Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Socializing Feral Cats

In the last couple of weeks I have seen Stranger, Pickle and Snuggle almost every day. I have not seen Jehzara, Boy George, or Joe since we trapped and released them. They may be reluctant to show their faces - or they may have moved on.

We are still feeding 4 cups a day around 2:00 PM. Unfortuantely, if the cats are not there, the crows attempt to eat the dry food. They fly away as soon as they sense movement in the backyard, but we can't be monitering the food all the time, so it is inevitable that they will consume some of it. Thankfully, the cats have started to appear earlier, so the birds don't get as much as they were before. I was feeding the cats at 3:00 PM, but am trying to slowly move the feeding back to 1:00 PM. This would be optimal for a few reasons: first, my shifts either start at one or end at one; second, when we trap, it is better to catch the cats as early as possible; and third, darkness falls early in the winter and I want to give the cats as much time as possible to eat before it gets dark. This is mainly to prevent other wildlife from feeding on the dry food.

I was worried for a few days that my supervisor was intent on trapping and re-homing the cats. I tried to explain to her why I thought that this wouldn't be a good idea, but I'm not sure she understood. Fortunately, we haven't talked about the subject again, so I hope she came to the conclusion that they are better off out there. If not, I will definitely attempt to inform her of the negative aspects of such an effort again.

Let me explain that I am first and foremost concerned with the complete welfare of the cats. This includes both physical and emotional health. Although it is very cold out and there are many dangers such as disease, poisoning, and traffic accidents, I have read in many articles that when trying to socialize feral kittens, they should not be over twelve weeks. These cats are all at least eight months old. I have also read that if socialization efforts are not working on a particular cat after three weeks, the cat should be returned to the area in which it came from. The cat should be able to remember how it lived outdoors perfectly well if it has been confined for only a couple of weeks.

It is not fair, in my opinion, to confine a cat indoors if he was not brought up that way. They long to be outside, away from people, with trees to climb and rodents to hunt. Feral cats are not strays; they do not want to come inside. They do not want to sit on laps and be petted. However, when a feral cat is in an area that does not have sufficient places to hide and climb, with small animals to hunt, I believe it is a great idea to supplement the environment with cat houses and daily food. If it is absolutely necessary that the cat be relocated, great pains need to be taken so that the cat is placed in a sanctuary or home that can provide a large enough area and stimulating environment.

Some people have succesfully socialized feral cats so that they are willing to stay inside for periods of time and enjoy being with certain humans. This is wonderful, but I don't believe it should be forced upon an adult cat unless there is no other choice.