I wonder why many of us think nothing of seeing a cat running through our neighborhoods, narrowly missing the bumper of a fast-moving vehicle.
If it were a stray dog – no matter what breed or size – most of us would step on the brake and stop traffic to try to coax the dog into our cars and our arms.
Dogs on the loose get my adrenaline going, but not cats. Why? I guess because cats can take care of themselves. It’s that kind of thinking that has led to large feral cat populations in our communities.
Rescue groups define ferals as a cat who has lived his whole life with little or no human contact. A feral may have been a stray cat who was lost or abandoned and has lived away from human contact long enough to become wild.
Some people call them "community cats," because they form colonies and live together in our communities. Ferals settle where there is a convenient food source, a restaurant dumpster or a human who feeds them.
If there is no effort to sterilize them, the population grows rapidly. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that a pair of breeding cats and their offspring can exponentially produce over 400,000 cats in seven years. Coyotes and cars take their toll, but that doesn’t eliminate the colonies.
County governments have the option to create Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) ordinances. This nonlethal method allows colony caregivers to humanely (and painlessly) trap the cats, get them spayed or neutered, tip their ears and return them to their site.
The volunteer caretakers provide food, water and shelter for the duration of their lives. TNR is the most humane method known to effectively reduce the feral cat population. Without TNR, caregivers can be cited and fined for what they do.
February is the month when many shelters and rescues rally around Spay Day USA, offering special discounts or holding targeted dates for feral cat surgeries.
Some communities and clinics have made feral cats a priority, working with the caregivers and county governments to give these cats their best chance to live healthy lives without reproducing.
If you’re interested in helping, check your local shelters to find out how you can get involved and check your county’s stand on ferals. If there is no TNR, ask your county commissioners why not.