Kitten season is my favorite time of year. Furever Home typically helps 75 new kittens find their loving furever homes and, while most of the kittens are being cared for by our generous foster families (and a big thank you to them – we couldn’t do it without your support!), many kittens aren’t as lucky. Lancaster County’s feral cat population was up 60% last year, with estimates showing that there could be 84,000 feral cats in the county.
It is a big issue. Here are some guidelines on how you can help.
The difference between stray and feral cats
While stray and feral cats share some commonalities there is a big difference. Stray cats are socialized to humans – in most cases they were once pets who have either become lost or were, unfortunately, abandoned, while feral cats have had very limited (or no) interactions with humans and have reverted to a wild state. Stray cats may become feral as their contact with humans dwindles or, in a happier scenario, become loving pets again if they are taken in.
Feral cats typically fear humans. In most cases, unless they are very young at the time of adoption, they do not enjoy living indoors if someone were to take them in. They do, however, bond with their colony. Although you might wish to rehabilitate a feral cat, if they are not socialized by about 5 month of age, it is almost impossible to turn them around. They are best left to live their lives outside.
How to tell the difference – a few signs
One of the most important things for you to remember is that feral is a designation of behavior, not location.
Should I approach a cat if I see one outside?
If you are thinking about approaching an unknown cat you find outside, be cautious. Cat bites and scratches can be harmful. Follow the lead of the cat and if it is friendly to you, take your time and get to know it to build up trust. Stray cats may tolerate touching while feral cats will not – not even by a caretaker who feeds it. As you get to know a stray it will relax over time while a feral cat will remain tense. If they feel threatened, a stray will hiss while a feral cat could lash out aggressively.
As stated above, feral cats tend to live in colonies and, together, they will defend their territory. They typically live where they can find food and shelter – such as an abandoned building near a restaurant dumpster or under the porch of someone who feeds them even though there is no other interaction.
So how can I help?
With a stray, begin by leaving food out for it at the same time each day. As it comes around more, slowly get to know it until the trust is there and you can pet it. If you’re thinking about taking it into your home, be sure to take it to a vet first for shots, neutering, flea treatment and a health checkup – especially if you have other pets. A trip to the groomer will probably also be in order.
Whether or not you take the cat in, the first thing you should do is to have the animal scanned for a microchip. Many animals are given away or sent to shelters while their owners are frantically looking for them. Call the local vets and give a description of the animal, take a picture and make a flyer and post it in local vet offices, supermarkets and public places. Ask around the neighborhood. Facebook is an excellent way to advertise a found animal. Craigslist has a very active lost and found pet section in Lancaster. FIND TOBY in PA, lancaster county pa lost found & rehoming cats and Lost Pets of PA are excellent Facebook resources dedicated to posting lost and found animals.
If you are unsuccessful finding an owner, you may want to attempt to contact a no-kill shelter to see if they are taking in animals. Be aware that most rescues are very overwhelmed over kitten season and cannot accept the high number of requests that they get to take in animals. Furever Home gets about 30 calls and email per week from people asking them to take in cats.
Feral cats, on the other hand, should not be approached. If you have feral cats in your neighborhood, the responsible thing to do is to contact a local feral clinic such as Pet Pantry of Lancaster County and ask to rent a "have-a-heart" trap, which humanely traps the cats. This is a complicated process because you must trap the animal the night before the surgery and take away its food. Call first and Pet Pantry will give you instructions on what is involved in trapping and having an animal spayed/neutered.
It’s important to note that you must call the clinic for an appointment before trapping the cat as you can’t leave the cat in the trap longer than 12-18 hours.
After surgery, it is a wonderful help if you provide shelters for the feral cats. For great suggestions, see the website of Alley Cat Allies for ideas on how to build outdoor shelters. Furever Home is also happy to assist you to build an outdoor shelter. The final step is providing regular food and water for your outdoor friends.
Furever Home has five colonies of feral cats that we feed, helping over 100 cats. And we greatly appreciate any dry cat food donations to help us with this cause. To see our full wish list, click here.
To donate and help us with this county-wide issue, please visit http://www.fureverhomeadoptioncenter.com/donate.html.
Questions? Let us know in the comments section.