National Feral Cat Day
Veterinarian Reviewed on October 14, 2009 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
Alley Cat Allies
In 1990, two women founded Alley Cat Allies in an attempt to help stray and feral cats who they felt were not being properly helped and cared for by the animal control and shelter system. These women felt that once a person called their local animal control about a feral cat, the cat was then picked up and destroyed by animal control.
Today, Alley Cat Allies is the only advocacy organization in the entire USA that is devoted to the humane treatment of stray and feral cats. Not only has the organization created educational materials on the care and protection of feral cats, they also were the first organization to introduce the Trap, Neuter and Return practice of spaying and neutering feral cat colonies in the USA.
Even though many homes around the world have housed domestic cats for the past 10,000 years, millions more have lived a feral lifestyle. Today, researchers predict that the number of un-owned cats living in America is approximately 82 million.
In the past there were various methods that were attempted to control the feral cat population. One of them was to poison the feral cats, but, as we all know, cats are extremely smart and avoided eating the poisoned food. Another method was used to cull a cat colony through humanely trapping the cats and then taking them to an animal shelter to either be euthanized or adopted.
The European Method
However, attempting to adopt out a wild feral cat, eventually become too problematic because most of the feral cats would succumb to the extreme stress of being locked inside a cage at a shelter.
“These cats have never been socialized to people, and they’re extremely fearful,” says Becky Robinson, the president and one of the founders of Alley Cat Allies. Robinson introduced a European method of controlling the feral cat population in Washington, D.C., 20 years ago.
This method was called Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR). Robinson implemented this method by first humanely catching every feral cat in a particular colony and then having them either spayed or neutered as well as being vaccinated against Rabies. The cats were then returned to the alley in which they lived, but not before one of their ears was notched in order to help identify which cats were actually a part of the TNR program.
Volunteer caretakers then helped provide food for the cats and noted any new cats so that they too, could be trapped, spayed/neutered, vaccinated and released again.
“There was a huge need for a humane way to deal with feral cats; as soon as people heard we were using TNR successfully, they called wanting to know more,” said Robinson.
Trap, Neuter, Release
Approximately 225 organizations exist in the USA today that are devoted solely to TNR, along with many animal shelters that sponsor TNR programs. Within each of these organizations are thousands of volunteers who help to oversee local cat colonies. One of the ways that they do this is by deeming whether a colony cat is friendly. If it is friendly then it is most likely a lost cat and once caught, will be scanned for a microchip and hopefully returned home. If there is no microchip, all friendly cats and kittens will either be taken to an animal shelter for adoption or will be privately fostered in an attempt to socialize them before placing them for private adoption.
The TNR program has a few added benefits such as helping other species. It seems most bird lovers are concerned about feral cats catching precious songbirds. However, a decline in the overall feral cat population will also mean a decline in feral cats destroying songbirds.
Another great benefit to lowering the feral cat population through TNR is that there has been a decrease in Rabies cases.
“In this country, rabies is a public health victory because we vaccinate,” says Robinson. “Experts agree the more stray cats vaccinated for rabies, the better. Historically (using trap and kill) some cats in a colony would be removed, but their numbers would only increase again, and meanwhile none are vaccinated.”
To show your support for feral cats in your hometown celebrate National Feral Cat Day by getting involved with the festivities sponsored by your local animal organization.
Photo Credit: hotash
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for 28 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan