feral cat

The plight of feral cats continues to receive publicity – unfortunately, not all of it based in fact. Feral cats, also referred to as community cats, are often misunderstood.

What is a feral cat?

Feral cats are descendants of a domesticated cat that have returned to the wild. Feral cats are born in the wild, as opposed to stray cats, who are usually cats who have been lost or abandoned.

What is being done to help feral cats?

There are a number of high profile organizations that address the problem of feral cats nationwide. Groups such as Alley Cat Allies are dedicated to protecting the lives of cats through education, promoting humane care for feral cats, and putting an end to the killing of cats.

The most effective way to date to tackle the issue of cat overpopulation is the practice of Trap-Neuter-Return, or TNR.  These community-based programs involve trapping homeless, free-roaming cats, getting them spayed or neutered, and then returning the cats to the exact spot where they were trapped so they can live out the rest of their natural lives. Typically, these cats have the corner of one ear notched while they are under anesthesia for the spay neuter procedure. This way, repeatedly trapped cats won’t have to be put through the stress of another vet visit to ascertain whether they have been previously spayed or neutered.

One organization that practices TNR on a large scale in the greater Los Angeles area is FixNation. They are devoted to ending feline homelessness by tackling the major issue of cat overpopulation head on. They do this by providing the community with information and training so they can fully understand the TNR method and put it to use. They loan out traps, teach volunteers how to trap, and provide information about feral colony management. FixNation spays and neuters more than 70 cats each and every day.

But large organizations like Alley Cat Allies and FixNation aren’t the only ones who want to help feral cats. Throughout the country, caring individuals do what they can to feed and provide basic health care for these cats. Whether it’s a group of neighbors who band together to get a neighborhood feral spayed and keep a collective eye on her well-being, or whether it’s the elderly woman who barely has enough money to feed herself, but always manages to scrape together enough for her “outside cats,” feral cats who have these advocates in their corner are the fortunate ones. Too many others are persecuted as a menace, and an increasing number of municipalities are passing ordinances to ban these helpless creatures.

What can you do to help?

Educate yourself on the plight of feral cats. Vox Felina, a website dedicated to providing critical analysis of claims made in the name of science by those opposed to feral/free-roaming cats and trap-neuter-return (TNR), is an excellent resource for learning more about the feral cat problem. Alley Cat Allie’s website provides a wealth of information on all aspects of helping feral cats.

Donate money or supplies. FixNation and Alley Cat Allies are non-profit organizations and need donations to survive. If you’d rather help cats closer to home, and you know someone who feeds feral cats, offer to buy food for them, or donate to a local animal rescue group who practices TNR.

From Feral to Pet Cat

Can feral cats become house cats? The answer is maybe. Feral kittens have a better chance at being domesticated than adult feral cats. Taming a feral kitten takes a lot of patience, and the process can take several months. It becomes more challenging, and often impossible, with older cats. Even though most cat lovers feel that every cat should want to be a house cat, some ferals simply love their freedom too much to give up a life wrought with danger and often starvation, even in exchange for safety and a permanent home.

I sometimes wonder whether our cats know how good they have it, compared to their feral counterparts. When I look at my two girls sleeping peacefully in the sunny spot after a big meal, I can’t help but be grateful that they never have to know cold, hunger or fear.

Photo of feral cat on grass by Bev Vagar, Flickr Creative Commons.

36 Comments on Feral Cats in the Spotlight

  1. Nice to see a page on feral cats.

    I have a young cat that used to be feral. Taylor used to visit our house when we first moved in a couple of years ago, and we started feeding him. He was fully grown, very skinny, had no hair and always had cuts and scratches all over him (most likely from fighting). He wouldn’t let us touch him at all for the first few months, and we got him used to human physical contact by increasing the level of touch (very gradually) whilst he was feeding.

    We then picked him up one day, took him to the vet and had him neutered and examined. From this we found out that he was FIV positive and that he had a flea allergy, which caused him to pull out his own fur. Now he is an inside-boy, and his fur has grown back, and he loves a pat. He is still a very anxious cat and will probably always startle easily. However, he looks a lot healthier than he used to, and is surely enjoying life more!

    The proof for us was when he escaped a couple of times. He went missing for a few hours and then came back home. We opened the door and he sauntered back inside. His health issues mean that he would not survive very long outside, with his FIV status, flea allergy, and white fur and fair skin.

    He is a very sweet natured boy, and now loves to butt heads, receive kisses on the top of his head, and roll over our feet. In this case it was TNK (Trap, Neuter and Keep)!

  2. Hi Ingrid – I wanted to give you an update on “my” ferals: Stripes is still around, and “she” turned out to be a “he!” Well, there was that gorgeous necklace on her/his chest, and such a sweet disposition . . . Anyway, several months ago he was limping, and when it didn’t go away the next day, I called my wonderful vet, who makes house calls. Although Stripes has always been super-friendly (after nearly a year of his learning to trust me), I’d only picked him up once because I know that can totally freak out some cats. He wasn’t thrilled about being held, but he didn’t try to bite or scratch either one of us. The vet and I sat on a bench while she did a thorough exam; as she manipulated his paw to see if anything was broken, he was SUCH a good boy – still didn’t try to bite or scratch, although I know it hurt. Luckily, it was only a sprain, but he did have a wound (probably from a tussle with Boston, the neighborhood bully) so I had to give him an antibiotic for several days. I have NEVER been able to pill a cat, but I just tucked it into his wet food and he downed it like a champ! He’s a big boy, VERY solid – although I feed him, and the staff at the restaurant do as well, I think he must be a pretty good hunter, too. Come to think of it, he’s quite a good beggar, too – some evenings when we’re leaving the restaurant, he and Mikey will be sitting on a bench by the door, eager looks on their faces. If they had caps, they’d be holding them out! And I know restaurant patrons feed them leftovers because I find the licked-clean styrofoam containers in the morning. So maybe I shouldn’t give him so much credit for his hunting ability!

    There are now two other ferals who share the area with Stripes – both males – the aforementioned Boston, and Mikey. Boston is all black, and refuses to befriend me; he meows pitifully as I’m filling his plate, and a few times has looked like he wanted to rub against my leg. But then he backs off, discarding such a wild and crazy impulse, and hisses at me as I put his food down. Swats at my hand, too . . . ungrateful brat! He seems to tolerate Mikey, but he’s awfully mean to Stripes.

    Mikey is a big, handsome black and white boy with a bobbed tail. He’s a sweetheart, and he loves to roll in the leaves (or even the dirt) when he greets me. I’ve never known a cat to do this! When he’s finished, I pat off the leaves and, if he’s been rolling in the driveway, I raise great clouds of dust – it’s the funniest thing!

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again . . . the love of a feral cat is an awesome thing. Indoor cats can be hugely affectionate, but when a feral cat sets aside all fear and decides to trust a human, it’s like they throw caution to the wind . . . except for Boston (and I still hold out hope for him) every feral I’ve cared for has become a lovebug. No, they don’t sit in my lap and purr, but they run to greet me when they hear my bike every morning, give fantastic head butts, wind around my legs purring up a storm, and raise up on their hind legs for a Good Morning kiss. What a gift!

  3. I work for a DR who supports 2 colonies and I help an elderly neighbor with hers. It is so rewarding and I even have a few in-door at home cats that came from these feral colonies and being some one who has a colony next door they cause no problems and r really good neighbors..and they r happy and healthy. PPL just dont understand that unlike wild dogs they pose no threat and r actually good additions to the area. Stray dogs can usually be tamed and adopted I am guessing where the feral cats just lay around not wanting to be bothered. With just a little diligence like making sure they dont get into engines in the winter or watching the roads when u drive down themthey dont really bother. It breaks my heart to see them run over on the streets..when ppl just need to pay a little more attention..ALL LIFE DESERVES A CHANCE! and when u do go to meet that higher being one day, whoever u revere, do u really wanna have to answer the question…What kind of earthly caretaker were U?

  4. I trapped what I believed was a stray dilute tortie over 2 years ago. Stray cats are not very common in our neighborhood and almost all cats here are in-door only. So, she caught my attention right away when I saw her cross our deck in November in WI. I wasn’t able to trap her until early Feb. as she was very skittish and didn’t show up regularly. I left dry food out for her and she would come at 2 am to eat. When I took her to get vetted, (she obviously had no vet care and was not spayed and was approx 2-4 years old), she went pretty crazy and the vet said she was “semi-feral” I believe this to be true but after 2 years she is trusting and a good kitty. She has always used the scratching posts and the litter box consistently and is a very good kitty albeit a bit grouchy at times but I love her very much on her terms and her name is Penny Lane!

  5. Mom and I feed a feral colony of 5. We feed them both canned an got them all neutered and released. We had 7 but one never came back after release (neighbor cat?)and one had to be euthanized due to injury and illness. We had him buried in a bird sanctuary. I expect to see Baby Daddy George at the rainbow bridge someday. He loved to be loved.

  6. Since 2008 I’ve been feeding feral cats near where I live and have managed to get one generation to still be around 2 years after I first met them! The group that currently gets fed are older cats who just now tolerate my presence at feeding time and don’t run away when I come to the area. A few even run up to me, but then scatter until the food is down.

    Another small group have found my porch and come there to feed, and one amongst the group, who I’ve named Silver for his beautiful coat, feels comfortable enough sometimes to hang there after eating. Which ticks off my once feral now indoor cat to no end until I remind her that she used to be one of them!

    I wish I could do more with all these ferals! But for now, feeding them healthy cat food so they’re not dumpster diving and knowing they’re still alive and looking good after 1-2 years is enough for me.

  7. I have a small feral cat colony at my house. Almost all of the cats have figured out how to get in and out of my cat door, and one kitten has socialized herself to the point of letting me pet her (although picking her up is out of the question). She is now the “spokescat” for the colony, letting me know in no uncertain terms when the food or water bowls are empty!

  8. Hi Ingrid,

    We hope you remember us; Emily (owned by the following…), Edie Kidie the Tortie w/ the ‘Tude and Nona Bologna.

    I’m so glad you featured a feral article. Edie Kidie is/was a feral. She was trapped around 2yrs old & has adapted to residential life handsomely for the past 2 yrs. By far, she is the SWEETEST cat I’ve ever known, ever. Same goes w/ everyone who has met her. She purrs as soon as she sees me & emits graciousness for a clean water dish, a filled food bowl, a warm bed, and a loving environment.

    My question to you is: Have you ever heard of an ear tipping being done other than the traditional manner of having 1/4th inch cut from the tip of the ear? Edie has her left ear clipped, but it’s inverted down the side of her ear, about 1/4th an inch, length wise. It looks deliberate but it could be an injury too. Let me know your thoughts please! We live in MN.

    Take Care,

    Em, Edie Kidie and Nona Bologna

  9. Ingrid, a great post! I currently feed four community cats; three have been TNR’d but the fourth one just showed up this winter and it’s still too cold outside for trapping (Michigan). I often wonder how my two indoor-only cats ‘feel’ about these outdoors-only cats who they see through the windows, and whom they can smell on my clothes. One feral has only recently started bunting my hand as I dish out food, and I can get one or two strokes on her back before she dances away. The others hold back, often running off if I make a fast movement or a loud noise, but I try to stay calm and smiling in a effort to draw them closer. I often wrestle with MY need to see them inside safe and warm, and THEIR need to live as they are. It’s a struggle I go through every winter when it’s really cold out, or when I see a dead animal on the side of the road. May I please mention to the others who’ve posted here that in cold weather, blankets and fabric will freeze around a sleeping cat, so straw is really the best thing to provide. Any search on the internet and you’ll find lots of suggestions for good shelters for the ferals. Thanks again, Ingrid!

  10. Another wonderful blog post, Ingrid. Thank you!

    Every night I ask my cat to please sleep on the pillow next to mine, rather than smack in the middle of the bed (with me perched on the edge!).

    I have a super-soft blanket there that is so cozy. He usually gets a teeny bit grouchy with me as I move him there, but I always say, “There are so many kitties who would love a luxurious bed like this pillow, and I’m so glad you are here, and safe, and can lounge on this cat throne!”

    Once he’s there, he stays, and seems to accept that it’s a pretty good deal!

  11. if you care about ferals, check out ‘boycott 7up’ on facebook. they raised $1,200 plus gift cards to help feral cat feeder, Larry Ottaviani, after 7up fired him; knowing he had a disabled son and wife.

  12. My eldest, Isis, was a feral kitten that we adopted after she’d become separated from her mum (we observed her for a while from a distance before stepping in). She was pretty vicious and timid at first but living proof that ferals can go on to make wonderful pets, especially when adopted young.
    Here in Buenos Aires, there are massive feral populations with a lot of sick cats, unfortunately…I think catch and release is the best solution.

  13. anything i can do to help out cats i will..i just love them and there very misunderstood .anyone who doesnt like cats really hasn’t been around them enough..we keep a plastic box on its side filled w old blankets and they love it, the ferals..edgars sister we tried to catch but couldnt so we let her stay feral but ED sees his sister everyday thru the glass door..it’s so cute

  14. as always, this post is complete perfection! Important information presented in a concise, succinct manner.

    We will be having FixNation as a guest blogger in March…

    I often think the same when I watch Cody sleep…he has no clue. Bobo had a slightly better understanding because I found him as a stray.

    • Thanks, Caren! With the exception of Feebee, all of my cats were former strays. I often think that’s why not a single one of them has ever shown any desire to be outside. Been there, done that, not going to do it again 🙂

  15. @bobbi ,its sad people dont know ANYTHING about ferrel cats have something against the program..its true to say your friend never has been around ferrel cats so she really has NO idea..being ignorant but then thank you know all about a subject is just wrong in my opinion the tnr program really does work..everyday i see it in action..great post..and ingrid keep up the excellent work

  16. Good morning, Ingrid –

    This is a fabulous post! I’m glad so much attention has been given to feral cats lately, and that people are becoming educated about them. When I first began caring for the ferals here eight years ago, a woman remarked that it was “cruel” to leave them outside, at the risk of attack by alligators, raccoons, cars, etc. I tried to explain to her that, if the cats are cared for and provided food, water, shelter, and vet care when necessary, they are able to live long and happy lives, roaming free. She wasn’t buying any of it, unfortunately.

    Two of *my* ferals lived to be fifteen: Princess and Petruce. The colony is now down to one, Stripes, and she runs down the driveway to greet me each morning as I arrive on my bike. She’s a beautiful striped creature, with a dark “necklace” of fur that curves low on her chest. Sure, I’d love to bring her home with me, especially when it’s cold and/or raining. But she’s at least two and a half years old, and living free is all she’s ever known. I couldn’t confine her; although she’d be safe, I believe she would also be miserable.

    I sooo enjoy reading about your girls; congrats on providing amusing, informative, and *important* information to us all, and for your nomination – I’ve been voting for you every day!

    As I write this, Mozart is curled up on the couch beside me, and Annabelle is sitting in her basket by the living room sliders. To say life with cats is good would be a gross understatement – for me, life with cats is MANDATORY!

    Best wishes for continued success . . .

  17. I guess you knew that I would love this post. The feral cats sometimes don’t get a fair shake but with all the bloggers etc. talking about it, it will help. I read that a place I think in Virginia, had many colonies that did the TNR and darned if the shelters didn’t see a huge drop in the number of animals that came into the shelters.
    It is very hard to make a feral cat stay in the house. I have raised three litters of feral kittens and now that they are two or three years old, they are beginning to spend a lot more time in the house. The feral cats do love to be outside. They feel trapped inside. Thanks Ingrid for this great post.

  18. hey ingrid, i too have 3 ferrel cats,the trap n nueter thing works they have lived for the past 5 yrs happly in my back yard..it really does work..i got one cat EDGAR from that ferrel pile but no here;s not wild anymore..gottem used to me when he was young..he’s an all white cat..soo i named him edgar winter

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