rescued four eight-week-old feral kittens. They were so wild that the trained vet could barely handle them. I'm working with them (though I can't handle them right now). If they don't come around in a couple weeks, should I have them spayed/neutered and return them to the established colony? Will mama and older siblings still recognize them? If I bring them to a shelter I imagine they'll be put down.
You have discovered what lots of people don't know about us feral kittens, and that is just how wild kittens as young as we are can be! Kittens, even those born indoors to a domesticated mother, aren't automatically socialized to people—it takes human handling and touch. Kittens born to a feral mother have no idea what strange kind of life form humans are, but we learn from Mom pretty quickly that to survive, we must be wary of humans and if they dare try to touch us—well, that's what claws and teeth are for!
The very best time to teach us that humans are not big two-legged predators is just after we're starting to eat on our own and wobble around a bit, usually around 5 weeks, but before 8 weeks. That's not to say many of us can't be tamed after that, but as a pretty good rule of thumb, the older we get, the harder it gets, and the more time it takes. If you had first brought us inside when we were 12 weeks, I'd say get us fixed and return us to our colony—or be prepared to spend months taming us. A couple of weeks really isn't long enough even for us 8-week-olds. It MIGHT be if our mother didn't come from a long line of ferals or we'd had at least some contact or exposure to humans. But that is a best-case scenario. So even though we are younger, y ou will probably have to spend at least a month or two taming us, and possibly longer. (For socialization tips, vist www.alleycat.org, www.neighborhoodcats.org or www.cathobbyist.com/articles/Ferals2.html).
Not only do we not really give you well-meaning humans a very big window of opportunity to tame us, we don't all progress the same way (even littermates) and there is no guarantee of success. Often older kittens bond only to the person who tamed them and remain skittish around other humans, and have a hard time getting themselves adopted at a shelter—should you find a shelter that will agree to take us and keep us for as long as it takes to get adopted—or forever. You are right that kittens like us are euthanized at "open admission" shelters if the shelter does not have a foster program to take on the task of trying to socialize us.
You can see we feral and semi-feral kittens are challenging! And there often is not a clear-cut answer as to what to do with those of us who fall in the middle between very young kittens that are pretty easily socialized and juveniles that will not be tamed without months (or more) of socialization—if ever—and are usually best returned to their colonies after sterilization.
Before you spend too much time trying to tame us, make sure you have a plan for where we go afterwards. Be prepared to keep us yourself or adopt us out yourself through Petfinder.com or similar avenues if you cannot find a shelter to take us. Be aware it may take weeks or months before a shelter can accept us, even once we are socialized, because they receive so many requests to take kittens (not to mention all the friendly adults who also need homes). If you can't make that kind of time/space commitment, it would be best to take us back to our colony as soon as we are spayed or neutered, which can be done as early as 8 weeks/2 pounds.
Nobody really knows how long is "too long" for kittens to be away from their colony, but kittens have been returned successfully after having been away close to a month. With our urge to roam curbed as a result of being fixed, and with ongoing food and shelter provided by kind people like you, we have little reason to stray from our colony.
Thanks for caring about cats like us.
I have a stray who won't go into a shelter made with the Rubbermaid bins. Someone told me that if they can't see in enough directions from within, they won't go inside. Is that true? Any ideas?
Thanks for making your stray friend a shelter. We cats may have our own ideas and preferences for where we take refuge, however. It may well be the kitty has other shelter areas in the neighborhood she uses rather than the one you set up.
To encourage her to use yours, consider things like the location of the shelter and location of the doors. Does the exit face a protected area, such as bushes, she can run into? A shelter placed next to a building, fence or other structure usually works better than one out in the open. Try cutting a second "emergency exit" hole in the back or side of the bin. The cat may feel trapped in the bin if a cat or other animal drops in.
Check the inside of the shelter too. Sometimes another animal (racoon, possum, etc.) will go into a shelter and urinate or otherwise foul it up, and the cats won't venture inside. Often just the smell of another animal is enough to keep the cats away. If you think that is the case, replace the straw (better than hay) and place some catnip inside and around the shelter. Try making the opening a bit smaller so a larger animal like a racoon cannot get in.
You might also consider putting some treats around the entrance. However, you run the risk of attracting unwanted critters.
Leave the shelter in place. Kitty can always use it if she needs to.
Thanks for caring,
Where can I find a home for a beautiful stray cat
First, make sure the cat is really stray, not feral. Observe the cat's appearance and behavior. A stray cat is likely to approach you, although usually not close enough for you to touch him. If you put food down, a stray cat will likely start to eat it right away. A stray cat is often vocal, sometimes talking insistently, and may look disheveled, as if unused to dealing with conditions on the street. A stray cat may be seen at all hours of the day.
A feral cat is silent, will not approach humans, and generally will be seen only from dusk to dawn, unless extraordinarily hungry and foraging for food. A feral cat has adapted to conditions and is likely to appear well groomed. If you put food down for a feral cat, he will wait until you move away from the area before approaching the food.
If the cat is feral, have it sterilized. Then provide it food, water and shelter outdoors.
If you think the cat is really stray, bring it inside if you can. Check "lost" notices in your local papers, at www.petfinder.com and at area shelters. Take the cat to a veterinarian or shelter to scan for a microchip.
Contact area no-kill shelters to see if and when they can accept the cat. If you can foster the cat until they can accept it, let them know how long you can keep it .
To find a home for the cat yourself, start with friends, family and co-workers--people you know and trust. If they can't adopt the cat, enlist their help in placing flyers. Make flyers and post them at pet stores, veterinarian offices, grocery stores, church bulletin boards, your workplace, etc. Place a classified ad in your local papers and on Petfinder.com. You can find a detailed booklet on how to find homes for homeless animals (including screening applicants) at http://www.bestfriends.org/nomorehomelesspets/resourcelibrary/adoptionsindex.cfm. You can even easily create a flyer at http://www.bestfriends.org/nomorehomelesspets/resourcelibrary/flyermaker/flyermaker.cfm
Thanks for caring, and good luck!
For the last two years, we've had a feral cat living in our (unused) garage. It's a good arrangement—she gets a place to live and a bowl of food everyday, and she keeps our yard and garage free of mice, raccoons, and other pests. She's truly feral—in two years, she's never allowed us to touch her or get too close. Unfortunately, she's started clawing at the screens on our windows to get our attention in an effort to get more food. She's destroyed two screens so far, and my husband has about had it with her. She'll neverbe anyone's pet, but she's clever and pretty and I feel so bad for her. Spraying her with water does nothing—she knows the difference between outside and inside and that we have to open the window to spray her. Any ideas?
Lover of Cats
Dear Lover of Cats,
Thanks for feeding your hungry feral. You might want to consider increasing the amount of food, or feeding twice a day, to see if that stops her window attacks. If she seems to be losing weight while eating the same amount, please trap her and take her to a feral-friendly vet. There are also a number of deterrents you can try, such as automatic sprinklers and scent repellants. For more information, see http://www.neighborhoodcats.org/info/keepingout.htm and http://www.alleycat.org/resources_care.html#6.
Thanks for caring,
I live in an apartment complex in the city with several stray cats (two of them kittens) living nearby that I have fed for about a month now. They have gotten used to depending on me for food. I was recently told to stopfeeding them by my building manager. It is hard for me to just stand by whilethey are hungry, however, I know I will not live here for much longer and won't be able to continue feeding them anyway. Will these cats be ableto fend for themselves?
I am also very worried about where they will go once it gets very cold outside. My building manager will obvioulsy not let me put any shelter up outside and I am not allowed to take them in. Should I be calling Animal Control or is it better to leave them on their own? I have already tried several no-kill shelters, but they are full. Any advice?
City Animal Lover
Dear City Animal Lover,
Thanks for worrying about my feral friends in your apartment complex. Animal control will respond by removing the cats for almost certain euthanasia, as feral cats are not suitable adoption candidates. Even friendly strays or kittens may be euthanized as animal control facilities typically receive more animals than they can place.
There is a better solution. A situation like this calls for an organized approach with other residents who care about the cats to win a concession from management to try a nonlethal, humane approach to controlling the cat population—TNR. Sometimes that's the hardest part—speaking up for the cats and being willing to knock on doors and talk to your neighbors and coordinate an action plan for the cats. But we cats depend on people like you to speak up for us. If you don't, who will?
The good news—often building managers such as yours agree to TNR once they learn and understand what it is and how it can help them solve the problem—at no cost to them. There no doubt are neighbors who feel just as you do—and they can carry the torch after you move. Approach the building manager as a group to ask for a meeting to discuss the cats. When he sees a number of committed individuals who will get the cats fixed, try to find homes for friendly strays and kittens, and care for the remainder (including keeping feeding stations and shelters clean and inconspicuous), he will be more likely to agree to a TNR program that will stabilize and ultimately reduce/eliminate the colony. You can find great information on how to organize your neighbors and talk to people about TNR at Alley Cat Allies Web site at http://www.alleycat.org/resources_care.html.
I am feeding a young black cat that seems to be living under our back porch. Several of my friends have encouraged me to try to lure the little cat indoors, or at least into the garage before Halloween. Is this a real concern or are the stories of cruelty to cats around this time just folktales? I am definitely interested in this little cat's welfare. Thank you for your response.
Thanks for your interesting question—we feral cats may not have much expertise in doing research (try Googling with paws!), but I gave it a shot. I couldn't find any hard evidence or statistics about increased cruelty to cats around Halloween, but I did find a good article at Snopes, a well-known site that checks out and refutes urban legends, at http://www.snopes.com/horrors/mayhem/blackcat.asp, that you may want to check out. In a nutshell—not to say such incidents never happen, but the risk appears to be way overblown. In my opinion, we wily ferals who run and hide from humans are probably less at risk than unwary, friendly pets who happen to be outdoors.
In any event, bringing feral cats in temporarily to protect them from real or perceived dangers is probably not a realistic solution in most cases. Try to assess actual danger in your neighborhood. Have there been reported cases of cruelty at Halloween—or any other time, for that matter? Have there been a lot of cat injuries/fatalities in the area that can be attributed to humans? Are there many teenagers in the area? (This group tends to be responsible for most reported incidents at Halloween, according to the Snopes article.) Then decide if you want to lure/trap the cat to an inside location. If you have not gotten this cat fixed yet, this might be a good time to do it, as the cat would need to be indoors for recovery anyway (in a heated location). On the other hand, it may be difficult to trap if there is a lot of traffic from trick or treaters in your neighborhood; the cat may go into hiding and stay away from her usual feeding area where you would set the trap.
The sad truth is, cruelty to animals can happen at any time of year. You can't eliminate all risk to outdoor cats, but you can greatly improve our lives by first fixing us, then providing ongoing food and shelter. Thank you for caring.