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.
We realize that not everyone wants a colony of cats in their back yard. 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 you car on cold mornings, try banging you 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. 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 Oct. 16 as National Feral Cat Day.
The Humane Society of Central Arizona will have new hours of operation beginning Feb. 1. Due to public demand, we will be open from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays; and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The shelter will continue to be closed on Sundays.
Crystal is a 9-month-old Siamese mix. She was surrendered to HSCAZ because her owner could no longer care for her. Crystal can be a loyal and loving cat, once she is familiar with you. She likes to sit in your lap and gets along well with other calmer cats. She has lived indoors her entire life and knows her name and even a few basic commands like “no” and “down.” Crystal is a beautiful girl who is ready to find her forever home. Preferably one that is quiet, with no kids. She has been spayed, is current on her vaccines and is also litter box trained.
Chocolate Divinity is a spunky little 3-month-old kitten. She is super sweet and affectionate, and boy does she like to purr. She gets along with everyone, including kids and other cats. She loves to play and doesn’t mind curling up in your lap so you can pet her. If you are looking for a playful, loving kitten to add to your family, this is your girl. She is spayed, current on her vaccines and is litter box trained.
Echo is a 1-1/2-year-old tabby. She is very easygoing and tends to keep to herself. She gets along with most everyone and is pretty aloof. Echo loves her wet food and her favorite hobby is taking long naps. Echo has been with us since November of 2012. It is definitely time this little girl finds her forever home. If you live a quiet life and are just looking for some companionship, come down and meet Echo, she could be the one for you. She has been spayed, is up to date on all of her vaccinations and is litter box trained.
Layla is a 2-year-old cattle dog/husky mix. She came to us as a stray nursing three beautiful puppies. The puppies have grown up and now Layla is looking for a new home. She’s a calm girl, but can be coaxed into a game of “chase.” Layla is social with people and other dogs but not recommended for small children. She is spayed, microchipped and up to date on all vaccinations.
Newman is a Catahoula/retriever mix with bright blue eyes, just like his namesake. He is an active boy, about a year old, very friendly with people and loves to play fetch. Newman is dog social and prefers to run in the yard with other active friends. Newman is house-trained, neutered, microchipped and up to date on vaccinations.
Holly is a young (10 months) Catahoula mix that was dropped off by a good Samaritan who found her running in the street. She is very friendly, and has been known to visit other dogs playing in adjacent yards. She will do best in an active home with secure fencing. Holly has lived with children and horses, and would do well in a multi-dog home. She should not go home with cats. Holly is housetrained, spayed, microchipped and current on all vaccinations.