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Feral Cats








"Perdono... do you know of a shelter around here??"







Alley Cat Allies is the only national advocacy organization dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats. Become an advocate for homeless cats







Pictures and stories of feral cats. Documenting their life on the edge of civilization by acclaimed photographer Knox in this stunning Feral Cat Calendar. Knox's visions of street life captures both a brutal world, and one dominated with intriguing personalities, genuine emotions and strong family bonds


















Feral cat searching around Cappadocia, Turkey












Feral cats enjoying a lazy afternoon in Stone Town, Zanzibar















On her own in Corunna, a town in Galicia, Spain.




Feral cats... living on the mean streets

Feral Cats... Kittens Who Have Lost More Than Their Mittens
Rita is a feral cat. Young... less than a year old I would guess. Every day at breakfast time in the morning, and again at the dinner hour in the evening this feral waif comes to my home. When she first started to come around, I couldn't get closer than 20 feet to her. Even now, weeks later as some trust has been developed between us, she still won't come within 10 feet of me. She sits or lies on the other side of the yard watching me with yellow-gold eyes peering from her jet black silhouette. I imagine a silent voice echoing across an ages wide chasm and only with instinct can she or I understand what that call is. The need for food, shelter, and most of all... compassion. She knows it's here, but, she doesn't know how to ask for it, or even how to accept it. She's definitely a feral cat. She seems perfectly content with her life, accepting without complaint her existence on the edge of human society. The compassion I feel for her is exceeded only by my admiration for the ease with which see accepts her fate.

Of course, other animals don't moralize their existence like we humans do. Rita is living her life as it unfolds before her. When people look at feral cats we see something more. An orphan, a cast away, or a blight on civil society. Maybe she could be categorized as collateral damage; an unanticipated result of the human presence on this planet. If early wildcats hadn't discovered the prey they sought were taking up residence in the grain storage facilities of humans, they may not have struck the cosmic deal that brought cats into the homes of people.

The procreative urge which produces litters of kittens works fine in the wilderness where the balance of nature requires more individuals to be reproduced in order to ensure the continuation of the cat species. But, when that urge is put in an environment that has fewer threats to that continuation of the species, such as the home of a person, what we find is a proliferation of cats because the natural culling mechanisms of the wilderness are absent. The result is basically too many cats for one person to handle and the extra cats end up back out on the 'street' where they are better known as feral cats. The first cats to interact with people would have had no problem going back into the desert or woods and survived just fine as they always had. But, we are thousands of years down the road from those first interactions and our relationship with cats has become very symbiotic, especially for the cat.

Nature can be very unforgiving to individuals who aren't proficient at surviving. For animals, surviving on their own is an activity that occupies most waking hours. Searching for food and shelter, evading predators and raising young fill all aspects of animals lives from dawn to dusk... or from dusk to dawn for cats. So, when cats found they could get an easy meal by protecting grain storage, AND get shelter, protection from predators, PLUS affection for doing it... it's easy to see why she would want to spend time around people. The trouble is over the thousands of years since that discovery, cats have become dependent on that relationship. It has become part of the basic makeup of their nature.

That symbiosis is a direct result of 'socialization'. However it first happened, and I'm presuming here, at some point an early wildcat litter was handled by a human and, probably through a succession of litters, enough affection was given the kitties that they became unafraid of people. Everything an adult cat knows, she learned as a kitten. Her experiences as a kitten will determine what kind of relationship she will have with everything in her world for the rest of her life. So, taming the wildcats of Egypt would have been a pretty easy accomplishment. And importantly, if a litter is not handled by a human, an adult cat will tend to shy away from people or anything else she did not experience with as a kitten. A strong characteristic in feral cats.

In any case, animal socialization has brought cats, other pets and domestic animals as well, into a relationship with people and societies which is usually for the benefit of humans. When cats or these other animals become un-socialized (because the symbiotic relationship has been interrupted), they lose a connection which has been instilled over many eons, They are at a loss because their instincts in the long view are telling them one thing, and the short view, reality (such as a generational litter not being handled as kittens by a person) is showing them another. The dichotomy is manifested in what we see as the nature of feral cats.


How Did She Get Here?
Let's make this a little easier to understand. Feral cats can defined as cats that are either:

  • Domesticated cats that have, for one reason or another, found themselves without a home.


  • Are the progeny of cats that were once a domestic pet.

Feral cats are not wild cats. Wild cats and their progeny are animals that have never been domesticated. Further, they will never become domesticated either. Tamed maybe, but never domesticated. That's another story. Feral cats become homeless in a variety of ways. Many, if not most, are just abandoned. Some may become lost, possibly during a change of residence, which is usually traumatic to a cat's psyche. Or, they might run away for one reason or another. Abuse, poor care or inattention on the part of the cat owner, too many other pets in the home. Unfortunately, if they find themselves without a home, many haven't been neutered or spayed. Here is where the problems begin.

People think of cats as capable, independent providers... or survivors. It's a concept far from the truth. Surviving in the "wild" for a homeless cat is just as difficult as it would be for an urban dweller if he were to suddenly find himself dropped into the middle of the Sahara Desert. Against all odds our stranded urbanite might make it home again, but it sure wouldn't be easy. He would have to overcome thirst, starvation, the buffeting of nature; plus there's that avoiding predatory animals thing. In just such an environment feral cats roam. A homeless cat finds herself looking for the high protein food she needs to survive, water sources, shelter from the elements and safety from predators. Eventually she may find the company of another homeless cat of the opposite sex and voila!! They have kittens. Succeeding generations breed and it's not too long before a colony is formed.

(I can visualize the campsite so well... small flickering fires, soft murmuring relating the days adventures, a loud chortle now and then... and, of course, the long, lonely wail of a train whistle far in the distance evoking the foggy remembrance of a home long gone.)

Sadly, there is the specter of constant pregnancy, or for the males, an ever fighting for the right to mate. Without proper health care, just like for people, infection and disease are always lurking right around the corner. A feral cat's life is significantly shortened from 12 to 16 years for domestic house cats to as little as 2 years. And for kittens born feral it's a major victory to survive kitten-hood. Feral cat litters have a mortality rate of only 50%. That means half the kittens born feral never make it to adulthood.

Now, the homeless cycle and the road to 'feral-dom' becomes more complex. A house cat finds herself homeless. If she's not neutered then the pet owners responsible for her did not take care of business and "fix" their pet when they should have. Her life expectancy as a feral cat may be short, but, long enough to have a litter or two (3 per year on the average). Each litter is 6 or 8 kittens, half of which die young and the surviving females then begin the cycle all over again producing litters of their own. The result is an exponentially growing homeless cat population that is rampantly out of control in some parts of the world.


Now, What are We Going To Do... ?
Collectively, there seems to be two camps offering answers to the "feral cat problem". One group proposes the knee-jerk reaction of a "search and destroy" solution aptly called "Trap and Kill". Just gather up those pesky feral colonies and eradicate them. The Wildlife Society has gone so far as to make it official policy advocating the "humane elimination of feral cat colonies". They even call for legislation to make it a crime to feed feral cats and oppose ordinances that legalize managed feral cat colonies. Their argument is that, because of their sheer numbers, feral cats have been responsible for the decimation of bird populations and threaten public health.

The affect feral cats have on specific species is moot at best, but few can argue that there isn't some kind of impact. We humans take our domestic cats wherever we go. Even taking them into environments where cats have never had a presence. The affect of a new species on the natural diversity of an area can have long, unintended and even disastrous consequences for the native populations. According to the National Geographic Society, though, they represent only a portion of the greater problems associated with the loss of habitat. With the onslaught of sprawling new home communities, mega-agricultural herbicide and pesticide poisoning, pollution & global warming, and glass structure bird window strikes, it would be my guess that the role feral cats play in the decimation of local wildlife populations is small when measured against the statistics of these other impacts caused by people when they move into undeveloped territory.

Moreover, the estimated number of feral cats in the U.S. alone is upwards to 60 million. To succeed with a program like that would require euthanasia camps, at huge costs of operations, all over the nation. No thanks... !! And the likelihood of success, in reality, is highly debatable. What about all those millions of compassionate people who feed feral cats and care for feral cat colonies trying to ease their plight. Do you really think they are going to be complicit in this kind of mass eradication? "Fagetta-bout-it".

On the other hand, there is the TNR movement. TNR stands for Trap-Neuter-Release, a process of capturing feral cats, taking them to a veterinarian or clinic for vaccinations, health check-ups and tagging, neutering (or spaying) then releasing them back at the place where they were trapped. Early on it was recognized that TNR programs were ineffective when applied to individual feral cats. They were multiplying so fast that it was impossible to keep up with the breeding rate. The Feral Cat Coalition pioneered the concept which is widely accepted by TNR programs that dot our towns and communities nowadays. Instead of capturing individual feral cats, whole colonies are brought into spay/neuter clinics where teams of volunteers, veterinarians and medical aides come together thereby saving time & money, and effectively deal with the problematic feral cat situation. Then the colony is returned to its "home", where they are continued to be fed and sheltered by their care-givers.

(Back at camp... lots of moaning and wondering what the heck happened? "There I was, just strumming my old guitar and then... WHAM!! Next thing I know everyone's laying around with stitches and having the eerie feeling of somehow losing track of time, or memory loss... and it feels like there's something's missing. Like a giant weight has been lifted".)

The method is expensive and requires the dedication of whole teams of volunteers, veterinarians and medical facilities. But, this approach is much more compassionate and in tune with the human ethos that recognizes feral cats as living creatures, not just a statistical problem that irritates our personal (and selfish) sensitivities or bias. While this debate rages, there is a much larger group of people who seem to have little awareness of the situation. They probably don't have cats, are unaware of feral cat "colonies", or worse, have the attitude of "Oh well. SOAP (snakes on a plane), what're you gonna do". And, then we have the "there's nothing I can do about it" excuse. Out of site... out of mind. Unless we are aware of a problem, then there's no reason to think there is a crisis. Fortunately, the drum beating of groups such as Alley Cat Allies is proving to be the attention getting notice that is needed to address the feral cats situation.


Who's the Real Problem?
Solutions offered by the Wild Life Society and other conservation groups as well as efforts by TNF organizations unfortunately are only treating the symptoms of the problem. The real culprits are:

  • The people who find themselves with a cat they don't want, so they abandon them. (Such as unwanted litters)
  • People who don't provide the proper care for their cats and don't vaccinate or neuter/spay.

Any knowledgeable pet owner knows that one of the first tasks of proper pet care management is to secure a pet's good health with the necessary vaccinations and "fixing" ASAP. Even if giving up a pet to the Animal Control authorities is not the desired choice for someone who decides that cat ownership is not for them... then at least neuter/spay the animal before dumping them into a vacant lot or field. Don't get me wrong. I am not advocating abandoning any pet for any reason. But, the costs are so minimal. In my area the price for a spay is around $45.00 and neutering is $60.00. Clinics (which are regular events) cost even less. A simple phone call to a veterinarian could direct you to a humane solution to an unwanted cat situation and save everyone time and money over the long term. And while you have the vet on the line, you might even ask about the local TNR programs in your area.

Before even getting a cat some simple questions should be asked of yourself:

  • Do you know if you have a cat allergy?
  • Are you inquisitive enough to research the proper care of a cat?
  • Do you have the patience to engage in cat training?
  • Can you realistically financially afford to be a cat care provider?

If you answer "no" to any of these questions maybe you should consider a pet rock, instead.

But, you can see the point here. If a person finds themselves in the position of being a cat care provider, whether by design or accident (Whoops! I didn't even know she was pregnant!), there is an implied responsibility to vaccinate and neuter/spay. Or, find someone who can. If for no other reason than should your new family member ever find herself homeless, she won't be burdened with constant pregnancies and health or disease problems... or passing them on to other cats. Yep, the buck will stop right there.

(And in our camp story... The old Tom's were curious about this new lady. As they approached they could tell she had obviously been well cared for and looked very healthy. "Forget it boys", she hissed. "You won't find what you're looking for here". With disgruntled mutters they returned to their own tents where an old ping-pong ball became the game of play)


Is Legislation Necessary?
Maybe. Rhode Island thinks so. It has become the first state to penalize owners of intact cats. According to Cat Watch, a publication of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine a fine of $75.00 a month can be levied on owners of cats that have not been spayed or neutered. There are exemptions available for farmers, breeders and those who promise to not let their cats become pregnant. There's also a $250.00 fine for abandoning a cat. Dogs have jumped onto the band wagon by placing a .50¢ surcharge on dog licenses to defray costs of spay-neuter clinics for cats. See! Even Fido is concerned about the feral cat boom.

Here in California a bill to force individual pet owners to spay or neuter their pets was pulled after becoming one of the most controversial issues the state legislature has seen in many years. The bill would have required dogs and cats to be sterilized before they are 6 months old and was amended 8 times before being heard. Pet owners would have the opportunity to obtain several exemptions that would allow them the ability to own an “intact permit". Violators would be subject to the equivalent of a "fix-it ticket" requiring them to comply within 30 days or be fined $500. With the inability for legislators to come up with significant support, the bill was withdrawn with the promise to re-introduce it with amendments to narrow its scope so it would apply only to irresponsible pet owners – those who let their pets roam free, own "vicious" dogs or those dog/cat owners who violate (flaunt) the animal welfare laws".


And, Rita... ?
She's been coming around for a few weeks now and has come to expect 2 small meals a day. I've made contact with the local TNR clinic to begin the process which will get her the vaccinations she needs and a date with Dr Spay. I'm trying hard to earn her trust and I hope the Trap-Neuter-Release experience doesn't scare her away for good. But, if it does, I'll feel better knowing she will not be constantly pregnant and safe from most diseases. She'll still face dangers, though. Maybe... just maybe she'll come back to the safety of my back yard where she will always find a hot meal, and by winter some shelter waiting for her.


As for Alexander...
"I know" our calmly confident Abyssinian purrs, "that my brother in Africa would not take kindly to having certain body parts of his removed. But then, he should remain intact because he might one day face the opposite problem that feral cats face. That of extinction".

He pondered, "Feral cats are truly kittens who have lost more than their mittens... and they are friends who are not only lost without a home, but are lost in time, too. They just seem to be hanging around in a nether-land, not quite on their own, but neither in anyone's home."

"People need to take responsibility, both historically and personally. Adopt from a shelter and make sure all cats are neutered or spayed at an early age. It'd be best for us all".

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Hawaiian Feral Cat

















Feral cat in San Antonio. Note scar tissue on head and leg











Let there be no doubt... the life of a feral cat is not pretty













Sharing a meal at the City Wall on the Grecian Island of Rhodes











The face of feral-dom


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