Category Archives: Feral Cats

Tom or Harry? It’s Your Choice!

In memory of all the tom cats for whom we were too late…

“Hi guys! My name is Tom! I was a cute little thing when I was a kitten, well, that’s what the humans used to say. I wouldn’t let them touch me though. I would do like my mother and run away when they would approach and would only come back to eat the food they put down for us.

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Then I grew up and I started to get interested in girls, so I hit the road looking for some. Oh boy! These were the good times! Always on the road going from place to place to meet the girls. Sometimes, the humans would be nice and throw me a bit of chicken, but often they would just chase me with a broom, screaming ‘dirty tom’. It’s not my fault if I sprayed a little, I had to mark my territory for other cats. I used to love visiting the farm: there were plenty of girls and I would drink that nice white liquid; it tasted so good! But I wouldn’t stay for too long and would keep travelling. I didn’t even have time to go hunting during the summers; I was a busy boy! I got into some pretty bad fights though. We all wanted the same girls, so we had to fight for them. Sometimes I’d lose, sometimes I’d win, especially when fighting with the sick cats, they weren’t very strong and would quickly give up, but I got some bad bites. At the end of the summers, I would be exhausted and hungry from all the travelling. So I would just visit all my favourite spots to get some food and rest, and play with the mice a little. But as soon as it would get warmer and the days would get longer, I was off again! Back on the road!

11 09 01 Wild cat web

Then, one winter, I caught a bad cold. Usually, it would go away with food and rest, but I wasn’t very hungry. When the days got warmer, I started travelling again, but I was weak and didn’t have the energy anymore. I found a nice garden with some shelter and I sat there as I was in so much pain. The woman of the house started to give me all types of food, it smelled nice and I would eat a little, but it hurt my teeth and my throat. I could hear her say ‘skin and bones’ all the time.

One day, another woman came with some strange box with bars on it. She put a lot of nice smelly food in it, but I couldn’t eat. Then she poured some of the sweet white liquid we had at the farm, except that it came from a bottle. I forced myself to stand up to have a bit of that as it reminded me so much of the good old days. When I went in the box, I heard a noise. I turned around, but I couldn’t get out. When the woman approached, I tried to fight but didn’t have the energy. And then it was dark and I calmed down.

Cloyne_Chapel st_Little Tom c_11 12 17

The box moved and me with it. Then I heard the strange noise moving objects make. Next thing, there were other faces looking at me; I heard them say ‘Poor boy!’. I felt something stinging me and I dozed off. I could hear their voices though, words like ‘disease’, ’emaciated’, ‘not grooming’, ‘virus’, ‘aids’. Then the girl with the box was back. She started to rub my head. It was strange, I had never been touched by a human before, but I didn’t care. She was saying that it would be ok, that I wouldn’t be suffering anymore and that I would go to a better place (maybe she meant the farm?). I felt a prick and some tingling in my veins. Then, I couldn’t see the faces anymore, I couldn’t hear their voices and the pain was gone…”

***

“Hi folks! My name is Harry! I’m Tom’s cousin. I was like Tom when I was young, always running after the girls. I guess I was luckier than him though as I found a nice garden. The woman of the house would always give me some nice tasty food and would call me ‘handsome’. There were some girls there too, but they had no interest in me. Oh, it was ok, I would wander to look for others, but I would always come back to the garden with nice food, where I could have a snooze too.

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One day, a woman came, she had a box made of bars. She put some food in it. I went to check, but I wasn’t that hungry that I would go in that strange box. Then she put another box out, with more food. It was bigger and I started to feel hungry, so I went in. I heard something slamming. When the woman approached, I tried to run away, but I couldn’t escape. Then it got dark and I heard the noise moving objects make.

Next thing, I could hear new voices and I felt something stinging me. I went off to sleep. When I woke up, I was feeling really strange, a bit groggy and as if something was missing. I saw the face of the woman with the box and again we were in the moving object. When it stopped, it felt very familiar around me. The light came back and I could recognise the garden I liked so much. I ran away, but when the woman with the box was gone, I came back for some nice food. Tasty!

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I went looking for the girls again, but it wasn’t the same, so I lost interest and decided to stay in the garden with nice food. I would lie in the warm sun and if it rained I had a little house where I could stay dry. To pass the time, I would play with the mice. The woman of the house would bring me food a few times a day and I loved it, so I started to run towards her and would rub against her legs. One day, she moved her hand towards me and touched my head. It felt really strange. She kept doing it and eventually I got used to it and I even started to like it. Poor old Tom, he had such a rough life! It’s a pity he didn’t find a nice garden like mine!”

Don’t ignore tom cats; give them a chance to have a good life by having them neutered. By having tom cats neutered, you are reducing the spread of diseases and viruses, such as FIV (feline AIDS) and FeLV (Feline Leukemia). Neutered tom cats will live longer and are less likely to roam, fight and spray.

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Feral Cats in the Spotlight – 96fm Interview

As part of National Feral Cats Awareness Week, two of our main volunteers were interviewed on Cork’s 96fm Opinion Line to discuss feral cats and the importance of neutering. You can listen to the podcast (at 1:46).

In the Shadow of the Mill

in the shadow of the Mill

The cats would pour out of the old mill in a torrent of upraised tails when the women appeared. Every evening, after 6 o clock, when the businesses had closed for the day and things quietened down, the ladies would come with their meagre supplies of food, held in burlap, potato bags, to feed the forgotten cats. The cats were generationally wild. Litter upon litter of these cats were born in and around the old mill, which itself had been built just after the famine in Ireland. The nursing queens, the female cats with kittens, made their nests deep within the hidden places of the mill where humans would not discover them or their babies. From these dens a struggle for survival was forced upon the tiny kittens, born blind, born deaf, completely dependent on their mothers for life, these tiny creatures had to undergo a veritable gauntlet of challenges just to emerge from their nests. They were in danger of being attacked by rival Tomcats who wished to mate with their mothers. The rats that infested the mill were a considerable source of threat and would happily seize and eat any newborn kitten. Then there were the endemic diseases; cat flu that first blinded the babies and then sealed their nasal passages shut leaving the tiny, fledging cats, to starve to death, unable to smell their food source. Then there were the truly horrible diseases whose lethality was hidden by their innocuous acronyms; FeLV , FIV, FIE, an entire alphabet that spelled nothing but a miserable end for newborns that had not yet left the nest. But the single biggest danger the cats faced were human beings whose indifference, neglect, and downright cruelty, ensured that the suffering would continue in an endless cycle.

‘So as you treat the least of my creatures, so you treat me’ or words to that effect. How many times did I listen to the priest intone those words at Sunday mass. The congregation sat in various states of emotion, that ranged from utter and complete boredom, to rapt, face gleaming attention , as the weekly ritual of the catholic mass unfolded. The message was always the same; ‘Behave, Be Good, Be Kind towards those weaker than you’. And how often these admonishments were left behind in the church along with the Parish Bulletins and unread catholic papers. ‘Things were different back then’ or so it is said by today’s commentators. Ireland in the early 1960s. Back then we were all catholic, republican, and played GAA. Those that didn’t fit that description were all English. Rugby playing, Protestant, heathens, Communists, and Atheists. We all had to fit within very narrow job titles. To step outside the definition was to invite ridicule.

I was a very small child when I first noticed the Mother and Daughter. They quietly walked along the quay side by side. Clutched in their hands were potato bags filled with discarded food waste and scraps, collected from the Town’s businesses during the day. They always went to the high entrance gates of the mill where they distributed the food to the feral cats that boiled out of everywhere. To be honest the women frightened me at first. The Mother seemed to have a stern face, a ‘cross’ face as children like me would see it. Back then the ability to gauge the temperament of an adult from his/her face was a survival requirement for kids. Ireland was not a child friendly country then. The Daughter disquieted me even more. As a child I couldn’t articulate what it was, exactly, about her that made me stare so hard.

When the two women reached the gates of the mill they were first greeted by the ‘waiters’ the cats who knew they were coming. But within a few minutes the cats and kittens poured out of the mill, from every direction, frantic for the food the women had to offer. These felines were the wildest of the wild yet they greeted the two women with great love and dignity every time. The Mother and Daughter went about their feeding amidst a forest of upright tails whose tips were turned over in that classic, inverted ‘J’ shape, of cordial cat greeting. I remember pausing to watch the women and the cats who rubbed up against their legs and twined sinuously around the women’s ankles. I was jealous of the obvious love the cats had for these two women because I never received any attention from any of these wild creatures. No matter how often I approached them, the cats either totally ignored me, or, worse again, hissed and spat, before running away into their dark and mysterious hiding places within the mill. The two women spoke to the cats. Called them by pet names and the cats responded. The big adult males, bruisers all, would get the first cut from the food supplies followed by the sleeker females. In between this roiling mass of women and cats would dart the kittens, braving blows and hisses from the adults, but determined to get their share of what was on offer. The Mother and Daughter did their best to control the feeding and to ensure that even the littlest kitten got something to eat. The big bullies would be chased away and space made for a kitten to get a morsel to eat but the bigger, faster cats, always got the lions share. When the feeding was done the two women would leave, side by side, and just as sedately, walk away back down the quay. The cats would linger by the gates awhile longer hunting for any remaining scraps before they too would silently merge back into the shadow of the mill.

I grew up with cats. We had a little grey Tabby called, ‘Puisin’ (Pro. Pusheen) which is Gaelic for, ‘Little Cat’. As a child, I discovered Puisin had given birth to a litter of kittens in the bathroom cupboard. My father promptly dispatched the kittens by placing them in a cotton wool lined shoebox that was impregnated with chloroform. I still remember the frantic cries of these newborn kittens and their puny efforts to escape their fate within the shoebox. Poor Puisin would run about the house crying for her kittens and trying desperately to free them from the box but the humans always won and the kittens died. I suppose this is shocking for some readers but in 1960s, rural Ireland, this was an outrageously expensive way of disposing of unwanted kittens. Why go to all that trouble and spend all that money when there was a perfectly good river nearby? Discovering bags of drowned kittens was a frequent childhood experience and one consequence of playing in the river. The county council street cleaners, a particularly villainous looking bunch of men who went around the town in a horse drawn cart always had a few dead cats tied to the side of their cart. Then there was the bodies of cats and kittens. They were everywhere to be found. Lying in hedges and ditches. In back alleys and side streets. A cat that was dying of disease or that was unable to move because of injury, was considered fair game for a sport of kill the cat. Cruelty didn’t come into it. This was the weak and unfortunate of society, the people of the margins, discovering something even more weaker and defenceless than themselves. They could cause pain and torment to an animal, secure in the knowledge that society wouldn’t seek retribution for their crime. Some might describe this as cruelty but it was the pain filled, and the tortured, inflicting suffering on another, ‘lesser’ living thing, in order to relieve their personal pain. It was tough at the bottom in those days.

It’s hard to break the era of a story but I have to jump forward many years to finish the tale. The two women continued to feed the feral cats at the mill. Year upon year, as the country about them changed, the Mother and Daughter made their daily walk of mercy bringing food and kindness to the abandoned and forgotten cats of the mill. I grew older and away from the town following my own path in life. The mother grew older too, inevitably, and then she passed away leaving her daughter alone to carry on the task. As a man, I passed the mill one day and there was the daughter, alone, feeding the cats. As always the cats milled about her feet, tails aloft, meowing and chirping, happy to see her and the food she brought. As usual a few ‘young fellas’who were passing, paused to shout some undecipherable catcalls at the girl as she cared for her charges. I was now big enough to shout back at them and told them to be on their way. They informed me that the Daughter was, in their words, “Fucking mad” . So what? That what was almost the entire town thought of the Mother and Daughter and used to go out of their way to let them know. Who but imbeciles would go to so much trouble to feed a bunch of useless cats? And do the task year upon year upon year? As I saw off the hectoring youths a series of images I had unconsciously collected through the years began to form a pattern in my mind. I looked closely at the daughter as she bent to her task, especially at her face. The same calm, almost serene smile was still there, as it always had been, but the face lacked the animation of thoughtful intelligence. The Daughters actions were stiff and slow. Even simple tasks seemed an effort. The girl obviously suffered from some sort of intellectual disability. Yet the love and kindness, both the abilty and desire to reach out to other creatures, that her Mother had inculcated in her, remained, even though her devoted Mother was gone.

Once upon a time the Mother was a beautiful young woman who married a man and together they produced a baby girl. I know the Mother was a beautiful woman because even as a child I could see the remains of that beauty. The child was born with an intellectual disability and into a time in Ireland when such births were viewed as a mark of God’s disfavour upon the Mother. The husband, unable to face the shame of such a thing and the inevitable public comment, abandoned his beautiful wife and baby daughter to their fate. Now, to add to the ‘shame’ of the baby was the humiliation of desertion and the desperation of being a single parent in a society that heaped opprobrium upon such families. Mother and Daughter lived in poverty for all of their lives. That poverty was evident in their clothes that never changed year after year, becoming more dowdy and repaired as time passed. The Mother and Daughter seemed to pass through the streets unnoticed and friendless. The shopkeepers knew them because they collected the waste food everyday but no passerby ever seemed to stop and engage in casual conversation with them. Yet every evening Mother and Daughter walked serenely along the dark quay, laden with potato bags that contained precious food, for the forgotten cats that lived such short lives in the old mill. Ignoring the taunts and jeers of the town they fed, and cared, for hundreds of cats.

A number of years ago I passed the mill and there was the daughter feeding the cats. She had a companion with her, another woman who appeared slightly embarrassed to be standing in the middle of a lot of cats. That was the Daughter’s carer, appointed by a state agency to look after the Motherless girl. Then, one day, the Daughter was gone as were the mill and all its cats. In its place was a block of apartments, the kind advertised as ‘Contemporary living in an historic setting’.

Today we have Rescue Groups and TNR groups. There is a much wider public acceptance of animal welfare issues. Animal cruelty is a crime as is any harmful actions towards children or those with intellectual disabilities. Single parents are no different from two parents. There are laws to prevent all kinds of injustices in our society. But I walk the quay now as an older man with memories of another time and another place. If I look hard enough I see them coming towards me, a woman with her daughter. The Mother has a kind, compassionate face and she walks with her Daughter at her side. They walk, bound by love, bound by sadness, to a place where their children await them, eager for whatever scraps of food and human kindness the two women can offer them. They walk unheeding of the taunts, and jeers, that greet them most evenings from townspeople whose tiny intellects cannot fathom that love itself is a journey all of us must walk, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. And if we can love something other than ourselves, no matter what the circumstances we find ourselves in, than something good and kind and eternal will emerge and live on after we are gone. For the Mother and Daughter, unknownst to themselves, and to me, planted a seed that lay dormant a long time. And then came the spring and the seed began to sprout. Community Cats Network will commence the neutering of every stray and feral cat in Bandon town in the memory of the forgotten mother and daughter.

” For one small act of kindness can inspire others to go on to do greater things”

The Bandon TNR project has been ongoing for some time and we have already neutered some 500 cats and kittens in the town and its hinterland. This project has been funded in part by the Hairy Project. We humbly and gratefully acknowledge and thank those of you that donated goods for auction and those of you that bid on the items for sale. CCN will be running its, PURRFECT AUCTION, soon, in order to raise the bulk of funds required to complete the Bandon TNR. CCN calculates it will take between 2-3 years to complete the neutering of the estimated 2000-2500 remaining cats.

Many Thanks

Our next Purrfect Auction will take place this coming Thursday the 30th of July to August 9th. Click here to join us for some goodies and fun. Our Chief Auctioneer will be Annie Brabazon again, we are all looking forward to some good fun and of course shopping!!

Click here if you would like to donate directly to this project.

How do we carry out a Trap-Neuter-Return project.

The first contact comes from a multi-faceted approach ranging from telephone calls, emails, website, Facebook or direct contact from vets.

Oral contact with the carer:

  • We telephone the carer to establish what physical condition the colony is in.
  • Establish if any cat or kitten needs emergency care and arrange it immediately.
  • Estimate how many cats and kittens are there.
  • Estimate how old are the kittens
  • Establish how often and what time the cats are being fed and if there are other feeders .
  • If the colony is in good health we post or email you an assessment form

https://communitycatsnetwork.wordpress.com/information/tnr/

 

Arranging the colony assessment:

 

  • The carer fills the assessment form on site or has sent it back to us.
  • We arrive on site at feeding time to visually assess the colony.
  • We discuss the financial cost of the neutering with the carer.
  • We explain the trapping procedure.
  • We arrange a trapping date with the carer.

 

farms cats photo

 

Arranging the neutering and veterinary care:

  • The CCN welfare officer makes contact with the nearest  partner vet to the colony to arrange a time and date for the neutering.
  • The physical health of the colony is discussed with the vet or the veterinary nurse.
  • Extra treatment will be discussed when the vet has assessed the cats in surgery.

 

The trapping:

 

  • Depending on the number of cats to be trapped the Community Cats Network welfare officer decides what traps and cages to bring.
  • The CCN welfare officer arrives 30 minutes before feeding time to set up the traps.
  • The cats are trapped humanely and transferred into feral cat handling cages.
  • The carer signs the Community Cats Network consent form.
  • Depending on the time when trapped and availability of vets, the cats are either taken straight to the vets or held overnight to be taken to the vets the following morning.
  • If the cats are held overnight they are transferred into humane comfortable cages with food water and litter for the cats’ comfort and welfare.

hospital cage completed

          Hospitalisation cage in the opened position to show the                   bedding & feeding area.

 

 

Veterinary treatment and neutering:

  • The CCN welfare officer transfers the cats back into the transport cages and bring them to the allocated vets.
  • The transport cages have information on each cage pertaining to that specific cat. The veterinary nurse or vet will complete the forms once the surgery  has been completed.
  • In the veterinary surgery the feral cats are transferred into a cat restrainer cage to make it safer for the veterinary practice to sedate the cat and cause less stress on the cat.
  • Once the sedative has taken effect the cat is taken out of the cage and given a full health check. The cat’s mouth, ears, teeth, eyes, legs, pads and body are checked for any anomalies or abnormalities.
  • If any abnormalities are found the CCN welfare officer is contacted immediately by the vet to discuss further actions.
  • If everything is normal the surgery continues
  • Female cats will be spayed on the left flank – this is always the left hand side of the body. It provides faster access to the organs being removed. The female will have her uterus and ovaries removed to fully ensure that procreation can never take place. Spaying also removes the possibilities of life threatening uterine infections. Additionally, it also greatly reduces the risk of developing potentially fatal mammary tumors later in life.
  • Male cats will be castrated. Both testicles will be removed. This will remove their ability and want to mate with females of the species. Neutered male cats become less likely to fight after neutering and are less likely to become involved in fights, resulting in bite injuries and the risk of contracting viral infections. Sexual contact in cats can also lead to transmission of deadly viruses.
  • Both female and male cats are left ear-tipped. This is a universal  method indicating the neutered status of a cat.
  • All cats in our care receive a flea and a worm treatment.

 

Eartipped cat                                                     Eartipped cat.

 

Post-operative care:

  • The CCN welfare officer collects the cats from the vets after surgery.
  • The cats are put back into the hospitalisation cages with clean bedding, water and food.
  • The males are kept for a minimum of 16 hours after surgery and females 24 hours.
  • The cats are checked post-op on an average of every 2 to 3 hours to make sure the bedding is clean and they are recovering well.
  • The carer is contacted to make arrangement to return the cats.

Returning the cats:

  • The cats are transferred back into the transport cages and returned to the carer.
  • The carer receives a quantity of food, CCN’s feral cat aftercare handbook and a photographic and health journal of their cats.

 

Sterilisation of the equipment:

  • After the return of the cats the CCN welfare office has to clean and sterilise all the equipment: traps, transport cages, hospitalisation cages and holding area used for the specific colony to avoid contaminating the next colony or transferring infection.

Feral cats colony information:

  • The CCN welfare officer inputs all the information that they have gathered about the colony into our computerised database.
  • Photos and descriptions are then uploaded to our Facebook page.
  • CCN welfare officers are always available for contact with the carer at any stage.

Our Offsprings are the Ferals of Tomorrow

"Our offsprings are the ferals of tomorrow"

“Our offsprings are the ferals of tomorrow”

Phone rings… “Hi, last winter, a stray cat came to my garden.  It was cold and I felt sorry for her, so I started feeding her.  You know, I would hate to see an animal suffer.  Then, in March, she had a litter of kittens, but it was fine, the farmer down the road took all four of them!  But, at the beginning of the summer, she had another litter of kittens.  7 of them! And now, I think she is pregnant again and I can’t find homes for the kittens.  I don’t mind feeding her as she keeps the mice away, but I can’t possibly keep all of them.  I don’t know what to do, can you please help?”

Sounds familiar?

This is a very common type of call received by animal welfare organisations and our answer is simply to have the cat and her kittens neutered straight away before the situation gets completely out of hand.  We discuss with the carer a way to finance the project and proceed to have the whole family neutered.  Then, maybe a couple of kittens may find a home, but at least they won’t be having kittens.  The problem is solved, but is it really?

Let’s rewind a little, back to spring time: “it was fine, the farmer down the road took all four of them!”  The alarm bell in my head is ringing!  Now, were those kittens neutered before going to the farm?  Did the farmer get them neutered?  The answer is more than likely no.

Now, let’s fast-forward to the following spring.  The farmer is happy, his little cats (3 females and a male) are doing a good job on the farm.  In April though, all three females give birth to a litter of kittens each.  It is their first litter and they only have two kittens each.  “Sure,” the farmer thinks, “a few more cats might come in handy; I have a big farm!  And maybe Jo will take a couple for his own farm.”  It’s still all fine, isn’t it?  Yes, except that during the summer, they give birth to more kittens, and again at the beginning of winter, except that those mostly die because of the severe weather.

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Two years later, the farmer is looking at all the cats on his farm.  There are so many of them that he cannot feed them properly anymore.  His three little female cats have become useless at killing the rats and mice as they are so exhausted from giving birth, as for the tom, he is constantly chasing the females and has been seen at all the neighbouring farms.  Their offsprings are no good either, they have also started giving birth constantly, and now the younger generations are all sickly because they are inbred.  The farmer is looking at all the cats (he can’t even count how many there are) and is scratching his head “what to do?”.  He must admit that he did try to drown the kittens like his father and his grand-father used to do, but the females are very good at hiding the kittens in the hay, and to be honest, he likes the cats and does not want to harm them.  Maybe he should bring them to the vet to have them euthanised?  But, he cannot even catch the cats; they have gone completely wild!  He’ll talk to the vet though and see what he thinks…

14 02 06 c webThe vet is not too keen on having animals euthanised like that and if the farmer can’t catch the cats, how could he?  He’s heard of organisations doing Trap-Neuter-Return though, maybe they could help?  So the farmer gets in touch with such an organisation.  At first, he has a fit when he hears what it will cost, but it has to stop, and he needs his cats to be healthy so that they can do their job on the farm.  All the cats and kittens get trapped, most of them are neutered, but a few have to be euthanised as they are too sick.  They come back to the farm and a few weeks later, they look a lot healthier and the farm is once more clear of rats.  The farmer is still giving out at the vet bill, but he is glad that things have now gone back to normal.  Next time, he’ll make sure that the cats are neutered beforehand.  “Now, if only Jo could do the same thing on his farm, because how many does he have now?  A good 30 for sure!”

Can you remember what the caller said initially?  “I would hate to see an animal suffer.”  Of course, she hadn’t realised what would happen as the farmer is a good guy and wouldn’t harm an animal, but by rehoming unneutered kittens, she has unknowingly been responsible for a great deal of suffering.  Or maybe she thought that it wasn’t her problem?  How about when the cats start to wander away from the farm because there isn’t any food and start to come to her garden where she is still feeding the little stray, the mother of them all?  Does it become her problem then?

Free ads

Websites are full of “Kittens Free to Good Home” ads, but what does it really mean?

I think that in the work we do, convincing people to have kittens neutered before rehoming is actually the biggest challenge.  Sometimes, it’s just because they don’t know that kittens can be neutered at such an early age (see info here), but most of the time, they don’t see the point since they are going to find “good homes” for the kittens.  Why should it be their responsibility?  Times and times again, we explain that if these are actually good homes, then the adopter will not mind giving a donation to cover for the cost of neutering.  In fact, they are quite happy to do so since it saves them the bother of having to bring the kittens.  In other cases, they think that it is not their problem since the cat isn’t actually theirs.  Maybe so, but we all need to start taking responsibility if we want to put a stop to the problem of cat over-population.  It is not one individual’s problem, it actually has become a society’s problem and we all need to start taking responsibility.

Disclaimer: the story above is fictional, although it is based on real experiences.  It wasn’t written with the intention of criticising anyone, but rather with the intention of educating.  Take responsibility too: educate those around you and spread the word about the importance of neutering!

Spay that Stray

Feral Cats vs Stray Cats

Feral Cats

Feral cats are cats who have been born into the wild. Stray cats are cats who wandered off, or got lost, or who have been dumped by their owners. Stray cats are born into some sort of a domestic setting and have enjoyed some measure of contact with humans.

As there are no indigenous wild cats in Ireland, the country’s feral population are the descendants of domestic cats who for various reasons ended up having to live wild. Feral cats will live in either one of two ways: solitary, or in a colony. Feral colonies serve as a mutually beneficial support group for all the cats. The colony is usually a matriarchal establishment with one or more dominant females , a sub group of females and a group of tomcats who are attached to the colony. Colonies form around food sources, eg. rubbish dumps or a good hunting area. The greater the available food resources are, the bigger the colony is. Feral colonies have quite a complex internal relationship with shared nursing/babysitting duties being conducted by several females, thus allowing nursing mothers to hunt. Kittenless females will often begin lactating in order to facilitate the shared nursing duties. Tomcats attached to the colony will provide protection for kittens and have been observed intervening in fights between kittens when things get out of hand. Feral Tomcats will also defend kittens and other colony cats from humans. This practice of defending members of a colony has been observed by individuals engaged in TNR work. A solitary roaming cat can become a member of a colony once a series of feline rituals have been observed: spraying, nose touching, head butts and so on. However, a roaming group of cats will be fought off by the colony’s toms. Feral cats that live in a colony can live up to 10 years.

Feral colony

Solitary ferals lead a far more harsh existence away from the solidarity of a colony. Solitary ferals live, on average, for between one, to two, years. Hunger, illness, and disease, as well as human interference, account for this high death toll. There are no academic studies available yet, to explain why some cats prefer solitude to colony life. There are several possible reasons, some cats just prefer to be alone because it is their nature. Other cats may have been driven from a colony. Yet others may have been older kittens who wandered off from their colony and got lost.

Feral surveying his environment while eating

Both colony and solitary ferals share similar characteristics:

  • Fear of humans
  • Avoidance of humans
  • Living in secret places on the periphery of human habitation.
  • Eating in short, fast bursts, then stopping to scan their immediate environment for signs of danger
  • Acting with aggression if cornered or surprised by humans
  • Able to hunt and kill their own food, eg, rodents and other small animals

Feral cats usually run away when released and might not be seen for a couple of days

Stray Cats

A stray cat is a cat who has been born into a domestic setting and who has grown up amongst humans.

As the name implies, a stray cat is one that has been dumped by its human caretaker or who has gotten lost while out exploring.  Sometimes a cat will stray because it has been chased outside of its range by a dog or human thus losing all familiar ‘landmark’ scents. A domestic that strays is in an extremely vulnerable state. Stray cats are used to, and love, humans, whom they see as the chief provider of food, shelter and assistance. Stray cats may not know how to hunt as they have never had to. They will automatically approach any human they come across as they expect food and shelter from them. A hungry stray cat when given food will devote its entire concentration to the food bowl unlike its feral counterpart, who stops eating to inspect his surroundings for signs of danger.  Stray cats will not understand how to seek proper shelter from the elements and will search outhouses and other forms of human habitation in the hope of gaining access. The stray will have a ‘pleading’ demeanour when approaching humans. Ferals run the opposite direction no matter how badly they might need help.

Stray cat still wearing a collar, but in terrible condition

A cat that strays from its home will undergo a personality change. To put it in human terms the cat will ‘harden up’ to the situation it finds itself in. The stray will move through several stages from friendly cat through to a more wary individual to, finally, a feral state in which all friendliness towards human has vanished. This transition from domestic cat to feral will be due entirely to humans and their indifference towards the plight of such unfortunate creatures. The stray cat will often display bewilderment during the initial stages as it tries to comprehend the sudden change in its fortunes. This confusion will, in turn, change to an increased wariness, and eventually downright fear of humans. Many strays do not make it to the feral stage but will die because of their inability to adapt to the more hostile environment.

Stray cat found in a garden running towards humans

Stray Characteristics:

  • Friendliness: A stray cat will approach humans seeking help or food or will be approachable
  • A stray cat will have a physical ‘attitude’ of friendliness, eg. tail in an upright position, meowing
  • A stray cat will seek to move indoors seeking shelter
  • A stray cat might respond to human, verbal entreaties, eg. “Here. Puss,Puss”
  • A stray cat will eat in front of a human and will totally concentrate on the food provided
  • A stray cat, if not long strayed, will possess a softer coat than its feral counterpart
  • A stray cat will exhibit curiosity towards humans

The above points are just generalisations about the differences between stray and feral cats. Generally speaking, ferals will exhibit fear and hatred of humans whereas strays will approach, or be approachable by, humans. Cats are like humans: some humans are friendly, some humans are not; this is regardless of background. Likewise, the same will be observed in cats: some feral cats might be approachable whilst a stray, or even a domestic, cat might hiss, and run away.

A friendly feral staying around for a rub upon release

There will be a stage in the downward spiral of a stray cat from the role of domestic to feral when the animal could be described as being in a half and half situation. The cat retains some elements of its former domesticity while also possessing certain feral  traits. If a cat has been the recipient of food, shelter, and kindness, from a human, it will retain some memories of this while simultaneously being wary of humans. A domestic cat that loses the security of its home undergoes a series of ‘psychic’ shocks as it struggles to adjust to its new status. In the place of regular feeds, vet care and a warm, comfortable bed, it must now fight for everything. Human that the cat once regarded as protectors and providers can become those who seek to hurt or even kill it. Food has to be scavenged or hunted down. Failure to do so will result in constant hunger and malnutrition  that leads to a lowering of the animal’s resistance to sickness and disease. Shelter must be found and domestic  cats will not possess the same acuity in seeking suitable shelter.What must also be taken into account is a certain emotional disturbance within the cat as it tries to comprehend a situation  that is actually incomprehensible to it. There can be nothing  sadder than the bewildered look of an ex-domestic cat as it tries to make a reconnection with humans whom it once regarded as family.

Advice for trapping

If you trap a feral cat there are a number of vital steps that must be observed to avoid injury to the animal or the human trapper.

Feral cat after hurting himself from banging against the trap

A feral cat will react with fear and panic when trapped, no matter how well intentioned the trappers may be. It will attempt to claw or bite its way back out of the trap and may attack any human that come close to it. Remember the feral cat doesn’t like human contact and in particular close human contact.

Always ensure the trap is placed on level ground.

Never, never, leave the trap unattended, not even for 5 minutes. A cat in an unattended trap is vulnerable to attack by other animals or may tumble the trap over in its panic to escape.

Immediately cover the trap with a blanket or a towel as soon as the cat is trapped. This will quieten the animal and provide it with some measure of calm.

Upon trapping the cat, immediately transfer the animal to a larger Queen’s cage or Hospital cage (ensure that such cages have plastic coated steel mesh). Again ensure a suitable covering is placed over the cage to calm the cat.

Take care to keep hands and fingers away from cages when transferring feral cats. Similarly when carrying the cages ensure that you hold them away from your body. Cats can extend their limbs out through the cage mesh  and those limbs are well equipped with concave claws that are extremely difficult to extract from flesh.

It is advisable to cover the seats and floor of the vehicle that will be transporting the cats with a tarpaulin. Feral cats give off a very strong scent when fearful or stressed and this scent lingers.

Cats for immediate neutering or spaying must not be fed for at least 8-10 hours before the operation. Cats that are being kept longer than that must be given adequate food, water and bedding. As well as being a simple kindness towards the animal, these measures act as a spur to calming the animal and aiding its recovery.

Any holding area where cats are kept prior to, or after, veterinary attention must provide shelter from the elements as well as being secure from escape or intrusion.

Keep the locations of trappings secret or be deliberately vague about where the site is. Publicity can bring unwelcome attention upon the cats.

A trapped cat should be covered immediately