I have seen countless numbers of feral cats 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 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 poisoned, shot and eradicated without a second thought.
How can we improve their lives while protecting other wildlife and preventing further generations of unwanted, wild cats?
Feral cats were born or became wild to survive. They often are extremely uncomfortable with human contact and will avoid it. They might 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.
It is important to note that 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 also are inclined to kill for sport and can do a large amount of damage to local bird populations.
Providing a clean dish of dry cat food will often decrease the number of birds that feral cats kill but it will not eradicate the issue completely. (In reality, human deforestation is much more destructive to bird populations.)
At least a daily amount of fresh food will reduce cats' 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. There are so many cats in any given area that killing one group only opens space for new cats to move in. According to the Atlanta Animal Alliance, one female cat and her offspring can produce more than 400,000 kittens in six short years.
Most animal shelters that agree to take feral cats 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. 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.
Spaying and neutering indoor cats is a way to prevent more feral cats. But spaying and neutering will also solve the current feral cat problem. LCHS rents live-traps for residents to use to catch feral cats.
With the Petsmart Charities grant through LCHS, it costs only $5 for indoor or outdoor cats 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, to show that it has already been spayed or neutered. Call 715-536-3459 for more information.
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.
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 where people want them. To adopt 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.