Marion County is not immune to the problem of feral cats, and for residents willing to step up and be part of the solution, help is available.
Unfortunately, much of the mess that’s led to the feral cat problem here and elsewhere was created by uncaring owners dumping these little animals on the streets.
The number of feral cats, also referred to as “community cats,” in the U.S. is estimated in the tens of millions, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Headquartered in New York City, the ASPCA maintains a strong local presence, with programs extending across the country, an official spokesperson said.
While many well-meaning individuals think the best way to control the feral cat population is lethal elimination or relocation, these methods are outdated.
Some community cats may tolerate a bit of human contact, but most are too fearful and wild to be handled.
“Community cats often live in groups, called colonies, and take refuge wherever they can find food,” an ASPCA official said.
“They will also try to seek out abandoned buildings or deserted cars—or even dig holes in the ground—to keep warm in winter months and cool during the summer heat.”
These cats face many challenges enduring weather extremes, starvation, infection and attacks by other animals.
Almost half of the kittens born outdoors die before their first year, and these cats face eradication by humans, the ASPCA official said.
“Poison, trapping, gassing and steel leg-hold traps are all ways that humans—including some animal control and government agencies—try to kill off community cat populations.
“If a community cat survives kittenhood, his average lifespan is less than two years if living on his own,” the official said.
If a cat is lucky enough to be in a colony that has a caretaker, he could reach the age of 10 years.
“Community cats who live in a managed colony—a colony with a dedicated caretaker who provides spayneuter services, regular feedings and proper shelter, —can live a quite content life.”
There is also a difference between stray cats and community cats, the official said.
“A community cat is primarily wild-raised or has adapted to community life.
”The ASPCA defines a stray cat as someone’s pet who has become lost, or who has been abandoned.”
Stray cats are usually tame and comfortable around people, though, ASPCA officials said.
“They will frequently rub against legs and exhibit behaviors such as purring and meowing, which is in contrast to community cats, who are notably quiet and keep their distance.”
Stray cats will often try to make a home near humans—in car garages, front porches or backyards.
“Most stray cats are completely reliant on humans for food and are not able to cope with life on the streets,” ASPCA official said.
Another concern is that when community cats end up in shelters, a large percentage of them are euthanized.
The ASPCA endorses Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) as the only proven humane and effective method to manage community cat colonies.
TNR is the method of humanely trapping community cats, having them spayed or neutered and vaccinated against rabies, and then returning them to their colony to live out their lives.
TNR also involves a colony caretaker who provides food and adequate shelter and monitors the cats’ health.
The ASPCA says that TNR has been shown to be the least costly and the most humane, efficient way of stabilizing community cat populations.
“TNR helps stabilize the population of community colonies and, over time, reduces them. Nuisance behaviors such as spraying, excessive noisemaking and fighting are largely eliminated and no additional kittens are born,” the ASPCA spokesperson said.
By stabilizing the population, cats will naturally have more space, shelter and food and fewer risks of disease.
After being spayed or neutered, cats living in colonies tend to gain weight and live healthier lives.
In addition, spayed cats are less likely to develop breast cancer and will not be at risk for ovarian or uterine cancer, while neutered males will not get testicular cancer.
Helping these animals
A community colony caretaker is an individual (or group of individuals) who manage one or more community colonies in a community.
The ASPCA explained that the caretaker keeps an eye on the cats—providing food, water and shelter, spaying/neutering and emergency medical care.
The following tips are provided by the ASPCA in getting along with neighbors or community members.
• Present information in a reasonable, professional manner and address individual complaints by listening patiently.
• Always maintain a constructive, problem-solving attitude.
• Explain diplomatically that the cats have lived at the site for a long time and that they have been or will be sterilized, which will cut back on annoying behaviors.
• Explain that if the present colony is removed, the problems will recur with new cats.
Adopting community cats
Community cats are not adoptable and shelters rarely will accept them.
The fact is, an official said, most community cats exhibit wild, shy or frightened behavior, and it’s impossible to predict how or if they will ever acclimate to indoor life.
While a community cat might look exactly the same as a pet cat, community cats survive by avoiding close human interaction. When properly cared for, community cats are happier outdoors in their own territory.
“Some semi-community cats are actually stray cats who don’t exhibit quite the same shy behavior as the majority of community cats.”
Occasionally, these cats are born in the wild but, for no particular reason are less fearful of humans than is typical. Many semi-community cats lack the knowledge to survive on their own, and are often rejected by established colonies.
The ASPCA said that it is possible for some of these cats to be socialized, but it depends on their trust of humans.
It is very important to take caution, especially with cats who seem to straddle the fence between community and friendly. Getting them to trust people again might be hard, making them extremely difficult to adopt out.
Some people or groups believe that certain methods of managing cat populations are acceptable, but the ASPCA disagrees citing the following ineffective methods.
• Eradication: The deliberate and systematic destruction of a community cat colony, by whatever method, almost always leads to the “vacuum effect”—either new cats flock to the vacated area to exploit whatever food source attracted the original inhabitants, or survivors breed and their descendants are more cautious around threats. Simply put, eradication is only a temporary fix that sacrifices animals’ lives unnecessarily, yet yields no positive or beneficial return.
• Relocation: Many communities have rounded up colonies of community cats either for euthanasia or to relocate them to another area. This does not work, because community cats are very connected with their territory: They are familiar with its food sources and places that offer shelter, as well as resident wildlife, other cats in the area, and potential threats to their safety. Even when all community cats are removed, which is difficult to achieve, new cats will soon move in and set up camp.
Relocation is something to consider only if keeping the cats where they are becomes a threat to their lives, such as their territory being demolished and there is no adjacent space to shift them to, or if the cats’ lives would be at extreme risk should they remain where they are.
The Caring Hands Humane Society has sponsors to include the Animal Heath Center of Marion, Hillsboro Animal Clinic, Peabody Veterinary Clinic and Spur Ridge Veterinary Clinic.
The Caring Hands Humane Society said it is deeply grateful to its sponsors.
“Each year we are able to help more and more animals, as well as the people who love them, and we couldn’t do it without our sponsors,” an official said.
Donations are accepted at any of the Marion County vet clinics or Caring Hands making it possible that vouchers can be provided.
At the end of the day, according to one local man, it’s because people who caused this problem, and it will be people who will help in the solution.
For more information, contact the ASPCA, any of the Marion County veterinarians or Caring Hands Humane Society at (316) 283-0839 or firstname.lastname@example.org.