The Spay-Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP) will make Tuesday, October 31st a "feral cats only" day.
Click here for more information, or call SNAP at (713) 863-0010.

Local Feral Cats in Need of Farm Homes!
(Click here for more information).

Many of us have encountered stray cats slinking through our back yards, roaming the parking lots outside our work, or hanging out near the dumpsters by our apartment buildings. Some of us have found our garages or bushes being used as nurseries by mother cats and their new kittens. We may try to help these feline visitors by putting out food, or trying to catch them and keep them as pets. But some of these cats are feral cats; they run from any attempt at petting them, and hiss and scratch if we try to grab them. If we continue to take care of female cats or kittens for more than three or four months without intervention, we will find ourselves with a pregnant cat ready to deposit more unwanted, human-shy kittens in our vicinity. What can we do? How can we help feral cats?

WHAT IS A FERAL CAT? A feral cat is either a domestic housecat who has been abandoned or gotten lost and returned to wild behavior, or the offspring of such a cat. Living without human contact for a long period of time, or without crucial socialization to humans as kittens, feral cats are extremely frightened and suspicious of humans.

HOW DOES A FERAL CAT LIVE? Not very well. Domestic cats may not have the properly honed hunting instincts necessary to fend for themselves, despite what many people think. They are opportunistic, scavenging scraps from dumpsters and accepting hand-outs of cat food where they find them. Feral cats are prone to picking up serious diseases such as feline leukemia and feline AIDS from other unvaccinated cats they encounter, and of course they are always in danger of being hit by cars. Female ferals are constantly pregnant or trying to nourish their kittens on a starvation diet, and males risk injury in violent cat fights. The average feral cat only lives for three years.

WHAT IS A FERAL CAT COLONY? When several feral cats group together in an alley, the corner of a parking lot, or a grassy area of a college campus, they form a feral colony. A feral colony is a social group of cats who avoid human contact, and breed with each other to create a growing population of homeless cats.

WHO IS A CARETAKER? A caretaker is anyone who puts out food for feral cats, making their lives a little easier. Ferals quickly come to rely on the provider of a regularly scheduled, nutritious meal. Some caretakers feed an entire colony of feral cats, and there are a number of organizations which provide for the care of ferals in a limited area, such as a college campus or a beachfront boardwalk.

CAN'T FERAL CATS BE TAKEN IN BY A HUMANE SOCIETY OR NO-KILL SHELTER? Not really. Humane societies are terribly overburdened, and the numbers of animals which are killed each year by the animal control function of the humane society is staggering. Here in Houston, the SPCA takes in 30,000 animals (cats, dogs, and others), and puts 21,000 of them to sleep. In the United States, millions of animals are killed each year as part of our society's policy of dealing with excess companion animals. Animals which are sick, old, or feral are considered poor prospects for adoption, and almost certainly will be killed at a humane society. No-kill shelters usually only accept animals who are friendly enough to be adopted. This leaves any feral cat(s) you care for essentially your problem.

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT RESPONSIBILITY OF ANY CARETAKER? Spay or neuter. A female cat can, and does, have litters only four months apart. Her kittens are themselves able to have litters when they are only five months old. Within five years, a single cat can be responsible for the births of thousands of homeless kittens, doomed to the same life on the streets as their mother. Many people are happy to provide a stray cat with food occasionally, but most do not bother to take the next step of making sure that the cat doesn't perpetuate the pet overpopulation crisis.

WHAT IS THE BEST THING I CAN DO FOR A FERAL CAT? Trap the cat, and take it to be spayed or neutered. By spaying or neutering a feral cat, you are ending the breeding cycle and preventing more cats from being born into the painful predicament of being unwanted and uncared for. In addition, spaying a female cat allows her to live without the drain of constant pregnancy and motherhood. Neutering a male cat ends unpopular behavior such as urine-spraying, roaming of the neighborhood, and noisy fighting for territory with other unneutered toms. Also, the surgery causes tomcats, and in my experience female cats, to calm down and be more amenable to staying near the caretaker's food bowl and sometimes being tamed.

HOW CAN YOU HELP A WHOLE COLONY OF FERAL CATS? The proper way to handle a feral cat colony has traditionally been to round up all of the cats, and kill them. In recent years, a grass-roots effort by people looking to find a better way to reduce feral cat populations without hurting individual cats has resulted in the development of TTVAR programs. TTVAR, or some variation on that acronym, stands for Trap, Test, Vaccinate, Alter, and Release. Those who practice TTVAR trap all of the cats in a feral cat colony (usually not at one time), then test them for feline leukemia and feline AIDS. Cats that test positive are killed by a vet or shelter so that they will not transfer the disease to other cats. The remaining cats are vaccinated and given spay or neuter surgery. Any kittens younger than a few months old and any semi-tame colony cats are socialized and put up for adoption, and the remaining feral cats are released back into the colony. A caregiver maintains the colony by visiting it daily to feed the cats, making certain that they are healthy, and looking for any newcomers who need to go through the TTVAR program. It's a time-consuming responsibility, but saves an enormous number of feral cats from being born. For more information on TTVAR, follow links on the Links page to the Feral Cat Coalition, Alley Cat Allies, or Jan's Feral Colony.

FRANKIE: "THAT'S LIFE" - A stray cat loses an eye but finds a home.
HOLLY'S KITTENS - A college student gets an education about feral cats.
DAHLIA'S SECOND CHANCE - A stray puppy ravaged by mange gets put on the road to recovery..

This site was created by Julie Grob.
Last updated on 10/9/00.