A Beginner’s Guide to Community Cats
Good morning, friends. This is your favorite darling rescue kitty, Patra. As we enter the first official days of fall, I’m already purr-paring for Thanksgiving. It’s one of my favorite holidays, because I have so much to be thankful for! I’ve been very lucky to find my forever family.
Before I was adopted from a shelter, my life consisted of bouncing from rescue to rescue. While I was in the shelters, I met plenty of cats who had been born on the streets. From having to hunt wild animals and scavenge through trash cans for dinner to not having much loving contact with humans, these cats had rough lives.
Cats are the most popular pet in the US, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s 2012 guide US Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook. While 85 percent of these cats have been spayed or neutered, many have had several litters before being sterilized. This leads to a major problem of feline overpopulation. Because of this, outdoor
cats are found in almost every neighborhood in the United States and Canada. There are a few kinds:
- Community cats and “loosely owned” cats are friendly strays, abandoned kitties, and those fed or sheltered by concerned families who don’t consider the cat their own
- Feral cats are un-socialized, skittish, and unable to live with humans. They will almost never eat in front of a human, and they’re most likely to carry diseases out of all the cats mentioned here.
- Owned cats who are allowed outside to roam and reproduce
Many of these cats are considered a hassle to the communities where they live. You balance work, school, household chores, family, and friends. Your life is busy. The last thing you want to hear as you go to sleep after a long day is the yowling of a stray cat in heat, and you don’t want to deal with colonies of feral cats hiding in the bushes outside of the grocery store.
Historically, there are a few ways that people have dealt with my species when they consider us pests. Some communities have instituted “feeding bans” that criminalize giving food to stray cats, which simply forces the kitties closer to homes and businesses, where they will forage and kill other animals for supper. Other places have attempted trapping and relocating the cats, but this is—in my humble opinion— a very silly idea. There’s no “elsewhere” to take these poor homeless cats, who will simply end up in overburdened shelters that most likely will euthanize them. Similarly, without sterilizing the homeless cats, they’ll simply have more babies.
One fertile female cat can have upwards of 150 kittens in her lifetime, and when you consider those kittens’ babies, it’s easy to see how overpopulation happens exponentially.
The best way to help feral and community cats is through a well-executed Trap-Neuter-Return program. You can support one by donating money, supplies, or your time. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs are great, humane solutions to the problem of overpopulation of cats.
Neutering a cat, rather than euthanizing him, stops the breeding cycle in a safe way. While trapped, the cat will receive vaccines to decrease public safety risks. When you capture kittens that are young enough, they can be properly socialized and found homes with people. Neutering also reduces nuisance complaints from unwanted behaviors like fighting, mating, yowling, and spraying, which stop after sterilization. After being fixed, these cats will have their left ear notched as a universal sign that it is sterile.
Returning cats to their original environment discourages new feline populations from moving in, meaning that the cycle is properly broken.
If you want to help your neighborhood community cats this fall and winter, there are a few things you can do. You can sign up to be a foster parent to the kittens of free-roaming cats and get them used to human companionship. You can also set up a feeding station or shelter at a feral cat colony. As the weather starts to cool down (slowly but surely!) there will be a greater need for small refuge spaces to keep warm. These winter shelters usually can fit three or four cats and is heated by their body warmth and are simple to make yourself.
One common method of building these shelters is to buy a large Rubbermaid storage bin. Using power tools, you will cut a hole in the side of the bin starting a few inches above the ground (to prevent flooding!) up to almost the tippy-top. This will be the door. Then, line the box with one-inch slabs of Styrofoam (keeping the door unobstructed) to insulate and keep the shelter nice and toasty. Line the floor with another slab, and cover it with some warm material like shredded newspaper or straw. Finally, place one last piece of Styrofoam on the roof of the box, and cover with the bin’s plastic lid.
As you prepare to celebrate fall holidays, remember that the cooler weather isn’t as enjoyable if you don’t have a cozy home to sleep in after the end of a long day. The best way to help feral cats is to prevent unwanted kittens from being born in the first place. Always spay and neuter your pets, and remember to adopt instead of shopping at a breeder! There are also countless feral cat groups in North Texas that you can support if you want to team up and build lots of shelters to help these homeless kitties.
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