An absolutely heartbreaking story came across my local news in July of 2014. At least 14 kittens with devastating respiratory infections and other illnesses were discovered by a couple of women taking a walk. The kittens were born from feral cats that had been being “cared for” by the Pethos, a couple that owned the home the kittens were found near.
The Pethos had been feeding the feral cats and allowing them in and out of their garage for years. Thomas Petho admits in the clip embedded below that while he started caring for the feral cats with good intentions, things quickly got out of hands. The news footage flashes back and forth between photos of sickly kittens with crusted-over eyes and nose sitting on the Pethos’ front porch and bowls of dry food covered in flies. Now that Paws For The Cause Feral Cat Rescue has stepped in, Mr. Petho says he wants all of the cats removed from his property. While I’m not trying to make a judgement on the Pathos’ character (they probably have had the best intentions all along), the whole situation leaves a huge mess for both the rescue and the cats.
If you or someone you know is considering caring for feral cats, please watch this video and consider the lessons below.
Lesson #1 in caring for feral cats: Don’t take on the project alone.
No matter how good your intentions are, caring for feral cats can get taxing. It seems that it would be as simple as setting out a dish of food and some water, but it rarely stays that easy. Eventually the expense and the work will exhaust you and your family. Time after time I’ve seen stories where “things just got out of hand” when someone tried to care for feral cats.
Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to help a group of feral cats. Talk to your local animal rescue to find out about Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) groups that already exist in your area. Alley Cat Allies, a national group that helps feral cats, has a “Feral Friends Network” where you can find other people in your area who are interested in caring for feral cats. Getting involved with like minded people will help alleviate the pressures of caring for feral cats by yourself.
Lesson #2 in caring for feral cats: Cats multiply fast!
Don’t assume that you will only be caring for “a couple” of feral cats. One un-spayed female can have 3 litters of kittens per year, each litter producing 1 – 8 kittens. Of course, some of those kittens may also be female and they will be ready to have their first litters when they are around 5 months old. You can end up with a lot of cats in your care very quickly!
What should you do? Get involved with that Trap-Neuter-Return group I mentioned above. Together with the group, you will trap the feral cats, take them to the veterinarian to be spayed/neutered and have essential medical treatments done, and then the feral cats will be returned right back where they started. Any kittens trapped may be able to be adopted to loving homes. This helps to slow down the growth of the feral population with as little disturbance to the feral cat colony as possible. Cats can be ear-tipped ( a small portion of their left ear removed) to mark them as being in the care of the TNR group.
Lesson #3 in caring for feral cats: The cats are here to stay.
One thing people rarely consider when they begin caring for feral cats is that they are almost impossible to relocate. If you offer food and shelter to feral cats on your property, they will decide to make it their permanent home. That’s right, your home has become their home. If you attempt to remove the cats, they are likely to come right back. Also, it can be detrimental to the cats to move them out of their territory – especially if it is into the territory of another group of feral cats.
Consider whether or not you are willing to have a colony of feral cats on your property before caring for feral cats there. Talk to your local TNR groups to find out what different options are available in your area. If there are unwanted cats on your property, don’t do anything drastic. There are several humane ways to get feral cats off of your property.