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How to Help Feral Cats & Why You Should

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When Sally and her family discovered the need for rodent control amongst the many barns on their farm, they contacted Advocates 4 Animals. “Our barn cat program provides homes for healthy sterilized feral cats who are in need of relocation. The cats keep rodents away from grain and storage areas. Barn cat guardians are responsible for daily food, water and shelter from the elements,” shared Advocates 4 Animals. Although it is often best to keep feral cats in their familiar living areas, at times, they are in need of finding safe relocation sites, such as barn homes, to stay out of harm’s way. Since first working with Advocates 4 Animals Barn Cat Program, Sally’s farm has provided a safe relocation site (and in turn, they have been provided with excellent rodent control) for more than twenty-five feral cats throughout the years.


feralcatcolony1Farms, warehouses and plant nurseries are a few examples of outdoor locations who benefit from the incorporation of feral cats while providing a safe relocation area for them as well. Empirical Brewery in Chicago employed the help of four lucky feral cats last December. The cats, Venkman, Ray, Egon and Gozer, from Treehouse Humane Society were offered a home in exchange for work. Empirical Brewery’s website shares, “The traditional rodent control solutions weren’t working for us, so we turned to Cats at Work.  After a brief acclimation period, the cats were free to roam around the brewery…We built them a house, we feed them, we change their litter and in exchange they offer the best pest control solution around.” Furthermore the Brewery posted, “Our grain is stored in heavy sacks, which the cats protect from rodents but never eat themselves. From the grain crusher, to the grist case, to the mash tun, to the boil kettle, to the fermenter, to the bright tank, everything is part of a closed system,” the post states. “This is necessary to maintain a nearly sterile environment for the yeast to properly ferment the beer without bacterial interference.”



In an article for the Chicago Tribute (source), Alexis Meyers shared, “Tree House Humane Society created the Cats at Work program several years ago after the organization’s feral cats cleared out a Cicero business’s rat problem. Now there are 500 feral cats in the program, and there is a wait list of two to four weeks.” The non-profit organization’s Cats at Work program, established in 2011, safely relocates feral cats to business and restaurant areas. And the feral cats have been one-hundred percent effective in rodent control in every case.


photocreditAdvocates4Animals/StaceyRitz_feralcatWhile a feral cat appears the same as the domestic cat, feral cats are wild and prefer not to be touched by humans. Feral cats are not homeless, they simply prefer to live outdoors. A feral cat differs from a stray cat in that a stray cat is friendly and desires to be indoors and with humans. A feral cat, on the other hand, prefers to live full, healthy lives outdoors. Feral cats should never be taken to shelters, pounds or animal control as those deemed unadoptable are killed. For example, our local animal control kills 100% of all shy, scared and feral cats who enter their doors each year.

Feral cats should not be relocated unless they are in immediate danger. It is best, if possible, to allow feral cats to remain in their current community and to employ effective TNRM methods (trap-neuter-return-manage). Best Friends Animal Society explains, “Relocating cats — especially as a colony — is an enormous undertaking that can be very stressful for the animals, as well as the people who care for them. Therefore, it should be considered only as a last resort, usually when the cats are in immediate danger. In the vast majority of cases, it’s best to return community cats to the location from which they were trapped.” Best Friends adds, “Many colonies exist and thrive in locations that are less than ideal. The location itself may lack proper cover or shelter, leaving the cats unnecessarily exposed. Or a neighbor may want the cats moved because they’re too close to his property. However, there are effective ways to address these kinds of problems that require less effort and less risk than relocation (see “Solutions to Cat-Related Issues”)…Another major and often overlooked downside to relocating a colony is the risk of a new one moving in. And if the new cats aren’t sterilized, their number could quickly surpass that of the original colony.”


TNRM or TNR as it’s more popularly referred to (trap-neuter-return-management) is a humane, non-lethal effective colony management plan that can be utilized by anyone, anywhere.

feralcats-eartipSimply put the traditional method of feral cat control referred to as “catch and kill” utilized by animal control, pounds and shelters doesn’t work. Catch and kill is callous and inhumane. Feral cats are in a particular area because a) there is a food source, b) there is some kind of shelter source, and c) cats are not spayed/neutered and therefore continue to reproduce. When cats are removed from an area, the vacuum effect takes place, meaning that new cats will move in. Nothing changes. In this method feral cats are cruelly killed by shelters and as more cats move in to the area, the feral cat colony continues to grow. If your concern is that feral cats are destroying the environment, Alley Cat Allies explains, “Studies show that the overwhelming causes of wildlife and bird death are habitat loss, urbanization, pollution, and environmental degradation – all caused by humans, not feral cats.”

Trap-Neuter-Return-Manage methods are not only humane and non-lethal, they are effective. Feral cats are trapped utilizing a humane trap and taken to a local veterinarian or spay/neuter clinic to be spayed/neutered and ear-tipped. Ear-tipping is the universal signal of a sterilized feral cat. After recovering from surgery, cats are returned to their colony’s or when necessary, safely relocated. Whether returned to their original colony location or safely relocated, the management aspect of TNR includes establishing a caretaker(s) to provide daily food, water and shelter options for the feral colony. Alley Cat Allies shares that through TNR methods “…the colony’s population stabilizes…no more kittens! Trap-Neuter-Return improves their lives and improves their relations with the community- the behaviors and stresses associated with mating stop.” In addition, because an established colony caretaker and feeding station/location/routine have been established, the cats will no longer be searching for food in and around houses. Not only will the cats live healthier, happier lives once they are sterilized, they will also decrease in number through the natural process at attrition.


When cats are removed from an area through the old-school, in-humane thinking of “Catch and Kill” programs employed by many animal control/pounds, the vacuum effect takes place, meaning that new cats will move in to the same area. Nothing changes for the neighborhood. In this method of catch and kill, feral cats are cruelly killed by shelters and as more cats move in to the area (and are left unaltered), the feral cat colony only continues to grow.


TNR can be done on your own, or while working collaboratively with a local No Kill Rescue organization that employs a Feral Cat or Barn Cat program.


feralcathuts_diy*Humane Trap (rent one from a local feral cat organization or purchase one online at Have-a-Heart or at your local brick and mortar Tractor Supply Co. store)

*Blanket or tarp to cover the trap

*Fresh canned/wet cat food or deli meat to bait the trap (be sure to reset and keep fresh food in the trap every few hours)

*A veterinarian or spay/neuter clinic that works with feral cats and that will allow you to bring in the feral cat the same day of catching him/her (if you’re an Ohio resident, locate a spay/neuter clinic in your area by clicking HERE).

*Establish a feeding station/area in the feral cat colony. Assign a caretaker. Provide daily food and water. Provide shelters in the form of dog huts or make your own D.I.Y. cat huts (learn how, here and here).

feralcattrapTIPS FOR TRAPPING:

  • Set trap in a quiet, safe area on flat/even ground.
  • Close the trap at night (NEVER keep set overnight)
  • When setting the trap, be sure to check every 1-3 hours while set (in extreme hot and cold temperatures, check every hour)
  • Be consistent. Set the trap every day. Do not set it one day and then wait a week before setting it again. Consistency is important.
  • Do not become discouraged. Whether working to TNR one cat or an entire colony, persistence and patience are essential to success.
  • When working to trap a cat, take up all other food sources. Always keep water available.
  • When setting the trap, use canned/wet cat food and/or deli meat.
  • IMPORTANT: Make a trail in the trap, leading to the back of the trap. Place a bowl in the back of the trap with an entire can of food available (do not leave the can of food in the trap, place the food in a bowl).
  • Try covering the trap with a blanket (on top and sides).

It’s important to note that when you catch a feral cat in the trap, they will be scared and will likely bounce around inside of the trap when you pick it up. They are scared. Remember, feral cats are not socialized to people. Do not stick your finger in the trap. CLICK HERE for complete video instructions on how to use a humane trap when performing TNR.


FeralFemaleTNR2016_photocreditAdvocates4Animals/StaceyRitzWhen feral cats are in immediate danger and relocation becomes a necessity it is critical to take careful steps to successfully relocate the cats. If you do not have a safe relocation established already, keep the cat(s) safely in an extra-large dog crate until relocation is arranged. The cage should be spacious allowing the cat room to move around. In addition the cage should include a water bowl, food bowl, litter box and a hide-away-box (a place where they can sleep and feel safe away from humans). The hide-away box can be a cardboard box or a cat carrier (with the door removed) with a cozy blanket inside. Choose a sturdy food and water bowl so that they are not easily knocked over. Keep food and water full. If you can place the cage next to a window, allowing the cat access to see the outdoors, this is best. When it is time to take the cat(s) to the relocation area, if possible, keep them in the large dog crate and transport them in this manner.

When relocating the cat(s), keep two in the same large crate at the time of relocation, if possible. At the relocation spot (i.e. barn/farm), keep the cats safely in their large crate for approximately two weeks, allowing the cats time to adjust to their new surroundings. (Note: be sure that proper weather conditions are in place- not too hot, not too cold – for the cats being relocated. Cats should not sit in a barn, in their cage for two weeks when it is extremely hot or bitterly cold. Always use common sense). The new caregivers should continue providing daily food, water and litter box cleaning during these two weeks. The barn owner will then set up a permanent feeding station inside of the barn as the cats prepare to be released to their new home after the two week period.

It is important not to release the cats to a relocation area on a day that it is or may be raining. Barn Cats Incorporated explains, “Cats find their home by scent and rain will wash it away. Waiting one more night will not hurt.” When it is time to release to the cats be sure to, “…leave the cages set up for an additional week to the cats can come and go if they want. After release, we hope they think of that barn as their new home and decide to stay. Sometimes, they disappear for a week or two but always seem to return to their new home.” Find additional tips on relocating feral cats, HERE.


FeralKittens_photocreditAdvocates4Animals/StaceyRitzIndy Feral based in Indianapolis explains on their website, “Stray and feral cats are the greatest source of cat overpopulation. Almost all stray and feral cats are intact (see the spay neuter status of the US cat population).  And Feral cats are trapped in an endless cycle of breeding and scavenging for food. This segment of the cat population has been ignored too long and their numbers have exploded. Stray and feral cats produce 80% of the kittens that flood the shelters and rescues each Spring (ACA Feral cat clinic results). These cats and their offspring are the victims of abandonment (view Indy Ferals abandonment flyer) accidental loss or the result of pet owners who allow their intact cats to roam freely and breed unchecked.”

In debunking some of the common myths about feral cats it’s important to note the following: Feral cats are not dangerous or a nuisance. They should not be taken to shelters/pounds/animal control or even to No Kill rescue organizations. Pounds and shelters often kill shy, scared and feral cats, upon intake. No Kill rescues are focused on the rescue/rehabilitation/adoption of friendly, domesticated cats. It is best to help feral cats through TNR (remember that the R means return—not release anywhere. Returning to their home/area or safely relocating to a proper farm or outdoor home). Feral cats should always be treated humanely, sterilized and managed by a colony caretaker. Feral cats do not attack or spread diseases to humans. An article on Distractify titled, 14 Myths and Facts About Feral Cats explained, “Feral cats hunt rodents, so in a sense, they actually serve as a barrier to disease.” Feral cats most often live in groups referred to as feral cat colonies. Feral cats prefer not to be touched or held by humans. Feral cats should never be “caught and killed” instead, they should be humanly trapped, sterilized and returned (or safely relocated when necessary). At times feral kittens can be socialized. Find helpful information on tips on how and when to properly socialize feral kittens, HERE. If, while working to help a local feral cat colony with TNR you have encountered a friendly stray cat amongst the colony, or you have socialized feral kittens to become adoptable, learn how to find loving, committed adopters for friendly cats HERE.


feralcats1In 2009 Advocates 4 Animals began helping an elderly woman living in a downtown area with an out of control feral cat issue in her neighborhood. More than sixty-percent of the houses on her street sat vacant. Cats of all ages, colors and sizes darted from one side of the street to the other in search of food and safety. At the time, none of the cats were altered, which meant that they continued to grow in population. Some of the cats had been left behind, terrified of the outdoors and unaltered, when their guardians moved away. Others were born on the streets, never having been touched by humans. The project was overwhelming as there were more than one-hundred cats (and growing) that needed sterilized. Advocates 4 Animals explained, “One by one, employing TNR methods we sterilized, vetted and ear tipped every cat in the colony. It has taken years and a lot of hard work and persistence.” Friendly cats were altered and placed in volunteer foster homes in Advocates 4 Animals rescue/adoption program. Feral cats were returned and a colony caretaker was established. Pet food donations have been provided throughout the years from A4A’s Dayton Pet Food Pantry and the colony caretakers made multiple D.I.Y. cat huts to provide shelter and safety from the weather elements. In 2016 the feral cat colony is this location is now estimated to be at approximately sixty feral cats, all who are altered, vetted, healthy and provided with daily food, water and shelter options.

Whether there are one or one-hundred feral cats living in a particular area, we can all do something to help. While seeking the help of a No Kill Barn Cat/Feral Cat program can be beneficial, there are enough resources online that we can help feral cats anytime, anywhere with a few simple supplies and through gained knowledge and education. There are many spay/neuter clinic who will sterilize feral cats for a drastically reduced costs, or in some cases for free. The cost is generally minimal, and the benefits are numerous for both humans and cats.

feralfriends_photocreditAdvocates4Animals/StaceyRitzHelping feral cats is incredibly rewarding. In 2009 when A4A began helping the elderly woman with a colony of one-hundred plus cats, the cats were terribly emaciated and constantly fighting for the limited food resources as the population continued to grow. Once sterilized, the feral cat population has continued to decrease, the cats are now at healthy weights and no longer fight (meaning no injuries, abscesses, etc. to heal) as they are not breeding and there is plenty of food provided, on a set daily schedule at a set location, for the entire colony. The elderly woman who wishes to remain anonymous shared, “I am so thankful to Advocates 4 Animals- for all of their help over the years. I don’t know what I would have done without them. I was so overwhelmed. There were so many cats that needed help and I didn’t know what to do or where to start. To see the cats now- they are so happy and healthy. They look great. They don’t fight. Everyone co-exists peacefully. And the population is no longer growing. I am so happy for the cats. To see them happy means everything to me. I enjoy knowing they’re around and I enjoy feeding them and seeing them each day- but knowing they are happy and healthy now, that means everything. And if a new cat shows up, I know just what to do. I use the humane trap and have them sterilized and ear-tipped through A4A before returning them to the colony.”

feralcatcolony feralfriend2feralcats_photocreditAdvocates4Animals/StaceyRitz


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