Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: February 1, 2023 by Crystal Uys

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.

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