By Robbi Hess ~ Managing Editor Pet Calendar, Crimeless Cat Executive Story Editor, Chief Cat Herder
Feral cats and feral cat communities have a place in nature and in our communities. Marci Kladnik, immediate past president of the Cat Writers’ Association, Winner of the Kari Winters Rescue and Rehabilitation Award, Muse-winning writer and photographer who has been involved in TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) for many years said.
“I ‘retired’ from TNR and helping feral communities the day I had a kitten die in my lap from flea anemia,” she said. Flea anemia is when fleas literally feed on kittens (or other animals) and drain them of their blood. “It was heartbreaking, but I didn’t stay retired for too long.”
Her love of cats and the desire to help them live long, healthy lives brought her back to helping feral communities.
What is Feral Cat Day (October 16)? It’s a day to celebrate cats, no matter where they live. Feral cats are stigmatized as being predators and killing off birds and other wildlife. Marci said, “Feral cats have a place in nature. They kill rodents and keep the rodent population under control.” She said that cats are more likely to go after rodents than birds, because rodents are simply easier for them to catch.
In the United States, close to 150 million cats are either considered feral or “unowned.” Compare that to the more than 10,000 humans who are born in the US daily with the more than 70,000 kittens and puppies that are born daily; there will never be enough homes to house the puppy and kitten population.
The need for Trap, Neuter, Release programs cannot be denied. Many TNR groups are community-led and focused on capturing cats in feral communities, getting them spayed or neutered and released back into their community. The cats’ ears are tipped so rescuers can tell which cats have been spayed/neutered.
Pet Calendar: Feral Cat Day
What can I do if there are feral cats in my backyard?
Marci said, “Caring for these cats is a commitment. You’re committing to feeding them and giving them water and providing them some sort of shelter if you can. Once you’ve begun feeding them, they will rely on you for that care.”
What about the TNR?
Once you locate a feral community, do a Google search for a TNR group in your area. If you can’t find one, Marci recommends calling a local shelter or animal rescue group to see if there is one who can come help with these cats.
“The groups want to begin TNR as soon as they can, especially if they see pregnant cats. They will spay before the kittens are born. If the mom is lactating, she cannot be trapped because she cannot leave her kittens alone,” she shared. “If kittens can be trapped, in many cases they can be rehabilitated and are ideal house pets.”
The survival rate for kittens on the street, she said, is lower than 50% and feral cats have a lifespan of only two to three years. “They are subject to predation, starvation and flea infestation and other illnesses,” she said.
These cats are not a nuisance, Marci said. “They are trying to survive and they do perform a valuable service — keeping rat and mouse population under control. TNR is such a valuable service to help these cats, who through no fault of their own, have been left to fend for themselves in the wild.”
Marci said, “Feral cats can be very beneficial to a neighborhood unless the size of a colony gets out of hand. Even though the average life of a feral cat is only two-three years, during that time an intact female can drop 30 kittens, more if she lives longer.”
For this reason, TNR is of upmost importance not only for the kittens born on the streets but their parents who struggle to just survive. During the TNR process, the cats are spayed/neutered and also vaccinated for disease which in turn protects local pets that may come into close contact with the colony, Marci explained.
“Do not look at ferals as pests, but guests in your backyard that should be welcomed and enjoyed like any wildlife,” she said. “Offer them food, water, and shelter and they will reward you with hours of watching pleasure.”
Editor’s note: Today, and every day, make note of whether you see feral cat communities. Even if you can’t commit to feeding and caring for them, look for a TNR or rescue group who can step in and give these cats a fighting change. As a cat mom, I can’t imagine not caring for a community of ferals if there was one in my backyard.
Read more of our October Pet Calendar And Celebrations.