My toss-away kitty, Jacob

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.

Have a magical day, Allie

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55 Responses

  1. First of all, let me state that I am a huge animal lover. I have 4 dogs that are like children to me. I have owned & loved several wonderful cats in my lifetime and would never harm one. But I do agree with humanely trapping and euthanizing feral cats. There’s a feral cat colony in our neighborhood with a population of at least 100. Our neighbor is an animal hoarder and has left their 20 or so cats unaltered to breed & breed – and most (if not all) become ferals. Local animal control will do nothing about it. The cats climb our 6 foot fence and defecate in our yard. Our dogs have contracted tapeworm from them multiple times. We recently lost a dog to Leptospirosis. We had her for 12 years and loved her like she was one of our children. Although she was vaccinated, she still caught this highly contagious bacterium and the vet wasn’t able to save her. The vet says she got it from the ferals. We mostly keep the dogs cooped up in the house now for fear that they’ll catch something. We can no longer take them for walks in our own neighborhood because the risk of catching an infectious disease or parasite is too great. Let me be clear, I don’t blame the cats. They can’t vaccinate themselves.
    The cats fight all night. I’ve seen them roaming around the neighborhood with horrific injuries. Some of them are obviously very sick. A couple of them have eye infections so awful that their eyes are matted shut. The cats have attracted coyote to the neighborhood that are now starting to attack & kill people’s dogs, in addition to the ferals.These are just a few examples of the suffering these cats are enduring. Feral cats carry many diseases and parasites that are zoonotic to both people and pets. Toxoplasmosis is one terrifying example.
    I’ve contacted animal control multiple times to ask for help, but they don’t seem to care much. I am considering trapping them & taking them to the shelter myself. I can’t stand to watch them suffer any longer. The condition that most of these cats are in is just heartbreaking. If I could somehow take care of them all, I would – but there’s 100+ cats now and it just isn’t possible. Even trapping & neutering a few wouldn’t make a dent because the neighbors keep breeding their pets and letting the kittens turn feral. 2 years ago we had one of the kittens come onto our porch daily attempting to get into our trash. She was so emaciated, she could barely stand up. She had a respiratory infection and a pretty badly infected gash on her back leg. I got some antibiotics from the vet and put them in some cat food on the porch near the trashcan for 7 days. She healed up pretty well and I kept feeding her. (I know you shouldn’t feed ferals, but I was feeding only this one as she showed up around the same time every morning. The plan was to tame her enough that we could bring her into our home & take care of her.) After several weeks she would nuzzle against my leg as I was standing outside. She wouldn’t allow me to pet her, but she was getting pretty tame – and I was getting attached.. One day she just disappeared and hasn’t been seen since. She was approximately 6 months old. To put things into perpsective, a domesticated housecat lives around 15 years. Ferals have a life expectancy of 2. I firmly believe that trapping & euthanizing ferals is the most human choice. I also believe there should be consequences for people like my neighbor who neglect and abandon their cats.

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