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:
- Alley Cat Allies
- Humane Society of the United States
- Feral Cat Coalition
- Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon