What Exactly is a Feral Cat?

The official definition of a feral cat is one that’s “living in a wild state after domestication.” These cats are also often referred to as “free-roaming” because this term embraces lost, abandoned, loosely-owned and stray cats, too.

People, who carelessly, and often deliberately, abandon domestic pets, leaving them to deal to fend for themselves, largely bring about the problems of feral cats. It is cruel and unkind to think that any animal that has been in a domestic situation can suddenly fend for itself. And, if the cats have not been spayed or neutered, the colonies quickly multiply.

For many, it’s common sense that cats that have enjoyed a domesticated life cannot easily survive on their own, especially in urban areas. Consequently, there is a lot of work to be done to educate people about such thoughtless cruelty.

Fortunately, there are laws coming into place to help. For example, in California, people who abandon animals when their homes are foreclosed can be prosecuted and the banks or financial institutions that take over are obliged to take care of the animals left there. Bravo! There are also many wonderful people who take care of feral colonies by feeding them and often attending to medical needs as well.

One of the most unique and successful feral cat programs is Project Bay Cat, a TNR and humane colony management program run by the Homeless Cat Network in Foster City, Calif., since 2004.

At the time, there were 175 unsterilized cats living on a long stretch of a popular walking/biking trail along the San Francisco Bay coastline. Determined to protect these cats and manage the colony humanely, with the goal that one day it could cease to exist (as the cats passed away with age), Cimeron Morrissey, founder of the Homeless Cat Network, approached the municipality of Foster City looking for their support along with the backing of Foster City’s District Attorney’s office. This legal backing meant that all animal abuse, neglect and abandonment cases are rigorously prosecuted and the offenders brought to justice. Having such legal back-up means that residents in the area are less likely to attempt to abandon their cats but seek help from a shelter instead.

The city put up signs along the trail explaining to the public that this was a managed colony and any interference is punishable by law. The cost was as minimal as $500 of taxpayer dollars. The Homeless Cat Network built special feeding stations along the trail and the organization’s volunteers took care of feeding the cats on a daily basis.

While Homeless Cat Network provides the food and necessary supplies, many of the volunteers pay for their own supplies, which helps a lot. Public feeding of these cats is discouraged because that makes it more difficult for the volunteers to trap the cats so that they can be spayed and neutered . The organization also has special arrangements with local veterinarians to perform these procedures and they also offer the cats ongoing medical care.

In fact, these cats have everything a domesticated cat would have except a permanent roof over their heads.

Share your questions or tips in the comments below.


-Photo Credit: From flickr by nikkis-refuge

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