Is this cat feral? Attention caretakers and shelter staff

Is this cat feral? Attention caretakers and shelter staff

It should be well known by now that feral cats contribute greatly to the intake of animals in shelters but what is not known is just exactly how many feral cats there are and exactly how they impact shelters.

Let’s start with “what is” a feral cat. 

A feral cat is both unowned and untamed. There is no ownership in the “pet” sense of the word (although there may be a caretaker) and although the cat may form social bonds with humans, the cat is not tamed.

A stray or abandoned pet cats are not feral cats. While some show obvious love and affection towards humans, others are frightened or timid. Frightened pets can appear to be feral but they are simply scared rather than untame.  These are not feral cats.

Population estimates for feral cats range wildly from 12 million to 60 million but the thing about feral cats is … they are a hidden population. It is unlikely we will ever get a handle on exact estimates.

So how do feral cats affect shelter populations and shelter killing?

In all cases where a community trap/neuter/return program is not implemented, the outcome for adult feral cats is grim. They are not able to be adopted as pets and as a result they are killed if they enter a shelter.  Kittens are also born to feral cats where trap/neuter/return programs do not exist and those kittens contribute to the total number of kittens surrendered to shelters. Thankfully, young kittens can be rehabilitated but tragically not all animal control shelters have adequate foster care programs to save these otherwise highly adoptable kittens. 

How many feral cats are entering our shelters?

That’s a very good question. Some shelters claim up to 70% of all cats coming into their facility are feral cats. But since catching any significant number of feral cat requires some pretty heavy duty trapping efforts, those numbers just don’t add up.So are those shelter statistics reliable? Hardly.

So the question comes back to - is this a feral cat?

That’s what the ASPCA is attempting to figure out.

We know that many organizations have to make decisions about whether a cat is feral or not when the cat enters their building, adoption program or colony. We (Drs. Kathy Makolinski, Kat Miller, Emily Weiss and Margaret Slater) are collecting the various guidelines and types of information that cat-focused groups use to decide if a new cat is feral. 

We are looking for information from animal shelters and sanctuaries, spay/neuter clinics and cat colony caretakers. You can help us by describing how you determine if a cat is feral or not.

The results of this survey will be the first step in a larger project to find readily-applied, valid ways to determine if a cat is feral.

The No Kill Nation encourages cat caretakers, shelter staff and spay/neuter clinic staff to contribute to this important survey in the hopes that feral cats can be more adequately identified. Once cats can be more easily and realistically identified and classified, it is much easier to target programs to their specific needs. Figuring out the problem is the first step to finding the answer!

Take the survey (BEFORE APRIL 2, 2009!) here:

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3 Responses to “Is this cat feral? Attention caretakers and shelter staff”

  1. There was a story in our newspaper a few months back about a family cat that was trapped by a neighbor, picked up by Animal Control, delivered to our shelter, and killed within hours of getting there. The owner had been to the shelter looking for the cat several times, and it was finally through the neighbor’s AC paperwork that the shelter was able to determine the cat was dead. The reason the shelter gave is that the cat was acting very wild in the cage, and with a lack of space, they say in the case of ferals, they don’t have to hold onto them for the alloted 3 days spelled out in the ordinances … that there’s some kind of loophole for this. The family was very upset and has since moved from the area, but I wonder how common it is for shelters to categorize cats this way and not only that — kill them within hours. Does this play a part in why return to owner numbers for cats are so low?
    I’m glad that someone is looking into this issue. I am sure it is hard to categorize cats who act “wild” when scared, but I’d like to think if my cat was trapped, I’d have at least 3 days to go find him at the shelter.

  2. Gavin Nichols says:

    This is an answer that begs the question, but in San Antonio, the law was changed in 2007 to make it legal for free-roaming cats and cat colonies, as long as the cats are sterilized and vaccinated. Due to the new law, the City of San Antonio Animal Care Services no longer accepts cats in traps, nor do they trap cats themselves.
    ACS has a pretty good relationship with the San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition and has assigned two animal control officers to providing education and public information. If a citizen calls in and complains about a cat colony, the ACO’s will actually go out to the citizen, provide them information about the laws and feral cats, and give them some education on how a feral cat colony that is being cared for is actually a benefit.
    Private property owners, such as apartment complex owners, and neighborhood associations can disallow free-roaming cats and cat colonies, but it is not the city’s problem.
    Cats that are a true nuisance or threat can be taken, but that is very rare. Most, if not all, of the cats in the ACS shelter today are “owner surrenders.”
    One story to give people hope is the San Antonio municipal Olmos Basin Golf Course. A feral cat colony was being taken care of there, with feeders provided by the city. The golf course had a change in management and the new management wanted the cat colony removed. The acting director of ACS and the ACO’s went out there and explained the laws and the benefits to the new manager. They convinced the manager to support the cat colony. The latest report is that the manager was able to discontinue his pest control service, because the cats are taking care of it for him. He’s actually saving a little money!

  3. Matt says:

    Bottom line: If these so called “shelters” want to find an excuse to murder a cat, based upon their loyalty to the status quo’s holocaust of companion animals, they are going to kill.

    All they have to say is: “The cat went to bite an employee”. It doesnt have to be true. Even if a cat is scared while in the hands of the animal control gestapos who round them up (who wouldnt be?) they use the very fear that they THEMSELVES instill in these cats, as an excuse to murder them.
    I.E. “Hey, they are afraid…obviously they are feral”. Well I guess every living soul is feral, because we all feel fear. So lets just assassinate every one of us. Insanity. Yet they are allowed to get away with the killing, because they have plausible deniability.
    The cowards hide behind the plausible deniability.
    Thus, we need to contact our local animal shelters, animal control officials, Mayors, etc and demand that they go no-kill or that we will replace them with someone who will.

    We cant rely on these murderers to do what’s right….we have to ensure that they are no-kill so that no “excuse” or “plausible deniability” can be used to murder a precious living soul. This means that we have to rally our communities and demand that they go no-kill. Power of the people, and that sort of thing.
    Because a no-kill shelter cannot murder a cat or dog under the disguise of plausible deniability. Why? Because they are no-kill.

    No excuses. No killing. Just love and life.

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