A “feral” is a cat who is not socialized and exhibits some degree of wild behavior. Feral cats tend to be fearful of people and keep their distance. This makes them difficult to handle and impossible to place in adoptive homes. For this reason feral cats faced almost certain killing in animal shelters.
Feral, Free-roaming or community cats form groups called “colonies.” Colonies can form anywhere there is adequate food and shelter. In urban or suburban areas, they can be found in alleyways, vacant lots, abandoned buildings, parks, shopping centers and backyards, to name a few. The vast majority of cats in these colonies are not completely wild because they rely on people for their food source, whether it’s a dumpster behind a restaurant or a kind neighbor who comes by once a day. Relatively few subsist by hunting alone.
“Trap and euthanize” is the predominant approach of animal control because euthanasia is the common outcome for the cats. I prefer the term “trap and remove” because what they are really trying to do is eradicate the cats from the environment. Municipalities utilizing this method experience constant levels of impounded cats, complaint calls, and euthanasia rates. These unchanging numbers indicate what’s happening is population turnover rather than actual reduction – new feline faces, but not fewer. The problem is not being solved. The current proliferation of the cats in every nook and cranny of the country speaks eloquently to the utter failure of this method to achieve long-term reduction of populations.
There are several reasons why trap and euthanize doesn’t work:
The vacuum effect Cat colonies spring up and subsist certain locations because the habitat provides adequate food and shelter. When a colony is partially or completely removed from a site, cats who were recently abandoned or belong to neighboring colonies move into the vacant territory to take advantage of the food and shelter. The cycle of reproduction begins and with less competition for food and shelter the survival rate of the kittens and their offspring increases. With the higher survival rate the colony quickly returns to the size which the available resources can support. All it takes to create an adequate food source is an unsealed dumpster, open garbage cans or one compassionate person leaving out cans of food when they spot a cat.
The advantages of TNR to the community is that caretakers of colonies will cooperate. On the flip side, if the intent is to trap and euthanize the cats, caretakers will resist. Caretakers may continue feeding the cats especially before trapping attempts to discourage cats from entering baited traps. Caretakers may set off or damaging traps when they’re left unguarded.
Feeding bans don’t work. Feral cats are territorial and quite resourceful and as their hunger grows, they will encroach farther into inhabited spaces, including homes and workplaces, locate previously untapped food sources within their territory and raise their level of predation. The second reason feeding bans invariably fail is because they are almost impossible to enforce. Caretakers of colonies feel a strong bond towards the cats and most will not walk away when they know the cats are depending upon them. People have demonstrated they will risk their jobs, fines and even bodily harm to prevent the animals from starving. Allowing a feral to live out his life in his territory is a more compassionate choice than having him spend fearful years in a cage.
Ultimately, targeting the cats’ reproductive capacity through spay/neuter and returning them back to their territory is the best approach available for lowering their numbers, reducing their impact on the environment and improving their lives. Friends of League City Animal Shelter will pay to sterilize, vaccinate and microchip any Community Cat if there is a person willing to look after the cat in their neighborhood.
If TNR isn’t possible, then becoming a “working cat” is the next best thing. Community Cats or Working Cats are good for the neighborhoods and businesses. They have proven their value by becoming natural a natural pest control. They deter rodents, snakes, other vermin and varmints in return for feeding by their caretaker. These cats are ideal for private barns storing feed, inside warehouses, churches, food pantries, residential area where houses are elevated off the ground, mobile home parks, factories, outside markets, and breweries. Mounted police barns, garden centers, and golf cart barns (rodents eat the electrical wires on the golf carts). Feed stores, tractor and farm supply businesses are ideal jobs for these cats. Heavy equipment yards, auction warehouses, virtually any business with an outside yard can reduce their rodent population with feral cats.
They are effective pest control in many retail establishments because they avoid the customers, they just do their job. Working Cats are growing in popularity as the public learns their value and want the cats spared from being killed in shelters. If the cats are outside, it is imperative that they be brought inside or into a safe enclosure at night to avoid being killed by a coyote, stray dog, owl, or other predator. This can be accomplished by feeding the cats only in the evening. Shaking the food container will usually bring them running if this is their only meal. Finding opportunities for Working Cats is essential to keeping League City the only NO Kill municipal animal shelter in our region.