Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What is a feral cat?

Many people give me weird looks when I try to explain the difference between stray and feral cats. We'll talk about the difference in the next post, but first, let me explain what a "feral" cat is. Exactly.

First, we all know that "feral" means something along the lines of "wild, unsocialized." So a feral cat is basically a cat who is not socialized. I prefer not to use the term "undomesticated" because these cats are our typical "domestic" cats - they just aren't accustomed to living with/near humans.

A feral cat is one who has reverted in some degree to a 'wild" state. S/he may have been a former socialized cat who was then abandoned or lost - and learned to survive with little or no human contact. Or, the cat could be the unsocialized offspring of unsterilized cats (whether they be socialized or feral). Whatever the circumstances, a feral cat desires no contact with humans. We are frightening to them - and it takes them some time to get used to us as caretakers. Most feral cats are not capable of being socialized to a degree in which they are good candidates to become regular pets.

To what degree a cat is feral depends on several factors:
- age: kittens are far more capable of being socialized, especially before twelve weeks old.
- the generation of "feral": kittens born to a formerly/currently socialized mother are more likely to be socialized than those born to a mom who is a couple generations feral.
- the extent of daily human contact: think of a commonly traversed park area where cats get constant human interaction vs. a rural setting where cats are able to live without any human contact.

There is also what is known as a "wild card" factor: the cat's particular personality. This may allow for socialization despite other elements, but these cases are not the norm. There are people who have socialized adult feral cats, but it is not generally recommended as it is not commonly feasible. If should not be necessary that a feral cat become socialized, but we'll talk later about what to do if you ever come across a situation in which certain circumstances require you to relocate/adopt feral cats.

Stray or feral?

So what's the difference betwen a stray cat and a feral cat? Some people use the word interchangeably, not knowing the difference. It's very important to discern whether the cat is stray or feral, though. This helps you decide if the cat needs a home, wants a home, or is better off in it's natural environment. It also helps in explaining to others why you aren't trying to find the cats homes (if the cats are feral).

Typical stray cat:
- separated from owner, whether lost or abandoned
- socialized, will likely approach humans/can be approached without cat running away
- often vocal, may seem distressed, hungry, confused
- may appear disheveled, as if not accustomed to outdoor living
- likely to eat in our presence
- are seen throughout the day

Typical feral cat:
- unsocialized, not likely to draw near to people/will scatter quickly if approached
- most often silent
- appear adapted to conditions, look healthy and well-groomed
- will wait to eat food until humans have moved away significantly
- usually seen around dusk to dawn

I say "typical" because there are differences in every colony. Just as every human is unique, each cat has his/her own set of circumstances and personality. For example, the colony of cats I am caretaker for are definitely all "feral," but one, Snuggle/Tricky constantly meows at me when I bring the food out. (Still don't know whether to call him Snuggle or Tricky...) He has never approached close enough to touch, but will follow you for the food. The others just watch from a distance. I don't know if he and his brothers were abandoned as kittens, which is why he meows at me, or if he simply feels comfortable enough to yell at us for his food. His brothers are certainly more distant, though.

The difference between "stray" and "feral" is important. Stray cats may desire homes. Feral cats do not. Some feral cats can be socialized, but if not, they will at least (hopefully) have food, water, and shelter along with their families and freedom.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wendy's Kittens: Part One

Going through the drive-thru at Wendy's one night, my step-mom noticed what appeared to be a "large rat." On closer inspection, it turned out to be a small cat! In fact, there were several kittens and mom-cats hanging out near a large rock.

There used to be a barn on the property the cats are congregating upon, so it's not a leap to wonder if these aren't remnants of those who used to live there. Who had kittens, of course.

I found out that there was someone feeding them in that area, so I went back to the Wendy's a few days later to acquire any information possible. I told the workers that if anyone had any relevant information for me about the caretaker, give me a call, because these cats need to be sterilized to prevent a population boom.

I walked around a little, wondering how I would contact the woman feeding the cats. I ended up calling T, who suggested leaving a note for the woman to find. So I did. (see picture) I got a call a couple of days later, but was too afraid to answer. (I have social issues, I know) The second time she called, I didn't hear it, but fortunately, she left a message. I remember thinking, "That's funny, she sounds like Mrs. L" but didn't ponder any further on it. I called her back the next day, and guess what? It was Mrs. L! I was actually very relieved, because talking to someone you don't know can be a little nerve-racking, especially dealing with crazy cat ladies. We all know that when someone is passionate about a particular topic, s/he tends to think of him/herself as an expert. And when that individual disagrees with your opinions, it can turn into a situation where nothing gets resolved.


Mrs. L told me that there are five female adults and ten kittens. She mentioned that she had been trying to socialize the kittens, but what they really need is to be fostered for a couple of weeks before they go into "forever homes." T had said previously that she would use her garage to socialize the kittens, so I told Mrs. L that I would see if she was still interested, but unfortunately, she was not. I talked to Dr. R about having them boarded for a week, but he said it wasn't really our area in which we could help. I went through all my contacts, even posted on the Cat Lovers LJ community for suggestions. Luckily, KB just got back from vacation and said she would take two in at a time to help socialize them before they go into homes. I also met someone through LJ that said she would put the word out for volunteers.

All the while, I was trying to find out the contact information for the owner of the property so we could trap the cats and kittens to be sterilized. Dr. R is quite adamant that the property owners are in agreement with us going on their land for such a purpose. Something that makes complete sense to me. So I went to the town hall, pointed out the particular piece of land (after much difficulty, I must say. I can't read a map for the life of me), and was printed out a piece of paper with the address of the owner and a picture of the store that resides on the land.

The store is actually now empty, which explains why I didn't recognize it from the photo. I was able to find a phone number online, which led me to another branch, in Buffalo, I believe. Which gave me another number to contact the receptionist of the owner. Who was out of town, so I left a message. I went to visit the kittens again that night and noticed a sign in the front window with a phone number. I called, but hung up when it started making a funny noise. And called again, but was caught off guard by the answering machine - and I didn't know exactly what i wanted to say. I mulled it over, then called again. And was surprised when I man answered a bit groggily. Explained my business to him, who then informed me that he's in Italy, that it's two in the morning. Which made me feel quite awkward for calling him three times. Apologized profusely, but he was kind in not making me feel like a total ass. He gave me the email address of his sister to get permission from. But, though I emailed twice and wrote once, I got no answer.

To be continued... (With more info on socialization, permission from land owners, and possibly pictures. If I can figure it out...)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why TNR?

For those of you that aren't familiar with the term "TNR," it's an acronym that stands for "trap, neuter, return." Some use "TTNVR" or other forms, but I prefer the simpler version. (TTNVR represents "trap, test, neuter, vaccinate, return") Obviously, "neuter" signifies both male and female sterilization. I believe the "R" stood for "release" at first, but there was some concern that the cats would simply be released anywhere - it has since been changed to "return." The cats need to be returned to their home environment to be set free. Individual vets make the decision to test, vaccinate, and treat other minor problems such as fleas, earmites, and abcesses.

So why is TNR important? First, mass extermination, which has been in effect for decades, is clearly not having much of a positive impact on the overpopulation of stray and feral felines. We've been killing these cats for years upon years and there are as much of a "problem" as when we started! Not only is it wrong ethically to kill off these animals, but it's just not working! Why are we slaughtering all these animals when it's not having any sort of impact? Because we are rooted in tradition. It's what we've always done. Trap the cats and kill them. But you know what? This leads to what is called "the vacuum effect." Though the cats are removed, the food source remains. More cats will be able to survive by taking advantage of the bounty and will move right back in. So extermination does not solve the solution.

TNR, however, addresses the issue of overpopulation by stopping the reproductive cycle. The cats are returned to their home environment to live out their lives. Not only does this prevent more cats from being born, but it succeeds in keeping other cats out. How? Because though cats are social creatures in having their own colonies and best buddies, they generally discourage newcomers from arriving and using up their precious resources. Eventually, the colony will dwindle.

Another important aspect of TNR is that most programs vaccinate against distemper and rabies and will treat minor issues such as fleas and earmites. How is this helpful? Well, simply put, TNR allows the cats to become healthier. They are able to keep weight on easier; disease is controlled by the reduction of fighting, wandering, and mating; vaccinations prevent certain maladies; and they are relieved from the irritations of fleas and other buggers for a while. Also, the practice of TNR strongly promotes the idea of caregivers for the returned cats. The caregiver ideally keeps track of all the cats (including keeping an eye out for those who may become sick), and provides food, water, and shelter. All of these will obviously promote the health and well-being of the cats. Trapping and killing does NOTHING to benefit the remaining cats. *edit* I should also mention that the healthier cats refute the idea that all strays and ferals are sickly and should therefore be put out of their misery. Strays not accustomed to outdoor living tend to be disheveled and hungry, but those who know how to survive are actually quite healthy, especially when they are provided with the resources that TNR and managing colonies offers. Those not used to free living are also then being taken care of and will thrive accordingly.

Lastly, TNR helps to reduce common complaints that are encountered when dealing with stray and feral cats. Too many babies? Check. Mating calls and behaviour? Check. Fighting? Wandering? Check. Scrounging for food and shelter in undesirable places? Check. By practicing TNR and managing colonies, we eliminate and drastically reduce these "nuisance" behaviours. We become better neighbors to our feline community - and don't even have to kill them off.

TNR has been shown to be the only humane method of feral and stray cat population control. Trapping and killing simply does not work and is not in the best interests of either human or feline society. Which would you rather have?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Stray and Feral Sterilization Program

My workplace is implementing a stray and feral sterilization program quite soon. The paperwork is being finished at the moment and I am excited! The CSR supervisor mentioned that she will be talking to Dr. R about making me liaison for the program and I hope it turns out so.

I have been working on my "stray/feral cat handbook" scrapbook. It will be forever until I feel like I am finished with it, though. Scrapbooks are hard, people. Especially when you are a self-proclaimed perfectionist. Why do you think it took me years to write papers in college? Every paragraph had to be rewritten about twelve times. (Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating. Just eight. ) Anyway, along with needing every minute detail to be perfect, I struggle with being too broad and too specific. I want to cover as many topics as possible that come up with the issue of TNR, but as it's simply a scrapbook/handbook, I feel I don't need to delve into every little topic. Just the basics. (Basics are difficult for me, though. I feel the need to say things ten times in ten different ways.) I do plan on including a "further resources" page, which may help me to not make a page on "how to arrange the pieces of straw so that they insulate best."*

Anyway, there I go in explaining things too much again.

The only issue (well not only, but lets not talk too much about my personal life here) I'm having is that I feel like my influence is going to be minimal as I CANNOT PASS MY DRIVING TEST. Yes, that is right, I am 22, I have failed my test four times now, and I seriously want to give up. I have a car, though. A cute little red Honda that my dad helped me purchase. I have been riding my bike more, but for someone like me, it gets a bit tiring. Especially when all I do is run around with dogs all day - I just really don't feel like biking home. (I have to proclaim that I am *not* a sucky driver. I drive like a perfectly normal human being. I just make stupid mistakes on the tests: speeding, turning the wheel the wrong direction when attempting to parallel park, and not yielding the right of way. Little things, people.)

But not being able to drive means that I quite limited in my ability to help people out. No trapping, transporting, or helping set up appropriate areas for feeding and sheltering. Hopefully I will be able to help out in other ways - such as information. And encouragement. = ) I am quite excited about the program, though. There are so many stray and feral cats around - it's good to have a resource to truly be able to help them on a larger scale.

Oh, and speaking of the scrapbook, I really should start talking about main topics that have to deal with stray and feral cats, huh? I promise to start that soon. As soon as I remember again. *shifty eyes*

*just kidding