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Have you noticed more cats in your area lately? Cats typically mate in the winter, which leads to “kitten season” in the spring — a sudden increase in cat populations. Many of these cats in turn end up in animal shelters or worse. New kittens are at risk of predation by wildlife, being hit by vehicles, and susceptible to the elements. But before you turn to animal control to handle outdoor cats, consider that outdoor cats may not be homeless. They might instead be feral. But just what is a “feral cat?”
Both stray and feral cats live outdoors, where they can find food and shelter. The difference is that stray cats are usually lost or abandoned house pets — cats who are friendly with humans and can often be re-adopted. In contrast, feral cats are domestic cats that are not socialized to human contact. They live in all kinds of settings, usually in family groups called colonies. Feral cats are generally quite good at fending for themselves, and are often able to find their own food and shelter. They are quite comfortable outdoors, and have no desire to be a house pet. Because they have not been socialized to human contact, feral cats are not adoptable. They don’t belong in shelters!
Instead of animal control, there are other ways to address feral cat populations. The most humane, and proven effective, is to sterilize outdoor cats. Spay/neuter programs exist for both house cats and feral cat populations. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is a humane approach for feral cats. Through this program, outdoor cats are painlessly trapped, brought to a veterinarian to be evaluated, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and ear-tipped. While cats that are friendly to humans can be adopted into homes, healthy adult feral cats are returned to their outdoor home.
If you see an outdoor cat with the tip of its ear missing, chances are the cat has been ear-tipped. This means that the end of the ear has been removed during spay/neuter surgery so that a sterilized cat can be easily identified. Ear-tipped cats do not need to be trapped and sterilized! As long as they appear healthy, they can be left alone.
It’s important to realize that feral cat colonies do not expand without limit. The size of a colony is dependent on the resources available to the cats. For this reason, removing cats from an area or killing them will not eradicate a colony. As long as resources are available, new cats will move in to take their place. The best solution is also the most humane: sterilize the existing colony and let the cats regulate their own population.
Studies have shown that TNR works! The cat population stabilizes and their lives are improved. There are no more kittens. And the behaviors and stresses associated with mating, such as yowling or fighting, stop. The cats are vaccinated before being returned to their outdoor home. Not only does Trap-Neuter-Return make good sense, it is also a responsible, humane method of care for outdoor cats. Prevent another “kitten season” this year by getting the outdoor cats in your neighborhood sterilized as part of a Trap-Neuter-Return program.
Humanely discouraging feral colonies
We realize that not everyone wants a colony of cats in their backyard. Here are a few helpful and safe tips for discouraging ferals from colonizing your yard, courtesy of Alley Cat Allies.
• Citrus peels and coffee grounds are known cat repellents. Scatter these anywhere you don’t want cats hanging out or relieving themselves.
• Keep a tight lid on trash containers, and consider setting up a neighborhood feeding program. Cats that are fed regularly will be less apt to scavenge for food. Be sure to leave food out only for a brief period. This will teach the cats to feed at a regular time, and will also keep wildlife out of the food.
• And finally, remember that outdoor cats will often seek warmth under cars and in engine compartments. Before starting your car on cold mornings, try banging your hand on the hood. The noise should scare any cats that have bedded down under the car for the night.
For more information about TNR and feral cats, contact Rim Country Friends of Ferals here in Payson at (928) 474-1836. Rim Country Friends of Ferals is a dedicated group of volunteers committed to humanely controlling the area’s population of feral cats through the Trap-Neuter-Return program. They also strive to find loving, forever homes for healthy cats that have been properly socialized. Friends of Ferals has successfully helped to reduce the number of unadoptable cats and kittens dropped off at the Humane Society of Central Arizona, and was recently honored by the Town of Payson with the proclamation of October 16th as National Feral Cat Day.
Following are just a few of the many wonderful pets available for adoption at the HSCAZ shelter, located at 602 W. Wilson Court. Hours are Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Closed Sunday and holidays. Adoptable pets are already spayed or neutered and current on vaccinations.
Ace is super playful and loves people. He gets along with other dogs that are friendly and like to play. He is a goofy guy with a great personality. He gets along well with kids too.
Cali is a very sweet girl who came in as a stray. She’s a polite and outgoing girl who enjoys hanging out with people and being loved on. She walks well on a leash with minimal pulling. Cali likes other dogs, but doesn’t like to share her toys. She would do well with nonconfrontational dogs. Cali is spayed, microchipped, up to date on all shots, and waiting for her special someone!
Denver is a party animal, which means he is always down to have some fun! He loves to play with people and dogs, but is still working on his manners. He can be a little mouthy at playtime, so a home with older kids would be best. Denver has lots of energy, walks pretty well on a leash and would be a great exercise companion.
Bella is an extremely outgoing girl with a great personality. She has lived with young kids, dogs and other cats. She makes friends easily and is very affectionate.
Gizmo is adventurous, outgoing and affectionate. He loves people and other cats. He likes to play around with kitty toys and also enjoys curling up with a feline companion for a nice nap.
I am outgoing and affectionate. I have lived with other cats and I love people. I am a clean boy who likes to keep a tidy litter box. I like to cuddle in your lap and am adventurous. They call me the cat daddy, because I like to play with the kittens, and then cuddle up with them.