A number of articles have been brought to my attention concerning feral cats and feral cat ‘colonies’-I suppose because of the little mini-colony I have going on in my own backyard- so I’ve been doing some research on various methods of stabilizing the population. Before I get started though, let’s clarify the difference between feral and stray cats just so we are all on the same page.
Feral cats are cats that have never been in a house, never socialized with people and will hiss and come completely unwound if someone tries to pick them up or pet them- an idea that can get you into a lot of trouble. They are in essence, wild cats. Stray cats on the other hand, are cats that at one time came from a home but for whatever reason they are living homeless; whether that be from being turned out for night prowling or simply turned loose to fend for themselves. Strays will generally accept some kind word, accept a pat on the head and sit while you pour the food where as a feral cat will more than likely run at the sound of your voice and has absolutely no interest in becoming accustom to you or the inside of your house.
Feral cats are a concern in many urban areas and a number of pilot programs have been tried as a means of slowing a population that can expand exponentially if left to the cats’ own devices. Cats can have up to three litters a years with an average of 4 kittens a litter. Those are substantial numbers; more so when the entire country is considered with an estimated 70 million feral cats.
One such experimental test has made its way to my little corner of the Universe, and that is the Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) Program. The idea behind it is sound- trap feral cats, neuter them and then let them return to their home range but without the capability of reproducing in the previously discussed astounding numbers. At the time of the neutering they are also vaccinated, treated for mites or given any medications that might be needed. Then their ears are tipped surgically to identify them as being members of the program and released, which is where the controversy beings.
There are those who feel there should be a more permanent solution. Something with a quicker result. And their argument does have merit to a point. TNR does nothing to slow down the decline in songbirds, nestlings, bunnies and other small prey animals and there is the argument that vaccinated cats will eventually need boosters and being that feral cats are not very stupid, it is highly likely they could be trapped again. Interestingly, Colonies that have been eliminated in a more direct way, i.e. killed, have a tendency to repopulate after only a few years and there was no growth in the population of songbirds in that area after the colony was removed, leading experts to consider other factors influencing the local bird populations.
Statistically TNR programs will not only stop reproduction of more feral cats but have been proven to reduce and sometimes eliminate the colony due to lack of reproduction (and not repopulated as when the colony is artificially eliminated). Some of the larger cities such a New York and San Francisco have reported a 47% drop in overall feral cat population within a ten years period- a direct result of TNR programs. The feral cats become less visible to the public due to reducing the yowling, fighting and marking those intact cats can cause and that has reduced the number of calls to authorities and reduced the number of cats taken to shelters.
Critiques argue that TNR does not control diseases on an overall basis, though we do know vaccinations last much longer than previously thought. And the feral cats are still roaming the neighborhood. These are true.
But when all information is taken into account, TNR is a good step to reducing our countries population of feral cats.
Not only is TNR a common sense response to a modern society’s urban ‘wildlife’ it is a compassionate response. And the world can use all the compassionate it can handle.