Sunday, October 16, 2011

It's National Feral Cat Day!

Park behind a shopping center or restaurant, and you'll see them. Lovely phantoms of our own domesticated cats, living rough and scrounging for food. An estimated 50 million of them live this way in the United States.

If they're lucky, some kind soul cares for their colony, faithfully bringing them food and fresh water daily, providing them with shelters and blankets to fend off the cold, and perhaps even trapping them so they can be neutered or spayed and vaccinated before being returned to their wild home.

But not everyone harbors friendly feelings toward them. The most avid bird advocates use flawed and slanted research to support their argument that feral cats kill billions of songbirds annually when, in reality, habitat loss from human development and predation by other birds both kill more than do cats. Some of these misguided folks even poison or shoot cats they see wandering.

Technically, feral cats are just like our domesticated cats. Their ancestors were once happy pets like ours. But someone turned them out, or moved away and left them behind. Or the cats wandered too far from home and never found their way back. Eventually, they lost their desire to live with humans and became frightened of us. A few can be tamed, but most prefer to live out their lives on their own.

But how long of a life is that? If a feral cat lives 8 years, he's very lucky. Most have considerably shorter life spans. Those colonies that are cared for in a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program live healthier lives, but not necessarily much longer. The big advantages of TNR are that the cats are not a danger for contracting rabies and they're not contributing future generations to expand the colonies, an important step in keeping ferals under control. Many communities have found TNR to be a much more humane and cost-effective way of managing feral cat colonies than the old method of trap-and-euthanize.

Today is the day set aside to raise awareness of the feral cats who live among us. But I prefer a term for them that's just coming into more common use: community cats. These cats are a product and a part of our human community. We need to learn to live peacefully with them.

If you'd like to help a colony of community cats in your area, there are accepted guidelines to follow. Local laws may address the feeding of cat colonies, as well, so be aware of those. These organizations provide information on how to properly implement a TNR program:

We also have a free brochure on you can download to help educate your community's leaders on the concept of TNR for managing feral cat colonies. Because these cats have no voice in the halls of local government, we need to be their advocates there. By presenting rational, factual arguments on their behalf, we can also help our community cats. It's not as thrilling as seeing them come to eat when you're caring for them, but it's a very necessary piece of the overall picture in providing for their welfare.

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