Feral Cats: King of the Concrete Jungle – Part 2

This is the second post of a two-part series about community cats.

What is being done to help control the increase in feral cat populations?

There are different methods that communities are taking to control ferals. The most ineffective methods are eradication, relocation, feeding bans, and the practice of trap and kill, also known as trap and remove. Eradication is the complete destruction of a colony of feral cats. This is ineffective because this leads to what is called the “vacuum effect”. This means that new cats will begin to populate the area that was just cleared of other feral cats. In other words, whatever attracted the original feral cat population is going to continue attracting other cats and the next group of cats is going to be more cautious around any possible threats to avoid eradication like the last group. Trap and kill or trap and remove (a euphemism for trap and kill) is ineffective due to the exact reason eradication is ineffective. Relocation, on the other hand, sounds great but in reality is not helpful. Feral cats are very territorial and removing them is not good since they rely on all the information they have collected in their surroundings to survive. In a new area they need to find new sources of food and shelter and learn about new wildlife and other cats. Relocation will just introduce feral cats to new threats and possibly death. Not to mention that new cats will move into the territory cleared of other cats and the problem will just begin anew. Feeding bans are based on the logic that if a cat isn’t fed, it will leave. This is faulty logic however since feral cats are not necessarily dependent on food given by humans. They know how to survive on their own and they are very territorial and unlikely to leave the area. People may also be compassionate and feed the cats, undetected, despite the ban.

A much better method to use is Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). This method calls for feral cats to be caught and then neutered, vaccinated, and ear tipped then returned to their territory. Ear tipping is the surgical removal of the top quarter inch of the left ear. This is done by a professional and marks the cat so that it is not caught again and put through an unnecessary surgery. TNR is a great method to use because when feral cats are caught and neutered they will no longer reproduce more feral cats and many of their nuisance behaviors will lessen or completely cease such as spraying, mating, and fighting. Neutered cats may also wander less and lower the chances of getting hit by a car. TNR is often an effort of an individual who will continue monitoring the cat colony and will remove or continue the process with new cats entering the area. The population will decrease over time if properly monitored since reproduction will cease once the cats are neutered.

What laws exist pertaining to the care and ownership of feral cats?

Much of the U.S. doesn’t have laws concerning feral cats. Only thirteen states and the District of Columbia have laws mentioning feral cats. The thirteen states are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Nebraska, New York, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia. However, many municipal ordinances and public health codes do impact feral cats, so you must become familiar with your local laws as well.

The lack of clearly defined laws is due to the difficulty defining the type of ownership related to a feral cat. Since a “keeper” or person monitoring a feral cat community doesn’t have much control over the cats, different states have different rules. Some areas may assign more responsibility to a caretaker and require them to register and another state may not. Depending on the level of ownership given, a caretaker may be liable for damage caused by the cats and if they stop caring for the cats they may even be charged with neglect. If you want to take care of a cat colony make sure you look up all of the laws pertaining to ownership in your area.

In a recent conversation with a seasoned feral cat trapper and advocate, we’ve learned that in some areas laws can put unrealistic and even harsh demands on compassionate caretakers, thereby subverting or undermining TNR efforts. This only perpetuates the problem as there are fewer people to help out with TNR or colony care because they fear being targeted and fined. Many trappers feel that towns are not doing enough to encourage tolerance for cats, nor are they helping to build compassionate communities where people and cats can peacefully co-exist.

How can you help?

If you would like to help with the feral cat increase in population try helping colony caretakers. They have plenty of things you can help with such as trapping, feeding, temporary housing, fostering and socializing kittens, and transportation to the vet. You can also try and become a colony caretaker yourself.

Another way to help is with cat colony kittens. Pick up feral kittens and begin to foster and socialize them and once they are old enough they can be adopted. Try to make sure that kittens continue nursing until they are at least four weeks old. This can be done in captivity.

Ways to help socialize them include:

  • Giving them small amounts of wet food by hand twice a day. If the kitten is a little wilder, try giving the food to them on a spoon at first
  • Have the kitten spend time around different people
  • Don’t let them run loose since they are tiny and can hide just about anywhere
    • Use a crate, cage, or cat condo with a small litter box, food, water, and a cozy place to sleep

And don’t forget these other ways to help:

  • Donate to a local TNR effort.
  • Organize a cat food drive at a school, supermarket, civic or church group. Caretakers feed multiple cats 7 days a week and donated food is always welcomed.
  • Construct and donate or install on your property simple and inexpensive shelters for the cats for the winter months.
  • Spread the word using ideas developed by Alley Cat Allies for community cats.
  • Let your elected officials know that you do not approve of your tax dollars being used to kill community cats. Let them know that you support Trap Neuter Return or Shelter Neuter Return. The cats are members of our communities and should be treated with compassion, not cruelty.

Helpful Links

We’ve put together a compilation of helpful links for community cats and trap-neuter release HERE.

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Read Part 1 HERE.

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