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    Feral Cats

    Feral Cats

    Feral cats are defined as cats who are unowned and unsocialized. Cats who once had homes but were abandoned-for any number of reasons-quickly turn feral to survive, and they add to the throngs of the unwanted. Sadly, feral populations continue to grow, not only in the United States but also around the world.

    Today, it's not uncommon to find cat lovers feeding a group of ferals cats who live in the neighborhood. In some instances, groups of volunteers have banded together to feed colonies of these cats who continue to live in the underbelly of cities and towns all around the globe.

    Overpopulation in the cat world is a huge and growing problem because unspayed and unneutered cats continue to proliferate at an alarming rate. Female cats come into season in spring and summer, and such pregnancies culminate in what has become known as "kitten season" a mere sixty-three days later. An average litter is three to five kittens. To make matters worse, cats can reach sexual maturity at six months of age. Experts have done the math and claim that if a single female cat were to mate every time she came into season, and all her kittens were to survive and breed, she could be responsible for up to 21,000 extra cats in just seven years. It became obvious to volunteers who worked with ferals on a regular basis that the only way to curb and possibly control these feral populations was to attempt to sterilize these free-roaming felines.

    Shelter Wish List

    Here are some much needed gifts you can give to your local animal shelter:

    • washable comforters, blankets, and rugs
    • grooming tools
    • toys
    • beds
    • cat and kitten food (unopened)
    • treats
    • water and food bowls
    • soft-sided carriers
    • crates (all sizes)

    Shelters also typically need equipment and supplies to help them provide quality, caring support for the animals they house, such as:

    • large plastic garbage cans and 30-gallon trash bags
    • all-purpose cleaning materials and odor removers
    • paper towels, tissues, and toilet paper
    • kitty litter
    • mops and buckets with wringers
    • plastic water pitchers, plastic utensils
    • large plastic storage containers
    • rolling storage carts
    • office supplies, such as folders, pens, small notebooks, stamps, and paper
    • baby weighing scale
    • pet store gift certificates

    Animal shelters gratefully accept donations of gently used items, too, such as towels, linens, bedding, and pet beds. You can also donate unwanted computers and kitchen items, such as microwaves and refrigerators.

    Feral cat managers always appreciate the offer to help construct wooden doghouse-type structures for shelters. Food, as well as financial donations to pay for veterinary care when needed, is also appreciated.

    Trap, Neuter, and Return/Release Programs

    In the 1960s, British model and famous Vogue cover girl Celia Hammond used her celebrity to speak out against the fur trade and about the plight of feral cats in Britain. Hammond, an enthusiastic cat lover, learned how to trap feral cats to have them neutered and then returned to their environment, where they could continue to live but not continue to breed. She was solely responsible for setting up numerous lowcost spay and neutering clinics in Britain, and she fought and won many battles with local authorities to establish this method as a viable alternative to euthanasia.

    By the 1970s, Hammond had opened a sanctuary where cats who could not be returned to their environments could live in peace. She re-homed thousands of neutered, vaccinated ferals; she also kept records of the neutered colonies and was able to document how, over time, these colonies could die out through the attrition of old age if no one added to their numbers by adding more cats.

    Her system had a name-TNR-standing for trap, neuter, and return (also called trap, neuter, and release). It was rapidly recognized as a viable option by cat activists around the world who followed in her footsteps in countries such as Denmark, France, Israel, South Africa, and, finally, the United States.

    The Celia Hammond Animal Trust continues to run low-cost neuter/spay clinics in Britain for cats and dogs whose owners are on welfare or have low incomes, and Hammond herself continues to work tirelessly for ferals.

    Breed rescues are great places to look for a new feline companion if you desire a specific breed but still want to adopt a homeless cat.

    TNR in the United States

    AnnaBell Washburn of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, has been credited with being the first to practice feral cat management in the United States. In 1980, she founded the Pet Adoption and Welfare Service (PAWS) to help those animals adopted by summer visitors to the island who subsequently abandoned the animals when they packed up to go back home at the end of the season. In 1986, Washburn initiated the first TNR partnership with veterinarians when she accompanied veterinary students from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University to help sterilize cats on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.

    During the 1980s, several feral cat programs were established around the country, including the Stanford Cat Network, which practiced TNR on the Stanford University campus and continues to manage the cat colony there. The San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals launched a major drive to reduce the number of animals being euthanatized in the San Francisco Bay area by offering free sterilization services. And, in fact, many people around the country were practicing TNR on a private basis and unknown to one another.

    One such person was Ellen Perry Berkeley, who in 1982 published a book titled Maverick Cats: Encounters with Feral Cats, based on the cats living free in her home state of Vermont. Her close contact with them prompted her to study the problem of feral cats and encourage the idea of neutering. The book was hallmarked as a blueprint and was especially enlightening in the early days of TNR.

    The first formal network for managing feral cats in the United States was created in 1990, when a former South African named Louise Holton, who had been practicing TNR in Johannesburg, South Africa and brought her methods to the United States, teamed up with Becky Robinson, another strong voice for America's unwanted cats, to form Alley Cat Allies (ACA). Their mission was simple: to end the killing of cats and lead a movement for their humane care. Today, the organization, headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, has the support of more than 190,000 caregivers and supporters, continues to spearhead a progressive movement for the protection of all cats, and educates the public about the lives of cats.

    Alley Cat Allies has been instrumental in animal control and shelter industry reform and humane treatment, calling for pounds and shelters around the country to keep public records of animal intake and kill rates, for public and mandatory government oversight, and for increased pound and shelter accountability. The group continues to develop educational materials on the care and protection of stray and feral cats and works with grassroots organizations around the world that look to ACA for guidance on how to abolish cruel policies and improve the lives of cats everywhere.

    In 2000, Holton broke away from ACA to form Alley Cat Rescue, which has also grown to be another powerful force in educating people in the welfare of all cats-domestic, stray, and feral, as well as wild cat species living around the world. Most recently, she has led teams of volunteers into Mexico to spread the word about TNR to that country, setting up makeshift clinics and offering free spay and neutering to everyone who showed up with a pet.

    Unchecked, feral cat populations grow amazingly fast.

    How to Become a Foster Cat Parent

    Fostering a cat or a litter of kittens so that they can eventually be adopted into forever homes is a very rewarding job. You're helping to shape these animals' futures so that they can settle into a permanent home. Fostering plays a very important role in the animal adoption system. If it weren't for many wonderful no-kill shelters, with their foster programs and dedicated foster parents who open up their homes and their hearts to these deserving cats, thousands more would be euthanized each year.

    Often, when people think of fostering, they think of small kittens who need to be bottle-fed and nurtured until they are old enough to be adopted. In fact, many adult cats need care and attention too. Foster homes are also needed for pets in trouble- like those separated from their families during Hurricane Katrina. Many of those displaced pets landed in welcoming homes hundreds of miles away from their hometown and stayed with their foster families for months.

    Becoming a foster parent is not a task for the faint-hearted. It's emotionally and physically demanding. It means being able to give lots of love and attention and a safe and secure environment to the cat in your care so that it can become a well-socialized, happy, and healthy animal. Some pets require special time-consuming medical attention, whereas others have behavioral issues and need time to learn to trust humans.

    The best fostering situation is one in which there is at least one adult at home at all times. You also need transport to take your charge to the shelter on a regular basis for veterinary checkups and, possibly, for postoperative care.

    The best fostering situation is one in which there is at least one adult at home at all times. You also need transport to take your charge to the shelter on a regular basis for veterinary checkups and, possibly, for postoperative care. Although the adoption shelter typically provides all the basic necessities like food and medication, it's necessary to make special preparations in the home to give your foster pet the best care. Often, this means setting aside a room and keeping foster pets apart from the rest of the animals in your household. This separation allows the fostered pets to settle in and adapt to a warm and loving environment. It also ensures that your own pets are not exposed to any health risks. Foster pets have been known to ruin carpeting and couches, so their care environment is a great place to recycle your old furniture.

    Of course, no cat can ever have too many toys, and foster parents are encouraged to spoil their charges by stocking up on lots of interactive toys such as lasers and wand toys, crinkly balls, and catnip mice.

    A great way to find out whether you would make a good foster parent is to first become a volunteer at a local animal shelter. Most organizations require a prospective volunteer to go through their standard orientation program and become well-acquainted with the shelter and the foster system in general.

    When fostering, it's important to remain somewhat emotionally detached and, when the time comes, to let your charge go to his or her permanent home knowing you have saved a life-and that you are ready to go through the process again.

    Feral Cats and the Environment

    One of the biggest problems that continues to jeopardize feral cat colonies is the cry that they are destructive to other wildlife, particularly birds. Bird lovers are often quick to blame feral cats for bird decimation, overlooking human causes for the birds' demise, such as industrial and residential development and the overuse of pesticides in farming. Consequently, proponents of feral cat protection continually fight local city ordinances, which are often unfair to the feline point of view.

    In fact, two federal laws that protect endangered and migratory bird species, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), were both passed by Congress in response to the widespread human destruction of birds, other species, and their habitats-not because of cats. For feral cat activists, it is an ongoing battle to present their side of the story and make their voices heard.

    Project Bay Cat, in Foster City, California, is an officially managed feral cat colony±program that owes its success to the ongoing cooperation among the City of Foster City, a rescue group known as the Homeless Cat Network, and the community.

    It came into being as a humane solution to help nearly 200 cats living along San Francisco Bay. A public meeting was called and Cimeron Morrissey, the driving force behind Project Bay Cat, explained how a program of trap, neuter, and return could help to stabilize the feral cat population and that a managed colony that was being well fed was not likely to hunt.

    In a groundbreaking move, the City of Foster City decided to officially join hands with the Homeless Cat Network and the community to create Project Bay Cat, with the goal of balancing the humane treatment of the cat population and the needs of the City and the users of the waterfront.

    The City created and installed signs along the trail explaining to the public that this was a managed colony and that any interference or animal abandonment is punishable by law. The Homeless Cat Network built special feeding stations along the trail. Setting up the project from the municipality's standpoint cost taxpayers a mere $500-the cost of the signs!

    Volunteers, who have included doctors, lawyers, and even a millionaire entrepreneur, take turns to feed the cats on a daily basis. While Homeless Cat Network provides the food and necessary supplies, many of the volunteers pay for kibble and canned food themselves. Feeding by members of the public is discouraged because it makes it more difficult for the official caregivers to keep tabs on the cats and trap them when they need veterinary attention.

    The Network's relationship with two veterinary hospitals has helped greatly. The hospitals spayed/ neutered and vaccinated all the cats from Project Bay Cat, and they continue to treat any diseases and ailments on an ongoing basis.

    Every year since the program was developed, the number of cats in the colony has declined. On the program's tenth anniversary, Project Bay Cat reported a 65 percent decline in the cat population due to natural attrition and adoption efforts. The program's organizers anticipate a continuation of the trend and anticipate that, one day, the colony will cease to exist. Project Bay Cat is a blueprint for success. The organization is happy to offer advice to anyone who wishes to emulate the concept in other cities in America or elsewhere in the world.

    For her tireless work and determination to succeed, Cimeron Morrissey was named Animal Planet's Cat Hero of the Year in 2007.

    Alley Cat Allies is one of a number of organizations that use the trapneuter- release (TNR) method to humanely control feral cat populations.



    It has become a practice among those using trap, neuter, and return programs to clip off 3/8-inch of the tip of the left ear of those feral cats who have been successfully sterilized and vaccinated so they can be readily identified. This helps feral cat managers control their colonies. Because eartipping can be readily seen from a distance, managers don't have to put a cat through the trauma of being retrapped to check whether he or she has been sterilized.

    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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