by Katherine Noyes
Feral cats exist in the shadows of just about every community. These stray cats usually live short, miserable lives without consistent food, water, shelter or veterinary care. Living in colonies with other feral cats, they struggle in a world filled with threats; many don't survive beyond one year.
Feral cats are a direct result of our failure to spay and neuter our pets. Millions of stray and homeless pets are euthanized in animal shelters each year.
Trap Neuter and Return programs are recommended by most animal organizations as the most humane and effective approach for improving the lives of feral cats while reducing their colonies. As part of these programs, feral cats are humanely trapped, taken to a veterinarian for spaying or neutering, and then released where volunteers commit to providing them with adequate food, water, shelter and monitoring.
Trap Neuter and Return programs are not without their critics ― most notably, those concerned about protecting birds and other wildlife ― but partnership efforts have shown that collaboration is possible.
Feral cat success stories abound, and the future is looking brighter for stray cats everywhere. But a world free of homeless pets depends on the help of caring volunteers like you.
Start at home. First and foremost, make sure your own pet cats are spayed and neutered. The feral cat cycle originally began with pet cats, so this is the place to make sure it ends.
Look around. If you have seen feral or stray cats in your immediate neighborhood, commit to having them spayed or neutered and vaccinated, and then caring for them in the long run. Talk to your local shelter to see if they have a Trap Neuter and Return (TNR) program you can participate in. (To find your local shelter, visit the ASPCA or you can enter your ZIP code at Petfinder or Pets 911.) Alley Cat Allies offers an extensive selection of guidelines and resources for feral cat caregivers, and the Humane Society offers a self-paced online course called Trap-Neuter-Return: How to Manage a Feral Cat Colony. Neighborhood Cats offers an assortment of online materials, including slideshows and videos, on dealing with feral cats, as does the Feral Cat Coalition.
Spread the word. Talk to your local shelter, animal control department, and veterinarians about establishing a community Trap Neuter and Return (TNR) program, if there isn't one already. The Animal Spirit offers an assortment of downloadable educational materials including a feral cat brochure. Alley Cat Allies offers brochures specific to veterinarians and animal control agencies, as well as a broad array of feral cat factsheets. The ASPCA has a list of model Trap Neuter and Return programs that have achieved great results.
Adopt from a shelter. Commit to adopting cats from animal shelters, not pet stores or breeders, which just make the pet overpopulation crisis worse. Adopting a cat from a shelter is one more way you can give a homeless cat a chance.