The estimated number of homeless cats in America currently tops the charts at over 50 millionand counting! Many of these cats are feral or wild cats; cats who want nothing to do with humansand are not able to be socialized. The old adage of how to deal with feral cats was to simplyeuthanize them as they were not adoptable and would never find a home from a shelter environment.
But just because these cats will never be “pet” cats do they have to die? Current research has shown that a new approach called TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release) actually does a better job (than simple euthanasia) at controlling the cat overpopulation problem and allows these animals to live out their lives. These cats, once deemed healthy and spayed or neutered, can be released back to the location they came from (if it is a safe location) or relocated to a new location if need be.
The 21Cats Feral Cat Program is devoted to helping feral cats in need worldwide and year round. To do this we use a two-sided approach that helps cats locally and globally. Locally we set up our own feral cat colonies, monitor these colonies year round, and spread the word about how to best take care of feral cats and deal with the cat overpopulation problem. Globally we feel it is just as important to spread the word and help other organizations and states set up their own feral cat programs. Thus we also concentrate on making literature and information about feral cats and how to set up or start a feral cat colony freely available to residents and organizations worldwide.
In setting up our own colonies we do the following:
- Find a suitable relocation area
- Choose ferals for the colony
- Create and set-up a relocation cage
- Create and set-up a permanent shelter
- Daily monitoring and continuing care
The most important thing in setting up a feral cat colony is to make sure that the colony will
be in as safe an area as possible. Of course no place is as “safe” as the inside of a home, so
we try to find the safest outside area as we can. That includes making sure the property owner
gives permission to have the cats on the property and is understanding of what having a feral cat
colony will entail; making sure the location is away from busy streets or fast moving traffic; making sure the location is not in a high predator area (an area known to have mountain lions, wild dogs etc.); and making sure the area has good hiding and shelter space of its own. An idea situation is setting up a feral cat colony on a farm or vineyard. Farmers or vitners usually welcome these cats for their ability to control the rodent population and are happy to have them around. We set up the colony on the back part of the property, away from roads and high traffic and in an area with plenty of trees and brush that the cats can take refuge in.
Feral cats often find themselves in an area where they are not welcome. This can happen when a property owner finds a group of feral cats on their property and feel the cats are disruptive or when a business owner finds a group of cats who have taken shelter near the business. Property owners with a feral problem may trap the cats on their own and take them to a shelter, they may call animal control so that animal control can trap the animals, or the property owner may try to “take care of the animals on their own” which generally entails a cruel and harsh death for the cats. Clearly we try to relocate those animals in the most dire situations first. This may entail trapping cats for a property owner before he takes care of the problem on his own, or taking cats directly from animal control before they are euthanized.
All animals (if this has not already been done) are first given a veterinary exam to make sure they
are healthy, are tested for FeLV and FIV, are fully vaccinated, are dewormed, are given flea medication and are spayed/neutered. Once the cats are healthy and altered they are ready for relocation.
An important part of the relocation process is the relocation cage. This is a large cage (approx.
7 feet by 5 feet by 3 feet) created out of sturdy chicken wire and boards. This is a fully enclosed structure which contains a sleeping/shelter/feeding area and covered area for a litterbox. The cats will stay in the relocation cage for approximately 1 month. This is help them get used to the area such that they will then consider this their “home base”. It is best if the relocation cage is where you want the cats to remain.
So we usually set our cages up on the backs or edges of the property where the property borders a nice wooded area for the cats to live in. While in the relocation cage the cats are monitored at least once a day to change their litterbox and make sure they have fresh food and water.
Once the cats are released they need a permanent shelter that they can use for refuge from predators, or incliment weather. This shelter will also contain food and water for the cats. The permanent shelter should be approximately 2-3 feet high, and 3 feet by 2 feet around. You want the shelter to be tall enough that you can perhaps create shelves or put small doorless cat carriers inside the shelter so the shelter has the maximum amount of sleeping and laying areas. Cats will curl up with each other in the winter months to use their own body heat to stay warm so you don’t want the shelter to be too tall such that the body heat easily escapes. So try to make sure that the shelter is large enough for 5-8 cats to comfortably curl-up/sleep and stay warm. Also make sure there is room for a food and water bowl. And lastly, since the shelter will be outside in all sorts of weather it is a good idea to make sure the shelter is raised a few feet off the ground and covered with roofing or siding such that the shelter will not be destroyed by rain or snow and that the inside of the shelter will not become wet during rain or snow storms.
Although the cats will hunt and can “survive” on their own they do not thrive without assistance.
So it is a good idea to make sure the colony is brought food and clean water on a daily basis.
This way the cats will be sure to get enough high-quality food and clean water that is free
of parasites or pesticides. Another benefit of the shelter is that as the cats consider this area to be their home base they will get into the habit of coming each day to meet you for food and water. Cats have a great internal timeclock and if you go to the shelter each day around the same time to refill the food and water, you will find that cats will start to “wait for you”. Not that they will come up to you and
want attention, they probably will not, but you will find them coming near the shelter and watching
you put the food out, and then eating/drinking once you start to leave. This “scheduling” is a great way to be able to monitor your colony to see if there are any ill cats who need to be taken to the vet’s or if there are any new members who need to be spayed/neutered etc.