Last night, I received a frantic call from a friend who has been an amazing caretaker to feral cats in her neighborhood. She has single-handedly befriended and spayed/neutered these toss-away cats. And while she has socialized and re-homed a handful over the years, seven have remained close to her home and heart …. At least until recently. Four of them have disappeared in a matter of weeks.
One of the heartbreaks in providing for feral cats is that they may simply go missing. A wild animal may enter the area and kill them or scare them away, or a neighbor may begin to trap them and have them relocated or taken to the shelter to be euthanized. One thing is for certain … if a feral cat enters a shelter, it is a death sentence.
Some people do not understand why feral cats should ever have our attention, efforts or love. For those people, they clearly have never encountered a lost soul who simply needs a helping hand. I pity those people. I have several friends who help feral cats and they are the most admirable animal protectionists that I know. I admire them because who they seek to safeguard are outside where dangers (from man or nature) can snatch them away without notice. It is bittersweet.
There are many people who see feral cats as nuisances. If they only knew that feral cats have lived amongst us for over 10,000 years. They provide an essential service in helping to control the rodent population. Feral cats deserve our compassion and our help. That is why I dedicated an entire chapter in Defending the Defenseless: A Guide to Protecting and Advocating for Pets on how to help them.
It is easy for us to go through life dismissing, disregarding, and even cursing the existence of feral cats. Given that there are as many feral cats in the U.S. as there are domesticated cats in U.S. homes (an estimated 90 million feral cats according to Alley Cat Allies), we not only have an issue to contend with (pssst … spaying and neutering helps!) but we owe them our compassion because most of them are in their outdoor situation because of the carelessness and negligence of humans.
While there is no way to know the percentages, I believe that a good number of feral cats are actually former-family pets who escaped or were tossed out. My own cat, Jacob, was tossed out of his home (along with the other family cats) in West Virginia when his family abandoned their home. After some time fending for themselves and encountering rude and harmful humans, it is no wonder that previously friendly cats will turn feral out of self-protection. As humans, we need to take responsibility for what we have caused.
If you don’t care about feral cats, that is fine, just don’t do anything to harm them. Some believe that they are killing our precious birds or using your garden as a litterbox. Your garden may actually flourish if a feral cat decides to leave a deposit there! The one thing I want to impress is that feral cats have a home … it’s outdoors. And they are entitled to live a life without harm from people.
While most states do not have laws to protect feral cats (states like Virginia, Texas, and Utah appear to protect feral cats from abuse; whereas other states like Connecticut, Utah, Vermont allow for people to become an owner of a feral cat), we should not need laws to tell people to leave them alone. Feral cats have lived along side humans for over 10,000 years. So what gives humans the right to say whether a feral cat lives or dies? Ponder that. If you want to read more, Alley Cat Allies has produced a booklet that addresses how we view feral cats.
In the meantime, if you see a feral or stray cat, be sure trap him/her for spaying/neutering. If you feed a feral without sterilizing, you will end up with your own personal feral cat colony. And be sure to pick up a copy of Defending the Defenseless to learn more ways that you can help help feral cats.
In the meantime, I hope the four feral cats from my friend’s backyard will return safe and sound. For anyone who would hurt a toss-away kitty under the mistaken belief that they are a nuisance is someone who, in my book, is a nuisance. In the infamous words of Mr. T … I pity the fool.
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