?Paws? for Thought
I have seen countless numbers of them throughout my life. Some are in terrible shape with open wounds, terrified eyes, and broken hearts, others are only visible for a moment before they disappear again into the shadows. They are in our neighborhoods, living as cast offs in a society that has no use for them. They live unimaginably difficult lives, struggling every day to survive. They face disease, starvation, and violence, even death on a daily basis. The mothers face the harsh reality of finding a safe place for their babies while still trying to find enough food for themselves. They are victims of attacks, violence, and abuse. They are poisoned, shot, and eradicated without a second thought. They are the forgotten members of a species that was meant to love people and enjoy human companionship. Feral cats are in our lives, whether we want them to be or not. How can we improve their lives while protecting other wildlife and preventing further generations of unwanted, wild cats?
A feral cat is a cat that was born or became wild to survive. They are often extremely uncomfortable with human contact and will avoid it. They may live in groups called colonies. Please note that a feral cat is very different than a “stray” cat. Strays are comfortable with people and often cannot survive in the wild without assistance from humans. A feral cat today may be the result of generations of wild cats or it may be an abandoned or lost cat that needed to lose its domestic tendencies in order to survive. Feral cats are not easily tamed or domesticated. Even young kittens will need a person with patience and slow, gentle tactics in order to warm to people. It is important to note, feral cats, especially adults, are a risk to themselves and to any person trying to handle or catch them. Interactions with humans are often life or death lessons for these cats and they will be desperate to escape.
Feral cats are often criticized for killing birds and other small animals. There is no denying that cats will kill anything available for food. Young, un-neutered male cats are also very inclined to kill for sport and may do a large amount of damage to local bird populations. Feral cats that move into an abandoned property may also scratch on walls or urinate as a way to mark their territory. Providing a clean dish of dry cat food will often decrease the amount of birds that feral cats kill but it will not eradicate the issue completely. It has been proven that human deforestation is much more destructive to bird populations while feral cats take the brunt of the blame. At least a daily amount of fresh food will reduce the physical need to kill based on hunger. But won’t feeding encourage a feral cat to stay near a location where it may be unwanted? Yes, it will. But we’ll go into a reason why you do want the cats in your area to remain there.
It seems like a simple solution, kill the feral cats. It’s obvious that their lives are not easy and although many die every year, there are still plenty of feral cats around. Killing or removing and relocating to a humane society or another location won’t solve the issue. There are so many cats in any given area that killing one group only opens space for new cats to move in. Government studies prove that within a few short years, there are just as many cats in a location that was thought to have eradicated all the wild cats only a few years prior. According to the Atlanta Animal Alliance, one female cat and her offspring can produce more than 400,000 kittens in six short years. If removing one cat only means that another will move into the area, this endless battle can seem daunting and discouraging for anyone that wants to deal with these cats in a humane, logical way.
Most animal shelters that agree to take feral cats (some will simply refuse a person trying to bring a feral cat to the shelter) hold the cat for the “stray days” or the allotted time that an owner is given to find and redeem a pet. When no owner comes forward for these cats, they are euthanized because this seems like the only option for them. Feral cats do not handle the stress and bustle of an animal shelter very well. At LCHS, they are given a carrier within the kennel in order to hide from the people going through the room while they await their fate. With a lack of options, shelters cannot be blamed for euthanizing feral cats; there is simply no room and often no future for these cats. Thankfully, LCHS has the community support to have a new and innovative option to help feral cats coming through our doors.
The only way to eradicate the feral cat problem is to sterilize all cats to prevent future ferals. By having your own cat spayed or neutered, you’ve ensured that its babies will not end up on a roadside in the future, slowly going wild in order to survive, only to end up facing a syringe filled with euthanasia solution at a shelter. Spaying and neutering your cats is a gift to all homeless pets that are crowded into shelters all across our nation. There are too many animals and not enough homes; every day animals suffer the consequences of the roulette game being played with their lives.
Spaying and neutering indoor cats is a way to prevent more feral cats in the future. But spaying and neutering will also solve the current feral cat problem. LCHS rents live-traps for residents to use in order to catch feral cats. With the Petsmart Charities grant through LCHS, it is only $5 for indoor or outdoor cat from Lincoln County to be spayed or neutered and to receive the rabies and distemper vaccines. Outdoor cats also receive a flea-tick treatment and will be “ear-tipped”. Ear tipping is when a vet surgically removes the angled corner of one ear, making it flat across. This is a way to show that an outdoor cat has already been spayed or neutered so it will not be removed to be taken to a vet unnecessarily. This program is available through LCHS so please call 715-536-3459 for more information.
Spaying and neutering prevents more unwanted kittens that will grow into more unwanted cats. If everyone has their cats (both indoor and outdoor) spayed or neutered, this will lead to fewer cats needing homes, eventually preventing healthy adoptable animals from being euthanized and feral cats from becoming a nuisance animal.
LCHS also offers feral or unadoptable cats as barn kitties for free to barn homes that provide shelter and food. The cats in the barn buddy program are already spayed or neutered, vaccinated for rabies and distemper, and treated for fleas/worms/ticks. This option allows us to ensure the cats are being released in an area that people want them and they will not contribute to the already staggering amount of homeless cats. The barn buddy program saves many lives every year but we are always in need of more responsible barn homes for feral or unadoptable cats. If you are interested in adopting a barn cat for free, please contact LCHS at 715-536-3459.
Although there are more homeless and feral cats than any one person could care for, by spaying and neutering your own pets, as well as the neighborhood feral cats, you are creating a brighter future for cats everywhere. One surgery can prevent countless deaths. Be a hero and save lives in a simple, cost-effective way.